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?

Keepin’ It One Hunned – Challenges Facing the Continuity of the American Muslim Community

The following are some audio clips from conversations we have at Middle Ground Muslim Center often after our Understanding Islam class.

“We all want our du’ah answered.”

[Direct download]

مَا مِنْ دَاعٍ يَدْعُو إِلاَّ كَانَ بَيْنَ إِحْدَى ثَلاَثٍ إِمَّا أَنْ يُسْتَجَابَ لَهُ وَإِمَّا أَنْ يُدَّخَرَ لَهُ وَإِمَّا أَنْ يُكَفَّرَ عَنْهُ

Yahya related to me from Malik that Zayd ibn Aslam used to say, “No one makes du’ah without one of three things happening: either it is answered, it is stored up for him, or wrong actions are atoned for by it”. [al-Muwatta’]

The concerns of converts. How to reconcile ultimate justice?

[Direct download]

وَنَضَعُ المَوازينَ القِسطَ لِيَومِ القِيامَةِ فَلا تُظلَمُ نَفسٌ شَيئًا ۖ وَإِن كانَ مِثقالَ حَبَّةٍ مِن خَردَلٍ أَتَينا بِها ۗ وَكَفىٰ بِنا حاسِبينَ

“We will set up the Just Balance on the Day of Rising and no self will be wronged in any way. Even if it is no more than the weight of a grain of mustard-seed, We will produce it. We are sufficient as a Reckoner.” Qur’an, 21: 47

The concerns of converts. How to reconcile ultimate justice?

[Direct download]

لا يكن تأخر العطاء مع الإلحاح في الدعاء موجبا ليأسك، فهو ضمن لك الإجابة فيما يختاره لك لا فيما تختاره لنفسك

“If, in spite of persistent supplication (du’ah), there is delay in the timing of the Gift, do not allow yourself to despair, for He has guaranteed you a response in what He chooses for you—not in what you choose for yourself—at the time He desires, not the time you desire.” Ibn ‘Ata’Allah, al-Hikam #6

[Direct download]

“Hypocrisy, or the perception of hypocrisy, will fully undermine the confidence of a Muslim child in the choice of Islam.”

Further reading: “The Impact of Liberalism, Secularism and Atheism On The American Mosque” from ALIM.

Staring Into An Abyss

I would be a blameworthy liar if I said that my biggest anxiety, my biggest fear, wasn’t the task of raising my daughter as a Muslim. Raising her to prefer being Muslim over every other cultural option on the menu. Have a look at this reflection by ‘AbdelRahman Murphy:

“I may not be Muslim anymore, but I think if you were here in 95 when I was growing up, I still would be.”

Joe Bradford added this commentary as well:

“…Unfortunately we are dealing with communities that build million dollar structures, see Imams and youth coordinators as overhead, and want to use volunteers to do the job that specialists should be trained in.

“Its my experience that volunteers seek what ever is personally gratifying for them at that particular time in their lives, and don’t really care about much else.”

“It is a vicious cycle: Volunteers work to create experiences for their 5 yr olds, who grow up to be teenagers with parents now busy in careers, so they are chased out of the mosque but elders overcompensating for being 30-somethings caught up in their careers, who then grow up to be parents of 5 yr olds that volunteer to give their kids “experiences” and so on and so on.”

“There is attrition at this stage, much like the person in the article, but it is not noticed in the community because new immigrants fill the void left by community members that have left.”

“The model many Muslim communities (our local community included) implement is the problem, and will only get worse. Until we professionalize the operations and actually become religious service providers that serve the entire life cycle of our community, it will only get worse.”

“The way I see it, it won’t get better any time soon.”

I’m sure Joe won’t take it personally if I hope he’s wrong. May God give us the courage to change. May God help us all.