Literature — 10 December 2010

Reza Aslan (Persian: رضا اصلان , born 1972, Tehran, Iran)[1][2] is an Iranian writer,[2] an American Muslim reformer, and an Islamic scholar. He is on the faculty at the University of California, Riverside, and is a contributing editor for The Daily Beast. His books include No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam (2005) and How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization and the End of the War on Terror (2009). In 2007 he co-founded BoomGen Studios with filmmaker Mahyad Tousi.


Aslan has been Visiting Assistant Professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Iowa and Truman Capote Fellow in Fiction at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has written for numerous newspapers and periodicals including The Christian Science Monitor[3], the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, Slate, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, the Guardian, the Chicago Tribune, and The Nation. He has also appeared on TV, including The Rachel Maddow Show, Meet the Press, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, Anderson Cooper 360°, Hardball, Nightline, Real Time with Bill Maher, and Fareed Zakaria GPS.

He has served as Legislative Assistant for the Friends Committee on National Legislation in Washington D.C., and was elected President of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, Harvard Chapter. He is a member of the Los Angeles Institute for the Humanities and serves on advisory boards of the Council of Foreign Relations and the Ploughshares Fund.

In the early 1990s, Aslan taught courses at De La Salle High School in Concord, California.

As a child, in 1979, he came to the United States with his family, fleeing the Iranian Revolution[1] and currently lives in Santa Monica, California.

Iranian singer Leila Forouhar is his aunt.[4]


Aslan is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside. In addition, he is a Research Associate at the University of Southern California‘s Center on Public Diplomacy in Santa Monica.

Aslan is the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of BoomGen Studios, a motion picture company that deals with films and documentaries about the Greater Middle East and the Muslim world. Through BoomGen, he has worked with such titles as Rendition, Body of Lies, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.

He is working on a historical novel, set a thousand years ago, about a caravan traveling from the Arabian Peninsula to India. [5]

Written and spoken works

His first book, No god but God (Random House, 2005), has been translated into thirteen languages, was short-listed for the Guardian (UK) First Book Award, and nominated for a PEN USA award for research Non-Fiction.[2]

On April 20, 2009, his book How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror (Random House, 2009) was the subject of an interview by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. Aslan discussed its themes—the intrinsic irrationality of fundamentalist Islamic objectives, the dangers posed by the lack of understanding of Jihadists by the American military and the Christian evangelical movement, and the utility of free elections and participatory democracy in containing the spread of Jihadist movements (a goal for which he complimented George W. Bush).

As well as books, Aslan has written numerous articles[6], commentaries (for radio and newspapers)[7], and book reviews[8] internationally. He appears on radio[9] and television[10][11], including many documentaries on Islam and the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.[12] He tours the world giving talks[13] and has written many press articles.[14] He is also the editor of Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East, (W.W. Norton, 2010).

Other publications

  • ‘The Struggle for Islam’s Soul’, essay in With All Our Might: A Progressive Strategy for Defeating Jihadism and Defending Liberty, Will Marshall, ed. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2006
  • ‘From Here to Mullahcracy’, essay in My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes: Uncensored Iranian Voices, Lila Azam Zanganeh, ed. Beacon Press, 2006

Educational background

Reza Aslan has a Bachelor of Arts in Religion from Santa Clara University, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School, and a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from the University of Iowa. He has received a Doctorate in Sociology of Religions at the University of California, Santa Barbara.


  • “I believe we are living in the time of the Islamic reformation. In fact, I think we are living in the twilight of that reformation. For me, the word reform is defined by its inevitability. This process cannot be stopped; it can be slowed down for a time but reform is inevitable. It’s an historic reformation taking place within Islam — it’s adapting itself to the realities of the world around it. I think we’ll see the same process we saw in the Christian reformation from doctrinal absolutism to doctrinal relativism; toward a truly indigenous Islamic enlightenment. And it’s up to us as Muslims in the US to give voice to that for our brothers and sisters who don’t have the voice or the same ability to speak out as we do.”[15]
  • “It is pluralism—the peaceful coexistence and legal equality between different ethnic, religious or political ideologies—that defines democracy, not secularism.”[16]
  • “The veil is seen as a symbol of Islam but like all symbols, it’s meaningless unless interpreted. The veil is as much a symbol of oppression of women as it is an expression of Muslim femininity. The strangeness of this is that if you go to a country where the veil is either mandatory or there is a lot of pressure to wear it, you’ll find the vast majority of women are against it. But, if you go to a country like Turkey where the veil is outlawed in much of the public realm — in the latest polls, 70 percent of the Muslim women want to remove that law.”[15]
  • Iraq should look to Israel for a model that combines democracy and religious belief.”[17]
  • “Despite the apartheid state that has resulted from over half a century of bloody territorial conflicts with its neighboring Palestinian territories, few would deny that the state of Israel is a democracy. At the same time, Israel is a country founded upon an exclusivist Jewish moral framework, which offers all the world’s Jews — regardless of their nationality — immediate citizenship, providing them with a host of benefits and privileges over its non-Jewish citizens. It is a country in which the Orthodox rabbinical courts have jurisdiction over all matters relating to Judaism (including who is a Jew); where religious schools (yeshivas) are subsidized by the state, and marriages are religious, rather than civil affairs (meaning no official will marry a Jew to a non-Jew); and the government is dominated by religious parties such as the ultra-Orthodox Shas, the Yahadut Hatorah, and of course the ruling Likud.”[17]
  • “If we don’t figure out a way to strip these conflicts of their religious connotations, then we will never figure out a way to put an end to them. Because as long as these remain cosmic conflicts, they will go on for eternity.”
  • “A lot of scholars, myself included, believe the future of Islam, especially Islamic democracy, rests in the Shia world. It’s Iran and Iraq where the most exciting experiments are being carried out.”[5]
  • “Iraq’s 2,000-year-old Christian community is on the brink of extinction, its members targeted by al Qaeda attacks and fleeing abroad… This silence cannot stand. Americans of all faiths must band together and pressure the State Department to do something about the wanton murder of Iraqi Christians before it’s too late and there are no more Christians in Iraq to protect. What is happening in Iraq is genocide, plain and simple. It must be stopped now.”[18]


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