Last week, Reza Aslan delivered the University of Toledo's Imam Khattab Lecture in Islamic Studies, and in it announced that he thinks it's "fine" if people blame Islam for ISIS — but only if they also credit Muslims for fighting ISIS.
Aslan began by noting that when Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in Norway"in the name of his identity as a Christian warrior, the immediate response you heard [from Christians] across the gamut was that 'this guy has nothing to do with us or Christianity, his actions are so beyond the pale of anything you could describe as mainstream Christian ideals that he is just not a Christian, regardless of how he defines himself.'"
"I get that," Aslan said. "I hear the same thing from Muslims all the time, when they see these grotesque actions of militants like ISIS and al Qaeda. The murderous ideology they are implanting in large parts of the Middle East. It's perfectly natural for Muslims to look at that and say, 'That has nothing to do with us. That's so far removed from anything that can be ascribed to mainstream Islamic thoughts or beliefs that they are not Muslim.'"
"But that's not very helpful," he added, "and it's also not true. A Muslim is whoever says he's a Muslim. A Christian is whoever says he's a Christian. A Jew is anyone who says he's a Jew. If you are saying that this is your identity, and you are acting according to your identity, then we should probably take your word for it. Because it's not helpful to say 'no, that has nothing to do with religion,' because like it or not, these actions are being done in the name of a specific religion."
"How do we confront that?" Aslan asked. "The knee-jerk response is just to blame religion. If ISIS is killing in the name of Islam, then it's Islam's fault. But that's just a very simple and unsophisticated way of thinking."
"Listen," he continued. "I am totally fine with you blaming Islam for ISIS. If you want to place the responsibility for ISIS on Islam, that's fine with me — as long as you alsocredit Islam for the people who are fighting ISIS. For while it is true that ISIS are Muslims, it's also true that so are the tens of thousands who are battling them, and the tens of thousands of victims of ISIS. They're all Muslim too."
"So if ISIS is Muslim, and the people they are killing are Muslim, and the people who are fighting ISIS are Muslim — what does that say about Islam?"
"Not much, actually," he said, answering his own question. "Nothing much, nothing you can make some grand generalization about. If you want to blame religion for all of the bad things that religion does, fine. As long as you are willing to credit religion for all the good things religion does."
"Of course, that's usually not the case."