The Unrecognizable Islam of Reza Aslan

In a piece written for CNN (mainly to plug his upcoming television series, Believer), Reza Aslan, self-anointed scholar of Islam, writes on Why I Am A Muslim. What’s most amusing about Aslan is that I can find nothing recognizable about his Islam. It’s not that it’s totally foreign, it’s more that it’s totally absent.

The first curiosity is his almost complete lack of discourse about the Prophet. More akin to a deist, Aslan talks at length about God but is awkwardly silent about the man that God revealed the codified form of Islam we know, as espoused in the Qur’an. Why is that? It seems Aslan, and those pundits like him, seem more comfortable endulging their flights of fancy about this or that abstract or esoteric theological point versus dealing with “the Walking Qur’an”: the man who was not only the recipient of Revelation, but who aslo clarified its meanings, etc. Instead, the Prophet seems to be — as far as Aslan is concerned — a mere envelope, as it were, in relation to revelation which Aslan does not, by his own account, believe the Qur’an to be true in its entirety (he rejects the story of Jesus in the Qur’an where he was not crucified let alone his outright rejection of all hadith as made up). So the question that begs answering is: By what standard is Reza Aslan Muslim? It seems rather that it’s an Islam which requires nothing of the believer other than what happens to stir his (or her) desires. Oddly enough this is the same metric by which the likes of Aslan will condone homosexuality as a lawful identity and pursuit but will in turn impugn a Muslim man for wanting to take another wife (polygyny), which is clearly outlined in the Qur’an as permissible, even if he wanted to do so only for passions or identity (heterosexual).

Unfortunately Aslan will lead many astray — Muslims in their faith and non-Muslims in their understanding of what Islam is and what Muslims stand for — if they take him as authentic and representative, applauded by many in leadership positions within the Muslim community who themselves harbor deep resentments towards religious authority, though they, like Aslan, secretly wish to supplant it with their own authority.

Clarifying Points

I clarify and expand on some points in this short piece here in the following podcast: #MiddleGroundPodcast – An Islam Without Boundaries – Is It Still Islam?

26 Replies to “The Unrecognizable Islam of Reza Aslan”

  1. JazakAllahu Khair for speaking the Haqq May Allah SWT bless you and your family immensely. It’s time we get true leaders to represent Islam for us.

  2. It seems like you want all Muslims to think exactly the same way about all aspects of Islam. Isn’t the beauty of Islam the fact that two different people can read the same passage from the Quran or Hadith and get something different from it? Isn’t that why God says over and over, “In this are signs for a people who reflect”? At least that’s what it means to me. We should take what God has given us in the Quran and truly reflect on it from the bottom of our hearts and then put it in place in our lives in the way that our heart understands it. The fact that I, or Mr. Aslan, do not practice Islam in exactly the same way you do does not make us any less Muslim than you.

  3. Jennifer, you stated, “It seems like you want all Muslims to think exactly the same way about all aspects of Islam”. Where did I advocate for Muslims to think all the same? You’ve missed the point. It’s not about thinking all the same but that there are basic fundamentals to being Muslim which Aslan rejects. That you conflate this for being all the same shows you didn’t read the article carefully or you have a number of preconceived notions of what tolerance is.

  4. Moreover, Aslan rejects, for example, that Jesus was raised to heaven, versus crucified (the Qur’anic version) as well as his virgin birth (also affirmed in the Qur’an). This is not simply a matter of interpretation or semantics. It’s fundamental, core tenets. I think you’re attempting to reduce the Qur’an to a document which advocates nothing on its own.

  5. Al-Hamdulillah. I hope folks will take the time to read it carefully and see that this is not polemics for the sport of it but rather about addressing deep, fundamental issues in Aslan’s statements and thus, what he represents.

  6. Assalamualaikum wbt Marc,
    Thanks to Dr. Abdullah Ali tweet, I came here. May I know in what publication did Reza Aslan wrote rejected the story of Isa Alaihissalam was not crucified?

  7. I think you make some very important points here, Marc. I have had an uneasiness for a couple decades now of how Aslan represents Islam “historically” and told him this back in the 1990’s. It is important to represent the truth of Islam, and let others know it for how it is. Rather than compromise it, and then look like a hypocrite later when people actually get to the truth of it. Culturally, Americans have never liked a hypocrite, but when they don’t know that is how one is behaving it takes awhile to see that. Once they discover they have been “snake-oiled,” it is a TKO. And this is not just for Aslan, but for all those like him. I did not read into your writing anything about wanting to have only one understanding except that the understanding is based in truth about the tenets of the way of life that is Islam. I’m frankly appalled at the new series. It distorts what practicing Muslims are willing to do when building bridges with others.

  8. So in your opinion, what does he represent? Is it really that unrecognizable what he respresents? Are any of us to judge a man who claims he is a Muslim, whilst we must take that blindly and leave his judgement and intentions to a higher order? Shall we then corner this man who somehow has portrayed Islam in a positive image, even if it meant that it would just increase curiosity into the religion by others? Curious to know your thoughts. Jazakallahkhair

  9. Good post sayyidi. I used similar language to address a post about the subject that I commented on FB about. The Islam that he defends and promotes is basically the Islam of fulan’s desires about what they believe Islam is.

  10. Once he rejected a ayah of the Quran he jumped out the fold of Islam. “This book is not to be doubted” !!! And if he rejects Hadeeth, how does he pray properly?? He doesn’t because he’s a Kafir point blank period.

  11. He’s not portrayed Islam. He’s portrayed his on whimsical desires. He condemns the Qur’an as wrong (see his video here: This “you can’t judge another” is foreign to Islam, to Muslims. There has to boundaries of any faith, and he has crossed that boundary. The Qur’an has never advocated a da’wah by any means especially if what they’re calling to is disbelief.

  12. Yes polygamy is permissible in the Qur’an. But you did not elaborate in what times and under what circumstances. It was not an open invitation for men to indulge in multiple women.
    And by the same token, sex slavery is also mentioned in the Qur’an as permissible. So why do many people condemn ISIS for doing that?

  13. Secondly, the slavery at that time in the world is what ISIS is doing. They are sex trafficking. You can call it slavery but it’s sex trafficking.

  14. Well by that accord slavery in those times it was sex trafficking as well. How can you arbitrarily decide one to be different than the other. The only difference is the span of some 1400 odd years.
    There is not much difference between sex slavery and human/sex trafficking. Can consent be proven in the case of salves? Of course not. Both male and female of course.
    Also that reasonnig there is no expotation date for sex slaves in the Qur’an either.

    Surah Al-Nisa, where it talks about polygamy. I am sure you have read it. Which outlines the practise of polygamy and the wisdom behind it.

    And lets not forget Polygamy is illegal in the US and the West. Following the law of the land is a requirement of Shar’ia. And anyways, how is one going to practise equality and fairness when one wife does not even get any legal or social recognition or benefit. What is not what an Islamic marriage is. You can defend it all you want while sitting in the US.

  15. I think this is only an issue if a) Aslan claims to be representing all other Muslims, and b) other Muslims are claiming that Aslan represents their beliefs whilst knowing that they disagree with his apologetics. Technically (whatever one believes theologically), there is no problem with Aslan having a deistic or minimalistic interpretation of Islam as you describe above – the problem is when his scholarship claiming to represent all Muslims is poorly made.

  16. @Sarah — Unfortunately, he is de facto fulfilling part (a) of your post. The fact that he is a nationally recognized figure on a particular widespread medium makes him represent Muslims.

    @Mehreen — Being in the US is problematic as you mentioned. There are certain conditions for polygyny, the main one is that it be done right. I would hope Brother Marc would agree that some brothers’ utilization of having multiple wives on public assistance with the wives denying that they are in fact married is not “doing it right.” Polygyny is a complex and nuanced subject in Islam and beyond the scope of the discussion. Brother Marc’s point remains valid, i.e. Reslan is advocating for a practice that is categorically impermissible in the deen, while condemning a practice that is legally permissible.

    A lot has changed in the world in the past 1,4000 years. It is no longer an expectation during warfare that the victor would militarily defeat the male members of a society and then integrate captured women and children from conquered lands through “slavery.” The victors don’t often take and occupy land in modern warfare; furthermore, the population is usually just slaughtered and left to die through mass bombing, biological warfare, and other hyper-destructive methods of modernity. Nowadays, we just want the resources and accessibility of other countries without the “hassle” of actually living in and managing the land.

  17. Neither Raza nor Marc are qualified enough to speak for Islam . They are only speaking of Islam as they understood. Hadith and Fiqh mastery takes a lifetime. Surely we can learn from the teachings of Imams of the past who were not only scholars of their times but also were spiritually guided by Allah SWT. Quran has ordained the responsibility on them after Prophet SWS. Quran Is to read and ponder not make raw conclusions with your limited mental capacity. Follow what you have been told,clarify it from the learned scholars of authority. Quran is the supreme constitution of the mankind,never amended ,nor will it be .

  18. Actually I don’t believe that polygamy is outlawed in any the US on the following basis. If the country doesn’t recognise the Muslim marriage contract as a statutory marriage, then you can have more than one wife in Islamic terms, but just not recognised by the state.

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