Channel: Jonathan Brown
Center for ReligiousÂ Spiritual Life
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Gatto, everybody, welcome again. It's a new day and a new session in this amazing series, and it's just getting better and better. So we have started a few days ago, and we had three interesting
guests. We had the publicise the first session, who spoke about Carla and her story, and we had the Ansari, and he spoke about the American Muslim woman who struggled to gain her rights as a Muslim in the prison. And we had a huge our last session, brother, a small Sekula, who spoke about blackness in America. And it was a very fruitful discussion and a deep one. Today, we have another honorable and interesting guest, who is Dr. Jonathan Brown, we expect that today's session will be very deep, and will open up doors
and new opportunities for us to understand better our own history and to understand as well and to navigate through the relationship between Islam and Muslims. And the whole issue about grace and outs Lam dealt with this issue. Kim, would you kindly tell us more about Dr. Jonathan Brown?
I certainly well. We're just delighted to have Dr. Jonathan Casey Brown. He is going to be entering the waiting room in just a moment but I'm going to go ahead and just start to say his bio before he gets on. He is an American scholar of Islamic Studies. And since 2010, he has taught at Georgetown University's Edmund a Walsh School of Foreign Service, where he holds the Alwaleed bin Talal chair Islamic civilization. He's authored several books, including slavery and Islam misquoting Muhammad, the challenges and choices of interpreting the prophets legacy, Hadith, Muhammad's legacy in the medieval and modern world, Mohammed A Very Short Introduction and the canonization of all who hurry
and Muslim. He has also published articles in the fields of Hadith, Islamic law, Salafism Sufism in Arabic language. And I'm just so delighted to welcome Dr. Brown get ready to have him come out of the waiting room. And I'm so delighted because I'm actually reading a book for one of my classes that I'm taking on Hadith and it's the Muhammad legacy in the medieval and modern world and he does a phenomenal job in explaining so let me get him in. He's probably wondering what's going on here.
Well let him in here.
Sorry, Hey, how's it going? So I can just say music when I when I heard someone else sends me a link, I get signed in my kid's name. So I will do that to mine in
here we go. Perfect.
How are you? Dr. Brown? I'm good. How are y'all doing? I'm doing great to engaging with you. I'm Kim Alston from Smith colleges center for religious and spiritual life. And then of course, Heather, you see her at?
She's actually overseas, so I know have a Yo, tell her him a little bit about where you are and what you do as well. Yes, I want to come Dr. Brown. It's a pleasure and an honor to be in your presence today.
My name is Philip Lasala. And I am a community religion liaison at Smith College. And right now I am zoom. Like I'm zooming from Sweden. So nice to meet you. Yes. What are you doing in Sweden? Well, I leave there.
Oh, that's a good reason to be there.
Yeah, I was just looking at where Smith is. It's one of these things where you're like, Boy, I wish I'd be able to go there in person looks like gorgeous area.
Yeah, it is great. Northampton, the Pioneer Valley Western. What's that river? Delta tion are like the river that runs through that and it goes down like all the way Hartford and
yeah, yeah. I mean, my son was environmental studies major, and he just loved the Connecticut River. He was always there doing different studies. So that's the Connecticut River Basin.
But Dr. Brown, we really enjoyed the essay that you wrote. It's very in depth, very thorough. And it is a great topic. I guess you need to tell us how you came upon this topic, why you decided upon this topic. And the fact is, it does have a very provocative title.
It's a much debated topic around the world. And we know that a lot of black people in particular have asked this question, and I assume that many people have asked it, not, you know, doesn't have to just depend on your race.
And the question for those that are in there want to know, there used to be a show environment? Inquiring minds want to know, the question is, is Islam anti black?
You do? Are we recording? Should I talk? Or should we? Are we are you like, yeah, we're recording. Okay. So, yeah, isn't it? Isn't it charming? And this is proof that this is not staged? See, I'm not going off any cues? Well, it's not meant for him. Thanks. Thanks for inviting me. I mean, I gotta be honest, this is probably the most nervous I've ever been to talk about something. And I've talked about a lot of
controversial stuff over the years. But this is, I think the thing I'm most nervous, I actually couldn't sleep last night until about 3am, which is, it was I mean, I was like, I couldn't, I think it's really, I mean, obviously, it's a stressful topic, for a lot of reasons. And, and then, of course, there's the fact that, you know, I'm white, which is probably pretty obvious to the people who are watching in case they're, you know, they're they're cooking or something or microwaving something, listening to this wallet instead of watching. But so,
you know, I guess, the quiet the reason why I picked the topic, or that pick that title is because like, that's really, there's a lot of discussions that go did go on, like, you know, and you know, you'll see them on monks, like, you know, in African American community with like, different strands of Pan Africanism, you see a kind of very, sort of white nationalist or West Western supremacist communities, which are sort of like the two opposite ends of a spectrum, right. But they're both sometimes you see the same discussions going on? And it's really, you know, sometimes it's like, oh, is Islam kind of inherently committed to slavery? is Islam foreign to Africa? is Islam a colonial
force in Africa? And like, all, the root of all this is this idea of like, Islamic anti black? Like, that's kind of, in a lot of ways. That's the question that that is being asked. And so I really just wanted to address it. And I want to dress it. I mean, first of all, because I'm Muslim, and I want to know the answer this, but more more immediately, it was because this last summer, there was this debate, I think it's called research Africa. Let's serve for like, academic kind of studying African African Studies. And there's a this debate really just like, came about is there? Is there such thing as Arabs, Islamic slavery, like Islamic slavery, and then, so people kept, I'm actually not on
that list. But people kept forwarding me questions, because it dealt specifically with things that I talked about in my book on slavery and Islam. And
so I started to look into these specific questions. And then I realized that you couldn't really look into them without answering bigger questions, and then even bigger questions. And then I started getting interested in those bigger questions. And I ended up kind of
working to answer my own questions about this topic. And maybe I'll just, I'll just state sit, start out with three kind of little episodes or kind of nuggets. And that bring up some of the problems. And I think, hopefully, in the course of our discussion, we can we can answer these questions. I feel that there's very good answers to them. But the first is,
for example, like Muslims will always hear about VLANs. So Bilal,
the first weapon in Islam, we hear that he's, you know, he's Ethiopian. He's black. He's African. A, we hear about some of the discrimination he was exposed to, both before he was Muslim, and then after he became Muslim, whether it's the Quraysh of Mecca when the Muslims conquer Mecca, and Bilal gets up on the the Kaaba to do the event, like the kind of curation lead who saw him become Muslim. Like, they only have this black crow to do their call to prayer, you know?
And, you know, the fact that it was sometimes it was hard for him to find a wife. And then Okay, so that's one. We, people are really familiar with this, but what you don't hear right is that
Omar bin HotJobs
both mother and paternal grandmother were African or black. Like it's unclear in Arabic, whether they're just like really dark skinned or African descent. Um, moving on to us. The famous conqueror of Egypt was described his mother was African. He was described as short squat and very dark skinned black skin.
flamboyant Omiya a number of other Meccan elites,
elite of the Quraysh are would be phenotypically, maybe indistinguishable from blood. But we never hear about that. So why is that? Like? That was the first question I had. The second question. And this was one that I got forwarded from that debate on that this sort of was, there was this hadith in Sahih Muslim is considered to be authentic hadith, where this slave comes to Medina, presumably from outside of Medina. And he basically says, I'm Muslim, and I want to pledge allegiance to the Prophet and I want to make hedger. I want to come and live in Medina. And the Prophet says, you know, welcome, Tim, right, and then the man's owner comes. And we don't know what religion he has,
we don't know.
Where he's from regional economies. He's looking for a slave. And he comes to the Prophet and the prophets, like, Oh, I didn't realize these are slave and he basically says, Okay, I will buy your slave from you. With two black slaves. It doesn't say what race the original slave was it it doesn't say it just as two black slaves, the dual by the the slave four. Okay.
So, obviously, there you said, Wait a second, what's going on here? Why is it that two black slaves are equal worth one slave of unknown ethnicity or color, whatever.
And the third one is a you know, it was a was a an episode that I actually translated this in my in an appendix in my book on slavery, and it was, for me, it was it was both really touching, but also I didn't know what how to make sense of it. Where's this? There's this famous scholar and like Sufi kind of very pious, pious Muslim in Basra in the seven hundreds and 700, zaimes, Malik and dinar. And he, there's a drought in the city. All the highest people in the city are out praying to God bring rain, and nothing is working. And then this day, he describes this like kind of scrawny black slave with a, he turns out, he's a slave. He's a shiny black guy, right. And he has a potbelly. He's
taller than me, he's, he goes, and he just makes a small prayer and then just water starts pouring down from the sky. It's so much water everyone's happy. And so Malik means dinar, and a lot of the other big scholars in the city see this happen? And they follow up with they follow the guy. And they see he goes to the House of this slave trader. And so they wait there all night to the next morning to go in and they say we want to we want to look at your slaves. And finally they find that one guy and they said we want to buy him from you. And the guy's like, oh, okay, well you know he's he doesn't really do much he just always praying and crying at night and Okay, well, here's, they
take him. And the block slave is like why did you buy me I'm not I don't I'm no good at serving Create, Create creatures like created beings. Like I only serve Hinton's I only serve the Creator. And then they said no, no, you understand we we want to free we bought you so that we can be your students. Like we want to serve you as your as your disciples.
you know, to end the story, basically, this, this, their teacher is black slave dies. And he dies in prayer. And then Malik Menard goes up to him and kind of
realize and bounces back to see what happened to him. He sees that he's dead. And then he describes that the blackness disappeared from his face. And His face became like the moon.
So in this story, you have one out aspect, which is just, I mean, it's sort of when you really think about it's kind of incredible, right? The idea that like, Would I you know, even though I'm Jonathan, I must be a great guy. I'm thinking well, I'm okay guy, right? I I'm moral and everything. So what I go and make myself the student of the lowest person on the social ladder in the United States, right what I would I would I be willing to do that, like these people are willing to go and they that's how that's how much they value, piety and botica knowledge. And they don't care what form this comes in what body this comes from, right? So they say that on one hand that's really
inspirational. On the other hand, there's this description at the end of the blast.
It's disappearing from his face. So like, it's almost like wait a second, so then the blackness is bad, right? And so then you're like, Wait a second. So even in this story, which seems really inspirational, there's this kind of seems like an anti black element. So those are the, these are the questions I want to answer. And
that's why I, I wrote this thing and why I as a Muslim want to think about it.
So does that mean that you think that a lot of the
symbolism, are more metaphors for different elements, like from weather, piousness or challenge or? Yeah, so that's one of the things that I got, I got really interested in the core to this research was this idea of, I mean, blackness as metaphor and blackness as literal description, right? So, you know,
we can say, we know, we'll say, for example, that this piano was black, right? And while to say like, Oh, it's a black day, he's the black sheep of the family, you know,
in etc, etc. And
we assume that this kind of metaphoric and literal use of the term black are kind of always linked in language. So what I found is really interesting is the idea that black is sort of metaphorically bad, dirty, impure, you know, black or dark, right? Black, bad, dirty, impure, in unfortunate, and white or light is good, pure innocence positive. These are basically universal. They're not it's not in every language. But if you go and you kind of look at the the languages that have been studied on this, it's pretty much everywhere in the world.
And so here's my question. What about languages in Africa, south of the Sahara, spoken by people that we at least would kind of identify would say, are like phenotypically black or are African. So how, what how does the word black function in their language? And what I found is that if you look at languages like
what is it? Pilar house?
What is the other one? Hang on sorry.
I wrote down Jolla, Yoruba Shona Fulani, Zulu Zarma house Moray luau right? In all these languages,
what you see is, well, in almost all of them, right? Well, in all of them,
are totally normal for someone to say that their skin is black. Right? So to say like, oh, you know, his skin is black, that would be completely normal, it wouldn't be a negative thing to say about them.
But in all of those languages, either the word black, or in one case, the word dark, are used metaphorically to say things are bad, like black hearted, you know, things like that. So this is really interesting, because you have situations where people are using the word black to talk about their sterile and skin color. And it's not bad at all. And then use the same word to talk about like, black hearted person, and then it's definitely negative. So in a weird way, like anti blackness is universal, but not in the way we expect. Right? So it's, it's present in the language, but not in the way that that language is actually talking about skin color.
Then the other thing that I thought was
insane, or did you really blew my mind, which is if you look at Scandinavian
poetry and kind of epic from between the 900 and 1300s.
The end like this one poem called The rig Tula, which dates on we're not sure exactly what comes for probably 10 112 or 1300.
It talks about the origins of the kind of Scandinavian social classes and it says, you know, the nobles and the farmers are, they were born and they were like bright and ruddy, red haired and blond haired. The slaves are born dark there, either it's depending on the reading of the poem, either it's dark, black haired or black skinned. And smarten like that word that is black.
Now, who are the slaves? The word in Scandinavian is Thrall right? Who are the slaves of these people? There are other Scandinavians or there
Like Irish people. And I mean, first of all, those people don't look any different from other Scandinavians. And second, there is no universe where these people could be considered anywhere near like a dark skinned person. I mean, these are the, probably the pasty people in the world.
But they're. So what's really interesting is that here, the metaphor of the idea of black is kind of low and bad, is actually creeping into the way they talk about the physicality of these people, even though the people physically don't look any different from them.
anti blackness can be present, even when there's actually no black people. No people that and everyone looks exactly the same. And they're all super white.
Yeah, because that was a question that I had the fact that you were talking about Africans, and they'll say something about the black skin, and then at the same time, say something negative about
blackness or black hearted, I'm thinking, okay, that's fine, because they're, they're black people able to talk about those things in different ways, because they're the same. So yeah, that's a little different from what you're saying now about Scandinavians and others that don't have any melanin. So they're not really seen as black. And yet they're talking in that way. Yeah. So how does I just want to understand how the Quran and the Hadith I handling that? Sorry, I'm just there, the guy some guys the door and I'm trying to get my wife's attention to go.
You can edit this out, Leila guys hear at the door.
We do everything live. They'll understand it. Zoom is what it is.
here's so what, first of all, I think it's interesting to think about why darkness or blackness is associated with something bad and lightness or whiteness associated something good.
First of all, and this is just, I've never seen this discussed, but it's my theory. I could be wrong. Who Right? Which is it? You know, human beings are like, we're part of nature. And we, you know, when do we do stuff? We do stuff during the day. When do we not do that we just have at night, like what scares people darkness gives you not being able to see things scares people, right? So it, I really like basic level, the day is good, and the night is kind of bad and scary, right?
The second thing is really economic. And this is where you see it. In the case of the the Scandinavian description is a people light skin is attractive, and good because
it's economically well endowed. Right? So what does it mean people who are attractive when they are they have a lot of resources. So in sometimes in places in human history, people who are really fat or super attractive is like, Wow, look how much food they have. And nowadays, it's, well, that guy's attractive, because look how thin he is. He doesn't sit around and eat, he actually goes to Whole Foods, he didn't buy his dinner at 711, he has time to exercise, he doesn't work all the time right by the desk. So whatever is kind of economically advantageous, is seen as attractive. So for most of human history, who are the people who are rich, people who don't have to go out and work. So if
you're inside, you're not in the sun, you're not getting dirty, you're not getting sunburned, you're going to be more attractive, economically attractive, and therefore physically attractive than people who are out like doing manual labor. And so when you look at the Scandinavian descriptions of the black slave, they're both black and colored, but they're also like, dirty, they're sunburned. Their hands are like rough. So this idea of blackness and darkness overlaps with being someone who's out in the field all day and working and not doesn't have a luxury of being inside. So the reason why this is important for talking about Islam and blackness, is that the the Quran very clearly uses
this metaphor, right? So it talks about, you know, on the Day of Judgment, there will be faces that are black end and faces that are white and and you know, the faces that are white and are those who believes into good deeds. Is it a black into those who disbelieve that didn't do good deeds, right? It talks about how when people when the Arabs in the nonprofit got news of having a daughter their faces would would, would be black and like with bad news, and kind of it's obviously criticizing that. Now, it's very important to note that when you look at Muslim scholars talking about this verse, They say very clearly this is not about people's skin color, right? Because first of all, you
It says that faces are black end or white tend on the Day of Judgment. It's not that there's black and white faces. So you that process happens on the Day of Judgment is it's not about our earthly color. The second thing that's really important is that that sort of black white
binary in metaphor that the crown uses talking about good and bad, is not really found amongst the Arabs, when they talk about their own skin color. So the Arabs don't talk about black and white, during the time of the Prophet and for it, or pre Islamic and early Islamic times, they talk about if they're going to talk about two colors, they talk about black and red. So red would be essentially lighter skinned Arabs. And you can think about like Mediterranean and Persian type people.
Like Northern European white people were off the map for them, like they were, they would sometimes call them blue,
or blonde, you know, Ashkar, which means like really ready, ready or fair and sometimes blue, because if you think about, if you're an Arab, and you say like an Irish person, for the first time, someone who's really, really white, it's almost like you can see their veins to their skin. And it's kind of like a bluish color almost. So they either talk and to read was kind of light skinned Arabs and a north and Black was most Arabs, and then Africans, Indians, etc. Or they talked about three colors, they talked about black, white, and red. Black would be like Africans or people who had, who had very dark skin, including dark skinned Arabs.
A red would be kind of Mediterranean, northern Mediterranean sort of sea relates can Syrian Persian Persian look, and white is in the middle and White would be kind of medium toned Arab skin, sort of like a darkish all of color in our world. So it's what's interesting is you can see in the language of the Quran, and the language of the early Muslim community, that the black white metaphor is not even the same language being deployed. It's not the same tool being deployed, when you're talking about people's skin color.
So that's a really, I think, a really important point to make is that you don't when you when you when you read these, like Quranic or sometimes in Hadith, this notion of black and white as a metaphor for I think for Americans, we would correctly in our case, kind of assume that that maps on to a whole vocabulary about judging people in society
you know, on a, you know, black white dichotomy, but that's not the case. In the in the Koran or the time of the Prophet. Now, I mentioned before, you know, this question of, why do we talk about Bilbao being black, but not orbital? Hatami? Or I've never been asked, or suffian been Omiya or people?
And that's because, or,
here's another question, right? So why is it that
if Professor Brown, if you're saying that the kind of black and white good and bad thing doesn't really translate over into skin color description? Why are those Quraysh saying, Who's this black crow who's giving the event? Like that's, they're clearly insulting his blackness like, so wait a second, you know, what gives?
So here, here's the thing, you have to understand that, in Arabia, the time of the Prophet in Arabian society, it doesn't matter what you look like, it matters if you're part of the tribal system or not. If you're insider outsider, that's the only thing that matters. If you're part of this system, if you're part of like a tribe, especially elite parts of the tribe, you are protected, you're secure, no one can touch you. You're like a made man in the mafia, right?
If you're outside that you are you live a precarious life, you can be killed hurt, and no one's gonna help you unless you're like, kind of sponsored by a tribe. So who are the ultimate outsiders? Slaves, slaves are the ultimate outsiders. Now, it's important to remember that Arabia at the time of the Prophet most slaves are the largest number of slaves not necessarily the majority, but the largest group are other Arabs who've been captured.
The next biggest groups would be Ethiopians, and then probably like Byzantines
Arabic speakers or Greek speakers coming from what we would call like kind of the Upper Middle East sort of like, you know, Syria area, Egypt, Anatolia.
So, what, but what so
in this case,
blackness is bad because not because it's bad in and of itself, because it means you're an outsider.
Okay? You can't tell that another Arab is a slave because he doesn't look any different from a bunch of other people. But you can tell an Ethiopian person. And so he's like, what? That guy that guy's not from around here. This guy's an outsider.
And why don't you Why don't they say that about all my rental hubbub? I'm gonna be the last suppliant of Romania. Because it wouldn't make no it would mean nothing it would doesn't matter what color over hip hop is. It doesn't matter what color supply minimum wages these guys are Qureshi leads. It doesn't, it doesn't matter their their status is guaranteed by their father's tribal identity.
So when you when they're when they're picking on
they're not picking on him for being black, they're picking him for being an outsider.
And this is another really interesting thing.
Below had trouble getting married, guess who had two times as much trouble getting married, if we go by the number of reports of instances of getting rejected, who had double the amount of time trouble of getting married, then be that Southern man with fantasy? Who is Persian, right, who's also a former slave who's freed just like below, who's also a complete outsider in the tribal society.
So it doesn't, it doesn't matter if you're, you know, you could look like Brad Pitt.
And you'd still have a really hard time getting married because you are an outsider, you have to have the prophet has to come and vouch for you and say like, no, no, no, no, this system you guys are living in and you're preaching or that you're upholding is wrong.
that for me was really instructive.
sorry, go ahead. I didn't mean to interrupt you. So um, I just would like to highlight what you're saying right now that's around and because we are most of us know that in our history in the Muslim history and specifically during the Prophet's time so I sell them the skin color as well as the issue about slavery was were not as like loaded topics as they are today. So I am really interested in knowing when and how things did things take the difference
so I'm there's kind of you can hear there's like some discussion going on in the house behind maybe I'll try and mute if it gets too but um, so I actually I wanted to say this in the beginning of my talk and I forgot like this what I'm what I'm talking about what we're talking about is kind of Islam as a as a religion right. So as scripture normative tradition, look there if if you want to get anti blackness globally anti blackness in the Muslim community, of course, these are huge problems. Like that's a that's a huge I don't want to I don't want there to be any ambiguity that I'm I'm saying that, you know, oh, there's not really this problem in Islam has it? You know, we're
in the most impurity, of course, is a huge problem. And I, you know, I do my best to whatever power I have to, to deal with it, or to combat it, but so, but I don't like that. That's a separate topic, we can discuss
another time, hang on, just see what these guys are leaving or not, but
Okay, so how did this come about? I think.
Oddly, I think the best description of this actually comes from Bernard Lewis, who gets criticized a lot for you know, being Orientalist and things like that. But he wrote a book on race and slavery in Islam. And he wrote a couple of articles on this. And some of his ideas, I don't think are accurate, but I think he was he was really right about one thing, which is that this, this kind of anti blackness is not anti African Enos. Contempt for African people is not really something that's present in Arabia, the time of the prophet is not present in the prophetic community. Right? When it is like when the Prophet says like, so, to be clear, right? He goes out when those Mexicans say that
about beloved, the verse comes down, that says, you know, we created you from
one soul, and we made you, tribe to nations to so you make up the know each other. And the most pious in the eyes of God are the best of you in the eyes of God most noble of using as you guys are the most pious right so that the Quran actually comes down and condemn is that language and the Prophet says, Then he goes up and gives a speech, and he says that, you know,
human beings were all created Adam and Adam is created from dirt. Right, and he reiterates this in his final sermon at the Farewell Pilgrimage when he says that, you know, the Arab has no virtue
Over the non Arab Arab Naira as a virtue of an Arab, the red has emerged from the black box in virtue for the red, except in piety. And then he says in another, I think, a beautiful Hadith, which is that Adam is created, God created Adam from a from a handful of dirt. And the colors of people come from that, the different colors of the dirt, right. So it's like, the different tones of that dirt or where you get hard, are different colors.
So, but what he's trying what he and with the Crown and the profit are trying to do is they're trying to completely break any link between people's ethnicity, their color, their tribe, and their value as human beings. And there's this really moving almost like, terrifying scene. It's the language, the promise language is so fierce. When the Ansara in the hundreds start to kind of get in a fight and bring up some of these pre Islamic tensions they had the prophet comes down, he says, has a mountain 110 means like, putrid, it's just this is disgusting, it came with it, this is disgusting. It isn't unclean. And so there's this effort to break
this link between tribe ethnicity, religion, our sorry, tribe, ethnicity, background, skin color, and your value has been the eyes of God. But what happens is, when the Muslims
basically leave Arabia, they can't, you know, go out of Arabia, they conquer the the greater, greater Middle Eastern world, the greater Middle East, Iran, Central Asia, North Africa, Spain, right.
First of all, slavery during the time of the prophet had been, its its present throughout Arabia, but rabies very, very poor place, actually, in a lot of ways. It's similar to kind of England or Britain and like before the Viking Age, and like the 607, hundreds, where, you know, you go, you do a raid on another village, you grab a few people there, you're slaves. But you know, you're not, there's not like a slave trade. And you're not, these are just kind of part of life, it's captives. Maybe you buy a slave who's been captured from Ethiopia, but it's not really a big part of life.
They end up in the, in charge of the Near Eastern world, which has had a robust and extremely important slavery industry for centuries and centuries and centuries, right. So, you know, like a third at various points, like a third of the city of Rome, is slaves, like the population, a third of them are slaves. So they're crucial for domestic economy, agriculture, etc, etc. The slave trade capturing people from areas and bringing it into another place where there can be sold at much higher prices is a big part is a big industry, in the kind of Near Eastern world that Muslims are now in charge of. So first of all, there's a complete change in how slavery functions.
The second thing is, there's a there's a change in how Muslims had experience Africanus in a way, right. So the the Africans that,
first of all, like the Ethiopians that are present in Arabia at the time of the Prophet and kind of before the Prophet. They're there, some of them are slaves. Some of them are there as like merchants. I mean, there's instances you know, in the life of the prophet where there's delegations of Ethiopians come to Medina and the Prophet himself often uses words that are Ethiopian words. And he says, like, you know, this is the CD open, where you can go look in like a Guz dictionary, you can find the basically that same word, right.
So, Ethiopia is this place across the Red Sea, they respect it, that these people are knowledgeable that remember the Muslims go there as their first place of seeking refuge and they know that the king there is going to treat them justly, right. So they have these are not like people that they have contempt for. These are people who are their peers, right and also culturally familiar to them. All Ethiopian is not is basically as different from Arabic as let's say, Aramaic was the language it was spoken in Palestine or Syria was from Arabic. So they're like culturally, very close to these people. But when
the sort of their Muslims are now in this bigger world of trade and slave trade and economy, they start coming across Africans being brought from, like East Africa, sort of Kenya, Tanzania area, they would call them zand. Africans being brought from across the Sahara from what we think of now is like, say Chad and asiair and South they're up to the two places like Tunis Karwan. Cairo later on becomes Cairo. And these are like people from another unit.
numbers to them, right? They're not people we're,
they're they're exotic. They're essentially Exotic Items, the same way that they're getting slaves from India, and from Persian lands and from Turkic lands and from Slavic lands, right. So they are, like they start to
eat what you see in Islamic civilization is that slavery is not what slavery is racialized, but it's racialized in a lot of different ways. So in America, slavery, and blackness, and freedom and whiteness are inextricably linked, right? So whiteness is defined as being free and not being black being black is defined as below white and enslaved, double or slave, slave or enslave. All right, so that you cannot it that's why I think it's kind of funny when people talk about like, you know, white nationalists. Like we can talk about white culture, I don't think there's a way to talk about white identity in America that's not
based on racism. I just don't think it's like, I wish I wish it were possible. I don't think it's possible. But that's not the case in Islamic civilization. Because there what you have is
slaves could be look like anybody. Right? Most slaves in Islamic civilization, probably we don't know exactly, but most are probably Slavic. Right. So which would mean just something from Europe?
Or Turkic? And of course, there's a lot of African slaves as well. But it's there. Yeah. About.
You mentioned in your essay around the Hadith, and the fact that those that do talk about blackness in a negative way, like saying that the blackface is disfigured or,
you know, there's a the the person is stupid or lazy, has negative connotations that we in America, or you are used to
in terms of being racialized specifically in that way. But you say that some of those 50s are considered forgeries. Yeah, I mean, there are they're all They're all forgeries there, but they're forgeries by definition, right? Because Muslim scholars say that. You can't have ID you cannot have a hadith that insults an entire ethnicity. It just doesn't mean it would it would be the province. It's not possible for the proper to say that, because it's, it's just grotesquely inaccurate, right? So you can't.
So when you look at, we'll see, well, why do these? Why do we find these Hadith and Hadith books? Well, you don't find them in the main Hadith books, you find them in kind of totally uncritical books of Hadith. They're just gathering a bunch of material. And you find them in tragically in the works of Muslim scholars, you know, where they'll be like, Oh, look how smart this guy is. I mean, there's this this sort of shameful episode. I don't think it actually happened. First of all, I don't think it occurred, but I'll tell the story, right. So Imam Shafi is allegedly in a mosque, and
this kind of African slave or African comes in and sort of lies down and then leads and this other guy comes in and he's looking around and shop. He says, Okay, well, you're looking for this black slave, right?
And he says,
he's like, Yeah, I am when I said he's in jail, go look in the jail. And then the guy says, How did you he goes to the jail, he finds him there he comes back says Imam Shafi. How did you know that? as well. The Prophet said that black Africans, when they're hungry, they steal and when they're full, they're foreigner, a foreigner case. So either they're gonna He's gonna steal, he's gonna fornication end up in jail. Now, that, first of all, that's not a Hadith of the Prophet. It's complete forgery. And many, many Muslim scholars have said that. The second thing is, I don't think this story with Imam Shafi actually took place because our chains of transmission for that story are
either terrible or on a sort of an identifiable. So I don't think it happened. But here's the problem. It appears in books about like the virtues of amount of Shafi like, Oh, look how clever he was in the situation. So that mean, whatever, you know, we, I can say with confidence that the Prophet didn't say that I can say with confidence that I don't think Imam Shafi said this. But we know for sure that this is in a book written by in several books written by prominent Muslim scholars. And the problem is that, you know, anti black sentiment is, is pervasive, right. I mean, it affects people, you know, who were otherwise intelligent and sensible and morally, you know, cute
then, that the theology is sound, obviously, because the Prophet would not have said
We know that Allah would not sanction that. And so we have to be able to differentiate between the flies of individuals and people, and
which some unfortunately, permeates into society at times and the push to present day, when not exempt. We still have the same flow. Yeah. But I think what I always want, I always remind students, you know, Muslim students and Muslims is that, you know, in Islamic history, sometimes some people have crazy ideas. Sometimes a lot of people have crazy ideas.
But there's us, there are always voices, and they're usually really authoritative voices, like, I don't mean some marginal scholar, I mean, some, like senior respected scholar who is out there, say, calling BS, on whatever issue you think of like whatever problem you have, whatever issue you're concerned about.
I can just inductively from my experience, say that there is always a voice making that same point. Right. And so people were, like saying that this, this, you know, even scholar who's this essentially, in the same time period as Imam Shafi. When someone brings up like that kind of Hadith to him about the black slave, he says, Whoever narrates us that, you know, they're not, they're not reliable, you just discount them immediately. Right. So there, they are very aware, like even things like when we talk about snow shift in like marriages are suitable partners for Muslims.
And sometimes, you know, Muslim scholars will, in let's say, like North Africa, or the Middle East will really go down, like some racial rabbit holes on this stuff, right. So but not just about African people, but also about white people. So they'll say, you know, that, like in Maliki law, you'll see that, you know, one of the things that makes a woman kind of undesirable would be that she's black or dark skinned, but also that she's like a convert, like a Persian or European convert to Islam or something. So it's, like you both ways are, are impugned, right, but are seen as undesirable. But then you will see big Maliki scholars at the same time saying, no, no, this stuff
is all nonsense. This is all nonsense. The Prophet says, Muslims, their blood is all equal, do you you know, you have to, you always have to,
I don't say look for but you, I know, I know that you will always find these voices that are when when one kind of trend starts to go astray, who will be there to call those people out, and to call them back. And the thing I would say, I want to make sure I've mentioned this before, you know when whenever whenever you guys cut me off, but politely obviously, I'm not saying you're going to be rude, but you also have stuff to do. So the the, this, the story of that the kind of slave saints who dies and then the blackness disappears, is this is this is I think this is one of the hardest things for us, to me, Officer, I mean, like a, an American American audience, that's that sort of
very naturally reading a lot of these things with a sensitivity towards what we know, how we know language is used in our own society, right.
So you kind of have to step outside our assumptions, and step into the assumptions of someone like Malik Minnaar. And you can find stories like this in the room he is Masnavi lots of Sufi, really wonderful works of great mystics like Rumi, or, you know, etc, etc.
In the same story, a black Saint who's just immensely respected for their piety, they're like closest to God. Then something happens and they the blackness leaves them but it's always it doesn't say they became white it doesn't say they you know, look like Max Vaughn side out and greatest story ever told or something who's Swedish by the way, late Max one Syrah
it says that His face became like the moon. And here you really have to understand the kind of cosmology and the language that's going on in the Sufi tradition, right. So, the, the goal of the Sufi path is to become close to God to in the in a physical sense to rise out of this world to rise up towards the heavens towards the divine. And the the symbol of that, the sort of the barrier between our Earth
The world, and the world of reality is the moon. And that's true, it comes from Neo Platonism that you have the sublunary world like the moon is the, the kind of edge of this world in a way. And it's also the image of beauty in Arabic poetry. So the prophets face is like the moon over and over again, you see this in praise poetry by the Prophet, his face is the moon, his face is the sun, his face is the moon is it's like going like the moon. And that's both because the moon is beautiful, but also because he is the best of creation, right? He's the closest you can get to, to the closeness to God, the closest you can be to God is in the station of the Prophet of Islam. So when
someone is becoming like the moon, they're not becoming white, like, you know, Jonathan brown or David Bowie or something like that, right? They're becoming
one, they're going up towards, quote there, they're becoming close to God, right? They're leaving the kind of dirty and, and, and messed up earthly world with all its constraints and limitations. And then this is the other thing that's really important. In that language, if you're trying to construct sort of an image of a human being, transcending the earthly world, and attaining kind of almost enlightenment, right? You What is this? What stands in for the human being?
The black slave, right? Because not only is the black slave seen as the sort of lowest rung on the social ladder, is slave, but and by the way, right? How does Sufis always talk about human beings, they always talk about them as slaves of God, just like the Quran. And the New Testament, the Old Testament talks about human beings, the slaves of God.
But this is especially pronounced in the Sufi tradition where the Sufi wants to be, the Muslim was going above and beyond the regular requirements of the Sharia to do to attain true closest to God is trying to become the most devoted slave of God. Right? The, the one who's freed by in their, in becoming a total slave of God, you become free.
Now, the then why, why blackness? Because? What is Adam? Adam? My blackness? Adam, what is Adam?
Adam means dark, very dark, with my means very dark or black. Right? So Adam is created from, from dirt. Actually, my kid just asked me the other day, he was like, why are black people not white?
So that's actually an interesting question, except it should be the way it is why or why he will not black and both kind of, you know, in terms of our kind of sacred narrative of humanity, where, you know, humans come from Adam, or to Adam is created dark, like that is the that is the natural state of man, the natural state of the human being is this dark, this dark skinned creature of the earth. And so when that dark skinned creature of the Earth, escapes, like transcends the world of forms, and moves towards God, towards the moon, right, that is the, that is the story of a saint of a Wali. And then I do my kid I explained also, you know, why is it that why your skin is because a bunch of
human beings are like, kept walking north, because they were following some woolly mammoth, I don't know what they were doing, they kept walking north. And if you don't have if you have a lot of melanin in your skin, well, first, you're not going to get sunburned. But you're not if you don't have that much sunlight and you need to synthesize vitamin D, you're not gonna be able to do that if you have a lot of melanin in your skin. So sure enough, environmentally lighter and lighter and lighter until you get, you know, pasty white people. So I you know, but I so I think that's, uh, but it's, it's tough. Like, when you when you read that story, it's really hard for us to say,
Come on, this is just anti black. I mean, come on, like, Give me a break for us around Yeah, stop, stop pushing it. But look, are we saying that this Malik bin dinar, literally went, bought his slave, so he could subservient. He could make himself the servant of that slave. Right. So let's let's give this guy that charity that he's not some kind of callous, biased, racist person who can't see beyond skin color. Right? So let's give him that charity. I think he deserves it. But let's also take his language seriously. When he says the blackness left his faith in His face became like the moon. Let's take that seriously. But he doesn't mean he stopped being like, you know, bad black
because black people are bad and ugly and unattractive. It's he stopped. He stopped being human. He stopped being tied to this world and he his sort of journey towards God was completed.
Well, that's seems like an excellent place for us to start to wrap up. I'm going to give her the opportunity to do that. And I say Dr. Brown, this has just been an absolutely huge
Breathing an excellent
I don't want to say conversation because it's more like an education about some of these different components that a lot of us are not familiar with. So have a passing on you. Oh, thank you so much, Dr. Brown,
I ensure that our audience, the students, at least,
are benefiting or will benefit from this session, as much as we did today. It was filled with lots of new information, and amazing discussion. So thank you so much. And I really hope that we can have another session in the future with you about this particular topic, because it's very loaded. And I believe there are lots and lots of other topics that intersects with this one that we have been, like, knocking on their doors. So it is so much.
Yeah, it's my pleasure to, you know, like I I, you know, anything I study, it's usually because I have these questions, right. So I mean, I, for me, this was a lot of was about kind of trying to answer these questions myself. And so I if it's useful for other people, that makes me happy.
You know, I also try to be really honest about this stuff, and not, you know, not kind of fudge things, or cherry pick. So, I think that's important. And I'm always available. If you or your students have questions, they can email me and look up my email. If I don't reply, within a few days, just email me again, if I don't reply, email me again. And again, I won't get bothered. It just means that I missed emails. Thank you so much. And we'll definitely share your email with students. And we're going to share this call. So this asynchronous recording, students are really excited, we're hoping that they will use the different highlights that come out of these different
discussions that we're having, and have their own discussion, as they were things that students like you said, Don't fudge don't not deal with what is really bothering you. Let's get into the history. Let's see, what does he say? What's what is the actual religion as opposed to societal biases, and you know, racialized issues.
There's just a lot that we need to talk about. So wait, sorry. Can I take two more minutes? I'm sorry, I just haven't. I feel like I've been irresponsible. Because I haven't I didn't explain the maybe you can like edit this are slated in our or not, I don't know. But like the incidents where the Prophet gave the two black slaves for the one slave, I wanted to explain this because I didn't do it. But one of the things that's really important, keep in mind is that the, the way that it especially in the earliest time period, people, actually, throughout Islamic history that they thought about slaves was they associated certain ethnicities or backgrounds with certain skills.
Sometimes this was like very reasonable. So they would associate like young Turkish men, with really good writers, of course writers who knew how to do mounted archery. And so they were like, if you were looking to build like an army or a bodyguard, you would buy one of these, you know, a bunch of these guys, right? Sometimes it was just sort of silly stereotypes. Like, you know, Greeks are really trustworthy and good accountants, and just weird things like that. Some of those are silly. But, but but in the earliest time period, you see this, it's a practical aspect, right? So Malik in his motto, so he's writing, you know, essentially the third or fourth generation of Muslims. And he
talks about how it's okay to trade your by one Arab slave for two or more like two or more Ethiopian slaves, or some other group that don't know Arabic and don't know have commercial experience. So it says like one guy who speaks Arabic and has commercial experience, you can trade for two, let's say Ethiopians, but he says Ethiopians who don't speak Arabic and who don't have commercial experience. So you have to think about like the world of the Middle East in the earliest time period. So where Muslims oriented, like they're oriented towards the Mediterranean, Persia, North Africa, right, kind of Ethiopia, and that world is sort of it's like even Arabia, it's kind of marginal place by that
time for that right. So they want people who are going to be able to like be your why one of the reasons people bought slaves is actually to make them commercial agents, have them run your business for you. So go like we got we is someone who can speak Arabic speak Aramaic speak Persian, who can go out, do a bunch of trading, come back, and like, you know, bring the caravan back to me, right. So that person is going to be more valuable than somebody from Ethiopia, who doesn't know Arabic. We have no idea what their background is, you know, so it was but you you see this very clear association of
Background and like geographic and cultural origin with the skills they have. And it's really interesting that Jahad the famous metabolites and kind of literate Turo, diagenetic,
He says, you know, people like to make fun of like, you know, Africans and Indians, and they say they're stupid. And he says, this is this is nonsense. Like, we know, we know that this, like, in India, they have super advanced mathematics. Like, those guys aren't the ones who are being brought to us, right? So his point he's making is like, don't judge these other cultures by the people that you encounter because the people that get like, captured on the coast of sand or inland in like goods now Kenya or something, they might just be some guys like farmers out, you know, farming, and suddenly they get grabbed by raiders or something like that. You don't you don't, you know, you're
you are like an educated person judging these people who were no way, necessarily any representation of the world that they come from. And we know he's we know, these places have super advanced sciences.
So it was like a, it's a very interesting thing to think about this idea of like, why somebody who's one race, quote, unquote, is more viable than another race? It's not necessarily because white people are very black or something like that. It's because there's a lot of other assumptions, sometimes sound assumptions about what type of skills that person is going to bring. So I'm starting to like, take that last section, I want to be responsible and explain that. Yeah. Well, there's so much to explain. And we really appreciate the fact that, you know, you brought up that point, because I think that even when students listen to this conversation, they're going to have plenty of
questions. You know, that's what we do. Like, we have to analyze and try to figure it out, make sense of what we already know, and then go and dig deep, and learn new information. So but thank you so much, Dr. Brown, and may Allah bless you. We're gonna do a new two as well. I was talking to hope I get to meet you in person. Yes, pretty to isolate them. I'm sorry, gotcha.
So habba, that was just a phenomenal discussion. So, so much, you think I know, we're well over we know, we told students, we were going to be just like, half an hour, 45 minutes, but Dr. Brown had so much to give. So we're asking for forgiveness. And we hope that you enjoy this program. Yes.
And I honestly didn't want it to end because there are lots and lots of other things that we haven't even touched upon. And they are very important and very crucial to this topic as well. And we can handle this topic, the racial justice, topic and
race in Islam from different angles.
So as as he mentioned, so, like from what he said, We could definitely take this whole discussion from the field of linguistics and language and how language made a huge difference
throughout history in like shaping our own understanding of different concepts and different values. That's one angle to take this topic from the there is another angle that has to do with culture and society in sociology. Another aspect we can discuss definitely is as well, psychology and the psychology of the Muslims at the time of the Prophet sallallahu Sallam and the psychology of Muslims living now at different places at different societies, and how this weighs in as well. So there are lots and lots of things, but I'm really glad that he had the ground as one of our guests today. Yes. So signing off, just know that we have several other sessions in our series. We have been enjoying
it, continue to look for the information on our Center for religious and spiritual life Facebook page, as well as sending it directly to those that are on the Smith campus and throughout. So may Allah bless everyone, we're going to be signing off i Salam aleikum