Reza Aslan, the author and religious scholar who was subjected to intense berating in an interview on Fox News last week, has ironically achieved great success in book sales since the incident.
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth is now the #1 bestseller on Amazon.com.
The New Yorker calls Aslan’s book “riveting” and says, “Aslan synthesizes Scripture and scholarship to create an original account.”
The notorious Fox interview, which immediately went viral, was appalling to many. Aslan himself told Piers Morgan that he found the incident “embarrassing.”
Fox reporter Lauren Green was meant to question Aslan about his new book, yet the discussion was not in regards to the content of his controversial book, but rather his qualification, and motivation, as a Muslim to write it.
In fact, Aslan is extensively qualified to write about Christianity. As a scholar with a BA in Religion from Santa Clara University, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard, as well as a PhD in the Sociology of Religion from UC Santa Barbara, it seems the only qualification he could be said to lack is actually being a Christian.
Aslan is a former Evangelical Christian who converted back to Islam the summer before he attended Harvard. But should that matter? Do Aslan’s twenty years of study of the historicity of Jesus Christ become moot because he now identifies as Muslim?
“You’re a Muslim, so why did you write a book about Christianity?”
This is the first question Green asks—though it’s uttered more like an accusation than an inquisition. Aslan, who appears astounded by the shortsighted remark, quickly points out that he wrote the book as a religious scholar.
“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 also just happens to be a Muslim,” says Aslan. “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 Green keeps on, apparently not grasping the separation between Aslan’s extensive credentials and his personal life. The interrogation continues in this manner for nearly ten painful minutes.
A video of the interview was uploaded to YouTube under the title “The Most Embarrassing Interview You’ve Seen On Fox News.” It has subsequently been removed, but multiple duplicates remain.
“This is not some attack on Christianity,” Aslan clarifies. “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.”
While Aslan’s book does question parts of Christianity, he says it comes from his view as a scholar and his knowledge of historical facts.
“This isn’t a Muslim opinion. This is an academic work of history, not about Christ or about Christianity for that matter, it’s about a historical man who walked the Earth 2000 years ago in a land that the Romans called Palestine.”
Surprisingly, Aslan remains calm throughout the interview despite the apparent need to repeatedly reiterate his points to Green.
“Well it’s pretty clear that there are those who actually do not like the book, who are, you know, unhappy with its general arguments,” says Aslan. “That’s perfectly fine. I’m more than willing to talk about the arguments of the book itself. But I do think it’s perhaps a little bit strange that rather than debating the arguments of the book, we are debating the right of the scholar to actually write it.”
Toward the end of the interview, Green actually accuses Aslan of attempting to conceal his Muslim faith in his book as well as in previous interviews. However, Aslan retorts that he has always been upfront that he is Muslim, and even includes it on the second page of his book.
The point where the interview really takes a turn for the worse is when Green reads a question from a viewer, which uses an absurd simile.
“‘So your book is written with clear bias and you’re trying to say it’s academic. That’s like having a Democrat write a book about why Reagan wasn’t a good Republican. It just doesn’t work,’” Green reads. “What do you say to that?”
Aslan’s reply is almost humorous:
“Well it would be like a Democrat with a PhD in Reagan, who has been studying his life in history for two decades, writing a book about Reagan.”
Regardless of the fact that many liberal authors have, in fact, written books about Reagan, Aslan’s book isn’t arguing how Jesus “could have been a better Messiah,” says David Graham of The Atlantic, but is instead a study of his life as a historical figure. Furthermore, there are hoards of non-Muslims who have written books about Islam who haven’t endured nearly as much ridicule.
“I think that the fundamental problem here is that you’re assuming that I have some sort of faith-based bias in this work that I write,” Aslan tells Green toward the conclusion of the interview.
In an MSNBC interview with Alex Wagner on Wednesday, Aslan admitted that he feels a little bit bad for Green.
“Well, look, I watch Fox News, anyone who watches Fox News knows that they have an inherent anti-Muslim bias in their reporting and [have]for quite some time,” Aslan said. “It’s very successful for them. I don’t actually blame them for it. They’re a commercial enterprise. They know how to sell a product and, frankly, fear sells a product. I do want to say one quick thing though. Look, I feel really bad for Lauren Green. You know this, Alex, anybody on your show knows this that Lauren was sitting there being yelled at by some producer in her ear.”