This Foreign Policy piece by Reza Aslan, never a formidable intellect, is total nonsense from beginning to end, but after all, Foreign Policy is the publication that thinks tweeting photos of gay marriage supporters will defeat the Islamic State, so we are not talking about a very high intellectual level here.
Every assertion Aslan makes in this piece is false, and easily shown to be false — unless, of course, you’re a Foreign Policy editor. Details below.
“Reza Aslan Argues: There Is No Divide Between Islam and American Culture,” by Reza Aslan, Foreign Policy, July 24, 2017:
Religion comes in countless forms, depending either on the soil from which that religion arose or the soil in which it was planted. What we call Christianity in America is not what Guatemalans call Christianity. It’s not what Iraqis call Christianity. What we call Islam in the United States is vastly different from Islam in Iran or Saudi Arabia or Nigeria or Indonesia.
In reality, Christianity is different along sectarian lines more than along national ones. Roman Catholics believe much the same things, and have much the same concerns, divisions and factions, in America, Guatemala, and Iraq. Those concerns, divisions and factions often differ from those of Evangelical Christians; Evangelicals in the U.S. have more in common regarding their faith with Evangelicals in Guatemala than with Roman Catholics of the U.S. In the same way, what we call Shia Islam in the U.S. is remarkably similar to Shia Islam in Iran, and Sunni Islam in the U.S. is much like Sunni Islam in Saudi Arabia. Both Christianity and Islam are religions based on certain beliefs, and while emphases may differ, those beliefs change more across sectarian than across national lines.
The notion that religion clashes with a culture is a misunderstanding of what religion is, but, more specifically, the idea that Islam clashes with American culture is just foolishness, naiveté, and lies. There is no clash between Islam and American culture. In fact, there is no clash between any religion and any culture because religions are inextricably linked to culture.
This would mean that there was no clash between Christianity and the Roman Empire while the Romans were feeding Christians to the lions, because Christianity was inextricably linked to Roman culture. This would render nonsensical the conflicts between Muslims and Hindus that led to the partition of India, since they shared a common culture. Buddhism should never have been extinguished from Afghanistan or Zoroastrianism almost completely from Persia; after all, was not each inextricable from the national culture? If there is no clash between any religion and culture, then there could never have been any of the many conflicts between the two that have taken place throughout history.
Think of it this way: Culture is like a vessel, and religion is like water — it simply takes the shape of whatever vessel you pour it into. And this is why the prosperity gospel — the notion that what Jesus really wants for you is to drive a Bentley — can exist in the United States, and why the liberation gospel — the notion that Jesus was a warrior who fought oppression and poverty — exists in El Salvador. Both versions of Christianity are equally valid. They’re just dependent on the culture of the community to which they belong.
Religion does not take the shape of whatever cultural vessel you pour it into. If it did, Islam and Christianity and all other religions in the U.S. would be essentially the same, since they all share the milieu of American culture. Yet Muslims are disproportionately responsible for terror attacks in the U.S., far more than people of other religions and far out of proportion to their numbers. The prosperity gospel doesn’t just exist in the U.S., but among some Evangelicals the world over, even in El Salvador. And the liberation gospel certainly exists not just in El Salvador, but in the U.S.
When you look at Islam in the United States what you see is an overwhelmingly moderate version of Islam, but more interestingly what you see is a highly individualistic form of the religion. Islam is a religion that often advantages the community over the individual, but in the United States, where the culture is rooted in radical individualism, you see a radically individualistic Islam forming. An Islam that, in America, is not beholden to traditions or to the consensus of Muslim scholars and Islamic trains of thought that came before — it is an Islam that is innovative. You have a version of Islam that is vibrantly feminist. You have a version of Islam that promotes gay and lesbian spirituality. You have versions of Islam that are quite pluralistic and democratic. And in every one of these cases, what you see is a religion that has married itself fully into culture…
Reza Aslan may be feminist, and promote gay and lesbian spirituality, and believe in pluralism and democracy. But can he point to any examples to support his claims that Islam in the U.S. is all those things? When Asra Nomani began a campaign against misogyny and intolerance at her mosque in West Virginia, members of the mosque started a petition to expel her. And Reza Aslan himself has crudely mocked and vilified Nomani. So apparently Aslan’s commitment to this modern, American Islam is not all that deep — not nearly as deep as his confidence in the credulity of Foreign Policy readers.