An imam calls Reza Aslan “no true Muslim”

March 3, 2017 • 9:30 am

Well, I’ll be—get a load of this. Marc Manly is an American “imam at large” who seems to have considerable Islamic cred:

The last fifteen years has seen me involved in a number of ways in the Muslim community. In my early twenties, I was asked to teach Islamic studies along side Shaykh ‘Ali Sulaiman ‘Ali, of the ALIM Program, at Crescent Academy in Canton, Michigan. Since then, I have worked as a Muslim educator in subjects ranging from Arabic language, philosophy, and creed, to spirituality and self-purification. During my tenure at the University of Pennsylvania I teamed up with Adnan Zulficar, the Interfaith Fellow and Campus Minister to the Muslim Community at the University of Pennsylvania, to create and teach the Islamic Literacy Series. Notes and audio recordings can be found here.

In 2008, I completed an ijazah (license to teach/preach) with Imam Anwar Muhaimin of the Quba Institute, in Philadelphia, in the area of khutbah. Since then, I have been working as a khatib, delivering Friday sermons at a variety of locations in and around the greater Philadelphia area. In addition, I have spoken at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Hillel, Charter School, and Yale University just to name a few venues.

In August of 2011, it was my great pleasure to be appointed to the position of Muslim Chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania. Here, I worked alongside Revered Charles “Chaz” Howard in serving Muslims at Penn as well as the broader University community. 2012 also saw the pilot launch of a Muslim chaplain position at Drexel University. Both positions allowed me a wonderful learning opportunity and a chance to serve my faith community. I am grateful for the experience. In addition to my religious duties I concurrently worked full-time at the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania, in the IT and instruction technology fields.

So it’s particularly satisfying to see Manly pronounce the unctuous Reza Aslan, Grand Mufti of Muslim Apologetics, someone whose Islamic beliefs are not recognizable. To Manly, Aslan is “no true Muslim.” In that way Aslan is like the members of ISIS!

A few days ago, Aslan wrote a piece for CNN, “Why I am a Muslim,” It’s about as saccharine as you’d expect. Always the careerist, he touts his new CNN show “Believer“, but he also says stuff like this:

Can you have faith without religion? Of course! But as the Buddha said, if you want to strike water, you don’t dig six 1-foot wells; you dig one 6-foot well. In other words, if you want to have a deep and meaningful faith experience, it helps — though it is by no means necessary — to have a language with which to do so.

So then, pick a well.

My well is Islam, and in particular, the Sufi tradition. Let me be clear, I am Muslim not because I think Islam is “truer” than other religions (it isn’t), but because Islam provides me with the “language” I feel most comfortable with in expressing my faith. It provides me with certain symbols and metaphors for thinking about God that I find useful in making sense of the universe and my place in it.

In other words, he just likes the symbols and metaphors of Islam better than those of, say, Catholicism. Fine. But let Aslan recite that litany from the steps of the Masjid al Haram in Saudi Arabia. How long would he last before he was thrashed within an inch of his life? Metaphors, indeed! (And Sufis have long been persecuted by other Muslims.)

But he not only neglects to tell us why the symbols of Islam resonate with him the most, but then has the temerity to say that, at bottom, all religions are the same: “My goal — as a scholar, as a person of faith, and now as the host of Believer — is to be the linguist, to demonstrate that, while we may speak in different religions, we are, more often than not, often expressing the same faith.”

Well that might get Aslan not just beaten, but beheaded. No True Muslim would say that their faith is the same as that of Christians, Jews, or Hindus! How could it be? If you see Jesus as the savior, Islam damns you while Christianity lauds you. And, according to the Qur’an, you’re an infidel and should be killed. The whole story behind and the ethics undergirding different faiths—not just Islam and Christianity—diverge among religions. Whatever you can say of them, they are not the same. Of course different faiths recognize their differences, which explains the continuing violence between them: Sunni against Shia, Sunni against Ahmadi, Muslims against Sufis, Christians and Hindus, Hindus against Muslims—the list goes on forever.

And Manly recognizes these differences, saying this:

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 [sic] 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 [sic] 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).

And indeed, you can make a far better case that Aslan espouses a perverted form of Islam than does ISIS. ISIS, after all, is following the literal words of the Qur’an, while Aslan, saying they’re mere metaphors, is almost completely abandoning the tenets of Islam—tenets that require literalism. He’s a man of all faiths, who just happens to find the label of Muslim the most expressive of his tastes. But Islam is not a taste to Muslims: it is the Final Faith, the Last Word of Allah. Most Muslims, I suspect, would see Aslan as an apostate or even an infidel.

It’s amusing to see Aslan outed in this way, the same way apologists like him go after ISIS for not adhering to “true Islam.” I wonder if Manly can formally declare him an infidel or apostate. (Aware of the possible consequences of such a fatwa, I hasten to add that I wish no harm to Aslan—just a nonviolent and titular declaration that he’s a nonbeliever.)

I have no use for Aslan, for he dissimulates in the service of his ambition, knowing full well that people want to see Islam as a religion of peace, and that liberals like nothing better than hearing that all religions are, at bottom, the same. (Well, in one sense they are: they all depend on faith—on the assertion of claims about reality with no evidence behind them.) No thinking person should admire Aslan, for he distorts reality to feed people’s confirmation bias—and to make himself famous. In fact, admiration of Aslan is a sign of soft-headedness.

I am blocked, and I burst with pride!

h/t: Orli

36 thoughts on “An imam calls Reza Aslan “no true Muslim”

  1. All that I can say is ‘lol’. Good!

    I am blocked

    Readers should see if they are blocked by social justice warrior Steve Shives!

    I bring this up because Mr. Shives is famous around SJ parts for blocking *everyone* who is guilty of wrongthink, or potential wrongthink, in order to protect his echo chamber.

    Un-surprisingly, his circle of influence is shrinking, which should happen to all of those who, in the general sense, oppose the freeflow of ideas (free speech).

    1. He blocked me on youtube ages ago and I’m not autoblocked on twitter, which surprises me (different names, but I follow some people he dislikes)

  2. Jerry, you are sounding increasingly desperate.

    Islam is a contentious religion. It does not espouse blind literalism – that is false, also I have never met a Muslim who does not mix his faith with his culture.

    I understand that straw-manning Islam is expedient for you, that a literalist interpretation is crucial for your blog’s success – which is quickly becoming a boring circle-jerk.

    You routinely conflate the name for the thing, for example, the US probably has some redundant laws from its establishment period which could be described as racist. But I wouldn’t castigate you for that.

    I used to really enjoy reading your blog but to me it has deteriorated to have the same conversational, gossipy tone you denounce the Huff Post for. Poor little man you are. You really do seem jealous of Aslan, that is just my opinion.

    Please can you direct your intelligence and eloquence to more productive matters instead of hopelessly pontificating and persuading no one of your oft rational views.

    1. Thanks for your insults. As for your saying that Islam doesn’t espouse blind literalism, have a look at the Pew report (section on “core beliefs”) which shows that in every Muslim-majority country surveyed (they didn’t do places like Yemen, Saudi Arabia, or Iran), more than half of the people said that the “Qur’an should be read literally, word for word”, and in nearly all majority-Muslim countries outside of central Africa, 60% or more of Muslims think that “there is only one correct way to understand the teachings of Islam.”

      Your claim that Islam is becoming a faith as tolerant as America is now is simply ridiculous. And I wouldn’t change places with Aslan if I was offered the opportunity, for he is a dissimulator and a pathetic careerist.

      Please, can your direct your rancor to other websites, because your ignorance and rancor don’t make you welcome here.

      Why, by the way, don’t you use your real name in the comments?

    2. “the US probably has some redundant laws from its establishment period which could be described as racist.”

      Right. The US is still quite racist, so they would be useful indicators.

    3. “Islam is a contentious religion.”

      Certainly not in doubt given the near constant massacres of Muslims by other Muslims because of variations in belief!

    4. You routinely conflate the name for the thing, for example, the US probably has some redundant laws from its establishment period which could be described as racist. But I wouldn’t castigate you for that.

      The primary differences between the founding documents of Islam and the US are that 1) No one thinks the words of the US Constitution were conveyed by an angel and 2) The US Constitution can be modified.

      It’s ironic, though, that the US Constitution actually is interpreted literally in order to establish laws. The fact that this hasn’t resulted in endless, internecine bloodshed testifies to its quality, and to the sound judgement of the men who drafted it.

      1. and no one asserts the US constitution is uncreated part of God.
        snd no “holy books” specify that the penalty for not believing in the US constitution is death.

    5. Saf,

      Could you explain why it’s taken literally that Mohammed is a prophet?

      Why are the nice verses taken literally?

      Why are the nice parts of a verse often cited and taken literally when they have words around them in the same verse that not only change the literal meaning but have no bearing on the presented nice meaning?

  3. I enjoyed your your post about Reza Aslan. Running with his chosen metaphor, I’d say that the being that Reza really worships is the one whose image he sees in the water when the bucket reaches the top.

  4. So then, pick a well.

    Pick a well, any well, as long as you don’t say there’s no good reason to dig for something that’s not there. That’s being shallow.

    I think one of the main reasons I dislike seeing religions stripped of their truth claims and turned into flabby personal attitudes is more than the fact that it distorts the truth. Doing this also distorts personal attitudes. The ideal clarity, honesty, and rational basis for being an atheist is negated and dismissed. People of no faith haven’t drawn conclusions about God’s existence or nonexistence based on an evaluation of the evidence — they’ve cut themselves off from the well of wellness. They lack insight, beauty, meaning, and, well, depth. Atheists didn’t go searching for God. Not really. They didn’t want to have faith.

    1. You make it sound as if the religious are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. I think that fits many believers rather well.

  5. I can’t stomach much Reza Aslan. If he acted as a reformer, acknowledging an accurate depiction of current day Islam and openly rejecting that in favor of his rendered down kumbaya depiction of Islam, then I’d consider him a damn hero.

    But he isn’t. I think you’ve very accurately described him.

    “No thinking person should admire Aslan, for he distorts reality to feed people’s confirmation bias—and to make himself famous.”

    He is a liar, and he does it for personal gain. The kumbaya schtick is just that. It’s an act. He turns very nasty, very quickly when anyone starts to pull the curtain aside.

  6. This Marc Manley shares with Aslan a long introductory throat-clearing vaunting his theological expertise. I’ve seen enough of those to know that it can all be ignored before the ‘but’.

    When it comes to the subject without an object the reader will be the judge of your expertitude, thank you very much: nobody is impressed by by self-aggrandizing puffery. In fact it’s a warning sign.

  7. Religious operators have been using the “no true *x*” technique long before the Scotsmen adopted it.

    1. Aslan obviously isn’t a true scotsman either.

      Everyone is a no true something to someone, so we all could be a happy family of no-trues. 🙂

  8. Aslan is right to say all faith is the same, insofar as he means belief without evidence. In that sense, yes, all faith is the same. I also detect a thread of honesty in his tacit admission that his interest is not in truth but in the instrumentality of faith. His chosen faith “language” gives him something to hand his hopes and intuitions on, relieving him of having to deal with the cognitive dissonance that results from collisions between faith and facts.

  9. I am an atheist and in a perfect world I would prefer everyone to be rationally convinced about the lack of evidence for a deity and therefore embrace atheism. However, I realize I don’t live in a perfect world. So tactically, I should (and do) prefer those Muslims would (for whatever reasons) want to pick-and-choose from the Quran and not embrace the literal interpretation. That to me is the only way of having the reformation in Islam that Ayaan Hirsi Ali talks about. This means that, however odious he may be, I hope that people like Reza Aslan find more success and converts among his fellow believers. There are indeed other ‘moderate’ Muslim voices out there e.g. Irshad Manji, Shadi Hamid etc. who less odious and better advocates for this cause.

    And indeed, you can make a far better case that Aslan espouses a perverted form of Islam than does ISIS. ISIS, after all, is following the literal words of the Qur’an, while Aslan, saying they’re mere metaphors, is almost completely abandoning the tenets of Islam—tenets that require literalism.

    When you say the above, aren’t you accepting ISIS’s standard of who a ‘true’ Muslim is? In reality there is no such thing as a ‘true’ Muslim. There are only ‘accepted’ Muslims. Who is ‘accepted’ as a Muslim depends largely on the consensus among other Muslims. The data you have pointed to in the comments do show that currently to be an ‘accepted’ Muslim you have to be more of a literalist than a ‘pick-and-choose’ type. However, shouldn’t we as atheists want to see the consensus shift in a direction such that we have more ‘pick-and-choose’ type Muslims become ‘accepted’ Muslims? Perhaps this means rejecting ISIS’s standard of who a ‘true’ or ‘accepted’ Muslim is and accepting the Reza Aslan standard?

    1. The problem is that Aslan does not talk to his fellow Muslims about the need of reformation of Islam. Instead, he keeps talking (i.e. lying) to us non-Muslims that this reformation has already taken place, and if we still fear Muslims, we are badly misguided at best.

      I also think that Aslan in an unprincipled person who talks for profit; that he is pretending to be a moderate apologist just because this sells well in the West, and if he were in Iran or in an ISIS-controlled territory, he would be an apologist for full-blown Sharia. If we accept people like him, in several decades we may be forced to accept extremists.

    2. If Aslan were seeking to moderate Islam by converting other Islamic believers to his more liberal interpretation of Islam that would be great. But that isn’t what he does. He runs interference between Islam and outsiders, particularly outsiders that criticize Islam. And his main tactic is to misrepresent, egregiously, what Islam is, right now in the present.

      He isn’t fighting to moderate Islam. He attacks former Muslims, like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who actually do advocate for a moderation of Islam.

      1. I haven’t read or watched much of what Aslan does. So if his behavior is as what you describe here then it is problematic. Perhaps we need to focus on better reformers like Irshad Manji, Maajid Nawaz etc.

        However it still doesn’t make sense to accept ISIS’s literalist standard for what is and isn’t acceptable for a Muslim by saying:

        “And indeed, you can make a far better case that Aslan espouses a perverted form of Islam than does ISIS.”

        What it means to be a Muslim is a matter of consensus amongst Muslims. I don’t see what is being achieved if prominent atheists like Prof. Coyne accept the ISIS standard instead of accepting the more benign Aslan standard and call Aslan’s version of Islam more perverted. Irrespective of Aslan’s behavior, the standard he chooses (Sufi tradition etc.) is much preferable. It is bad enough that it gets a push-back from other Muslims. Do we need to add our voice to that push-back too?

        You can also make the case that Barack Obama espouses a perverted form of Christianity than Jerry Falwell does. Tenets of Christianity too are supposed to be believed literally and not merely as metaphors, are they not? And yet, all moderate Christians do just that! I would tolerate that over Jerry Falwell version any day!

        1. Sameer, it’s more than somewhat difficult to find the consensus between the Glaswegian Ahmadi shopkeeper and the Bradford Sunni Tanveer Ahmed, his murderer. And these days, given the global sectarian warfare within Islam – I don’t say the umma, because it’s hard to see where the consensual Islamic community exists – you could repeat that gangster climate across tens of Muslim-majority countries and beyond.

          The problem is that the idea of consensus within Islamic communities is largely a chimera. Structurally, and despite its claims to the contrary, Islam actually does have Pope-types in whom authority is vested – al-Azhar University, Iranian ayatollahs, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi himself. One can’t seriously make the claim that the imam at my local mosque in Birmingham, England, merely has the same influence as any member of his flock. Yes, one can use the Christian metaphor for the congregation because it’s essentially the same thing: do as I say, and, women, you can worship up in the balcony.

          The point about IS’s interpretation of Islam is not that it’s the correct one but that it is very plausible if you read the 3 founding texts of Islam. It’s easy to use the Koran as a manual for IS strategy. Fortunately, most Muslims have infinitely superior morals to those of their founding prophet: life would be unbearable otherwise.

          But a sufficiently large number of leading Muslims world-wide know as much as about the Koran as the many atheists here who have read one of the least impressive, morally null, badly-written and semi-coherent screeds that disinterested scriveners ever suffered to unleash on a plague-ridden desert dark age. The problem is that they still view it as a manual: and not a historical curio. Remember, within IS al-Baghdadi is actually a moderate. Despite the current spate of IS child suicide bombers – actions which could technically be conducted by adults – the IS leadership is in reality less extreme than the Hazimis in their midst. Really, one cannot tell what IS does that Mohammed did not do.

          Would it do any good to pretend that the Koran etc. does not sanction IS’s actions? No. Because one cannot hold a conversation about ideas when one side is self-censoring or lying about what they really think. That is not how a consensus emerges: yet that is exactly the position of the ordinary Muslim as she sits muted in front of her Islamist priest/imam.

        2. I think you may have misunderstood Jerry. He is not playing the game believers play, claiming that a particular sect is the truest one. Just the opposite. Like you he is criticising that habit, specifically Aslan’s habit of claiming that Islamic sects that do bad things are not true versions of Islam.

          He is criticising Aslan by pointing out the rather obvious fact that ISIS’s interpretation of Islam is much truer to Islam’s source material, Koran, Hadiths, etc., than is Aslan’s liberal interpretation thereby demonstrating the vacuousness of Aslan’s claim.

  10. The claim that all religions have a “common core” was first made in the 16th century and is known as the “perennial philosophy”. It has been argued by a variety of Western figures from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Aldous Huxley (grandson of Darwin’s bulldog Thomas Huxley.) All argue that the real meaning of religion is a quasi-Platonic and/or semi-Vedanta view of reality.

    But to sustain you have to up to a point disown the classical dogmas of most (at least Western) religions interpreting a great deal as symbolic metaphor. This is a tougher call if you are operating within Islam (though a bit easier I suppose if you are a Sufi like Reza Aslan.)

    If you are a Christian, you must overtly disown the exclusivist claims of classical Western Christianity, and opt for an “apophatic” notion of God.

    The real transgression of Reza Aslan is his whitewashing the history of Islam especially with regard to female genital mutilation and the submission of women. This sort of thing is done less often by modernist Christians.
    (A slight exception is Huston Smith. His “Soul of Christianity” is not at all as bad as Aslan’s “No God But God” but he does whitewash Christian history, and even provides a bad excuse for so doing in “The World’s Religions”.)

  11. Popular muslimism and a ‘how to’ book is just around the corner. What we have here is two sides of the same coin, facing in two different directions and all the while, the coin spins on a fine edge as they call out to each other “show yourself!”
    Will the real muslim please stand up.

  12. It is my thinking that as re “hearing that all religions are, at bottom, the same. (Well, in one sense they are: they all depend on faith—on the assertion of claims about reality with no evidence behind them.),” all religions (of the major, current ones about which I happen to know some stuffs) .are. the same in one more, further sense, at the least: how human girls and women are to be viewed, then … … subsequently and literally ‘handled’.

    Heartbreaking tales of girls and women in mostly western countries’ religious realms abound. Ms Ann Fessler chronicled the muckings western religions visited upon my coming – of – age generations — and still does in some areas: children forcibly ripped from their birth mamas’ arms and wholly (the vast majority) in the last of the 1940s, all of the 1950s and very much of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, .forever. removed from the mamas’ sight and knowledge: = “The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v Wade.”

    Thanks to religions. I have no use for any of them.


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