|Jonathan A.C. Brown|
Jonathan Brown in 2018
|Born||August 9, 1977|
Washington, D.C., United States
|Alma mater||Georgetown University (B.A.)|
University of Chicago (Ph.D.)
|Institutions||Georgetown University (2010-)|
University of Washington (2006-2010)
|Thesis||The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim: the Formation and Function of the Sunni Hadith Canon (2006)|
|Doctoral advisor||Wadad Kadi|
Jonathan Andrew Cleveland Brown (born 1977) is an American scholar of Islamic studies. Since 2012, he has been associate professor at Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. He holds the Alwaleed bin Talal Chair of Islamic Civilization at Georgetown University.
He has authored several books including Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenges and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet's Legacy, Hadith: Muhammad's Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World, Muhammad: A Very Short Introduction, and The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim. He has also published articles in the fields of Hadith, Islamic law, Salafism, Sufism, and Arabic language.
Brown was born on August 9, 1977 in Washington, DC. He was raised as an Episcopalian and converted to Islam in 1997. Brown is Sunni and follows the Hanbali school of Islamic jurisprudence. Brown graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in History in 2000 from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., studied Arabic for a year at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad at the American University of Cairo, and completed his doctorate in Islamic thought at the University of Chicago in 2006.
From 2006 to 2010 he taught in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he was awarded tenure. He then gave up tenure to move to Georgetown in 2010. After serving as an assistant professor he was tenured again in 2012 teaching Islamic Studies and Muslim-Christian Understanding in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He is also a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Brown serves as the director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.
Brown has published work on Hadith, Islamic law, Sufism, Arabic lexical theory and Pre-Islamic poetry and is currently focused on the history of forgery and historical criticism in Islamic civilization and modern conflicts between late Sunni Traditionalism and Salafism in Islamic Thought.
In his book Misquoting Muhammad, Brown argues that the "depth and breadth" of the early Muslim scholars' achievement in assessing the authenticity of sayings and texts "dwarfed" that of the fathers of the Christian church. The book received a number of positive reviews, and was named as one of the top books on religion of 2014 by The Independent. One review of the book in a Catholic journal called it "generous to a fault when it comes to remarks about Christianity."
In a 2017 article, Brown stated that "the term 'slavery' is so ambiguous as to be functionally useless for the purposes of discussing extreme domination and exploitation across history," especially in the context of Islamic history. Brown wrote that the current understanding of "slavery" is defined primarily in terms of legal ownership and violations of autonomy. According to Brown, this understanding does not accurately reflect the way slavery was practiced in many times and places in the Islamic world. For example, some enslaved Ottoman officials held authority over free people, while some forms of extreme exploitation happened to legally free persons.
While Brown writes that slavery's evil "is so morally clear and so widely acknowledged", and that it is the "Hitler of human practices," he also wishes to challenge the current understanding of slavery. Rather than solely examine legal ownership and autonomy, Brown writes that researchers should focus on power relations and exploitation to understand modern day slavery. Brown's new proposed definition of slavery as "extreme domination and exploitation" challenges conventional understandings of slavery throughout history and today.
A lecture presenting this article, and in particular comments Brown made during the Q&A session, sparked criticism from a number of conservative commentators, some of whom accused Brown of supporting slavery and rape. In addition, some liberal scholars of Islam criticized Brown for relativizing the concepts of slavery, human autonomy, and consent, and took issue with his suggestion that Muslims cannot view all historical forms of slavery to be immoral since the Islamic prophet Muhammad had owned slaves.
In response, Brown wrote on Twitter, "Islam as a faith and I as a person condemn slavery, rape and concubinage." In a subsequent essay and interview Brown elaborated his views and apologized for having addressed the subject too cerebrally, adding that members of the alt-right had bombarded him and his family with threats of death and rape over the controversy.
Slavery is the ideal example to invoke because its evil is so morally clear and so widely acknowledged. Who would defend slavery? It is the Hitler of human practices.