What happens when authorities you venerate condone something you know is wrong? Are you right or are they, and what does this mean about what you’ve been venerating? No issue brings this question into starker contrast than slavery. Every major religion and philosophy condoned or approved of it, but in modern times there is nothing seen as more evil. Americans confront this crisis of authority when they erect statues of Founding Fathers who slept with their slaves. And Muslims faced it when ISIS revived sex-slavery, justifying it with verses from the Quran and the practice of Muhammad.
This book explores the moral and ultimately theological problem of slavery, tracing how the Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions have tried to reconcile modern moral certainties with the infallibility of God’s message, in particular on the issue of sex-slavery. It investigates the challenge of defining what slavery is in the first place, showing that this remains more than ever a highly politicized question. This book lays out how Islam viewed slavery in theory, and also how slavery was practiced across the reality of Islamic civilization. Finally, it explains how Muslims have argued for the abolition of slavery in Islam, asking whether their arguments are sincere and convincing.
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- Rob Squires
A Bold and Broad Study of a Difficult Topic
I've admired Jonathan A.C. Brown for years due to his erudition and fair-mindedness. If nothing else, he knows how to wrestle with a moral conundrum—up, down, and sideways. This book is about much more than the issue of slavery in Islam, since it considers the entire history of human beings enslaving (with all of its various definitions) their fellow humans (and non-humans!) from ancient times to the present day. The author delves deeply into how Jews, Christians, and Muslims have wrestled with the fact that their scriptures—and thus their God, prophets, and apostles—condone, tacitly or otherwise, what is widely considered in modern times to be the most evil of practices. This book actually makes me wish that there was such a thing as double-blind book reviews where the reviewers had to read several of the top books on the broad history of slavery and then rank/review them. Indeed, it would be interesting to see how this fine work would fare if readers—both right and left, believers and atheists—didn't know that it was written by a white American convert to Islam who is a professor of Islamic Civilization at Georgetown University. I'm confident that the "How dare he write about such a topic!" reviews will start showing up in due time. However, in the mean time, if you're interested in reflecting on an unsettling topic that could very well take you out of your comfort zone, then this book will very likely take you there—since it considers the moral problem of slavery from about every possible angle and demonstrates why it's not easily dismissed by those who want to be faithful advocates of scripture while maintaining at least a modicum of intellectual integrity. On a side note, regarding the audiobook version, I was very disappointed that the reader/narrator—who was otherwise good—did not know how to correctly pronounce the Arabic-based names and words in the text—which were legion in a book like this. Unfortunately, this is the norm for audiobooks about Islam and the Middle East these days, but I was hoping for something better from an author like Jonathan A.C. Brown—although I certainly understand that it's not is fault but the publisher's. In the end, I find it rather shameful that this late in the game that those of us with some knowledge of Arabic have to put up with bumbling pronunciations of Arabic words that are nothing short of horrid. We can do better than this...