Sunday, 19 October 2014

Does Reza Aslan or the Islamic State (IS) Speak For Islam?


Reza Aslan via The Guardian
Reza Aslan via The Guardian

Prominent Islamic scholar Reza Aslan says that no one Islamic group or Muslim individual can ever be deemed to have the last word on Islam. Thus the Islamic State (IS), for example, can’t be deemed to be definitive of Islam.

It follows from this that when Aslan says that IS promotes a distorted version of Islam, then Aslan’s own position – that IS distorts Islam - can’t be deemed to be the last word on Islam either. In other words, Muslims have no more or less reason to accept Reza Aslan’s interfaith-materialist account of Islam (presuming it’s not all smoke and mirrors: taqiyya or “lying for Justice”) than to accept IS’s or al-Qaeda’s.

Yes, there is no central authority in Islam. So that means that the utterances of people like Reza Aslan might have had almost zero effect on the vast majority of Muslims. Indeed that’s certainly the case. No doubt there are a handful of Muslims in American and European universities (such as Georgetown University) – as well as Muslim members of the Church of Interfaith – who buy Reza Aslan’s version of Islam. The problem is, can we put all our eggs in their basket or would that be suicidal?

Though, of course, I may think all this simply because I’m a “pseudo-intellectual”…. or a “loon” or an “Islamophobe” or a “hater” or a “bigot” or “far right”.

Reza Aslan, as with Loonwatch, will often inform the Leftist “tribe of independent minds” that many – or all – academics who are also critics of Islam are either “pseudo-intellectuals”; or, as Aslan himself puts it, “self-described intellectuals”… What? I can’t think of a single critic of Islam – academic or otherwise – who has christened himself an “intellectual”. As everyone knows, the word “intellectual” has always been a self-description that Marxists, structuralists, post-structuralists, post-modernists, etc. have used about themselves. Thus it seems seem that in order to be a true intellectual, one has to be a Leftist or a “progressive”. If you’re not, then you’re either a “pseudo-intellectual”…. or a “loon” or an “Islamophobe” or a “hater” or a “bigot” or “far right”.

Reza Aslan’s Academic & Materialist Elimination of Islam

The thing about Reza Aslan’s version of Islam – that’s if it’s sincere – is that it effectively negates or erases Islam from the picture.

In one breath Aslan will apply his Marxist (or materialist) analysis of Islam. In the next breath he will erase or negate Islam from the picture in another way by saying, for example, that people don’t “get their values, their morals from their scripture”. Instead, you “bring your morals and your values to the scriptures”.

Now Reza Aslan – according to Reza Aslan (not me) – is a Muslim. So let’s rewrite that statement:

Muslims don’t get their values and their morals from the Koran, the hadith and the sunnah. Instead, Muslims bring their morals and their values to the Koran, the hadith and the sunnah.

Again, why would a Muslim like Reza Aslan be saying things like that? I will tell you why. He will say things like that when the subject under discussion is Islamic extremism – whether that be terrorism, jihad, female genital mutilation (FGM), honour killings, sexual-grooming gangs, death for apostasy, stoning to death, the killing of gays, etc.

However, when the seemingly positive things about Islam – as well as the positive actions of Muslims – are being discussed, then Aslan’s materialist analyses of Islam (or his eliminativism as regard Islam) are simply dropped from the debate.

Reza Aslan tells us that his own position on Islam – as stated above – is something you “learn… on day one of the study of religion”. That may well be true. So I suggest that Aslan – as a Muslim – tells his fellow Muslims that. I suggest that Aslan tells them that Islam is a mere “epiphenomenon of material conditions” (not his own words) and that the “morals” and “values” which devout Muslims uphold existed before any reading or study of the Koran.

Surely such radical views would be deemed as apostasy just about everywhere in the Muslim world; and even in the United States.

The Islam-Culture Binary Opposition

On Twitter (October 11th) Reza Aslan stated the following:

If you think female genital mutilation, which predates Islam by about 2000 years, is a ‘Muslim practice’ you’ve already lost the argument.

Just about all critics of Islam have acknowledged that FGM existed in other cultures and existed before Islam. However, simply because that’s the case, it doesn’t follow from that that it’s not an Islamic practice. For example, many Christian practices and rites pre-date Christianity. That doesn’t stop them from being Christian.

Despite all that, since Islam has sanctioned and endorsed FGM, honour killings, stoning to death, jihad, etc., and since Islam has existed in the Muslim world for up to 1,400 years, then surely we can ask why all these things still exist in Muslim countries and cultures.

Why, for example, is the FGM rate in Egypt 91%? Why is it 0% in Western states (if you discount the Muslim populations) and even fairly low in those African and other states which aren’t Muslim?

The fact is that even though FGM may pre-date Islam (is this even true?), it has still become an Islamic practice. After all, Muhammed and the early Muslims borrowed – or stole – almost all their principles, rites and practices from other religions and other cultures. That means that Reza Aslan’s position that FGM pre-dates Islam can be applied to many other aspects – the seemingly positive ones – of Islam too. But he doesn’t. He is, of course, as highly selective about Islam and its texts as he accuses all the critics of Islam of being.

Sharia Blasphemy Law or the Leftist “No Platform” Policy?

Finally, what did Reza Aslan mean when he said (during an interview with Salon) the following? -

I think that people have had enough of this kind of rhetoric [referring to the critics of Islam], and they’re just not going to put up with it any more.


*) ‘Reza Aslan on Bill Maher’s anti-Islam crusade’, published by Salon:
*) ‘Loonwatch and Islamophobia Watch: Why Leftists are Islamophiles’, published by Brenner Brief:

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