In a recent lecture at the International Institute of Islamic Thought, Georgetown Professor of Islamic Civilization Jonathan Brown took as his topic “Islam and the Problem of Slavery.” In attendance was freelance writer Umar Lee, who first published an account of the professor’s views. Prof. Brown himself uploaded a video of the lecture to youtube.
Lee was surprised to find that the lecture consisted of attacks against Western nations and China for their past practices of slavery, while excusing Islamic slavery, which is still practiced.
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.
Prof. Brown claimed that “slavery wasn’t racialized,” in Islamic societies, despite the constant use in the Arab world of the word abeed (slaves) to refer to blacks generally and to African-Americans. And in slave-state Mauritania, it is the lighter-skinned “White Moors” who hold the darker-skinned Haratine in bondage.
“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.
Further, the professor considers that slavery is not immoral, because, in his view, humans own other humans, and are owned by others in turn. And both Mohammed and the Quran allow slavery.
In Jonathan Brown’s view, “being an employee is basically the same as being a slave.” (At Georgetown, the average base salary for an associate professor is $104,211. The work-load consists of about 3-5 hrs. / week of lectures or seminars, 3-4 hrs. / week of office hours, and a lot of writing and research, which intellectuals would probably do anyway.) I wonder if the 800,000 people currently enslaved in Muslim-majority Mauitania, or the Yazidi women still enslaved by ISIS, would agree.
Which brings us to the professor’s view that “consent isn’t necessary for lawful sex.” By “lawful,” he presumably means under shariah , which advocates many behaviors that are felonies in the United States, and in the West generally. According to the professor,
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.
So it naturally follows that one’s sex slave cannot withhold sex, since
“Slave women do not have agency over their sexual access, so their owner can have sex with them.”
. . . which is not the sort of question that generally arises in the nation’s capital in this particular period of history, so we have to wonder about the professor’s use of the present tense. Unless it is his specific intent to provide religious validation of ISIS, and Boko Haram.
Consent may indeed be a Western concept, and also, as we would say, a Western achievement. A Georgetown professor who, in 21st century America, still has intellectual misgivings about that concept, and about the concept of self-ownership, or “property in one’s person” as John Locke had it back in the 17th century, obviously shouldn’t be provided a forum by a major University.