There has been a Afrikan presence in Basra -- present-day Southern Iraq -- as early as the 7th century, when Abu Bakra, an Ethiopian soldier who had been freed by the prophet Muhammad, settled in the city. His descendants became prominent members of Basran society. However, a century later, we see racism rearing its ugly head and the writer Jahiz of Basra wrote an impassioned defense of Afrikans -- referred to in Arabic as the Zanj -- against accusations of inferiority.
The Zanj were for centuries shipped as slaves by Arab traders to all the countries bordering the Indian Ocean, giving rise to the Trans-Indian slave trade. Most of the Zanj were imported to work in large dates and sugarcane plantations. The Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs recruited many Zanj slaves as soldiers and today's Afrikan Iraqis are the descendants of the people who started one of the largest slave rebellion in history—The Zanj Rebellion of 869-883 AD. Fed scant portions of flour, semolina and dates, they were constantly in conflict with the Iraqi slave system. These harsh circumstances apparently motivated, between the seventh and ninth centuries, three rebellions, the largest of which occurred between 868 and 883. The Zanj slaves from Basra staged a 15-year revolt against Baghdad the capital of the Islamic world. Basra was one of the most important trade ports in the Abbasid empire and at the zenith of their rebellion the Zanj armies marched upon Baghdad and got within 70 miles of the city. In 883, an Abbasids army from Baghdad suppressed the revolt which required vast amounts of the empire's extensive resources. Through defeated, the revolts was a success in that it led to the abolition of large-scale plantation-type slavery in the region. Afrikan slavery in Iraq, however, continued to exist throughout both the Ottoman and British periods of rule. British officials during the era noted how widespread slave ownership was among Iraqi families. In fact, in the 19th century, Basra was one of the most profitable slave ports in the region, commonly offering slave traders as much as 50% returns upon their "investments."
Zanj was a name used by Arab geographers to refer to both a certain portion primarily of the coast of Southeast Afrika and its Bantu-speaking inhabitants. Geographers historically divided the coast of East Africa into several regions: Somalia was Barbara, which was the land of the Eastern Baribah or Barbaroi (Berbers), as the ancestors of the Somalis were referred to by Arab and ancient Greek geographers, respectively; Ethiopia was al-Habash or Abyssinia, which was inhabited by the Habash or Abyssinians, who were the forebears of the Habesha; and the general area south of these two which includes present-day Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique as Zanj, or the "country of the Blacks."
According to some sources, the Zanj traded extensively with Arabs, Persians and Indians, but only locally as they were said to have possessed no ocean-going ships; on the other hand, other sources state that some Bantu peoples already had seafaring vessels with sailors and merchants trading with Arabia and Persia and as far east as India and China. At any rate it was through trade that Arabs intermarried with local Bantu women, giving birth to the Swahili culture and language (both Bantu in origin but significantly influenced by foreign elements).
By the late European medieval period, the area included at least 37 substantial Swahili trading towns, many of them quite wealthy. This wealth was generate by trade in goods as well as people. The urban ruling and commercial classes of these Swahili settlements was occupied by Arab and Persian immigrants, with a mixed intermediary class, while the Bantu peoples who inhabited the coastal regions were the source for local slaves and thoses of the Trans-Saharan slave trade. Some of these slaves reached as far as China. Chinese texts mention ambassadors from Java presenting the Chinese emperor with two Seng Chi (Zanji) slaves as gifts, and Seng Chi slaves reaching China from the Hindu kingdom of Sri Vijaya in Java.
The term Zanj fell out of use in the tenth century. However, after 1861, when the area controlled by the Arab Sultan of Zanzibar was forced by the British to split with the parent country of Oman, it was often referred to as Zanj. The sea off the south-eastern coast of Africa was known as the "Sea of Zanj" and included the Mascarene islands and Madagascar. During the anti-apartheid struggle it was proposed that South Africa should assume the name 'Azania' to reflect ancient Zanj.
It is estimated that there are 1.5 to 2 million Afrikan descendants in Iraq, mostly in and around Basra where they represent 15 to 20 percent of the population. Most Afrikan Iraqis today suffer from gross discrimination. These descendants of the Zanj exist in the region today in (often self-contained) communities with names like "Zanjiabad, Iran" that hint at the history of the peoples living there. The status of these Afrikan Iraqis is little discussed -- though in Iran we know Iranians have written of persistent racism and stereotypes directed at the Zanj in their country.
Afrikan Iraqis represent 5 to 6 percent of the total population. To combat racism, they formed the Movement of Free Iraqis in July 2007. It demands the recognition of blacks as an official minority, an apology for slavery, laws against racial discrimination, and representation in Parliament. Many Afrikan Iraqis activists complain that they are unable to find opportunities to improve their social condition. However, the same complaint is often also made by Iraqis of Arab Semitic descent as well. However, given the history of Afrikan enslavement and color prejudice in the Islamic world, we must assume that though class is a factor in this discrimination, race cannot be minimized.
Among Afrikan Iraqis there are some Afrikan survivals. They are still maintain rituals related to healing that are of Afrikan origin. The languages used in these rituals are Swahili and Arabic. Instruments such as drums and tambourines are used in these ceremonies. In a song called Dawa-Dawa, the words are a mix of Arabic and Swahili. The song, which is about curing people, is used in the shtanga ceremony, for physical health. Another ceremony called nouba, takes its name from Nubian region in the Sudan. There are also unique ceremonies to remember the ancestors and for occasions such as weddings.
Afrikan people in the region, such as in Oman, Dubai and Kuwait, and Iran practiced various Afrikan survivals. In Iran a form of spirit possession called zar is popular. Additionally, the Afro Iranians have ceremonies, such as liwat, gowa and al-nuban, serving specific purposes—almost always having to do with driving out or appeasing spirits, usually Afrikan, that traveled with the wind. In southern Iran, spirits in general are referred to as pepe (from pepo in Swahili, which is also the BaMbuti word for life force).
The Eastern Diaspora has been left out of the Pan Afrikan loop. We are a Global Afrikan People, let's not forget it!!!