More on Reza

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.

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14 thoughts on “More on Reza

  1. Well, in his book “No God but God” he even told how the Shi’a shahada differs from the Sunni one. Shi’ites often add “and Ali is God’s Executor (wali)” to the Muslim profession of faith.

    It’s interesting that he seems to break the Muslim community apart when I read on blogs all the time “brother this” or “sister that” as if Muslims are all one big happy family (ummah). What you shared from Aslan seems more divisive. Almost like he doesn’t want to admit these other worldwide Muslims have much to do with HIM except for maybe the believe in one God and Muhammad as His prophet.

    Do you get this impression from him?

    I really enjoyed his book “No God but God.” It was very interesting to read the Shi’ite perspective especially of “the rightly guided ones.” I found that term a joke with the way Aslan portrayed the early caliphs.

    Glad you shared more of what you learned from him. I really like the clarity of your last sentence. You and Aslan seem to believe that all religions are valid and each person can choose which way (symbols) works for him/her.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • “Well, in his book “No God but God” he even told how the Shi’a shahada differs from the Sunni one. Shi’ites often add “and Ali is God’s Executor (wali)” to the Muslim profession of faith.”

      This is true actually. Although the main shahada is still the focal point, you can add the last part if you want to :):):)

    • “Almost like he doesn’t want to admit these other worldwide Muslims have much to do with HIM except for maybe the believe in one God and Muhammad as His prophet.

      Do you get this impression from him?”

      Hmmm I didn’t think so while I was listening to him, but it makes sense that he would want to distance himself from certain types of Muslims – I often feel the need to do so myself, even though it’s hypocritical since I believe there are different ways of being Muslim. But since he’s always in the media, it makes sense that he has to strongly point out that his Islam is different from, say, a Wahhabi version.

  2. This is why I have read all of his books and always try to listen to any guest appearances or speaking engagements he attends. I agree completely about his observation of the Muslim community, and I think this hints at why Muslims can be so judgmental and divisive towards themselves, because we are all coming from a different way of viewing Islam, which is attached to the culture and background that we come from.

    The image we may want to portray, or even want to believe, is that we are all one ummah, and in a way I can understand that because I say that all the time as a way to try to unify us when we are conflicting WITH EACH OTHER.

    In the end though, his point is well taken, and I can see this as a main reason Muslims have so much judgment and infighting, because we are all only similar in shahada.

    Some of us accept and already see this, while others of us try to make everyone else change and conform to “our way” of seeing Islam.

    • “I think this hints at why Muslims can be so judgmental and divisive towards themselves, because we are all coming from a different way of viewing Islam, which is attached to the culture and background that we come from.”

      Exactly, I think you’re absolutely right. Why people won’t admit this I don’t know. I guess it is because Muslims are so invested in the unity and oneness of Islam – but that can just never be a reality.

  3. I think we have more incommon then he wants us to believe or think. There are big differences in clothing, thinking and even in prayer but for instance, i as a shia muslim follow a certain Alim, and even though i have my own ideas about certain issues, i still have a lot in common with a person in the Phillipines who follows the same Ayatollah then i have with some relatives i know. I think there is a muslim world and that the difference is more about which aqeedah and lawschool you follow. We as muslims have more incomon then any other religion..there is a saying, that the muslim world is one body, and that like your fingers have differend shape and looks, they are still part of the same body.
    The view on the shia shahadaah differece even amongst shia ulamaa..some say ali wali Allah is part of it and obligatory others say its mustahaab. So even there he is very wrong.

    As for what brings you closer to god, yeah not everything suits everyone..but in the end there is one thing we have to find out, what does Allah want from us, does he accept all differend approaches? Does he accept my prayer the same way he accepts the prayer of a person who thinks Allah has a son? And so forth.

  4. One thing I really don’t think Muslims understand about Christians is that we also really value having one God. To you it seems as if we don’t value that, but to ourselves, it is at the center of our faith.

    It sort of reflects on your comment in your post about just believing and not being rational. In fact, one could argue that Islam is the more rational religion with laws, etc, and Christianity requires more faith in many ways.

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