When he came to power in 1672, Mawlay Isma‘il had to face a fragmented society and a political instability in Morocco. He decided to organize a strong army, initially recruiting Arabs, but when he consulted with an influential Muslim scholar, this latter suggested that the slaves who came from West Africa after the 1591 Sa‘di invasion of Songhay and who formerly had been in service to the government, might serve well as they were still slaves belonging to the state.
Although Mawlay Isma‘il’s decision to forcibly conscript all black people into his army was political, he invoked racial distinctions conflated with heathenism to justify his enslavement of Moroccan blacks. His intention was to convince influential Islamic scholars that the needs of the state – to create a formidable army to defend the land of Islam – provided the warrants for enslaving free black Muslims whom he believed had all formerly been slaves. As a consequence of this mass forced conscription, the perception of blacks was radically altered; it reinforced prejudices and determined the future image of blacks in Morocco at the margins of freedom.