Jonathan A.C. Brown is a Muslim convert, a professor at Georgetown University, and a man who has made it his business to “explain” Islam – and, in particular, to justify some of its least justifiable aspects – not just to his students but to audiences around the world. During the last couple of days, for instance, we’ve looked at a 90-minute lecture he gave recently on Islamic slavery, an institution that he defended in a breathtakingly mendacious manner.
Brown has praised Muhammed ardently. “He was the best person in every situation,” Brown has said. “Jesus is always kind and forgiving. But sometimes you can’t be forgiving. You shouldn’t be; sometimes you have to be soft and sweet and sometimes you have to be direct and harsh; sometimes you have to be patient and at other times you have to act quickly. There isn’t always one rule that you can apply to your life that will tell you how to act. You have to be able to read the situation and act in the best way. The Prophet knew how to do that; that is inspirational.”
Brown opened one lecture about Muhammed by saying how much he hated having to expose Muslim audiences to negative Western characterizations of him – some attitude for a man who professes to be an educator. Brown reported, as if it were an objective historical fact, that a tree stump on which Muhammed supposedly sat while teaching his followers later made whimpering noises because it longed for Muhammed’s presence.
A quick search on You Tube takes us to other, briefer presentations about Muhammed. In one of them, he is asked by an audience member about Muhammed’s “marriage” to a six-year-old girl named Aisha – a marriage that was “consummated” when Muhammed was 53 and Aisha was nine.
Brown’s response to the questioner began in a curious way. “You seem agitated by this,” he said. “What makes you uncomfortable about it?” Brown made it clear that nothing about the matter made him uneasy. And until just a century or so ago, he argued, nobody else was bothered by it either. During Muhammed’s lifetime and for generations thereafter, a lot of non-Muslims criticized Islam and its founder on a great variety of grounds, sometimes making things up, sometimes focusing on actual details of his life. “His sex life was target numero uno,” Brown said. Infidels pointed to Muhammed’s polygamy and his marriage to his own daughter-in-law. But, according to Brown, nobody attacked him for marrying a little girl. Not until 1905 did one critic mention it, rather mildly and tentatively. Why? Because in pre-modern peasant societies, explained Brown, “everyone” married underage girls. People had sex drives and they acted on them.
“If you’re just living in a desert and you’re tending goats all day” and you have a normal sex drive,” asked Brown rhetorically, “why in God’s name would you not get married?” To suggest that an aging medieval goatherd should not marry a girl young enough to be his granddaughter, charged Brown, is “anachronistic” – we’re judging Muhammed by the standards of our own day. The problem here, of course, is that Brown wasn’t just trying to contextualize behavior that to us, in the year 2017, seems deeply immoral; he was exalting the actions of a man whom his own religion holds up as an example of human perfection, and suggesting that the problem lies not in that man’s conduct but in the so-called moral standards of our time. When viewed through the eyes of Allah, in short, Muhammed’s intercourse with Aisha is no crime but an act of great virtue – and if we can’t see it that way, the flaw lies in us, not in the Prophet.
And this, folks, is what they’re teaching at Georgetown University – which, don’t forget, is a Roman Catholic institution.
More of this tomorrow.