Opinion: A faith-fueled debate: Why you should listen to Reza Aslan

Mike Richards is a senior English major and a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

Mike Richards

In case you’ve missed a bit over the past week due to our upcoming Ebola-induced apocalypse, let me catch you up on one story of note.

DISCLAIMER: I won’t have the room to fulfill my opinion, so feel free to continue this debate with me. Most of this will merely cover the events; do not misconstrue my message.

During one of Bill Maher’s recent talk show monologues on his HBO show, he made comments relating to Muslims and Islam (centered mostly around Saudi Arabia) and essentially deemed the whole religion idiotic and dangerous. Now, this is coming from the mouth of a satirical, comedic and very outspoken atheist man.

Then, in a segment featuring Ben Affleck and an atheist comrade (on Maher’s side), the debate reopened with Affleck saying that everything they’re saying is “gross” and “racist.” All of this lead to a barrage of seemingly clueless defenses and passive attacks against a religion held by more than a billion people in the world, thus culminating in Maher trying to make a quip and take control of his show.

This is where Reza Aslan, a professor at University of California Riverside and renowned religious scholar, comes in. During a segment on CNN, Aslan posited questions relating to Maher’s comments and the actions of Muslim countries, to which he immediately stated, “[Maher] is not very sophisticated in the way he thinks.” Where this takes its main route is the matter of “painting [Muslim countries] with a single brush” and missing the fact that not all Muslims act in the same manners as their neighbors. Before being interrupted, Aslan made the argument that we are guilty of using a few examples, throwing them all into the cauldron and making our generalizations from that, “the very definition of bigotry.” I became almost as infuriated with the CNN anchors as Alsan did.

Again, I’m not an expert, so condone me if you will. I’m also not a religious man, but I respect the rights of everyone to have faith in his or her choosing.

The points Aslan addressed in just those few minutes are important. Disregarding Maher’s position as a comedian, the idea is that religions are religions. And as Aslan makes clear, it is the people who bring the violence and/or peace, not the religion. The word “extremist” is almost spotlighted to matters relating to Islam, but where’s the note of “extremism” when talking about Westboro? The Army of God? The KKK? These groups call themselves Christian and are clearly extremists. But they aren’t given the same justice of coverage, seeing that roughly 83 percent of the U.S. classifies itself as Christian and don’t want to paint their picture as such, and so they disassociate.

Everyone has the right to speak his or her side, scholastically clarify and possibly disassociate before they are, as Aslan said, “painted” as such. There is a lack of familiarity when it comes to different cultures, religions societies, etc., and by throwing it all into a kettle of opinions lacking the proper research, you begin cooking up the narrow-mindedness and backlash that has led to the misunderstandings that anyone with the proper outlet has served out.