A response from Umar Lee (mystudentvoices.com) to Jonathan Brown’s lecture on Islam and Slavery

Georgetown Professor Jonathan Brown Defends Slavery as Moral and Rape as Normal in Virginia Lecture

By Umar Lee

Last night I attended a lecture by Georgetown Islamic Studies professor Jonathan Brown at the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Herndon, Virginia. I’d never met Brown and don’t know really much about him other than a brother was amused he scheduled a recent lecture during the Super Bowl.

Not knowing what to expect from Brown I was shocked when he basically went into a 90 minute defense of slavery which included an explicit endorsement of non-consensual sex.

While the lecture was supposed to be about slavery in Islam Brown spent the majority of the lecture talking about slavery in the United States, the United Kingdom and China. When discussing slavery in these societies Brown painted slavery as brutal and violent (which it certainly was). When the conversation would briefly flip to historic slavery in the Arab and Turkish World slavery was described by Brown in glowing terms. Indeed, according to Brown, slaves in the Muslim World lived a pretty good life.

I thought the Muslim community was done with this dishonest North Korean style of propaganda. Obviously not. Brown went on to discuss the injustices of prison labor in America and a myriad of other social-ills. Absent from his talk (until challenged) was any recognition of the rampant abuse of workers in the Gulf, the thousands of workers in the Gulf dying on construction sites, the South Asian child camel-jockeys imported into the United Arab Emirates to race camels under harsh conditions, or the horrific conditions of prisoners in the Muslim World (the latest news being 13,000 prisoners executed in Syria).

Brown constructs a world where the wrongs of the West excuse any wrongs (if he believes there are any) in the Muslim World.

“Slavery wasn’t racialized” in Muslim societies, Brown stated. That would be believable if it weren’t well-known black people in the Arab World and African-Americans in this country weren’t constantly referred to as abeed (slaves) simply because the color of the skin.

Brown described slavery in the Muslim World as kinder and gentler. The Arab poet who wrote “before you buy the slave buy the stick… for he is nejas (impure)” is perhaps a better description of Arab slavery than what Brown offered.

“Slaves were protected by shariah (Islamic Law)” Brown stated with no recognition of the idealized legal version of slavery and slavery as it was practiced. In this version of slavery there is an omission of kidnappings, harems, armies of eunuchs, and other atrocities.

The above argument is similar to the arguments previously defeated by Muslim bloggers and activists that racism and misogyny didn’t exist in the Muslim community because there was no textual support when in fact both are rampant.

“It’s not immoral for one human to own another human” Brown stated in his clearest defense of slavery. Brown went onto state that being an employee is basically the same as being a slave and painting himself as a real romantic Brown told me his marriage was akin to slavery because his wife held rights over him. The fact that both of these arrangements can be terminated and are consensual seemed lost on the aloof academic.

“Consent isn’t necessary for lawful sex” said Professor Jonathan Brown of Georgetown University.

Shortly after I asked Brown my questions about his defense of slavery a woman seated in front of me asked about the permissibility of sex with slaves. Brown emphatically stated consent is a modern Western concept and only recently had come to be seen as necessary (perhaps around the time feminism began to take root and women decided they wanted autonomy over their bodies). Brown went on to elaborate consent wasn’t necessary to moral and ethical sex and that the morality of sex is dependent on the lawfulness of the sex-partner and not consent upholding the verdict that marital-rape is an invalid concept in Islam.

I left this lecture deeply troubled this man had been given a platform to defend slavery and rape. I also left knowing that a Catholic Priest at Georgetown would be fired immediately if he defended the brutality of Catholic-led slavery in Latin America or defended rape. The same would be true of a rabbi at Yeshiva University. So, why as Muslims should we tolerate and invite someone like Brown to speak and why is Brown hideously exploiting Georgetown’s commitment to be inclusive?

(Above is the great John Brown who gave his life in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia to the cause of defeating slavery. Not the Islamic Scholar Jonathan Brown of Georgetown defending slavery and rape)

These are questions that need answering. As for me I’ll continue to adhere to an abolitionist aqeedah more influenced by the great John Brown of the 19th Century and my feminist sisters than the slave and rape apologist at Georgetown. In closing, anyone in agreement with Brown that slavery in the Muslim World is such a benevolent institution can begin by auctioning off their children wherever they can find slavery still practiced.

Useful Links

My Questions to Jonathan Brown

The Georgetown Consent Policy

The Horrors of the Arab Slave Trade

Note: The full lecture was recorded by IIIT and should be available soon if not already.

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10 Responses to A response from Umar Lee (mystudentvoices.com) to Jonathan Brown’s lecture on Islam and Slavery

  1. θ says:

    Different than in the Bible where the marital rape is lawful, in Islam the female slave has to have marriage. Female slave has the right of consent, either choosing to leave her former husband or choosing to return back to him.
    Tabaqat, 8:1554; Tabari, Vol. 9, p. 140.
    Ibn Abbas narrated: Muhammad proposed to Safiyya Bint Bashama Ibn Nadhla al-`Anbari, who was taken captive. The Messenger of God gave her the choice and said, Whom do you desire: me or your husband? She said, Nay, my husband, So he sent her away and Banu Tamim cursed her.

    In the Bible:
    – A beautiful slave is not asked her consent before being forced thru a legitimate marriage by her Jewish captor. Nevertheless, to reduce her humiliation, she could mourn about a month for lamenting her slain parents by her “future hubby”.

    – Neither Laban nor Rachel asks any consent of two female slaves Bilhah and Zilpah before being brought to bed thru a legitimate marriage by a young Jacob.

    – Numerous captured teens and underage girls of Shiloh are not asked of their consent or permission before being consummated thru a legitimate marriage by the Benjaminite men.

  2. madmanna says:

    “The Messenger of God gave her the choice and said, Whom do you desire: me or your husband? She said, Nay, my husband, So he sent her away and Banu Tamim cursed her.”

    Your great exemplary moral prophet wanted to commit adultery?

    And if she had said yes what would have happened then?

    “in Islam the female slave has to have marriage.”

    I don’t believe you. Doesn’t undo the evil surrounding the event in the first place anyway.

  3. θ says:

    “madmanna says: Your great exemplary moral prophet wanted to commit adultery?”

    Christian apologists have a bad habit of attributing the lies on Jesus’ words as if they prostituted his words for their man-made doctrine.
    Jesus never criminalises polygamy to be a sin of adultery. In fact, Jesus is just silent on polygamy, but he spoke out against an action of replacing a wife with another wife by deeming such a spousal replacement as adultery.
    Mk 10:11
    And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her.

    Now, how about the marital rulings that Paul teaches?
    – A Christian widow is allowed to commit “adultery” with another man, even with one married man whomsoever she will. Paul doesn’t restrict a widow to just marry an unmarried man.
    Similarly, a widower gets a liberty to marry one or many women whomsoever he will.
    1Cor 7:39
    The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.

    – Only deacon is commanded to have only one wife:
    1Tim 3:12
    Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

    “And if she had said yes what would have happened then?”

    Only the specific marriage under a Scriptural confirmation is valid.
    A woman such as Safiyya Bint Bashama Ibn Nadhla al-`Anbari who binds herself in “unlawful union” (under heathen bond) with a heathen man just lives herself in the illegitimate ties similar to adultery.
    A heathen ties of romance is sinfully illegitimate, there’s no such a thing as marriage or divorcement on the adulterous relationship.

  4. madmanna says:

    ““The Messenger of God gave her the choice and said, Whom do you desire: me or your husband? She said, Nay, my husband, So he sent her away and Banu Tamim cursed her.”

    What horrible immoral thoughts in the head of your prophet!

  5. θ says:

    “madmanna says: What horrible immoral thoughts in the head of your prophet!”

    Prophet Muhammad just tried to save her from her unlawful union with another pagan under a heathen bond of adultery. And there’s no such a thing as un-consensual rape there.

  6. θ says:

    Beside not outlawing Polygamy in this world, Jesus also promises a greater Polygamous relationship between one husband and 100 wives to take place in Afterlife.
    Mt 19:29
    And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.

  7. Anonymous says:

    It is worth noting that Jesus himself may be loosely counted as a slave of Romans since he pays the tributaries to the Caesars.
    It is worth it to mention that nowhere does Jesus advise any manumission of any slave.
    Rather, Jesus approves the selling of daughters and wive by a debtor – rather than to sell the debtor himself – to his creditor.
    It is quite shameless to know that Paul returns a runaway slave back to his master, and Peter commands the slaves to obey the froward masters.

  8. Anonymous says:

    For disciplining the slaves, Jesus approves a master do commit the homicide, crippling, confinement with criminals to eliminate the less valuable slaves, as well as the physical beating with many stripes (as long as the slaves do not die).
    Lk 12:46
    The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.

    Lk 12:47
    And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.

  9. madmanna says:

    This is a parable.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Isn’t that parable also his words that ought to be obeyed? If not, what is the meaning of phrase “obeying the Gospel” in 1 Thes 1:8 and 2 Pet 4:17 supposed to mean?
    All words of Jesus are parable. Even apparently his death turns to be one big embodiment of parable itself.

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