Monday, October 7, 2013

Reza Aslan at Islamic Scholarship Fund Dinner in Silicon Valley

Islamic Scholarship Fund's annual dinner and fundraiser drew over 300 attendees and raised nearly $100,000 in Silicon Valley on Saturday October 5, 2013. Best-selling author Reza Aslan was the keynote speaker. The event was co-sponsored by several major organizations including Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Human Development Foundation (HDF), Zaytuna College, Shia Association of Bay Area (SABA), Islamic Society of East Bay (ISEB), South Bay Islamic Association (SBIA) and United Muslims of America (UMA).

L to R: Reza Aslan, Ejaz Naqvi
The mission of the Islamic Scholarship Fund (ISF) is to improve the understanding and acceptance of Islam and those who practice it by increasing Muslim American representation in the professions that influence public policy and public opinion. The fund offers scholarships for Muslim students to encourage and help build careers in professions which are key to shaping public opinion and public policy in the United States.

After a brief introduction to Islamic Scholarship Fund by ISF president Hamid Razapour, the attendees were served dinner and treated to a popular one-woman monologue, Dirty Paki Lingerie, by Aizzah Fatima, a Pakistani-American actor and playwright who previously worked for Google as an engineer. She played a couple of characters to offer a glimpse of some of the real-life situations faced by first-generation Muslim immigrants and their off-springs. The first character she played was that of a mom working the phone speaking in her native accent to find a suitable husband for her daughter, followed by her funny portrayal of the American-born daughter dealing with the cultural divide faced by the children of first-generation Muslim immigrants.

L to R: Marium Turab, Ejaz Naqvi, Riaz Haq, Hamid Rezapour
Dr. Reza Aslan's keynote was in the form of Q&A with ISF board member Dr. Ejaz Naqvi.  It was mainly focused on Aslan's recent best-seller book "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth" which generated and benefited from a lot of controversy surrounding the author's interview aired on Fox News. The interview soon went viral in the social media and the book sales soared.

Iranian born Aslan who grew up in the United States explained that his parents were Muslim but not particularly religious. His interest in Jesus began as a teenager when he became a devout Christian but reverted to Islam a few years later. As he studied Jesus, he realized that Jesus is not really a historical figure. Most of what the world believes about Jesus comes from the New Testament. The only reference to Jesus that Aslan found outside  the New Testament is by Jewish historian Flavius Josephus who mentioned "James, the brother of Jesus, the one they call messiah".

Aslan said that there was strong rivalry between James, Jesus's brother and close companion, and Paul, who is credited with much of what the Christians believe about who Jesus was. Aslan said Paul never met Jesus and yet his descriptions of Jesus have been the main source of what is in the New Testament. It was Paul, not James, who saw Jesus as divine rather than human, according to Aslan.

Responding to a question about how Americans perceive Islam,  Aslan said , "No one in America believes that all 1.5 billion Christians have a single interpretation of Christianity, yet they seem to expect that all 1.5 billion Muslims have one common understanding of Islam".

When asked why he wrote a book about Jesus and not Prophet Mohammad, Aslan said, "I did write a book about Prophet Mohammad. It's a best seller titled "No god but God"".

Reza Aslan is very articulate, telegenic and knowledgeable. He is an effective advocate for interfaith harmony in the face of vicious attacks of various hate groups against American Muslims since 911. I found his performance in TV debates surrounding bigoted opposition to "Ground Zero Mosque" to be particularly impressive. It would be great for interfaith harmony in America if the Islamic Scholarship Fund (ISF) can help produce many more Reza Aslans among American Muslims.

Here's a video clip of Reza Aslan's interview with Fox News:

REZA ASLAN stuns foxnews presenter about his... by RohailAsghari

Related Links:

Haq's Musings

Pakistani-Americans in Silicon Valley

Saudi Prince Funding Hate in America

Exposing King's Hypocrisy

FBI Entrapping Young Muslims

Duke University Study on Muslim Americans

How Islamophobes Spread Fear, Bigotry and Misinformation

Early Anthrax Probe of Pakistani-Americans

Violence Against Indians in Australia

First Haji in US Congress

Inside the Mind of Times Square Bomber

Home-grown Terror Plots Seen as FBI Entrapment

Milgram's Experiments on Obedience to Authority


Marium said...

thank u riaz sahib
very well written article

Hamid said...

Great job br. Riaz and thank you for attending the our event.

As a quick FYI, my name is spelled “Hamid”

Riaz Haq said...

Hamid: Great job br. Riaz and thank you for attending the our event.
As a quick FYI, my name is spelled “Hamid”"

You and Ejaz did a wonderful job of organizing the event.

I apologize for misspelling your name. I am correcting it on my blog.

Riaz Haq said...

Here's a Wall Street Journal story on Aizzah Fatima:

As a playwright, Aizzah Fatima knows she is pushing boundaries with the title of her one-woman show, "Dirty Paki Lingerie," which will make its debut Saturday at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival. But as an actress, Ms. Fatima is delighted to portray roles that transcend the traditional fare she is typically offered as a Pakistani Muslim actress. "'Terrorist No. 2's girlfriend' is an actual title of a character I once auditioned for," she said.

Aizzah Fatima plays 20 characters in her 'Dirty Paki Lingerie.' Here, as Asma, a mother searching for a husband for her daughter.

Ms. Fatima is the first Muslim playwright to have her work featured in the Midtown festival, which is in its 12th year, and the title of her comedic show about Muslim women reconciling their ethnic identities with their American lives has proved too controversial for some members of the Muslim community in New York. Many, she said, have asked her to change it to something less salty. "Several people have told me they have an issue with the word 'lingerie' in the title, and not so much the 'dirty Paki,'" the 34-year-old said. "Conservative Muslim women in my social circles have suggested I change the title to 'Dirty Paki Laundry' to make it more politically correct."

But she insists the title is important to the work. "The juxtaposition of 'Paki' and 'lingerie' grabs attention since Pakistani women may be stereotypically thought of as very conservative and not sexual," she said. "In the play we learn that wearing the hijab doesn't necessitate that one is conservative in all aspects of life."

Of course for some, the reference to women's undergarments isn't the issue. One South Asian theatre festival in Canada asked Ms. Fatima to alter the title of the show to "Dirty Pakistani Lingerie" because the festival's jury didn't feel the word "Paki," often used as a derogatory nickname for someone of Pakistani ethnicity, was appropriate.

There are also leaders in the Muslim community who have overlooked the title—which was coined by Ms. Fatima's husband, Azeez, a physician at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. She was asked by Zeba Iqbal, the executive director of the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals, to perform parts of her show and speak on a July 3 panel in Chicago about relationships, gender and sexuality, which was hosted by the Islamic Society of North America. "Aizzah is the type of artist I want to promote," Ms. Iqbal said. "She is not afraid of taking critical conversations among Muslim women from the living room to the public sphere."

Ms. Fatima plays 20 characters in the show, among them Selma, a hijabi feminist caught between her commitment to Muslim culture and her desire to wear sexy lingerie, and Asma, a mother searching for her daughter's suitor in the Urdu Times Matrimonial section. The scenes pay equal homage to 18th-century Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib and Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack."

The writer and actress, who supplements her artistic work with a job as a technical engineer at Google has lived in Manhattan for 10 years but was raised first in Saudi Arabia, then Mississippi where her family moved when she was 13 to be closer to her brothers who were studying at Mississippi State University. This is the first play Ms. Fatima has had produced; she previously has acted in off-Broadway shows, commercials and independent films....

Riaz Haq said...

ASLAN: Islam doesn't promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion, and like every religion in the world, it depends on what you bring to it. If you're a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is going to be violent. There are Buddhist -- marauding Buddhist monks in Myanmar slaughtering

women and children. Does Buddhism promote violence? Of course not. People are violent or peaceful. And that depends on their politics, their social world, the way that they see their communities, the way they see themselves.

CAMEROTA: So, Reza, you don't think that there's anything more -- there's -- the justice system in Muslim countries you don't think is somehow more primitive or subjugates women more than in other countries?

ASLAN: Did you hear what you just said? You said in Muslim countries.

I just told you that, Indonesia, women are absolutely 100 percent equal to men. In Turkey, they have had more female representatives, more female heads of state in Turkey than we have in the United States.

LEMON: Yes, but in Pakistan...


ASLAN: Stop saying things like "Muslim countries."

ASLAN: Stoning and mutilation and those barbaric practices should be condemned and criticized by everyone. The actions of individuals and societies and countries like Iran, like Pakistan, like Saudi Arabia must be condemned, because they don't belong in the 21st century.

But to say Muslim countries, as though Pakistan and Turkey are the same, as though Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are the same, as though somehow what is happening in the most extreme forms of these repressive countries, these autocratic countries, is representative of what's happening in every other Muslim country, is, frankly -- and I use this word seriously -- stupid. So let's stop doing that.

LEMON: OK, Reza. Let's -- I want you to listen to Benjamin Netanyahu again. This is actually the one I wanted you to hear. ASLAN: Yes, the ISIS.


NETANYAHU: But our hopes and the world's hopes for peace are in danger, because everywhere we look, militant Islam is on the march. It's not militants. It's not Islam. It's militant Islam. And, typically, its first victims are other Muslims, but it spares no one.


LEMON: He's making a clear distinction there. He says it's not militants, it's not Islam; it's militant Islam. Do you understand his distinction there? Is he correct?

ASLAN: Well, he's correct in talking about militant Islam being a problem.

He is absolutely incorrect in talking about ISIS equaling Hamas. That's just ridiculous. No one takes him seriously when he says things like that. And, frankly, it's precisely why, under his leadership, Israel has become so incredibly isolated from the rest of the global community.

Those kinds of statements are illogical, they're irrational, they're so obviously propagandistic. In fact, he went so far as to then bring up the Nazis, which has become kind of a verbal tick for him whenever he brings up either Hamas or ISIS.

Again, these kinds of oversimplifications I think only cause more danger. There is a very real problem. ISIS is a problem. Al Qaeda is a problem. These militant Islamic groups like Hamas, like Hezbollah, like the Taliban have to be dealt with. But it doesn't actually help us to deal with them when, instead of talking about rational conflicts, rational criticisms of a particular religion, we instead so easily slip into bigotry by simply painting everyone with a single brush, as we have been doing in this conversation, mind you.

Riaz Haq said...

Beware of generalizations about any faith because they sometimes amount to the religious equivalent of racial profiling. Hinduism contained both Gandhi and the fanatic who assassinated him. The Dalai Lama today is an extraordinary humanitarian, but the fifth Dalai Lama in 1660 ordered children massacred “like eggs smashed against rocks.”

Christianity encompassed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and also the 13th century papal legate who in France ordered the massacre of 20,000 Cathar men, women and children for heresy, reportedly saying: Kill them all; God will know his own.

Remember that those standing up to Muslim fanatics are mostly Muslims. In Pakistan, a gang of Muslim men raped a young Muslim woman named Mukhtar Mai as punishment for a case involving her brother; after testifying against her attackers and winning in the courts, she selflessly used the compensation money she received from the government to start a school for girls in her village. The Taliban gunmen who shot Malala Yousafzai for advocating for education were Muslims; so was Malala.

Iran has persecuted Christians and Bahais, but a Muslim lawyer, Mohammad Ali Dadkhah, showed enormous courage by challenging the repression and winning release of a pastor. Dadkhah is now serving a nine-year prison sentence.

A lawyer friend of mine in Pakistan, Rashid Rehman, was a great champion of human rights and religious tolerance — and was assassinated this year by fundamentalists who stormed his office.

Sure, denounce the brutality, sexism and intolerance that animate the Islamic State and constitute a significant strain within Islam. But don’t confuse that with all Islam: Heroes like Mukhtar, Malala, Dadkhah and Rehman also represent an important element.

Let’s not feed Islamophobic bigotry by highlighting only the horrors while neglecting the diversity of a religion with 1.6 billion adherents — including many who are champions of tolerance, modernity and human rights. The great divide is not between faiths, but one between intolerant zealots of any tradition and the large numbers of decent, peaceful believers likewise found in each tradition.

Riaz Haq said...

Watch Islamophobe racist xenophobe Ann Coulter being roasted alive by a buch of's hilarious!!