So I am currently on a Reza Aslan high, since I saw him again yesterday! I also got to meet one of my lovely readers, Sara from Iran 🙂
He gave two interesting talks: the first one was on the difference between nationalist (Islamist) and trans-nationalist (Jihadist) Islamic groups, the effects of globalization, and the problematic term “Muslim” or “Islam.” The second talk was about Islamophobia in the US (mostly) and Europe (partly) and particularly about the Ground Zero Mosque incident (or as he calls it, the Ground Zero Mosque that’s neither a mosque nor at Ground Zero).
I want to mention two things that really struck me:
One is his insistence on the fact that there is no such thing as the “Muslim world.” He says we would like to believe there is but it simply doesn’t exist. Islam is the most diverse religion in history, and Muslims share nothing except the shahada. Muslims in Iran have nothing in common with Muslims in Egypt, and Muslims in the US have nothing in common with Muslims in South Africa – they don’t even share religion.
I thought that was an amazing point: the fact that people keep using the term “Muslim world” is really annoying. The Muslim world is way too diverse for that. Like he said, the only things we have in common are the shahada and belief in one God. Even our rituals aren’t the same.
The second point was the way he described his relationship with Islam. He said that religion is a set of symbols that help us understand and connect with God. For some people, a powerful symbol is Jesus and the cross, for others it is the idea of reincarnation. For him, it is the idea of the oneness of God. So basically for him, Islam had a set of symbols that helped him connect with God, and that helped his faith. This doesn’t mean Islam has the ONLY set of symbols for everyone, and I think that’s an important point. He managed to describe exactly how I feel about Islam: I believe there are many ways of understanding and connecting with God, and Islam has the set of symbols that helps me do that.