Reza Aslan at ISF Dinner in Silicon Valley
By Riaz Haq

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).

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 career-building in professions which help shape public opinion and public policy in the United States.
After a brief introduction to Islamic Scholarship Fund by ISF president Hamed 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.

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 9/11. 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.


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