Reza Aslan

July 29, 2013

I am Reza Aslan, scholar of religions, author of ZEALOT, and (gasp!) recent FOX news guest - AMA

Hello reddit! I am Reza Aslan, writer and scholar on world religions. You may have seen the clip of me appearing on FOX this past weekend to discuss my latest book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, with Lauren Green. I'm here and happy to answer any additional questions you may have, so please Ask me Anything!

Proof tweet

Also, I am going to a quick interview but will be back and taking all of the questions you are submitting to this thread in an hour. Thank you.

[No question]

OK folks let's get the party started.

He has a Phd. He likes to remind people of that.

Sadly I'm FORCED to remind people of that because for some reason people keep asking why I am qualified. I can't for the life of me figure out why they would keep asking....

Were you surprised by Lauren Green's questions on the Fox News interview? Was there any indication of the tone of the interview beforehand?

I had some indication of what was about to happen from the attack piece they did on me a few days before the interview. I assumed that we would deal with that at first and then move on to the book. It was only about half way thru that realized what was happening.

Yeah, I'm really curious if you had any discussions with your interviewer prior to or afterwards where she potentially apologized for what events transpired/told you that she had to follow a really awkward script.


Hi Reza,

I haven’t read the book yet but I own a copy and am looking forward to starting it!

On The Daily Show you talked about how Jesus was Jewish and that, if he were alive today, Jesus (“the illiterate, uneducated Jewish peasant”) would be confused by the fact that he is interpreted as a “demi-god” or God-man because that has no scriptural precedence. So I’m wondering this:

  1. How does today’s interpretation of Jesus “the demi-god” differ from the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah?

  2. If you we take into account that everything in the Bible is not meant to be taken literally - Do you think Jesus actually proclaimed himself to be the Messiah because he believed he was the Messiah? Or is that a title he assumed to lend himself more legitimacy? Or was it a title ascribed to him afterwards by his followers?

Thanks for your time!

EDIT: Just to be clear: Reza used the word "demi-god" in the interview. Not my word choice.

The single most important thing to remember about Jesus is that he was Jew. Now that seems obvious but if it's true then it means that everything he said or did must be viewed in its Jewish context. So if he claimed to be the messiah, he meant the messiah as most Jews would have understood it: the descendant of King David whose chief task was to restore David's Kingdom on earth. The idea of a messiah who is also God simply did not exit in Judaism at the time. That was a later development.

I think demigod is a poor word to describe Jesus's status in modern Christian theology. While his parentage mirrors that of pagan demigods, the word literally means half-god, but the Athanasian Creed explicitly declares Jesus as both fully god and fully man.

You may be right. The Christian creed is fully God and fully man. But part of why the idea of incarnation spread so rapidly in Rome is that it was primed by the familiarity with the idea of a demi-god.

As a scholar of religions, what is the fundamental difference between the Abrahamic religions that prevents, historically, and culturally a long lasting, peaceful interaction between these three? (Judaism, Islam and Christianity). Thank you for your thoughts.

Perhaps it's partly a result of monotheism. After all if you believe there is only one God then you could easily believe that there is only one path to that one God, that there is only one myth to describe God. That means all other paths/myths are not just wrong, they are ANTI GOD. They are evil and demonic. But the truth is that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are providing similar answers to the same questions of ultimate concern. They are just using different sets of symbols and metaphors to do so.

Is there any hard evidence that Jesus of Nazareth existed? I think many people just take it for granted that he existed and that the Bible itself is more than enough evidence. Is there anything else?

edit: Thank you for the gold, stranger. I am truly honored.

Outside of the Bible there is almost no trace whatsoever of the historical Jesus. However, in 94AD (60 years after Jesus died) a Jewish historian named Josephus casually mentions him.

In a brief throwaway passage in the Antiquities, Josephus writes of a fiendish Jewish high priest named Ananus who, after the death of the Roman governor Festus, unlawfully condemned a certain “James, the brother of Jesus, the one they call messiah,” to stoning for transgression of the law. The passage moves on to relate what happened to Ananus after the new governor, Albinus, finally arrived in Jerusalem. Fleeting and dismissive as this allusion may be (the phrase “the one they call messiah” is clearly meant to express derision), it nevertheless contains enormous significance for those searching for any sign of the historical Jesus. In a society without surnames, a common name like James required a specific appellation—a place of birth or a father’s name—to distinguish it from all the other men named James roaming around Palestine (hence, Jesus of Nazareth). In this case, James’ appellative was provided by his fraternal connection to someone with whom Josephus assumes his audience would be familiar. The passage proves not only that “Jesus, the one they call messiah” probably existed, but that by the year 94 C.E., when the Antiquities was written, he was widely recognized as the founder of a new and enduring movement.

That's pretty much all we have but it is significant.

I encountered names such as Josephus and Tacitus in my religion class discussing the existence of Jesus in his time. I think they are prominent Roman scholars who recorded a thirty year old man executed for rebellion due to his controversial teachings. There are numerous historical sources that Jesus of Nazareth existed, but the claim that he is the Messiah or the Chosen One is of course debatable and subjective to faith.

Edit: A big thank you to the anon who gave me gold. :-)


Well said.

In that same vein of thought, is there hard evidence that Muhammad existed? Which religious figure has more physical evidence?

Good question. We have a good deal of writings about Muhammad from his followers and his detractors that suggests that the man himself was a real person who started a movement sometime around the beginning of the 7th Century AD. But as with Jesus, these are not historical documents. They are mainly testimonies of faith written by communities of faith many years after the events they described. So we are left to cull whatever historical information we can get from them by analyzing their claims in the light of what we can know about the history of the time.

That's what separates studies of Jesus from studies of Muhammad: we have a LOT more information about Jesus' world (thanks to the Romans) than we do about Muhammad's

I did my best to reconstruct Muhammad's world in my first book No god but God.

Dr. Aslan,

Has studying religion influenced your faith? Do you find new things that change your view of the things you believe?

Yes absolutely. It is difficult to study the world's religions and not recognize that they are pretty much all saying the exact same things, often in exactly the same way. Some scholars think that's because there's something in the human mind or in human societies that longs for divine connection and so comes up with similar answers in the pursuit of God. Maybe. But it could be just as conceivable that the reason we all talk about God in pretty much the same way (though with different symbols and metaphors) is because we are all talking about the same God!

Following up on this: as a scholar of religion, do you believe in one true faith? (In your experience, do most religious scholars?)

What are your thoughts on individuals reading holy texts as historical texts?

I think the Buddha said it right: If you want to draw water you do not dig six one foot wells. You dig one six foot well. Islam is my six foot well. I like the symbols and metaphors it uses to describe the relationship between God and humanity. But I recognize that the water I am drawing is the same water that every other well around me is drawing. And no matter the well, the water is just as sweet!

As someone who has invested so much time in to the study of world religions what leads you to identify with a specific one? I'm not trying to suggest that you're asserting "fact" in doing so, but merely curious as to how you came to choose Islam as your personal belief system -- why not some combination of all the different belief systems you've seen? What about it struck you as most desirable?

Religion is nothing but a signpost to God. If you believe there is something beyond the material, and if you want to commune with that "thing" then it helps to have a set of symbols and metaphors to help you talk about it - both to yourself and to other people. That is ALL religion is supposed to be. A language of symbol and metaphors to help you make sense of something that is ineffable. I just happen to prefer the symbols and metaphors of Islam. That's all.

I picked up your book on Friday. I'm about 1/2 way through and enjoying it a lot. Thanks for writing it.

You state that Jesus of Nazareth was deeply involved with the politics of his time. Do you feel that present day followers of Jesus should follow that example? Do you feel that the most politically active fundamentalist Christians are effective in carrying the word of Jesus of Nazareth?

P.S. If Redditors liked the Fox News interview, check out Aslan's radio interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. It was really interesting and insightful.

There was no difference in Jesus' time between religion and politics. They were one and the same force (some would say that is still the case). Whatever religious claims Jesus would have made would have been instantly recognized by his audience as "political." Especially the claim to be Messiah. After all, if you are claiming to be sent by God to usher in his kingdom, you are also claiming that you have been sent to usher OUT the kingdom of Caesar. That can't go unanswered if you are Rome.

Many Muslims are confused by your statements regarding Christ being crucified. Is this your belief or just an academic conclusion from historic data?

I say you're a kafir. Prove me wrong please.

I do not respond to kafir because I have no interest in anyone else's opinion about my beliefs and practices and neither should you.

However in answer to your question: yes. The evidence we have about the historical Jesus indicates he was crucified. The notion that another was crucified in his place is a belief that predates Islam. You can see it in some of the Gnostic Gospels actually. These heterodox christian communities had to flee the Christian Empire bc of persecution. Many of them settled in the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula, especially in modern day Yemen. It is likely that it is from these Christians that the notion of another being crucified in Jesus' place arose.

Hello Dr. Aslan. I have a question about Christianity and Islam. If I recall correctly, Jesus is still a prophet for Muslims. How did Muslims react to Christian Roman councils such as the Council of Ephesus and Council of Chalcedon? Did they respect what was some about the body/spiritual nature of Jesus? Did they have their own teachings on it? Also, much respect for remaining calm during that interview.

Of course Islam arose long after the council you refer to. But to your question, Jesus is a prophet and messenger in Islam. The gospel story is recounted in the Quran, though in a shortened, summarized version (an indication that the audience of the Quran were already familiar with the gospel story). There are some differences in the way that the Quran tells Jesus' story than the New Testament. But the simple answer is this: Muslims believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but they DO NOT believe he was God incarnate.

Dr. Aslan, Thank you, thank you thank you. For that brief moment you elevated the state of debate in this country.

Thanks. Now everybody get back to talking about Shahs of Sunset :)

I was just amazed on how you kept your cool with that woman. I would have lost it after the 2 time you had to explain that writing about religions was your actual job.

When you are a brown Muslim man from Iran talking about Jesus you must always remain calm :)

I grew up in a non-theistic Jewish family and as such I was surrounded by religion without having any of the beliefs taught to me as "true". As a result I was fascinated by it and allowed to investigate it myself. As I became more and more studious, and eventually gaining a degree in philosophy covering many religious topics, I became entirely disdained with modern religion, whilst holding onto an almost child-like desire for there to be some form of "religion" in effect. My question to you, is have you found through you extensive research your faith has increased or decreased, or merely changed?

I think my research in world religions has made me a far more spiritual person. I can't help but thing that the reason we have all been saying the same things in much the same way despite the thousands of years and thousands of miles that separate else is an indication that we are all having experiencing the same transcendent reality. You can call that whatever you like: God, whatever. It's the reality of the experience that matters, not how you describe it.

What was going on in your mind when she (Reporter from Fox) kept going back to "You're a Muslim" I showed the interview to friends and family and they were baffled by her ignorance. This is your CAREER, it has nothing to do with your religion, and this lady kept attacking you based on your beliefs and not your credentials.

Look, I get it. There are people who are afraid and who feel attacked by a book that questions some of their most basic beliefs. But Jesus said to build your faith on the rock, not on sand. If your faith is strong, then nothing I say should be able to shake it. So relax. Pick up the book. Debate its arguments. But don't be afraid.

How do you deal with people not understanding that your personal religious beliefs are independent from your work as a religious scholar? I've been thinking about this a lot in light of your recent response to FoxNews. It's frustrating for me, so it must be painfully frustrating for you. How has the hate that stems from the inability of people to distinguish belief vs historical fact affected you personally and emotionally? It's got to take a toll on a person.

It's funny. No one asks the hundreds of authors who have written about Islam if their faith influences their books. A good scholar makes a differentiation between the study of religion and the experience of faith. They are not one and the same!

Do you have the super power of revealing the ignorance of the people or it was just this one time?

Yes. I'm an X-Man. It's just my power is not that cool.

Jesus and Muhammad walk into a bar... (Please continue)

Muhammad orders a cranberry juice.

would it would be fair to say that religion and science both have evidence that is flawed yet compelling to some leaving the decision of choosing a side up in the air for analytics?

I think religion and science are two different modes of knowing. They ask different questions and begin with different presumptions but in the end they are both means of exploring the mystery of our reality. There's really no reason for them to be in conflict with each other.

Hi Reza,

Huge fan. We see today that Atheism and Agnosticism are more and more prevalent in modern society. Do you think that the Church, and other faiths, are going to double down on their claims that God exists or are we going to see more of a Thomas Jefferson approach where he extolled the words and lessons of Jesus Christ as a way to lead a moral life but refused to accept his divinity?

You are right that in the US "unaffiliated" is becoming a bigger category (as in "I'm spiritual not religious"). This is especially true among the millennial generation. I think that has partly to do with people being sick of man made institutions claiming to have a monopoly on truth. But as I keep saying, religion is not faith. Religion is the language we use to describe faith. Nothing more. As the great Christian mystic Meister Eckhart once said: "If you focus too narrowly on a single path to God, all you will ever find is the path."

I am frequently told by my parents the reason I'm not thankful is because I am an atheist. And that I can't be thankful because I don't believe in God. Can you speak to that? Or at least give me some kind of advice on the subject.

That's just ridiculous. You don't need God to be a good person. It's offensive to think so. I will always anyone take an ethical atheist to someone who "does good" because they think they'll get a reward from God for it (heaven)

Dr. Aslan,

Since you are a self professed Muslim, do you, like Christians, believe that anyone that does not accept your deity as their own is going to suffer eternal damnation?


Why did some cultures embrace monotheism, while others looked to polytheism?

Back in highschool, one of my history professors talked about how monotheistic religions came out of more nomadic peoples, where not much was had so they turned inwards (hence once god who judges intentions and actions). In contrast, polytheistic religions came from more settled regions that had access to everything they needed, so their gods reflected their surrounds (e.g. a god of thunder, or of the river, etc.) I never really followed up on this theory, but it's always fascinated me and I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Monotheism is actually a very recent phenomenon. In the hundred thousand year history of human religious experience, monotheism is perhaps three thousand years old. That's because the idea of a single god being responsible for both good and bad, light and dark, is something that the ancient mind had a very difficult time accepting. And no wonder! The only way that monotheism finally "stuck" is thru the concept of angels and demons. In other words, it was only when all the other "gods" were demoted into spiritual beings responsible for different aspects of the human condition that people were able to accept the idea one GOD in charge of all the lower spiritual beings.

Did you have any off-air conversation with Lauren Green after the interview? If so, what did she say? And has she reached out to you since the backlash against her interviewing tactics?

No. I don't know her. I don't know anything about her actually. I've never spoken to her before or since. Frankly, I feel kind of bad for her.

According to your belief, what will happen to the atheists after they die?

How will god judge them?

Does it matter if they were good or bad people on earth?

I don't believe there is a heaven and hell where people who believe what I believe get rewarded and those who don't get punished. That's not a very sophisticated spiritual belief in my view.

Something that has been giving me some trouble in my spiritual walk has been reconciling the existence of evil in a world formed by a God who is perfectly good. What are your thoughts on this topic?

Words like GOOD, are human attributes that we have ascribed to God because we want him to be in our image. God is beyond all simple dualities. He's neither good or bad. He just is.

Do you think people will ever get over the fact that Jesus was not a blonde hair blue eyed savior but actually someone who looked like one of the locals?

I like to say that Jesus probably looked like me...but then that would make the collective heads at Fox news EXPLODE!

Hi Reza, will there be any European promotion of the book - talks, book signings, etc?

The British version of Zealot comes out Sept 23. I'll be in the UK in Nov. Other European version will follow suit, starting with the Dutch.

How exactly do you study religion? For example, in my view, a religion is based on the religious texts of the religion. As a Muslim, we believe we should pray 5 times a day because it says to pray 5 times a day in the Islamic texts.

One of the reasons I left Islam is basically because I studied the texts and realized I did not agree with the texts. I won't go into detail on why as I don't want that to be the point of my question. Suffice to say, both the Koran and Hadith are about a 7th century Arab society and would not exactly be centers of moral being today.

Without the texts, all religions become belief in a general idea of a god with various practices to create a spiritual experience. This is a perfectly valid world view.

But at that point, what is there to actually study?

Religion has been an academic discipline for a very long time. You can study it either in its historical, sociological, anthropological, or philosophical sub categories. My studies have all been in the historical study of religion, particularly the origins of religious traditions. Though to e clear my PhD ended up in the Sociology of Religions bc after years of course work in history I decided to write my Diss on Jihadism as a Social Movement. So it went to the Sociology Dept. But I am not a very good Sociologist :)

Why didn't you tell anyone you're a Muslim!!! (sarcasm)

Oh, do you have a PhD?

I am stamping MUSLIM on my forehead from now on.

Why are you writing a biased book about Jesus as a secret Muslim? This must be answered, and preemptively, immediately after you answer, you are Al Qaeda.

This must be answered, GOD WANTS IT!

Jesus as a Secret Muslim. That sounds like a fascinating book. I'll check it out.

What do you think of NT Wright, James Dunn, EP Sanders, et. al., and the New Perspective on Paul? When I learned Ancient Greek myself, I discovered that most standard Christian theological points were plainly wrong, with the New Perspective having much more obvious answers.

I like and respect all those scholars and rely heavily on their work in my own book.

Dr. Aslan,

I mean no disrespect and I admire your intelligence. I honestly want to know what you thought the response from the Christian community would be with the publishing of this book. Secondly, what do you think the reaction from the Islamic community would be had a Christian theologian written a book redefining the Prophet with his own hypothesis, stating his speculations as fact?


I have an overwhelmingly positive response to my book about Jesus, just as I had an overwhelmingly positive response to my book about Muhammad (No god but God). I have no interest in attacking anyone's faith.

Serious question, if aliens did come visit earth, what happens to religion?

We would simply absorb their reality into our religious traditions they we have done with every major scientific breakthrough (the earth revolves around the sun!).

I dunno if this has been asked, but what are the implications (if any) from your denial of the statement in the Qur'an that Jesus wasn't crucified? have you had any backlash from this conclusion you've made?

Nice one schooling the FOX News lady, as well. You were a consummate professional and academic in dealing with her. Good on you, sir!

Sure some Muslims are upset that I question a foundation of their faith, as are some Christians. But most do not have a hard time separating their faith from the histories I write about.

That blurry background picture on your website is terrible, change it.


I used to be a liberal religionist, a "religion is just a signpost" kind of guy like you. But then I experienced a very personal case of religion causing harm -- my stepfather used religion to abuse and humiliate my mother and me.

Nowadays I am more sympathetic to Sam Harris' point of view that liberal religion gives a veil of protection and legitimacy to its harmful manifestations. We need to work to create a world where people like my stepfather have no legitimate ground to stand upon. I'm sure you will disagree, but in your world my stepfather continues abusing my mother using a tool that you helped perpetuate.

Religion like any ideology can be used for good or bad. If you want to blame religion for bad things that happen in religion's name go right ahead. But also make sure you blame nationalism for fascism, socialism for Nazism, science for eugenics, atheism for Maoism and Stalinism. If that sounds silly, then you get a sense of why religion experts dismiss Sam's unsophisticated reading of religion.

If you had to do it all over again, would you have used a pseudonym so that the focus would be more on the content of the book than on who is qualified to write it?

Did you expect the media to react this way? Or did it take you by surprise?

Yes. I would have written the book under the pseudonym JK Rowling.

Now, I want to clarify, you're a Muslim. So why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?

Well, to be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament and fluency in Biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades who just happens to be a Muslim. So, it's not that I'm just some Muslim writing about Jesus. I am an expert with a PhD. in the history of religions. But I have been obsessed with Jesus--

But it still begs the question, though, it still begs the question, "Why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?"

Because it's my job as an academic. I am a professor of religion, including the New Testament. That's what I do for a living, actually. So, I mean-- it would be like asking a Christian why they would write a book about-- Islam; I'm not sure about that. But-- and honestly, I've been obsessed with Jesus for really 20 years. I've been studying his life and his work and the origins of Christianity both in an academic environment and on a personal level for about two decades. And, just to be clear, this is not some attack on Christianity. My mother is a Christian. My wife is a Christian. My brother-in-law is an evangelical pastor. Anyone who thinks that this book is an attack on Christianity has not read it yet.

Green's question is awkwardly phrased, but it's certainly not inappropriate. You're Muslim, and all your publications on your Wikipedia page pertain to modern Islam. The fact that someone deeply engrossed in Islamic studies is writing about the historical Jesus is a ripe topic to explore, no?

You answered by listing your academic credentials, but from what I can tell, your background is more in modern Islam than the history of early Christianity.

So what actually inspired you to write this book?

My BA is in New Testament, my MA is in Theological Studies, my doctoral work is History of Religions, and my PhD is in Sociology of Religions. Where do you see Islam in that again?

Dear Mr. Aslan,

I wonder if you can elaborate more on the political and (I believe racially tinged) motivations behind Ms. Green's line of questioning in your recent FOX news interview. Watching the interview, it was clear that Ms. Green's questions repeatedly sought to discredit and situate your scholarly research as something outside of "the academy" and a voice not to be trusted merely because of your faith. Have you encountered this same kind of distrust and skepticism in researching other world religions or has the political pushback been most critical with regards to your research on Christianity?

But but but.... Fair and Balanced??

Look every news outlet (even CNN) has political motivations, but ultimately cable news is a commercial enterprise. The ONLY thing that matters is getting folks to the commercial, selling them Coke and Viagra. So the same considerations that go into filling a one hour day time soap opera is what goes into an editorial board meeting at many news outlets. HOW DO WE GET PEOPLE TO WATCH?? That is the ONLY question that matters.

Why did you write a book on Christianity if you're Muslim?

Edit: looks like the joke went over the heads of a bunch of virgin downvoting awkward penguins.

Are you joking? Cause if so, good one.

Thanks for doing this AMA. Despite the unfortunate way you were treated in your interview on FOX news, the points you were able to get in were quite fascinating, and piqued my interest toward your book. In what ways do you believe that Christ was a threat to Roman power?

Jesus' ministry was founded upon the reversal of the social order. That's what the Beatitudes mean. The weak shall be made strong, the strong shall be made weak, etc.

That is both incredible appealing if you are the weak, and incredibly threatening if you are the strong!

Dr. Aslan, You mentioned in the interview that you converted back to Islam even though most of your immediate family did not share your faith. What was the reason behind this conversion, and what advice would you give to anyone trying to build their level of Islamic faith?

I have spoken at length about why I converted but your second question here is my advice. NOBODY GETS TO TELL YOU HOW TO LIVE YOUR FAITH. There's no Muslim Pope with the power to say who is an who is not a Muslim. It doesn't work that way. So find out for yourself what you believe and ignore all the noise.

Do you find it encouraging or discouraging that we've had a much more interesting and substantive interview on a website full of internet memes rather than through a major news outlet?

A "major" news outlet :)

I'd rather sit on REDDIT for two hours then at Fox News for 2 minutes.

Dr Aslan,

After watching your recent appearance on Fox I have to commend you for being totally professional and unintentionally funny. Was that as painful to sit through as it looked?

What was painful was trying not to laugh.

Atheist here... (not sure if that matters) what REAL evidence is there that Jesus even existed. I was under the impression (I haven't read all the source material myself) that at best he was apocryphal ... Is there actual/solid historical evidence that he WAS in fact a real person and actually existed?

I mean , whether he was a prophet or the son of god is certainly debatable and a matter of a religion but whether he was in fact a person can be addressed with historical evidence.

See my answer below re Josephus' Antiquities.

As a non-theist I find it difficult to begin any sort of religious practice in a world of literalists. How would you recommend approaching this problem?

You are not the problem. The literalists are the problem. Literalism is an extremely new phenomenon. It can be traced to the end of the 19th century. The people who wrote and compiled the Gospels were NOT literalists. If they were they would not have canonized four gospels which contradict each other on numerous facts of Jesus' life. THEY DID NOT CARE about those contradictions bc they did not read the texts literally. neither should anyone else.


Only if you keep questioning my credentials.

Do you think the editing of your interview was fair and balanced?

There was no editing. That was live.

Jesus is the Messiah. Mohammad couldn't and still can't get Christians to believe otherwise. He even tried to make Jesus a part of Islam in desperation to make them believe

Okey Dokey.

Hello Dr. Aslan

Some say that the verses of Quran are full of love and kindness as long as the verses were told when muslims had no much power; i.e before Muhammad took Makka, and the verses who describe the strict laws and punishment and order for war and killing non believers e.g. Muhammad 1-38, Tobah 123, etc) where told when the muslims were powerful. Do you believe so? And if so, how can we make sure that muslim communities or countries will not follow the same pattern given they have enough power?

All scriptures are full of love and hate, war and peace, compassion and intolerance. ALL OF THEM. It's not about what the scripture says. It's about how you read it. That's what matters.

Do you think that Jesus could have been influenced by Buddhism? I feel like the message is about the same. I think it could have been possible for buddhist travelers to go through Jerusalem.

Doubtful that an illiterate Jewish peasant from the backwoods of Galilee would have ever heard of the Buddha.

What do you think of the Baha'i Faith?

I think it is a beautiful faith.

how has being a muslim influenced your ability to write candidly in this reddit ama?

It is had not to scream JIHAD every few minutes.

It is a very common belief of many atheists that Jesus never actually existed. What arguments would you present to these people?

See answers below.

Why did you chose to follow a monotheistic religion rather than a polytheistic religion?

I am believer in the concept of divine unity. I not only believe in one God, I believe God is ONE. That there is no separation between Creation and Creator.

You seem pretty well-spoken and smart.

I'm curious but do you have any response to what Robert Spencer said about you and your interview?

Also, please don't downvote this to Molag Bal s plane of Oblivion, I just want to know what Dr. Aslan has to say. If what Robert said was true, it's worth bringing up. And if it's false then Reza should have no difficulty in demolishing it like the Fox Interview.

I don't argue with children.

These are some of the questions I've dealt with before leaving Islam and becoming an agnostic in my youth. You seem to have come out the other side. How do you reconcile your belief in God and the inconsistencies in what is supposed to be the divine word of God?

If a loving God created everyone how does He justify sending some to hell because of how He created them? Everyone thinks they are morally justified at the time of their actions and poor people face much more difficult moral dilemmas than rich people. The system seems utterly unfair, and the concept of hell seems crueler than anything anyone's done here on this Earth.

If the same god did indeed send us all three Abrahamic religions like the Quran says, why are they inconsistent in the most inane ways, like prohibition of pork, seafood and wine? Don't you think religious texts reflect cultural values of the societies they were written in instead of universal truths, especially in their treatment of women, minorities and those outside the religion? Do you think religious rules need updating now that we have readily available contraception and affordable refrigerators? Does Allah care if I eat bacon?

I don't read any scriptures in a literal non contextual way and neither should you.

How do you respond to Bart Ehrman's thesis that we probably can't know much, if anything about the historical Jesus? Also, I was a religious studies major in college and was taught to loathe the work of one Mircea Eliade. How do you view the field's ambivalent additude towards Eliade, (and, by connection, Joseph Campbell) and their somewhat mystical approach to the study of religion

I agree and I say pretty much the same thing in my book. But we know A LOT about the world in which Jesus lived and that can help us paint a more accurate picture of him than what we have in the Gospels.

Reddit is the definition of hypocrisy.

All claim to be atheist, but only against Christianity. This idiot is a fundamentalist Islamic religious scholar. Could there be any one person more blinded by modern religion than this guy?

I think your interview was retarded. And you are too. Go be irrelevant elsewhere.

I believe you mean that my interview was R-word. We don't say retarded anymore.

Dr. Aslan,

I just have a few questions and you can pick one to answer

Thank you for doing this AMA! I'm actually about to go to my local bookstore to pick up your book. Very excited to read it! Once again, thanks!

I'll answer your 3rd question. Studying religions is the best thing you could do. If you are interested in history, sociology, art, architecture, philosophy, anthropology, but just can't decide which to focus on, choose religion and you can study them all at once!

Does your background in religious studies help you understand whatever if was that possessed you when you decided that being interviewed on Fox News might be a good idea?

Well it did turn out to be a pretty good decision, so I must know SOMETHING!

Why do religions exist?

So that we have a language to express faith.

Do you believe that we are judged by God after we die? You honestly seem like more of an agnostic than an actual Muslim, so it made me wonder how much of it you actually believe in.

I think we are judged by God as we live. I do not believe that there's some reward or punishment in the afterlife. That seems an immature kind of spirituality. My two year old does good so he can get rewarded. That's not how God works as I understand it.

kind of paradox that you said in the interview you were a muslim and definitely believed in crucifixion?

You are assuming that a Muslim is whoever believes every word of the Quran is literal and inerrant. That is not the case, any more than a Christian is someone who believes every word in the Bible is inerrant and true.

What are your thoughts on people using the image of Muhammad? (ala South Park and other pop culture references who try to cause a rise in showing the image of him)

If you think either God or Muhammad needs defending from South Park then you probably don't know either of them.

Mr. (Dr.) Aslan, you described the rise of literalism in christianity being a very contemporary phenomenon wherein the scripture is taken as factual evidence. When I watch the news, I agree with you based on how we conduct ourselves (regarding things such as homosexuality, abortion debates, gun laws, and the christian influence in conservative politics). My question is, do you think this is a trend that will continue to grow or do you believe it's just a tide that will eventually wash out?

Our understanding of the scriptures have been in a constant state of evolution since they were first written and they will continue to be so. We no longer believe the earth revolves around the sun as the Hebrew Bible claims but that hasn't made the Bible any less valid today. If homosexuality is definitely proven to be genetic, we'll adjust our understanding of Scripture to match. Even if aliens show up tomorrow we will simply reinterpret the scriptures to make sense of them. That is why these texts written thousands of years ago still matter. Because they are infinitely malleable.

Reza, I saw you on Bill Maher on friday.

The panel was discussing the Anthony Weiner situation and you tried to bring the discussion somewhere more substantial by commenting that 'the craziest thing about Weiner is that he has maintained that there has never been an occupation in Israel'.

Maher cut you off, and he was probably doing you a favor, because the last thing that an aspiring public figure in America needs is to appear as though they are grasping at any possible excuse to heap criticism on Israel, especially when the attempted segue involves congressional penis pictures.

However, I am curious to hear your opinion on the Israel-Palestine conflict as a muslim-american who has lived here his whole life and who has, I'm sure, worked with and developed a relationship with a fair number of american jews in your academic and media circles.

Is there anything that american jews and christians should understand about the muslim faith that could help us come to an amicable resolution of this issue? How might religion be taken out of the conflict so that a solution can be reached where neither side feels that their "tribe" has lost in some sort of zero-sum conflict between religions?

My views of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis have been exhaustively covered in countless articles I have written (see my pieces in the Daily Beast). I am a one-stater.

What do you think about the new direction the Pope is taking the Vatican in?

I think this Pope is the best thing that has happened to Catholicism since Vatican II. Then again I'm biased as a proud product of a Jesuit education.

Hi Reza, have you written about why you converted to Christianity and then back to Islam? I'd love to read it, but if you haven't, do you mind giving me a short short short version of your reasoning?

It's the first few pages of my book Zealot. I think CNN did an excerpt of it. Google it.

Gun to your head, if you had to give one justifiable reason to "Hate Jesus," what would that reason be, and why?

His six-pack abs.

You made a comment about Buddah's well analogy before. "If you want to draw water you do not dig six one foot wells. You dig one six foot well. Islam is my six foot well."

In your opinion, and in this day and age, what would have to happen for another 6 foot well to be dug and a major following to occur? Is it impossible with the amount of connectivity there is amongst people or does that actually make it easier? I guess what i am asking here, "Is there ever the chance, in your opinion, that Scientology or even Buddhism can garner a following to compete with what has become metaphorically a two party system (Islam and Christianity)?

Of course! New religious traditions pop up all the time. a hundred years ago Mormonism was a tiny fringe religion. Now it's a major global religion. Who knows how we will think of Scientology in a few hundred years (Jesus Cruise?)

Do u think that Iran should be invade by america and its allies?


Can you make it a pre-condition that the interviewer should have read the book?

i wish

Earlier here you said that "Religion is nothing but a signpost to God" to help an individual commune with what's beyond the material. In my experience this is a deeply personal undertaking. Why does it make sense for this undertaking to be generalized in the form of religion? Why isn't it more encouraged for everyone to have their own private, specific set of symbols and metaphors?

That's fine. Lots of people do. As the Sufis say, it's not the destination that matters. It's the journey.


Kabalah is a pretty new idea.


What do you think about the persecution of Muslims in Myanmar/Burma? Also Ramadan Mubarak

A travesty that shames Aug Sunn Su Kyi who has said not a word about it!

What led to your conversion to Islam from Christianity? Have you focused any of your studying/reviewing on the Historical Mohamed?

I wrote a whole book on the historical Muhammad. It's called No god but God.

Hey Reza, what's your opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the recent events in that country?

I think Egypt MUST come up with a way to incorporate them into the political system or the whole state could collapse into civil war.

As an Iranian-American who recently graduated from UCSB, any advice for me?

Call yourself Reza Aslan and see what happens.

This guy is a joke. Let's be honest- there is not one shred of contemporary evidence for Jesus of Nazareth. The guy didn't even exist.

Down vote if you will, but do the research for yourself:

You don't find it peculiar that not ONE person wrote down anything about Jesus of Nazareth while was alive? This isn't some BS I'm making up. We don't have one shred of evidence, one piece of writing, from the time Jesus lived, that even mentions that he was a person, never mind that he was the son of God.

Keep saying that. It'll keep you warm at night.

Did your faith help you to stay calm in the face of such irrelevant, accusing, and immature questions, or are you naturally just a good-natured and patient person? Also, are you going to do any book signings, and if so, where?

No but my sense of humor does.

What role do you personally believe that God played in producing the contents of the Quran?

I think that all scriptures are divinely inspired.


Religion is about identity. And identities are often most powerfully preserved when in opposition an other. If you are a Christian then you pray like me, you worship like me, etc. If you don't then YOU ARE NOT ME. So violence often becomes a natural response.

[No question]

3 O'clock and time to sign off. Sadly, I have to depart, but I have really enjoyed answering many of your questions and appreciate you taking the time to stop by to ask them. Please feel free to ask me more on Twitter @rezaaslan and if you take the time to read "Zealot," share your thoughts!

Special thanks to all of you asking how I as a Muslim dare write about Jesus. Really appreciate it.

This interview was transcribed from an "ask me anything" question and answer session with Reza Aslan conducted on Reddit on 2013-07-29. The Reddit AMA can be found here.