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Islamicate Interview – Slavery and Islam
Channel: Jonathan Brown
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Hi, I'm Sarah Monique McCullough and welcome to our second session of Islamic authors with myself Simon Alderney. And I'm delighted to have with me today, Dr. Jonathan Brown, or professor Jonathan Brown, as we'd say,
a dear friend, but also one of the, in my estimation, most interesting scholars in the field of Islamic Studies in terms of just the sheer range of topics that he covers, and we'll be discussing, inshallah his recent book slavery and Islam.
And just a brief introduction to Professor Brown,
who will be well known to a lot of our viewers. And he's currently the Waleed bin Talal, chair of Islamic civilization, in the School of foreign service at Georgetown University. He has got his PhD at the University of Chicago, an extremely well traveled scholar, and extremely well published scholar who's written on topics from Hadeeth studies, to Holocaust studies, to early Islamic history, to all sorts of sort of fascinating topics, including the controversial, which basically covers today's topic. So inshallah, the standard format will be, I will allow Professor brown to cover this topic.
If you sort of, I know, Jonathan brown for a long time. So I'll go ahead and call you, jack, if that's all right.
So Jacqueline shall be covering this topic for maybe about 10 minutes, just giving us an idea of what
motivated him to write the book, and in a sense of what the main themes of the book
after which I will launch into a discussion in the standard way.
And that discussion will go on for at least half an hour. And if anyone has any questions, we'll try and cover those questions towards the end of our discussion.
JACK has been very kind to suggest that if we find that the discussion is going on over an hour, and there is interest on the part of the viewers that we could potentially go on for a bit longer, depending on your circumstances of construct, and understand your sort of, you know, you have other responsibilities as well, as we all do. So please, you know, please feel free to let me actually before I sort of let you take it, and take things over, I do want to emphasize, people are free to write in questions, they will come up to us as comments. And you can also, I would encourage you all to buy the book. And there's a link that's present in the video description on YouTube or on the
the post on Facebook. And inshallah, you know, I think that this is really an extraordinary work that a lot of people should be reading, so please do consider buying it. And with that, let me ask jack to go ahead.
Ma'am. Thanks a lot for
thanks, inviting me.
So this book, cyber in Islam was really the thing that was the topic that I made. By the way, everything I'd say now is actually in the book. So if you're interested in more really reading it, instead of hearing you can find it a book. But when I was,
you know, I was when I first became Muslim, probably about 919 years old. And at some point, early on, I remember I was reading a translation of the Quran and I came across a verse in swords. And now that verse 16, that were God compares it, you know, a,
I've done memerlukan lie after lie after Alicia.
And then to a slave who's owned that cannot do anything, versus someone who God has given like, good sustenance to right. And this is this is actually a parable of, you know, people who call on false gods versus call on the god right. So false gods are like, slaves that are can't do anything. Right. And,
and I was struck, I mean, I remember being struck because I was like, Wait a second, you know?
Like, you can't just mention slavery, like, you have to say something about how slavery is wrong, like, you can't just talk about slavery. And then it wasn't even saying, you know, go get a slave or do this with a slavery that was, it was just mentioning it as a parable like as essentially, you know, as a, as a figuratively, figuratively. So that sounds like that's kind of, I understand, but anyway, it wasn't a big deal. Um, I think that like, maybe like a lot of Muslims. You know, you know that
The Quran talks about slavery, slavery talks about freeing slaves a lot. Right?
But you know, you can, it's not really a big issue that comes up a lot for, at least for me, it wasn't.
then of course, so I went out of my my mind. But then when the ISIS thing happened, right,
there was this, you know, a lot of these newspaper articles came out, like in the New York Times, you know, ISIS and the theology of rape and everything, although it turns out actually that some of the reporting on that was was inaccurate. The reporter is, basically reprimand.
Yeah, or just Yeah, like, basically, it was, you know, not, there was stuff that was not well authenticated. So anyway, the,
you know, that was a, it became a really big issue. A lot of Muslims were, you know, they were in shock, because, like, here's all these guys saying that they're following a cry in the sun. And they're enslaving, you know, Z's and Christians and other people in Iraq and Syria. And,
you know, and they're saying, like, well, this isn't a crime. This isn't the Hadeeth isn't the Sharia. So what's the big deal? You know, and Muslims didn't really know how to answer that. And some of the responses were by Muslim scholars like, well, there's, you know, consensus that slavery has been prohibited.
Okay, so what so a bunch of people today say something, but I'm telling you, I'm following the crown, the Sunnah. And you know, what's your answer that today, we decided we're not going to do that that's like an answer.
So it was a really big issue for a lot of Muslims that I mean, I completely understand. So I was, I really wanted to deal with this topic, kind of try and answer these questions.
And I guess the main question in the book,
sort of their present throughout the book is, how do you?
What do you do when the source that you consider to be morally authoritative?
Seems to allow something that you consider morally reprehensible?
So how do you deal with that? Like, how do you even make sense of your feeling of more reprehensible like, how do I, if I'm Muslim, I'm supposed to follow the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet?
And they know best. Why is it that I feel so strongly that slavery is wrong? So first of all, why do I have that feeling? How do I make sense of that? Second of all, how do I make sense that my feeling contradicts these authoritative sources? And what does that mean about the kind of truth value of the sources or those abilities, the ability of the sources to offer me guidance?
So that's the huge question now, of course, I was reading this book at the same time, as this
protest took place in Charlottesville, I think it was 2017 about taking down the statue of Thomas Jefferson. Now Thomas Jefferson had slaves Thomas Jefferson had a slave concubine, that he had children with Sally hemming, and
George Washington and slaves and this whole idea that George Washington was like, you know, I didn't want to have slaves, freed them all. This there's a book I recommend reading called, never caught about own a judge who is a slave girl, a girl with enslaved, you know, from her parents were slaves of the Washington family. She ran away when the Washington's were in Philadelphia, and they spent the rest of their lives hunting for her. Like they they are always trying to get her back. So this idea that they didn't just say, Oh, it's fine. It's good. She's good. It's good. She left, you know, we want to free your anyway. No, no, no, no, no, not at all. So.
And when this happens, you know, it was funny, because Donald Trump came out and sort of said, what I see more succinctly than I could brought up the point, which is he said, okay, George Washington's a slave owner, you're going to take down the dodge the George Washington,
you're going to rename everything in america that's named Washington, which is pretty much everything.
And here, this was the crux of the what I was interested in, right, which is that
it's what I call the slavery conundrum, right? So you have three axioms. And
you can't really reject any of them. Maybe you can, but we'll talk about that you can't really reject any of them. But you also can't hold all three of those axioms at the same time. So it's a conundrum. The first axiom is that slavery is a intrinsic and gross evil throughout time.
And this is all stuff that now we know this is these are fixed points of inquiry, these are axiomatic in our society. So slavery is evil. It was easy today it was evil 100 years ago, as 1000 years ago as well. 2000 years ago, evil 3000 years ago.
And if you want to say that, that's not not axiomatic, try go
Going into any kind of social setting and saying that slavery was actually okay 200 years ago or something, see what will happen. And then, you know, we'll talk later. The second Maxim is that all slavery is slavery. So there's no such thing as like good slavery, bad slavery, you can't say, yeah, Thomas Jefferson had slaves, but like, he was really nice guys, we treated them Well, no, no, there's no such thing as you know, any type of slavery is unacceptable. Slavery is a gross and intrinsic moral evil throughout space and time to all slavery, slavery. Three, our past has some kind of moral or even legal claim over us. So we look to our past for guidance. Maybe we look to our
past for strict rules.
Now, here's the problem. If you look at the human heritage, so the heritage of humans beings,
prior to, let's say, the year
prior to the year 1690.
In all of world history,
I know of 123 people in all of human history. I don't mean in like the West, I don't mean I mean in everywhere that we there are no
three people who said that slavery in and of itself is evil is a moral evil. Not enslaving the wrong people, not treating your slaves badly.
I mean, that is slavery in and of itself isn't evil.
Can you mention this? Yeah. One is Gregory of Nyssa. He's a bishop, one of the church fathers, a bishop from Kappa decay died and
394 I think, the Common Era. The other one is
john Bo die. He's a French jurist, and historian and kind of man about town renaissance man died 1596, I'm not mistaken. And the third one is a German jurist named aka Avon rep gal. Who, in the I think he's in the early 1300s. of i'm not mistaken, he wrote a book called the sex and Spiegel, the Saxon mirror, which is, I think, one of the earliest books, kind of Germanic law books.
And he basically repeats Gregory of neices arguments, we'll look a little bit of adjustment.
So that's it.
So here's the thing right? Now look, if
people who are saying like we should take down the statue of Thomas Jefferson, people are saying we should take down the statue of that guy in Bristol, people were saying we should, you know, change the name of this building or that building? Because this guy was involved in the slave trade. They are completely right. They are totally correct. Logically speaking, they are completely correct.
Slavery is a gross and intrinsic evil across space and time. All slavery, slavery. If you're involved in that, if you're involved in the growth of gross, intrinsic evil throughout space and time, something that's so horrific, no one can countenance
Why would you ever honor that person? Why would you ever look to that person for guidance? I mean, Osama Do you take advice from people who think slavery is okay.
Do you take Did you ask them? Like, I don't know what I should do in this situation? Or, you know, I don't want to do, what do I do ethically? Right? You know, tell me about God. No, we wouldn't. It's ridiculous.
They're completely correct. But here's the problem.
It means you're going to take at the least at the very least, all of human history, prior to 1690. into the garbage can.
That's it. And then, you know, then we can talk about the 1700s 1800s, whatever, you know, we can talk about Thomas Jefferson, all the other people, but at the very least, every single philosophical tradition of note that I know every religion that I know, all were either condones slavery, had no problem with slavery, maybe defended slavery, thought it was totally normal.
So what do you do? That's a big, that's a big predicament. Some people might be willing to pay that cost some people want Yeah, you're right. Let's get rid of all of human heritage before 700. Why not? If it's if it's if it's evil, it's evil, get rid of it. But very, not a lot of people are willing to pay that cost. And certainly people who look to reveal traditions that come from, you know, the classical period or whatever, the axial age or after, they wouldn't usually be willing to pay that. So that's, that's the main kind of issue I'm wrestling with in the book I've took But anyway, I'll summarize the book really quickly now. So the first chapter is I talk about kind of
talking about definition of slavery and the main
The point I'm trying to make there is that I really when you define slavery, it's a very political action. And it's a lot of things. It's about defining kind of what you think slavery is, as opposed to what, you know, other people might do. Right? So it's, it's about kind of saying, Who matters who's suffering matter who's suffering doesn't matter. Now,
there is no agreed upon definition of slavery. That's not necessarily a problem, right? So there's no agreed upon definition of religion. You know, you and I are sort of in religious studies. And there's no agreed upon definition of religion, religion, that's not a big deal. Because if you say religion is this or that, no one says you're an evil person. But here's the problem with things like terrorism and slavery, these words that are not not agreed upon in terms of their definition. But if you are guilty of those things, you become kind of you have been cast out of the circle of dispersibility, or thinking ability, right? Then that's the problem, right? So when these, these
definitions are both there's a there's a degree of subjectivity, there's a problem with subjectivity there. But also they are used as these, they can be used as moral cuddles, that becomes really problematic. The second chapter looks at the sort of looks at the history, sorry, slavery and Islamic law. third chapter is a kind of overview of slavery in Islamic civilization. Then I talked about
the abolition of slavery in Islam, abolition of slavery, and so on. I give you the different approaches Muslims, we've taken to that I say what I think the best approach is, I add an X after I look at analyze their approaches from the problem of the slavery conundrum. And then the last chapter deals with the kind of puts all this together and looked at the issue of sex slave sex concubines, basically, in Islamic law owners now owners having sex with female slaves.
Right, so very light reading, shall we say?
You suck my hand. I mean, that's a that's a wonderful summary of actually a very, very sort of,
what can I say? A fairly
lengthy work, which will, I think this may be the longest book you've written? Is that is that fair to say?
but it certainly rewards, you know, spending the time on it. And indeed, sort of reading your extensive footnotes as well.
I think you've covered a lot of fascinating terrain in what you've just said. But I want to emphasize to people that, as you put it, at the outset, this is in the book, but the book has so much more, it's extremely rich, it's extremely well researched. So please do try and, you know, get your hands on it, to be able to read it. I just wanted to ask a couple of questions. And
viewers are already sort of sending in their questions. So inshallah we'll try and get to you, within the next half hour or so.
And while I'm still on to seminar one has just given them to us.
Why 1690? What were you mentioned that you're mentioning before 1690. Just curious, that's around, there's around Wendy's. This one Quaker tract is anti slavery Quaker track is written in Pennsylvania. Right. And you kind of spoke in passing that, you know, who's going to discard everything before 1690? Maybe some people will. And I actually think that, you know, the reality is, so much of our laws, so much of our sort of, like society and culture is so deeply embedded in our history that, you know, sees itself going back to the ancient Greeks, for example, or to Magna Carta, or what have you, I, our institutions couldn't survive that kind of, you know,
extirpation, so to speak of history. But I think that you present the dilemma in a very compelling way.
You know, how do you accept moral guidance from a tradition, whether it's religious, in my view, whether it's religious or irreligious because, you know, moral philosophy in the modern world, which is largely secular, and the Academy, for example, still draws on sort of these kinds of norms that are pre modern as well, even if they're very often critical about them. So, you know, how do you deal with that conundrum? One of the things that I'm curious to sort of, and it's, I actually read the book about six to eight months ago, and I've gone through sort of certain sections in advance of this meeting. But I'm just curious, I can't recall a very detailed treatment of a kind of, it's not
a theological question that, you know, arises in these sorts of contexts. So, I want to compare it with Sherman Jackson's fascinating book, on the problem of black suffering, which covers again, a very similar sort of moral dilemma. And he is, you know, perhaps
a lot more sort of he
show himself to be very directly
implicated in the debate in the way that you point out in the beginning, you know, you're a white male, and you're a Muslim. And therefore, there are two traditions through which you are an inheritor of slave ownership. And he, of course, being an African American is more likely to be at the receiving end of that tradition. But he doesn't, in my recollection, you know, makes such a big issue of it. And he presents the for, you know, for all we know, his ancestors owned slaves to in Africa. I mean, so right? If you look at I mean, I'm not, you know, I'm happy to admit my more immediate guilt in any number of issues. But I mean, what's interesting about this is that, you
know, human history is one in which all of us are descendants of slave and slave owners, probably some point or the other. And I think this is what's fascinating for me, because you, you know, we also have these kind of DNA tests that you can do, I don't know how accurate they are and what scientists think of them, but they show us as being all deeply intermixed as a kind of human society. So my question, I went on a bit of a digression But my question is, from the Ashanti perspective, to a certain extent, you know, this is a question of das in duggleby. Right, you know, what is moral evil? And this certainty that we have in the modern period, I'm just speaking, sort
of, obviously, into sort of theological theory here. But these certainties that we have in the shadows, and it's like, wait, we don't actually have any moral certainties. And so I wonder if that's something that you reflect on in the book, I cannot recall that being a particularly Yeah, I talk about that.
Now, it's interesting, because there's a,
there's a prominent Muslim scholar in the West, whom I have a lot of respect for. So I'm not going to name this person, I'll just say that they, you know, this person
wrote in several of their books that that call the other Jabbar the famous moth hazard, the Sharpie scholar died in 20 1025. And
that, he says that
slavery, Rick in slavery is
bad to hear. It's kind of it's morally evil and intrinsically in and of itself. Now, he ever does this in his book, by the way that scholar never gives the citation.
Right, I looked through this book, and also said Sherman Jackson. And He never says this, in fact, called the College of Art says the opposite. Now, if you're in what tons of light there, you cannot, the things that are allowed by law, by God have to also be morally right.
So the things are, you know, the relationship of like, exactly how things are right and wrong in the world is another issue. But the point is that things are right and wrong in and of themselves in the world. Right. And there can't be contradiction between that and what Gods so God, for example, can't say murder somebody because murder is wrong.
Now for archery, you for sure, you could say God could say murder somebody because the definition of just is what God says. Okay, now from what doesn't so called the other Jabbar. If you're 1000 lights. He can't say slavery is wrong. Why? Because the crown allows it.
So he says, in fact, he says, the fact that God allows slavery means it has to be
Hassan has to be good right? Now
what so Muslims scholars, never pre modern, no pre modern Muslim scholar that I know of, nor could I conceive of them doing this ever said that slavery was evil in and of itself. Right. Okay, remember, by the way, except for those people I said earlier, nobody said this. I'm not not just a Muslim. Yeah. Now, what, what, what what, what would they say?
They always say though, acknowledge it was harmful. There's two things. One, in Islamic law and Islamic theology. Humans are born free.
This is not a Muslim invention. The Roman law also said that the default status for human beings is freedom. But human just flops out of the womb, all things being equal that person's free. Right? Okay.
That the difference between, let's say, Austin, the Romans is that the Romans said there are certain ways that you can legally be enslaved. This is the same thing Islamic law says right right now
that the default of human existence is freedom.
And Muslim scholars are also clear that only God owns our freedom,
our freedom, but God can allow certain situations in which people can lose their freedom. Right? They can lose it, let's say if they commit a crime.
or something like that, right? Or in the Quran and the Sunnah. If you are a non Muslim outside of the Islamic world, and you get captured in a war with Muslims, right? And the Muslim can take you and they can keep you as a slave. I mean,
forgive me losing freedom, because of a crime is not something which is in the Islamic tradition.
We Muslims, he was president at various points in history, right. The point is, they take somebody they put someone in a prison, we would say that is not being free. Right? Right. Um, but so. And by the way, it's interesting that, you know, when when Muslim scholars talk about this kind of legal theorists and morals or moral legal theorists talk about this, they freedom and slavery are controlled by the state, they're held by the ruler, the government,
as almost like
in lieu of God, so just like, the assault on the government can have you executed if you commit a crime, right? Like, they're the ones who hold this right of God. They also hold the right of God in terms of freedom. So come sometime. Yeah, exactly. But so when when, let's say, you know, at the Muslim owned a slave in Cairo and 1500, it's not at so I'm in the Muslim owns the rights of using that slave, the actual freedom and slavery status, that person is held by their government. Fascinating. But that's that never, I mean, that's why, for example, the government can say, You're mistreating your slave, I'm going to make you free to slave or I'm going to take the slave from you
or something like that. So there's this oversight, based on the same way that the Prophet Lisa Islam would oversee.
Like if someone came and said, This guy stole from me, this guy murdered my cousin, right, right. Now, so the Muslim scholars never said that slavery was evil. But they did say it's, it's unnatural. And by a natural, I don't mean like, it's, it's like incest or something. But I mean, it's unnatural. It's not the natural state of human beings. Right? Something has to happen to you if we become a slave. Sure. Now, but they all does that is harmful.
It's as dada dada means harm, right? Why is it harmful? They say this very explicitly. You can't do whatever, you can't make your own decisions, you can't do whatever you want. You don't get to benefit from all the fruits of your labors. You're not a complete legal person. So for example, in most schools have laws, slaves can't own property. Some schools have laws, slaves can't lead prayers. Some schools have lots they've, you know, couldn't be a witness in court. So you're not a complete legal person. So the reason why freeing a slave is good and, and by the way, I don't know of any
source, scriptural tradition or work of thought, that is as obsessed with emancipation, as the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet, the crown, the son of the Prophet are obsessed with emancipation with emancipating slaves.
so why are they so obsessed? Because Muslim jurists would say, or legal theorists who say, slavery is harmful.
And oh, you're but the difference. The arm for them did not outweigh
the owners right of the owner. Right. Right.
Now, Joe might say also, like, Wait a second, you said the kindness center obsessed with emancipation? Well, why didn't the Quran just say, slavery is prohibited? Right?
Because nobody said that knows this idea that had slaves, which pretty much every society and certainly every civilization ever
suggested the abolition of slavery until the early modern period.
Until the 17th, until really the 1700s and 1800s. Right.
Why is that? I mean, that's another issue we can talk about. I wonder if anyone ever sort of what other traditions prohibited alcohol, for example, in the pre modern tradition? Oh, yeah. I'm not sure. I mean, I know prohibition took place in the United States, but that's kind of a modern states kind of effort will be an interesting comparative exercise. I mean, so. So that's the thing is that, you know, some people say, Well, why, you know, crime didn't prohibit slavery, because it would be impossible. Right? Well, I mean, it was difficult to prove it alcohol is difficult to prohibit polygamy, or it's hard to relate it to credit polytheism. Yeah. But Islam did that. Right. In
addition, it's possible, right? That the Quran or the Prophet could have said, Look,
we can't prohibit this, but this is wrong. Right? They don't say that. But the point is that I think the reason why, and just to make a slight digression, but I'll make sense which is, but one of the things that I get emailed every night, every day, every bout once a week. Once it's
So we could get email from somebody saying, I can't understand how people have asked allegedly
fascinating that, you know, and it's always causing them great consternation, anxiety.
So I and this is probably because of my professor and I think about this stuff all the time for given a book. But I, what I, what really interests me is, how not? How could they have thought it? But
why is it that I don't think that? Right? So I mean, if we're looking at kind of humanity, if everybody in humanity has ever lived, get them up on stage, you've got Aristotle, Buddha, the Prophet Moses, you know, everybody
you say, everybody who thinks slavery is evil, in terms of the number itself, go over here, everyone thinks that slavery is not evil intrinsically, itself over there.
The people who think it's evil, we're gonna be very, very small. And they're going to be very specific time and place in human history.
So, here's the thing. What is what does guys not have hearts? I don't understand these earlier people do they just don't. They're like, dysfunctional, their hearts don't work. their brain isn't work. I don't get it. How can they not feel the way I feel?
I think that force us to ask, really, what are the
what does our revulsion mean? How do we think about morality? Right? How do we
it's not a problem. For example, for us to say we don't we think slavery is wrong, because slavery is not really an issue today.
It becomes a problem when we want to talk trans historically about all morality being the morality that should apply for everyone throughout history. Can I interject briefly here, I mean, this is another point where, you know, you're a historian, I was trained as a historian in my undergraduate years. And one of the things that's kind of drilled into you is, you know, don't think anachronistically, right, don't bring your own moral universe, to bear upon the people you're studying in the past who, you know, as Quentin Skinner, sort of famously put it, witchcraft made sense in medieval Europe, right. Or I had the good fortune to study with Jeff stout at Princeton,
who is a sort of relativist and pragmatist. And also we have the phenomenon of post modernism, which questions fundamental truths and beliefs in objectivity and moral truth as well. And so I, you know, this is one of the things where I found fascinating you have this paragraph, I think, towards the introduction, where you say something along the lines of this is one of those topics where whoever writes it, they feel compelled to say, and this is wrong, right.
And it just makes me wonder that actually, this is one of those areas where, for all our sort of commitment to sort of secular secularism in the modern Academy, there are certain set sacred points, which we cannot, you know, really just disregard and think, actually, you can be nonchalant about that point.
And no, you actually have to take a moral position on it, otherwise, you're not a member of our civilization, so to speak. And I find that fascinating is I think that's historically anthropologically interesting as well. I mean, also, you can look at that with other topics as well. So if you said, you know, like, different notions of truth, to there's like the coherence notion of truth, or the correspondence notion of truth. And there's some people who say, like, truth in the past doesn't exist, like, narratives of the past are just things that make sense to a community. Right. Now, if you look at these debates, usually what someone will then say is, well, if so, are
you saying the Holocaust didn't happen? And then you're like, Well, I mean, okay, obviously, all of that stuff. So there's certain I mean, I'm not, I'm not making that up. That's actually what if you look at some of these discussions, you that's how the discussion plays out. Yeah. So the thing is, that are the fixed points. The dogmatic underpinnings, if you will, they are, I find interesting, they're usually things that are recent changes. So like, if you look at in America, I think probably in Britain too. What are the two thing is that you just cannot
you can't support slavery, and you cannot support pedophilia.
Right. Now, by pedophilia. We mean like sexual interest in people that we legally today would consider children
under 18. Um, yeah. So, you know, I just saw this thing yesterday about like some listicle about, we should stop thinking that these people are great. They were actually horrible. One of them was Charlie Chaplin because he would have all these sexual relationship with 16 and 17 year old girls,
although the age of consent was 16. But the point there that he was garbage is awful.
So, but if you think about these two issues,
these are two issues, I think I would say they're maybe the two things that you really just they're sort of like taboo. There are two things that have
inverted very recently in human history. Until very recently, human history, slavery was totally normal
and uncontroversial. Until even more recently in human history.
Man having interest in a, like a new vile 14 year old, would be wouldn't be a debate. There's a great book on this called American child bride by a guy named Styria, his last name, American writer has a major campaign in the US at the moment, as far as I understand to change the laws because you can still get married. Yeah, exactly. That's minor. So but the point is that, you know, the thing is that, and this is I always use this example with my students, I say, look, if I told you that
a guy was brutally murdered, outside of campus, a week ago, brutally murdered.
But if I said, a guy when he go, he
lowered in this 10 year old girl. And then he had sex with her
and ran away with her.
And as soon as like, a, you know, I mean, even me saying that right now. Like, I feel like kind of disgusting, right? So you're like, Oh, that's like, That's messed up.
You know, everyone's quiet after that, and no one says anything.
But if you look in human history, almost all societies think murder is wrong. all societies, and I think pretty much every society would say that just randomly going up to a person and below the street have bludgeoned him to death is wrong. I mean, it's, it's, it's absolutely more wrong
throughout time and space. But in terms of the societies where the second thing is, would be wrong, the majority of human societies in our history, even places don't have some places have a problem. So why the thing that is actually, I think, luring component of it would be I mean, in a lot of pre modern societies, they would say, Okay, well, if it's done in conjunction with a conversation with the parents, then it's okay. Or even if you're in general,
let's say it's not, let's say he doesn't, let's say he, her maryada agrees her dad agrees. Yes. I mean, these things in Yemen, that he will talk about the parents agree to it. Right. Right. Okay. So, but my point is not I think the point still stands, which is it's a it's a reaction that we feel in our stomach. Why is our reaction
stronger to something that is actually much less agreed upon is wrong? And by our species in history? Why is it less fierce reaction to the thing that actually is agreed upon by our species in history as an absolute? That's what by so what is it? Like, the things that we feel
are usually relative recent moral changes?
So that I think is an interesting way to think about the relationship between moral aversion and right, and like, kind of anachronistic or transhistorical emotions in morality. And there, there's another dimension if I mean, like, some of this stuff is really dynamite thinking, you're talking about it, but obviously, we're engaged in that sort of reflection, which is an intellectual exercise here. We're both respected inshallah, I hope I am respected academic. We're both respected academics in general and, you know, reputable universities reflecting on a question which is, you know, intellectually significant.
Right away. This is the same business same debate, that same problem that Christian tradition tradition has Jewish tradition as a Buddhist tradition has Hindu tradition has no moral, natural law thinking has
Conti and philosophy has caused by the way read his stuff on race and slavery, while he's writing the categorical imperative. That's a universal discourse on morality. I forget what it's called, like, you know, he's saying he's saying there are certain Africans and Native Americans. Yeah, you know, they're so lazy says that. They need to be enslaved in order to be productive. Yeah, liberal luminaries like john Locke, as you mentioned in the book, john Stuart Mill, john Stuart Mill, and the colonization of India and civilizations and their knowledge and things like that. So the point is that another thing is, I mean, it's interesting.
Like, you know, who I talked to so many people about this issue when I was writing this book.
And the Convert there's two kinds of conversations. One common first conversation is people just get completely disgusted and freaked out and they can't deal with
That's the normal response. Right? Do you know who I am? The people that consistently, I have the best discussions with this with African American Muslims, without a doubt.
Because I think for a lot of Muslims, they don't want to deal with this. And it freaks them out, and they get really uncomfortable.
I think African American Muslims, this is like, day one, they have to think about this. Absolutely, absolutely. And they This is something that is like, they wrestled with it. Right? And they have to come to terms with it or, or not, right. But the point is, is not something they can kind of put under the carpet. So yeah, for when I was writing this book, in terms of feedback I got I was the African American Muslims were by far the most productive discussions. This, that reminds me Actually, I have a good friend, Amanda Thomas Johnson, who's, you know, going to be starting up actually a PhD at Cornell. He's recently written a book, you know, he's, he's actually the
descendant of slaves who were taken from Africa to the Caribbean. And, you know, then he moved, you know, his family moved to the UK at some point, probably part of what we had as the Windrush generation, so to speak, and then he converted to Islam. So he's actually, you know, a convert Muslim. And I, we've had brief discussions on this, but
to be honest, I mean, they are some of the the more the deeper, more meaningful conversations I've had, where, you know, I fought, it's worth I recommended your book to him, because I thought he was saying that, you know, this is a dimension of this tradition that he was less familiar with, and he wanted to really think about an explore because of the moral sort of complexity of the issue for, you know, his own personal heritage. And, and I think that that, you know, that's something which I hope to bring him on as an Islamic author at some future junction, and perhaps, in part discuss some of although his own book is on a different theme.
This is really sort of like, there are so many threads in this conversation that could be taken up very fruitfully. I wanted to perhaps homed in on, you know, this
one, one element that you kind of mentioned in passing, that there's, there's a lot of material covered in this book. But I was just thinking about sort of the modern condition of what, what Marxists call wage slavery, right? So, you know, there are all sorts of forms that we experience in any given moment in time in any given moment in history, that, given the nature of, you know, modern liberalism, and in a sense, a progressive understanding of how history morally progresses, so to speak,
we can come to an understanding that potentially actually, the way we're living right now maybe seen 100 200 years from now is completely morally apparent, as well. So the forms of employment that we have, and I wonder if you have had the chance to sort of explore any of these
in your sort of bored reading for this project, notions that debt is a form of, you know, bondage. In fact, of course, we had debt bondage historically, but, you know, the fact that we all are going to university and massive amounts of debt, and we're then you know, getting a mortgage speak, which will, you know, again, a bet in bed. So within a system, you have this quote from the matrix, you know, in the text, where you're saying that, we're all ultimately slaves to the system. And you say that, obviously, that's different from being owned by someone. But
you also have these fascinating anecdotes of slaves in very good conditions historically.
One of my teachers
once commented that most of the key lifts in Islamic history were actually children of slaves.
And because, you know, caylus, often had concubines, and these would be the sons of concubines, who would, of course, by giving birth to a slave of the, sorry, a child of their master, would thereby be freed upon the and potentially become extremely influential figures behind the throne as well. So you know, that, that sort of like multi layered nature of slavery, I wonder if you can comment on it.
You know, how it's difficult for us to really sort of have a uniform understanding of Yeah, I mean, I think that the one of the challenges is that slavery is both a metaphor and a legal concept, right? So
and some, and sometimes those legal kinds of the metaphor overlap.
But a lot of times they don't, but they can be kind of invoked. Right. So there is no since 1926, basically, or let's just say 96. That's a 90 at
the last possible date. There's no legal flavor in the world. There's no slavery and there's no slavery if you define slavery as illegal.
category that is acknowledged and can be adjudicated, right. There's no no slavery in the world right?
Now, you know, the question is how do you define slavery? So one way is to say, well, it's someone being property of another person. Another great way you can say as somebody who's not free,
but then things like property and freedom
really only makes sense inside a consistent or coherent legal or moral tradition. Because if you look at kind of humanity as a whole throughout history,
what is property? What is freedom? There's no property just somebody has a right over something else.
Some rights, that that's freedom is the ability to do what you want, except when you're not allowed to do what you want. That's the depth and just told me like these are, it makes no sense. It's meaningless. transhistorical. Can I? Yeah, on the point of that being no legal slavery, doesn't the 13th amendment leave a kind of space?
No, because many people were prisoners in prison. I mean, this is, this is the big debate of 13. Movie The 13th. Right, is that slavery can continues by another name, right.
But you're not the people in prison are not saints, right?
They're not on they're not they're still free people. They're just in, in prison. So now, there's a great book, if you're interested. There's called the slavery by another name by Douglas Blackmon which talks about the way that especially in the south,
you know, mostly black men are, you know, on 100 200,000 black men between 1865 and 1920s or so, we basically get arrested for, like, oh, you're loitering by the 711, you come to come to, like, okay, you're guilty of vagrancy, you need to pay a fine of $100. Okay, you're going to prison. Oh, and now, by the way, before even anyone can find you, I'm gonna give you to this company, I'm selling you to this company up in Pennsylvania to build railroads, you're gonna go get worked until you die. And then they're gonna bury you next to the railway. That's, it's, it's, it's ridiculous. So but but that person is not legally a slave. So that's my, I'm not saying that. I can't have a continuation
of exploitation or coercion or whatever. But that. So but the the, the third way to think about slavery is slavery is a sort of a coercive relationship,
a relationship of exploitation,
a asymmetrical relationship of dependency or of equity, to exploitation. This is where you get what, you know, thought of as like modern day slavery, or new abolitionism, which really starts to get articulated in the late 1990s. And
it really works along the idea of slavery as being a coercion, so it's coerced labor with essentially no
remuneration. Now, the problem here is that
what's coercion? Right? If you look at a lot of the, the major writers on modern day slavery, in the 1990, to 2000s, and they write about prisoners, they say, look, if you're in a gulag in North Korea, yeah, you might be a slave. Okay, but if you're a prisoner in the UK, or the US, you have work, you can do your you can you can choose not to work, if you don't want to work, then you're not a slave. Okay? But now think of the whole movie 13. And the whole idea of prison as a, you know, this sort of carceral slavery is, that is, is now much more accepted. And a lot of those others, at least one that I'm thinking of, is now said he's reconsidering the issue, what's changed the conditions of
conditions not change. It's just what are we comfortable with? So that's why this idea of what is the slavery in a lot of ways, this is a political definition, right? What? Now, here's the thing, what coercion if you are in it, okay, if you're in a federal prison in the United States, federal prison, you have to work. You don't have to, but if you don't work, you're gonna get what you're gonna get put in solitary confinement. You're gonna get denied access to the canteen and the prisoners usually don't serve food after about 5:30pm. So okay, no clue from 5:30pm to like, 7am. They can deny family visits, no family, solitary confinement, starving you to death. That seems like
corrigin me, especially the UN considers solitary confinement to be a form of torture.
So, you really like what is coercion? A lot of people would let a lot of Americans they won't these people aren't being coerced, they're in prison. They did something wrong. They you know, right. But if you look at what happens you have you don't work in prison. And then by the way, what where does these workers in US prisons? Where do they they've done
Work for Victoria's Secret for other companies, even according to like Martin Meyer International Labor Organization,
definitions of modern day slavery, US prisons are places that have slaves. There's no I mean, it's just prima facia per se they are there, there are people who are in captivity or being farmed out to private corporations. And as you say, the the film 13th, which, you know, I guess we'd both recommend, it's on Netflix, to, for people to watch illustrates very sort of,
very powerfully that and has created inaugurated this really serious debate along with many of the scholars who are right speaking in it, they've, of course, been writing about these themes for a while. But here's the problem directly. But the problem is like there's, you can look at cases, there's a case called sylia, Dean versus France at the early 2000s. Another one called Queen versus Tang from the Australian High Court a couple years later. And in both your cases are basically people saying, I'm a modern day slave, I'm being held in slavery.
In France, in one case in Australia, another case. And in the first case, the the I think it's the European Court of Human Rights, if I'm not mistaken, comes back and basically says, Look,
this person might be being treated badly, but they're not being treated like property. So they're, they're kind of going back to this very property centric understanding of slavery, right? very legalistic, formalistic, understanding this Australian high court case, they said, No, if we look at the coercive relationship, we think this is slavery, right? So you can see even in a one decade or within a few years in the in the in the 2000 to 2000 teens. There's these two still these two poles about what slavery is that are like, pushing and pulling against one another. And then it's like, you know, I remember.
Okay, what, you know, kind of like white nationalist people say, I think this is even in the state curriculum, educational curriculum in some states in the US. They'll say that, actually, a lot of white people were slaves to came to the Americas because they were indentured servants. Right. Right. Now, by the way, there's some crazy stuff, like the year that is 1619, when Africans were first brought to the US to America, Northern slave. Yeah, same year, about 100.
English children are bought from like the streets orphanage of London brought them here, but most all of them died.
My point is, some people well, these indentured servants were slipped.
Now, someone would say, and it's a limited period of time, right? service. Yeah, it goes for through the 1700s. I'm not sure exactly where to know, I mean, in terms of like, you can go into an okay, you can sell your services for you know, to go to another thing, right. So they'd say, someone would say, Whoa, these people are not slaves. This African guy is like out, you know, hunting or his village gets raided, he gets taken, put on a ship center of Brazil. That's right, and he's gonna stay there for the rest of his life, he's gonna get work until he dies. That's it. But these guys, these British guys, they went in they did they agree to do this, they say, I'll give up certain
freedoms of mine. And even you can punish me, if I run away, you can brand me, you can chop my hand off, you can kill me, right. But in return for my trip to the new world, I'm going to be your servant for industrial for 10 years. And after that, I'm going to get a piece of land, I'm going to try and make my living now. So those are very different. One is one is unwilling and one's willing.
That's a good point. But guess what, according to, you know, things like International Labor Organization, other walk free other anti slavery organizations in the world today, right? debt bondage and dense indentured service is a major type of slavery to the show. So what you see is,
you can think of it as like inflation over the term, right? The term slavery is inflating inflating play, it's sucking up more and more things underneath it. And in one sense, this is good, because look, if there's some guy who's getting treated badly in another country, well, we don't want that to happen. Yeah. So what's it if someone says, Oh, he's a slave, now suddenly, like Bono is out there saying, we gotta fight for this guy's rights or whatever, you know, and then everybody now this guy's life is better. That's good, right? But at the same time, if you expand the definition, expand, expand, expand, it starts to cheapen the suffering and experience of the people who were
actually slaves. And when I say actually slaves, I put quotation marks around that because modern day slavery is not a metaphor. When people talk about modern slavery. They're not saying it's like, oh, you're working. My boss is making these work like a slave. Right? They're saying no, these people are actually slaves, just like people 200 years ago were slaves. These people are slaves. But actually what we're saying when we
We say that, hey, wait a second, like, person, American prison is not being treated as badly as a slave in the antebellum south, what we're actually doing there is saying, there's different levels of slavery, and now breaks that first the second axiom
and also receive it. So you start to like, people start to get really uncomfortable, and this kind of discursive system starts to break down. I wanted to so I just wanted to say that there are quite a few questions, and
I'll be able to turn to them in just a moment. If that's all right, inshallah, but thank you everyone for putting in your questions. And we'll put them to press around in just a moment, I wanted to close with, you know, a reflection on what this all means for Muslims. So, obviously, you're writing both as a Western academic and as really a Muslim theologian thinking about serious questions from a Muslim perspective as well. And, you know, I really like the way in which you blend those two traditions of approaching the Islamic tradition
in a very rigorous
in a sense that one of the major challenges and I kind of hinted at this when I was referring to a shout ism, that what is the source of our norms? Right? And what you're saying is, in the slavery conundrum, that slavery is wrong, that's an axiom that we know, slavery, slavery, slavery is wrong, etc. And it, you know, in a sense, is a disruption of that, you know, pre modern Islamic moral universe where, okay, if you're an Shadi, norms are purely, you know, given by God, everything that humans do are completely contingently, in a sense,
you know, have no moral value whatsoever,
or your Martha's easily, you know, as, and there are other options as well, of course, and, you know, if something like slavery has been mentioned neutrally in locker,
or, as, you know, in the case that you mentioned, which struck you so much when you just converted that was a neutral mentioned, but in other instances, it's mentioned as something that is encouraged to bring to bring an end to through freeing of slaves and so on. So, you can see, there's a sense of discouragement, almost, but it's not, I think neutrality is quite salient that the martyr Zilla would seem to suggest, actually, you know, that's something which we cannot say is evil. Right.
And I sort of sent you in a WhatsApp message just before our session that, you know,
this is a Hadith, I don't believe it's mentioned in the book at all, but inside of Buhari where Abu huraira says, you know, minimum leuke agilon, quoting the Prophet that the slave has to rewards, and he mentioned the rest of the Hadith, and then he adds, at the end, if it weren't for the Hajj, and, you know, take care of my Mum, I would have loved to die a slave, right. And so there's a completely different sort of conception of what it means because for him, it's like, you know, a slave is getting a double reward, a reward for being obedient to his guard and a reward to being obedient to his owner, despite all of the other harms that, you know, are recognized in this judicial tradition.
And so in a sense, there's this moral sort of, like,
challenge that, you know, I would suggest that our modern circumstances puts us into this bind that actually, you have to have this sharp, strong moral position on this question. But at the same time, you have a tradition, which if you want to be a part of, you can recognize there's even moments where certain members of the tradition like Abu huraira are saying, actually, there can be a moral good, almost involved in being in a state of servitude. And he almost says that, you know, I wish I was a slave. Right. So yeah, that complexity, I wonder if you want to just comment on that before we go to the questions until,
yeah, I mean, by the way, like, you know, I'm not saying that. The Herrera was like getting this from Christianity or something. But I mean, like, you see a lot in the Christian Jewish in the in the Gospel and the letters of writings of Paul and the Gospels that, that Jesus is like, comes in the guise of a state right, that the, the Christian is like, you know, to, to be a slave to to fellow men to their fellow man,
not just to God, but to their fellow man.
The way that saints like Ignatius Loyola, the way that they serve other people, I mean, they serve them like slaves, that's what they that for them is this expression of piety or a way to train themselves in piety?
I would say that
now one thing is important to remember is that you know, I'm sure he's don't go around and say like, you know,
hey, Osama like
you know, you need to cook me dinner right now. Some
You know, oh, what's wrong? You're offended by me saying that. But God never said don't tell someone to cook dinner right now. And there's no right or wrong stuff. No, right. Here's the of course there's right or what's called
custom. Yeah. And that's what people like, you know, when Ali and others write about this, that's where most human morality comes from custom. And by the way, this is how Islamic law also, we know this from one of the major five major principles or Maxim's of Islamic jurisprudence. And then we'll have Mr. Adam hakima. And another version. Custom is probative customers dispositive customers authoritative as long as it doesn't violate the Sharia obviously, but when someone says, like, you know, like, if I went and told my wife, Hey,
where's where's dinner?
And don't forget to clean the dishes. And I'm going to go to the I'm going to go to the shisha cafe with the with the boys, I'm gonna watch the game. I want the kids put to bed. I'm gonna come in. And if I did that, I'll tell you where I'd be. I'll be outside the next second. The next minute, I'm going to be outside on my butt. Like wondering why how I flew that far out of the house in that amount of time. And then I'm going to get taken to court my wife today. This guy's a deadbeat dad, I want to be divorcing him. And if there was a Sharia judge there, they'd say, yeah, this guy is a terrible husband. Because I am not what what determines obligations of husbands and wives is custom.
Right? So these are real customers, real customers and like, no, oh, I don't know what to get Osama for his wedding. That's not custom. But that's like a silly forum. husband is like these deep senses of right and wrong. We have interesting, right? I custom can change.
So now that's really important to remember.
The second thing you were talking about? Was I forgotten? Oh, about the Yeah, so young Muslims scholars.
Like the idea of freeing slaves was something that Muslims did for pi cystic reasons they wanted reward for God Himself. They'd say, sometimes you have these documents of manumission. With it's a, I do this hoping for
rewards from God. Right? Um,
one of the things that people that Muslim scholars talk about when they start discussing abolition of slavery is some people think, wait a second, but then you're taking away a major good deed from people because they can't pre slaves anymore. We always say, what the heck are you talking about? What you crazy, but that was a serious, like, for them, it was really important that idea that reward you got for freeing slaves is really important. Right? And, and that was a serious concern of theirs. Another thing that you mentioned, which I think was an important point, is this idea of how we look back in time at the past. So you know, people who look back on what I just said, we look at
this guys, are you crazy?
How could they not understand like, or, or you'd see, for example, Muslim scholars who would say who would fight they literally die, they would die. And there's example of this hump down and just Seuss was another is a good example. Moroccan scholar in the early 1700s, there's a command the ruler of fez, melda, smile orders, all people who are like of African descent of slave descent, in fez and around it to be enslaved for his army. I'm doing a just sighs rights effect to against this. He's told to shut up. He's writing another one. He says, If you write another one, you're gonna we're gonna execute you. He writes another one, he knows you're gonna execute it, he gets executed. He
said this, if you do this, this is a mockery of the Sharia. No one has ever said this in the past is absolutely unacceptable. Right? He went through his death. But he has done just as good care less if a Christian garden slipped. It would just be like, Okay, so we've said, What's this guy's problem? Why does he understand? But the if you look read, like, for example, strict out animal rights activists today, they write and they talk about animal rights as abolition.
And they they're not saying that as like a metaphor, they they're saying, Look,
what is the idea that before there was idea that you could take, let's say, African people and enslave them?
And you couldn't enslave a white person?
How is that any different from saying, I can take a cow and put it in a cage and take its milk and kill it and eat it?
But I can't do that to a human? Right? They'd say that's just speciesism they say it's speciesism. Right? Right. And someone say, Oh, come on. That's ridiculous. But why is it ridiculous? 100 is 100 years from now? If we're, you know, all these animals are killed or destroying the environment anyway, it's it's totally environmentally unsustainable to eat meat. This is true, right? So 100 years to now we're all eating, you know, whatever, the unbelievable burger.
And we look back, we're like, what the heck was wrong?
They didn't understand these animals have rights.
You know, the same way that
You make sense on the iPad? Someone in the past? It doesn't make sense. I mean, it didn't make very good sense to them. Right?
I guess the I mean, the final point.
And it's up to you, because we should really be taking some questions. But I was just thinking about the hadith of Abu huraira or something along those lines, if that's something which,
you know, how do we understand that in the sense that this is a companion? It's not obviously the Prophet See, you have this fascinating quote, I forget the name of the scholar and it's very early and Islamia to show off Isla.
Maria. Yeah, that's actually that doesn't appear to lay or that appears in. I think the earliest I've seen is in the 1200s. Right. But there's earlier there's a it's a it's a deep, it's probably not an authentic deed, but it's something probably said by a companion or something that, that God wants freedom. So that's why if you say, if a psalm if I'm you if you're my slave, and I say
you're free Asana. No, I'm just joking. You're not that. I said, You're free. Boom, that's it. Yeah. No, but I was joking. If we were making a deal about me buying your car, not that car you had before, by the way, we won't get into the one. You're picking me up.
Because I'd say you know, your current car, okay. Yeah. If I said, you know, we make a deal. I'm just joking. I'm not joking. That wouldn't be a legal contract, because it was never my intention to buy the car. Yeah, but if I say for you, and I'm joking, or I make a mistake, or something boomed it's free. Why? God wants freedom.
This is what's the basis used? Who says this again? I'll lie. A lie as shattered her. Yeah. Okay.
I think you can see it in the tablet.
Right, right. Okay. I mean, that's one of the earliest texts we have. Yeah. In Islamic tradition. Yeah. So
anyway, so that's, uh, yeah, that's a that's a great point. Because they, their obsession with agony is one of the reason that
there's so many is brought into Hispanic civilization run the steppes of Russia, from Target and from Europe, from Africa, from India, is because Muslims are constantly freeing their slaves. Right. So they're, they they're constantly having to
replenish the labor supply. You don't have like a reproducing, self reproducing slave population. So this is a point that you made in your and I think we've referred to it briefly already, which is that, you know, there was a capitalist imperative to get rid of slaves. And that's one of the things that actually, there's a big debate about this. So there's a huge debate about
why this is a big debate. You need to In my opinion, this is my opinion, but
if you Okay, you're you're talking to like the Douglas Murray type guides. And you start saying or for Hitchens, or something, start saying, the West sucks. West, isn't that great? What are they gonna say? what's our first thing they're gonna say?
You guys have slaves? No, no, you guys had slaves and what? And we? We've actually British people what a British people always say, What are these? Like, you know, nice. Nigel Faraj a bit too busy. He's out there like Winston Winston Churchill is great type people. Let's say we ended slavery. We ended slavery for the whole world, we went around and patrolled the oceans. So the idea that Western Europe that the West doesn't have slaves is a is like a needle. I called the Natal miracle of Western civilization. And you can see this even like, you know, French historians like Marc Bloch, who said that the disappearance of slavery in Western Europe is one of the most incredible
phenomenon in human history. Right. So there's, of course it actually,
I don't know if you can hear me my cameras. Like, can you hear me right now? Yeah, I can hear you. I think you you went and I don't know why that happened. But the point is that slavery, enslavement of Europeans within Europe actually goes on a lot longer than people think. Definitely through like the 1200s in Scandinavia, and then the enslavement of
people from like North Africa and Muslims in Italy, like through the 1800s.
Of course, we know about the slavery in the colonies. But the My point is that the
the idea that the West somehow is at this leading that leading edge is the for the vanguard of freedom in human history is very important for like a Western self identification, right? It's a founding myth of Western society. So this is a big debate because when you come in, here's the question.
Very simple fact right? Something that
Essentially nobody in human history thought was wrong.
goes from being
fine to being completely, absolutely, unacceptably evil,
essentially within 150 years.
And what what how did that happen?
I mean to some people or people in the 1800s of eating more protein, are they somehow smarter?
Are they better? Are they are they smarter than than Thomas Aquinas or San Agustin? Are they do they more spiritually in touch with God than San Agustin or then the Prophet Muhammad or Buddha, or Moses and all these people? Know, so what happens?
Is the the narrative, of course, very often is about, you know, we've liberated ourselves from from our, but how, I mean, Where, where, look, where is this?
You know, in
Renaissance, we discovered the Greco Roman tradition, we discovered Roman law, which allows,
john Locke, or
my god name is
escaping me right now. Our laws, our ocean, that dies in the mid 1600s, Major, early forerunner of human rights discourse, international law. And Hugo grotius. That's exactly right. These guys, they're just operating with the Roman law tradition, where if you there's there's certain there's legal ways to enslave people, which is you capture them right now.
And it's really only in the 1700s, into the mid and late 1700s, that you start getting like a real, this enlightenment rejection of slavery. Why is that? there? It's, it's interesting, they're reacting to? Well, there's a couple of reasons, but one of the reasons is their reaction to the Atlantic slave trade, which is horrific, right? It's not only horrific, but it's racialized to the it's racially based, unjustified. And that doesn't, it really does not sit well with a lot of people like
with their with
these are the names are
escaping me right now. I can't believe I'm forgetting. But the, the, a lot of their reactions against the last century. So what
I don't think you can say that there was this enlightenment because the Enlightenment is a rediscovery of a tradition that had no problem with slavery.
So what happens? What is it inhuman? Aristotle has a very prophetic line. I think it's in his politics, he says that there'll be slaves until looms move themselves, right? Like that. What what actually happened when it's when it's slavery, become the sort of the ball start to roll and then gain momentum. And really, you hit a tipping point, let's say in the 1800s, right, what's going on in mid 1800s, you already have Industrial Revolution. And it's not a it's not a coincidence, that abolitionism emerges,
as it first expressed, and then catches on in two places that had first industrialized, and had gained extreme economic prosperity without reliance on slaves, Britain, England, and the northern colonies of what became the United States. Fascinating. I mean,
wonder there's a big Yeah, go ahead. I wonder if there's, I mean, you say this is very contentious. And you kind of outline some of the reasons why that might be the case. But
I wonder if there could be pushback, as there has been against weak historiography for the last century or so. But you know, with
I'm thinking Great Divergence debates talking about.
And you signal this in your book. The reason in a sense, this becomes normal later on in much of the Muslim world is because economic development takes a while to get to those parts of the world in the way that capitalists take your produce another difference, which is that slavery in the Americas is economic is an economic phenomenon.
slavery in the Islamic world is not economic. It's social, social. That's why it's so hard to get rid of slavery in place, let's say like Saudi Arabia or the Arabian Peninsula or something, because it's not about like, I need this guide. I need these people to pick cotton in a way where I can make a profit. Right? They don't need that. They but it's how you think about like, how do you have your people, your retinue that you trust, King Abdulaziz bin sir, with the founder of Saudi Arabia, who is the guy who's guarding him at all times. When he's praying he stands behind him with a sword and a rifle at
all times, right? What's this guy's brother? It's not his son. It's a slave. Yeah, of course. Right. So there's this is a big difference is it's when you have if slavery economic phenomenon. And of course it also has social elements as well in the West. But I mean, the point is mainly economic phenomenon, economic change will change situation. If it's mostly a social phenomenon, you can have economic change, and maybe the social system doesn't change that much.
I mean, I'm not trying to like, whatever flog my own wares, but it's better. I'll just read this from the footnote. So then I don't, you know, make, you know, make a lot of mistakes and recalling it, which is a brief 390 on the footnote. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. summary of the debate. Yeah. Eric Williams landmark book, slavery, capitalism, slavery. 1944. landed in May. Okay. I talked about the moral awakening narrative. The moral awakening narrative is basically says, abolition is happened to abolitionism have one human beings basically woke up and we're like, holy crap, slavery is wrong.
That's basically the narrative. Okay. The moral awaking narrative. He landed a major blow against the moral awaking narrative, arguing that Anglo American abolitionism triumphed in ending the Atlantic slave trade in 1807. Because the rise of free trade and industrial production, along with the weakening of mercantilism meant that the agricultural industries that depended on slavery had entered economic decline by that time.
In short, slavery was no longer part of a good business plan. In his 1977 response to this book, Seymour Drescher in a book called ICANN aside, showed that far from being in decline, slave based agricultural production in the Americas had actually entered its peak profitability in the early 1800s. ending it was, quote, economic suicide for a major chunk of the British American economy. Moreover, slavery was totally compatible with industrial modes of production. The moral awakening narrative had been right in effect since Drescher, Drescher and others saints have argued that abolition was brought about by a major change in Anglo American public sentiment, regarding slavery
sentiment that ran counter to economic interests. Other scholars have tried to counter the dresher School, what Williams had introduced was more than simply the obsolete or incorrect specifics of his decline thesis. It was the notion that in the end, that the end of slavery ultimately hinged on changes in material circumstances, not the idea of slavery as a moral driving history. They have offered several proposals for reconciling this economic narrative with dressers critique, Thomas housecall argued that the peak profitability of slavery based production was ultimately marginal, in light of the major economic changes afoot on the world stage. So yeah, maybe, you know, things in
the Caribbean had entered decline. But if you look globally, like economics was shifting away from a slavery model to one where you have to have workers who were also consumers, things like that.
I find temporarily Howard temporary dilation, which landed up to to those convincing, so temporarily as a great argument, which is basically says, both arguments are correct the economic narrative and moral awakening narrative, but they, they're correct in the sense that they create a feedback loop. Right. So people are start thinking slavery is wrong, because they're able to think it's wrong. So sama, why don't you think like, you know, your family, some of your family lives in India? Bangladesh, okay. You go to those damn, when you say like, I just took my kids through the day to like, kind of place their chickens and lambs and stuff like that.
And a lot of kids, I said, Okay, this is a lamb. I don't want to eat lamb chops anymore. If you say that to like, Bengali or Pakistani, what do they say?
The Lafitte human, what are you talking about? You crazy. You're a crazy person.
Oh, you want me to die of starvation, like this is meat, I get meat, that means that's actually gonna have real chance to get developed the brain.
So these are luxury. Once you have the luxury to start thinking about moral issues, you start thinking about them, and you can start
kind of coming to New moral realizations, like a more refined morality. So this starts happening in places where they don't need slaves, northern United States, Great Britain, as they start to industrialize. And then they start to see like, wow, we're actually doing things like we're inventing water wheels and we're inventing. You know, steam power and trains. The world is changing. Suddenly the world is actually your The world is something you can change. Progress is happening. You're at the forefront. We're getting better were the leaders were morally superior. Then you started saying I can actually
express this moral sentiment that I think slavery is wrong. ask other people to believe that they can get
Kind of join onto the bandwagon as well. And then economic change starts happening there as well. People don't need slavery. In other places where it catches on, it becomes easy to get rid of slavery, they become morally convinced of this. So the moral awakening, the beginning is economic change in certain places, but then that creates a moral sentiment that changes the changes. And that that creates, part helps create more economic development. And it sort of like snowballs into this,
like a feedback loop. Just in terms of the language that used I mean, the challenge for from the tiny theological perspective is to describe that as more morally reflect refined, partly because we look back at the profit as a moral, it is more, it is more morally refined. I mean, think about that. So it's not about good or bad or better or worse. So if you
like, how often are Muslims supposed to be according to the Sunnah of the Prophet? like once a week is to okay. sama, do you ever talk to anybody? Because once a week?
No, I'm serious. Like, if I meet, if I meet someone, like, I'm kind of an asset, so I'll be honest. So if somebody I meet someone, and you stick this not only do I don't want to be around that guy, that guy is, I think he's a bad person. So like, we actually, it's, we started to think like, there's something wrong with this person. They're not civilized. Right? Right. Right. There's nothing morally wrong with writing once a week. Right? Right. Nothing morally wrong with it. But you but that judgment comes naturally almost. It's because we this is because custom creates morality. Right? So are we but that doesn't mean, I not I would rather die than say that I'm a better person
than the Prophet. Sure. I mean, that's probably a theological,
better person, then. No more mental thought or even every thought. Right. Right. But there's, that's what I mean, by more refined morality. It's not about being better. It's about having like, you're all these other issues are taking care of where you're going to eat, how you're going to sleep, your your health is taking care of pretty much right. Now you're worried about these other things. These other things? Is camellia in the language of cost of the city on the canal, yet the chassis and yet, yeah, become major issues. Yeah. So that's what I think is Oh, and by the way,
is that that's why that, you know, the best argument in my opinion for abolition in the Islamic tradition is when you go back and you look in like a shop to be in his
waffle, waffle costs and things like that. He says, one of the, the not the main aims of this room, but one of the aims of this area, is it freeing people? emancipating people, doesn't it? Yeah. So if we, if we are now in a position where we don't need, there's no economic need for slavery, right, we can fulfill that mandate for emancipation by just getting rid of the whole category of slavery and fulfill one of the costs of the city. This is an entirely islamically, legitimate, right argument, right. 100% from within this area tradition, and someone could say, and this is often said, you hear this? Well, you never would have thought about it hadn't been for Western abolitionists. Here's the
thing. Western people would never have thought about it either. Nobody thought about abolitionism until it became economically possible.
Right to Western, it just happens to be the industrial revolution started in England, and then North America, West northwest America or north eastern North America. Yeah. That just it's not because Western people have like some kind of gene where they read some books, it makes them love freedom more than other people. Right. Right. So I mean, yeah, this is interesting, of course, isn't it? Because you have the kind of more ideological historiography, which says that no, precisely that we're more freedom loving, but I my impression is currently?
Well, I mean, for themselves, everybody's pretty good for themselves.
But super loving out like other.
Yeah, my impression is that the sort of more serious historiography now recognizes the contingency of, you know, where the Industrial Revolution Revolution ultimately took place. due to various kinds of accidents of history. I'm Joseph Murphy. And it's really been wonderful. And I feel very guilty sort of hogging all of the time, because there are a bunch of questions, questions. So yeah, so let me if it's alright, I'm going to post them on the screen and then we can read them out and then inshallah you can sort of
So actually, so here's, here's a question from HSC year, I'm just going to post it if that's right.
It says given that Islam came for the emancipation of humanity and for liberating, from all bonds demanding submission only to one true God, slavery and concubines is one is one unanswered dilemma, especially for for the youth who find who find this irreconcilable with the benevolent image of our profits on low insulin. How can we tackle this and I think this is one of those questions that you have. question a lot. I mean, I get a lot of emails like this.
First thing I would say is, yeah, this is really, really hard to. And I would actually try to turn it around on, this person would ask people to ask themselves like,
It's not like,
I'm the outlier, we're the outliers. We have to explain why we feel a certain way about this issue.
And then I guess this whole issue of changing custom and economics and everything like that, and all the stuff that was on that I just discussed, now.
So I simply don't think i mean, i i don't i think it's factually incorrect. It is factually incorrect to say that
having slaves or allowing slavery is irreconcilable with the beloved image benevolent image of the Prophet. That's, that's not true. That wouldn't be true for
a Christian in the year 1600, or a Muslim in the year 1600, or a Buddhist near 1600. Right? They just would not, this would not be an issue. Just like, by the way, even people who are trying to find dirt about the province personal life to insult him with, which is, you know, essentially all the opponents of Islam. Not until 1905. Did any of them say he married Ayesha when she was nine years old, and that's messed up.
Because they didn't care about that stuff. No one cared about that before. Okay, so the point is that, that what's changed is, is not
we have to ask, what is why are we looking at the world in a certain way, there's nothing wrong with the way we look at the world. As I said, there's nothing we you know, ending slavery and freeing slaves and improving people's conditions is, no one's gonna debate that that's good. That's one of the aims of the Sharia.
But that doesn't mean that it's important that it should be impossible for us to imagine that people in the past didn't have a strong reaction as we as we do. Now.
Another thing that's really interesting, is slavery was a dilemma for Muslims. And you can see this in the Sunnah of the Prophet. But it wasn't a moral dilemma. It was a theological dilemma.
And this is a very famous Hadeeth. Right? So the Prophet says, it's a Muslim in other books, don't owners of slaves don't say to your slaves, Abdi, or MMC? Say will ami or jatiya teeth don't say my slave or my female slave say, my boy or my girl. Slaves? Don't say about your owners rugby. My master say no lie. Yeah, my, my kind of my, my, my sponsor, my patron, right?
Because in the version I was owed,
the One God is Rob who Allah, and you're all slaves.
Rob, the Lord is God, and we're a badge, Allah or we're a bead, we're all the slaves of God.
How do you have a slave who's also the owner of another slave, who's a robber of another say? So they, this idea of they don't, there's an anxiety about making sure that the, the relationship between God and human beings between the Lord and the slaves of the God of the God is not mixed up with the relationship between the slave and the owner of the slave.
But that's there's
so there's a tension there
that Muslims try to
sort of push down or allied away by saying that this is this relationship is not like a master slave relationship. It's a it's like a patron Junior relationship, although the person is owned, right. Yeah. Now?
Yeah. So that's, I'd say it actually is a dilemma with a theological one. And when I'm,
Yeah, go ahead. Sorry. I wonder if I could also mention, I mean, like, the, it's a multilayered tradition. You know, I think we need to develop historical consciousness to a certain extent, because you have this beautiful appendix one, a slave saint of bustelo, which I recommend everyone to read. It's just, you know, three pages, but this extraordinary anecdote about this kind of a Willie of Allah subhanaw taala, who was a slave. And
I'm very poignant in many respects. And, and so, you know, there are ways in which, but it's not just that right, this other major scholar in the city, two major scholars, they they buy the guy and he's like, why are you buying me? I'm not like a very good servant. He says, I don't serve creatures and Allah and Allah academic, Alma fluke, and academic phallic, right? I say I serve the Creator. I don't say and they
No, no, you don't understand. We want to be your students. We want to serve you and be your students. Yeah. Yeah. I mean to me, because you know, he, and yeah, I mean, it's just such a striking story. I, I don't want to necessarily ruin it. It's a true story. It's not like this fictional novel that I don't want to ruin for you. But it's just, it's really poignant. I think.
So yeah, I mean, I, I get, sometimes I personally think about this in historical terms, as you said that, you know, there are these historical shifts that have taken place that give us these modern sensibilities that we don't need to deny and say, you know, there's, this is wrong, and we're going to reject it. But that shouldn't also cause us to reject and deny the sort of the the station of the Prophet sallallahu sallam. And I think there are those two things are, you know, that, honestly, I think it's healthier? Like I mean, I think there's a there's something very unhealthy and unproductive and unsustainable about the way the the rhetoric, the moral rhetoric is working. And
let's stick UK in America, you get to see, like, if you say that,
I mean, if you say that if you were involved in a slave trade, that you are kind of beyond repair. Right? So I'm not sure it's really healthy to have that view of our past where that we
are so morally certain about things and black and white about things, because I think that it doesn't acknowledge the the changes in sentiment, right. And I think that when you think about it more as like, you know, I can, I'm trying to improve the people's lot as best as I can, we are all trying to do that. But that doesn't necessarily mean we're better than people in the past, or that we have to condemn people in the past, that you you stop thinking about in these kind of morally black and white terms, I think it's actually more and by the way, it makes it possible to think about your opponents as well. So you're a conservative or a Republican or a Democrat or liberal
labour, stop being evil because there's either way the world in a certain way, and they start being you know, someone who has different views about certain interests or certain priorities. And you can that's someone you can negotiate with and deal with a lot better. I think you highlight in the book, The The reason for this kind of uncompromising moralizing about this question, which, you know, we recognize and we see all the time, but in a sense, the abolitionists needed to project that in order to, you know, persuade Everyone, look, we just have to stop this now. Because slave owners would say, like, Look, you're right, this guy is a bad slave owner, he's teaching slaves terrible, I'm
gonna do that. You know, we're, we're like, Look, I understand you guys have legitimate concerns. So we don't we're gonna do we're gonna make sure these slaves are treated well, and then we're, you're agreed. Okay. So then it was, in order to kind of make it something non negotiable. They had to make it non negotiable. Yeah. I wanted to switch over to just the remaining questions, even back to the seven says the salamati computer.
the other questions, I think a lot of them are already answered, Yes, you've already answered. So I'm just going to at least read them for the sort of, hopefully,
so that the the voices don't get sort of silenced, as it were, this valley was saying, as an Islamic, classical Islamic jurisprudence, anything about turning free people into slaves, and you kind of covered that.
I mean, in essence, my understanding is, and you can correct me if I'm wrong here.
The only context in which you can enslave people really in the Islamic tradition was,
you know, in, in battle, right. And, you know, modern scholars basically said, and that was at the discretion of the Imam. And so it's possible to even stop that. I really found fascinating this point you made that a lot of latest caller said, Look, we cannot, you know, buy and sell slaves anymore from outside because we have no way of knowing whether that actually legitimate slaves or not. And, I mean, this kind of goes in tension with hoteller danas remark which you come into replenishing slaves from the outside, which was, in essence, socio economic imperative. I wonder if you can briefly maybe comment on that. Yeah, I mean, to the thing you're talking about is a
relatively I mean, it's not it's not a it's a minor discussion in the sense that it's not it doesn't have a big impact. So they don't what they're saying is
if you are not sure that a slave has been legally enslaved, should you buy them or not? And the overall answer is
you prot you, if you want to be careful, don't buy them, but
bottom line is you can because you're going to assume that like for example, a song when you go to all these or whatever people go to you know, you go to like
The local store. You don't know what maybe this guy stole all the eggplants, you're buying the cucumbers, right? You don't know. But we go around and we operate as if everybody's getting these legally cuz otherwise we wouldn't be able to buy it. Yeah, we're gonna be able to operate. Right. Yeah. And so basically they're saying the same thing, which is that, like in general, just assume that everything is unless you're if you know this person has not gotten legally you can't by the way here they're not even talking about if they're a Muslim and they were enslaved, you cannot buy them. Right? You cannot buy them. Right can't. But that debate is specifically about was the humps tax
paid. Because if there
someone went out in a raid into like, central agent step and brought this guy back, right, that person should pay a tax 20 mm. Right as part of the clumps. And if you don't know they've done that, then is the has the person legally bends it. So that's actually that debate. The other debate, which we see with like people like Ahmed Baba, and this is very common in the Maliki School of Law where there's in the Sudan area, so hell area, or in also in Central Asia, is
if you get someone who is claiming he claims to be Muslim, right. And they are the general rules. Also, they say they're Muslim, the burden of proof is on the person who got them who captured them or something
to prove that they're not Muslim, which is very hard to do. And by the way, it's all important number that mostly, it's probably, mostly it's probably we're brought into Islamic civilization, not through capture, but to buying them from slave merchants who brought them from some other place who got them either beat from some walk somewhere or the other. There's even a debate amongst Muslim scholars about whether you can do that, because you don't know if those people have been legally enslaved. But again, the rule that kind of wins out is like, you just assume that this guy got them legally. And if it's cording to their crazy customers that they have, that's all right for them.
Yeah, then you can, you can buy them. Yeah, I mean, the the pragmatism of law kind of wins out, it makes it makes sense, legally speaking, obviously, sort of, it's kind of like it, it grates for modern sensibilities, certainly.
The other sort of questions, as you mentioned, you know, we kind of had a discussion about someone was asking about abolition in the industrial revolution, and the debate that you mentioned between Eric Williams and Seymour Drescher. But there's one last question,
which is, it's an interesting one.
I would like to understand the wisdom behind Dr. Brown locating, being Muslim and American as opposing identities in the introduction, introductory part of the text. And I didn't, I didn't feel it was opposing, but I'd be interested to opposing I think maybe I meant by that is that is it there to kind of there to our talk about the kind of, you know, American slavery conundrum in the Muslim Islamic slavery conundrum. They're similar, but not identical. But I mean, in the case of,
you know, I mean, so there, which is that as an American, you have this issue of the kind of the founding fathers and Thomas Jefferson, the same guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence, and which is a, you know, a very compelling document. And, you know, the guy had children with his slave woman.
And then, but the sonic one is different, which is it's, you know, similar but, you know, the Prophet Muhammad is, is not like Thomas Jefferson, I could say, you know, what,
forget Thomas Jefferson, you know, I take his statue down, I don't care, forget about him. I mean, you can't if you're a Muslim, you can't say that about the Prophet.
So they're similar, but they're, they're different. There's differences between the two. So I think I was more trying to say that there are two different kind of discussions later on each with its own characteristics. And this has really been thank you so much for your time, I mean, an hour and 14 minutes. And I I'm also grateful for all the questions that were sent in. I cannot encourage you enough people to read this book, you know, go ahead and purchase it in shall learn and have a read of it. I think it's just a tour de force of so many different disciplines and moral philosophy,
sort of wider epistemological questions. I found the discussion of nominalism very interesting,
history that is very wide ranging. And
do you mind if I ask how many books you read for this? Did you you have a
Bibliography in the tech space long enough? I actually left out
the RV just books I cited in the right I actually realized I left some out which is kind of annoying, but the
Yeah, I don't know. I read a lot of books, but I was very driven, you know, and I did this I was,
you know, I don't know. Maybe this is the same for everybody. But for me, like when I write books, I become like, obsessed. You know, my wife is like, this guy's going crazy for the sleep and do anything else.
I mean, it's a very intensive Missouri intense experience. Perhaps in closing, I can just ask what you're working on currently.
Yeah, so um, you know, it's funny when I wrote this book, I was like, Okay, yeah. What slavery But no, I'm gonna write a race because that's crazy. I would never do that. Not a million years. And then with that, which is I actually still would say, but then last summer, there was this debate in this case called research Africa listserv, where there's this one called Afro centrism or like Kemet effort centrism. And you see this
is also kind of goes back to this guy. Now he's in Chancellor Williams and the conservative Christian minister in the US in the early 20th century, this idea that like Islam is this, you know, Islam is sort of like has slavery in its DNA, Muslims and Arabs, hate black, you know, Islam as anti black Arabs are enslaved black people, because Islam is a colonial presence in Africa. It's not really an indigenous part of Africa. So I was it basically, it's all thing Islamic, anti black. So I was really, someone asked me specific questions about things that have come up in this debate about headaches and say, Can you answer this that this? So I started looking into it, okay, looking for
login, I was like, you know what I need to, in order to answer this, I need to answer this period question, or to answer this bigger question to answer this bigger question. So now I'm writing a book called, is Islam anti black? And it's actually it's getting close to being done. Okay. And it won't be a big book. It'll be a smaller book. Right? But that's fine. So actually directly connected to this book, I was under the impression that you're going to be writing on
the notion of CSM con. Yeah, I have that book. It's like 90% done, but I can't, I can't finish it. Because you're distracted by this stuff comes up.
Is that from the fair? No, I mean, I think it's, it's a great service, actually, because you your books are a great service on two levels, of course, the academic community, but also I think the the wider Muslim community can really benefit from these texts. And it's really wonderful to have like, someone who's doubling as that sort of Muslim theologian and professor at Georgetown, so to speak. So we look forward to that, and inshallah, I will definitely bring you back. You know, when as and when you're available, because I'd love to have the opportunity to discuss some of your other books.
But just on the phone for your time today, it's really been sort of wonderful to have you. And I look forward to inviting you back before long, just like my phone for everyone who's stuck around for nearly two hours at this point. This has really been enlightening for me, and I've benefited a great deal from also the questions that you're asking Professor Brown, and I hope you will join us in a week's time. And, you know, inshallah, I'll have another author we have, we're in conversation with each other at that point, Mark Warner. Until then, just like my friend again, jack, and we will be in touch in the near future. If you
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