On OWN, Reza Aslan Explains What’s Wrong With Asking "Where Is The Voice Of Moderate Islam … Speaking Out Against Violence”

Aslan: “It's Not A Question, It's A Statement,” And “It Assumes That The Voice Of Violence … Is The Mainstream Voice”

From the April 17 edition of OWN's Super Soul Sunday:

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OPRAH WINFREY (HOST): Isn't it fascinating to you that, you know, Islam, the word, means “peace” and that throughout the world, particularly in the United States at this particular time, people think the exact opposite when they hear Islam?

REZA ASLAN: Yeah. Yes, and it's heartbreaking to me, but I also think that in many ways it's our own fault, Islam's fault. Islam has always had this one problem, which is that it doesn't have a center. There is no religious authority that gets to speak for the world's Muslims. There's no Muslim pope. There's no Muslim Vatican. There's no single religious authority that gets to say what is and what is not proper Islamic behavior, what is and what is not proper Islamic beliefs. And when you're talking about a religion of 1.5 billion people, without a center, you can see how problematic that becomes. If a Catholic youth pastor started issuing, you know, papal bulls, Catholics would say, “Hold on now, you don't get to do that. The pope gets to do that." But Osama bin Laden issued fatwas left and right, even though, according to Islam, only an imam, a cleric who has spent a lifetime studying the Islamic sciences, is allowed to do that. Now, most Muslims, when they saw a fatwa from bin Laden, they would look at it and they would say, “Wait a second, you can't issue a fatwa, you're not allowed to issue a fatwa. That doesn't make any sense.” But most non-Muslims did not know that. So when they heard bin Laden issuing declarations, issuing fatwas, they just assumed that he was sort of the leader.

WINFREY:  He was the voice.

ASLAN: That he was the voice. Hence the question that I am asked more than any other question in the world, which is, “Where is the voice of moderate Islam? How come Muslims aren't, you know, speaking out against violence?” And that question drives me nuts for two reasons. One, because it's not a question, it's a statement. If it was truly a question, you would do a Google search, ok, and you would see the overwhelming voice of condemnation. But, more importantly, because it assumes that the voice of violence, the voice of radicalism, is the mainstream voice. 

WINFREY: Is the voice. But there is this perception in the world now that Islam is a religion that's prone to extremism and violence. You say it's actually become the other. Because there was this perception of other religions, there has been this perception of other religion, other races, yeah --

ASLAN: That's right, yeah. Well, it's certainly true that in this country, we are facing an unprecedented level of anti-Muslim sentiment. But, look, everything that is said about Muslims today, that they're un-American, that they're not like us, they don't belong here, was said about Jews in this country, was said about Catholics, it was said about black people, it was said about Japanese people. We have this tendency in this country to --

WINFREY: So Muslims have become the other.

ASLAN: The new other. 


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