Reza Aslan: From Islam to Christianity back to Islam
Recently we sat down with Muslim scholar and best selling author Reza Aslan for an in-depth interview on a wide range of issues. This is the first in what will hopefully be a longstanding series of interviews that are planned with high profile scholars and movers and shakers in pop culture.
We covered Reza’s days as a break dancer, conversion to Christianity and return to Islam, his thoughts on Islamophobia, Robert Spencer, the Arab Spring, reformation of Islam and the current saber-rattling with Iran.
It was a fascinating and hilarious interview and I think you will find we covered new ground, such as the breaking news that Reza is willing to finally reciprocate Robert Spencer’s man crush!
Loonwatch (LW): I heard you used to break dance?
Reza Aslan (RA): Yes, (laughter) I used to be a break dancer. My name used to be El Penguin, because I was so bow legged.
LW: Did you ever graduate to doing head spins and flares?
RA: I could do a really poor head spin but it was definitely not my forte with my footwork. I was in a (laugh) break dance troupe called Etron, which was Norte spelled backwards because we were on the north side of Fresno.
LW: Do you still break once in a while?
RA: Hell no. If I tried to break dance today I would definitely break something. Oh, I could still pop-lock with the best of them but break dancing, no.
LW: We heard in the course of one of your interviews that you converted to Evangelical Christianity at one point in your life?
RA: Yes, when I was 15 years old…
LW: Were you practicing taqiyyah?
RA: Yes. (laughter) My entire life is just one big practice of taqiyyah. Like everything I do as a human being.
Actually, it was part of this group called Young Life, pretty famous nation-wide group. They go into High Schools and Junior High Schools and they evangelize. I went to this summer camp where you hear the Gospel message, and yeah when I was 15 years old, a sophomore, and so it was before my sophomore year of HS. Yeah, I found Jesus, he was awesome.
LW: How was that, what was that experience like when you were an Evangelical?
RA: It’s magical! The thing about Evangelical Christianity and why I think it is so appealing, particularly to young people is that I mean it is just such a brilliant and profoundly moving story. There is a reason why it is called the greatest story ever told, right? That God had this physical son, like His little baby boy you know that came down to earth and because you yourself are such an awful human being, because of all the terrible things you do, God decided to have His son tortured and murdered in order to save you from yourself and that if you don’t accept that story, not only are you spitting in God’s face but oh yeah you are also going to burn in hell for all eternity.
It’s an amazing story, that’s why it is so appealing. Now the important thing to understand is that is what it precisely is, a story. I am not by any means discounting it or criticizing it. All religion is story, all mythology is story but that is a particularly good one, and it’s a story, I think particularly for young people looking for easy answers to complicated questions, that they can flock to, and the last 2000 years are testimony to that.
LW: That is quite profound. I was wondering, going from that to becoming an Islamic scholar and someone who regularly speaks on Islam, how did you return to Islam? Was it a going back to your roots?
RA: Well, after High School, like most people who are introduced to Evangelical Christianity when they’re kids then go to college, you realize, “oh wow, a lot of the stuff that I was told by my youth leaders and my pastors was kind of nonsense actually” and so you begin to question those issues, question those ideas.
I went to a Catholic College, a Jesuit Catholic College and began studying the Bible and particularly the New Testament from a scholarly perspective and the more I kept studying the more I realized almost everything I was told about the Bible and about the New Testament and frankly about the Gospel story was false. More importantly the truth behind the Gospel story, the truth behind who Jesus was and what Jesus really said was far more interesting, far more profound and frankly far more appealing than the false notions of it that I was fed as a kid. So throughout my early years in college I decided to get a degree in Biblical Studies. I became fluent in Greek and became a young scholar about the origins of Christianity and the historical Jesus and then when I graduated I was heading off to Harvard to get a Masters degree in that topic when one of my undergraduate professors, one of my mentors, Katherine Bell sat me down and basically said, “Why aren’t you studying Islam?” and I said “what do you mean?”
Click here to read the full article: