Quaker Universalist Voice

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Quakers were slaves and had surprising views of Islam in the 17th Century

A Book Review of Justin Meggitt, Early Quakers and Islam: Slavery, Apocalyptic and Christin-Muslim Encounters in the Seventeenth Century (2013)

The message of the 2013 book, Justin Meggitt, Early Quakers and Islam: Slavery, Apocalyptic and Christian-Muslim Encounters in the Seventeenth Century (2013) is that Quakers were slaves and this Quaker slave experience influenced the significant development of distinctive, complex, and respectful Quaker views of Islam in the 17th Century.

Most Quakers know that Quakers were slaveholders in colonial times and were among the early renouncers of slaveholding, but most Quakers do not recognize that Quakers were also enslaved at the hands of Barberry pirates in the 17th century.  Quakers were slaves.  Quakers were enslaved upon capture on the Atlantic Ocean by Barberry pirates, primarily based in Morocco. Some Quaker slaves were redeemed for payments of cash.  Other Quaker slaves suffered in slavery for years.  Some Quaker slaves were well treated and some not.  Some Quaker slaves never returned home.

The nearly uniform European and British view of Islam during the 17th century was uninformed by the facts, negative, and hostile.  The Quaker view at that time, expressed in person and in publications, was generally hostile equally to all religions, Christian and other.  In this opposition Quakers were deliberately and self-consciously opposed to whatever was the then cultural norms of opinion of their times outside of the Quaker community.

However, in the face of the reality of Quaker slavery, Quaker leaders tried to comfort and encourage Quaker slaves and redeem others through financial contributions. Quaker leaders developed a somewhat informed, nuanced, and respectful view of Islam through this experience of Quaker slavery, reinforced in the context of the Quaker-expected apocalypse and end times for us all and judgment, when Quakers would be vindicated in God’s favor.  From this general Quaker perspective, reinforced directly by the Quaker slave experience, came the Germantown Declaration of 1688, which was the first collective religious statement from the Christian community against slavery generally.

This Germantown Declaration, and its associated Quaker slavery experience, seems to have been a significant exercise for Quakers as a community.  The Quaker view of Islam changed through the application in the new institutional spiritual discernment practice of Quakers. The result appears to be a new understanding of inter-faith reality. It was a general and universalist application of the Quaker faith insight of that of God in each person in the context of the personal and community demands regarding slavery. Muslims were, by implication, included.

The author provides careful and interesting footnotes in support of his argument.  The book has no index, but has an extensive bibliography and an interesting listing of the other studies of inter-religious relations for Quaker reading.  

The title of the book is misleading.  The current title is Early Quakers and Islam: Slavery, Apocalyptic and Christin-Muslim Encounters in the Seventeenth Century.  A more accurate title would be “The Impact of the Experience with Quakers as Slaves on Quaker views of Islam in the 17th century.


  • How is the apocalypse useful in understanding universal reality for current Quaker Practice?
  • Has the current Quaker tradition embraced or rejected the influence of the apocalyptic in current faith and practice?
  • How can religious communities organize effectively to address widespread social problems?


Justin Meggitt, Early Quakers and Islam: Slavery, Apocalyptic and Christin-Muslim Encounters in the Seventeenth Century (2013)

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