pakman challenges reza aslan - chess pieces

“What’s clear is that, when considering the role and reality of Islam in the world today, Reza Aslan has made claims that are not based in fact. And as progressives, remaining based in fact must be a top priority.” – David Pakman challenges Reza Aslan on credentials, distortion tactics and religious apologetics. 

Pakman challenges reza aslan smile portrait

Reza Aslan, all smiles

David Pakman recently launched a video (scroll to the end for the full video) that has helped to finally bring some criticism to the words of a man who has enjoyed a blind embrace from many in the political left. Pakman has gone on the record saying that he doesn’t have any personal problem with Reza Aslan. As far as he knows, he says, Reza Aslan might be the nicest guy on the planet. Pakman isn’t attacking the person of Reza Aslan; rather, he’s challenging some ideas which became viral on a wave of YouTube emotion, but which went unscrutinized intellectually (with exception to a small few whose efforts earned a mountain of name-calling in response). Pakman makes the argument that he’s simply trying to be diligent and subject claims to the proper fact-checking procedures:

“Unfortunately, progressives need to critically analyze Aslan’s claims for themselves, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do here.” -Pakman

Aslan’s Credentials—Fact vs Wishful Thinking

It’s a common tactic for Reza Aslan to wave his credentials in the face of his opponents to suggest that their thoughts are less valid than his, as he is an expert. Here’s a clip from Pakman’s video that I’ve edited to show how Aslan aggressively uses and iterates his credentials to support his points, instead of simply using fact-based information and fair argumentation:

Reza Aslan’s Credential Claims:

1—“I am an expert with a PhD in the History of Religions.” – Reza Aslan says this in multiple television interviews

2—His website biography claims that he has a “PhD in the Sociology of Religions.”

3—“I want to respond to that, as the Islamic scholar, and as the person with a PhD in Islam in this conversation…” -Reza Aslan

4—“I have a BA, MA, and PhD in the history of Western Religions, so yes, again, I am an ACTUAL expert in Judaism. Anything else?” -Reza Aslan on Twitter

Pakman challenges these claims with the readily available facts. Aslan’s actual credentials include a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies, a Master of Theological studies in Theology, a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction Writing, and a PhD in Sociology. These aren’t bad credentials… but they’re also not a match with the credentials Aslan throws around.

Pakman Challenges Reza Aslan CredentialsThe graduate advisor from his sociology program at UC Santa Barbara clarified that the claim was technically not true, stating: “We don’t have a degree in sociology of religions, as such,” though he did mention that Aslan personally focused on religion in his coursework. Regardless of where Aslan personally focused his time, this does not convert a Sociology degree into a Sociology of Religions degree. I spoke a lot about religion and Islam during my Master of International Relations program, but it would be a blatant and conceited distortion for me to say that I am an expert with a Master of Islamic Influence on International Relations. That’s what anyone respectable in the professional world accurately calls ‘fudging your credentials.’

Pakman points out that not only has UCSB never offered a Sociology of Religions PhD, but that Aslan’s dissertation addresses political activism and is sociological in nature. Pakman describes the dissertation as being neither historical nor theological, though it does observe political activism through Jihadists.

At best, Reza Aslan’s claims regarding his credentials are ignorant distortions of his actual credentials. Pakman points out that Aslan is actually lacking in proper credentials compared to the overwhelming majority of experts in the fields of theology, Islam and religious history. The problem isn’t that Aslan’s credentials aren’t up to snuff, it’s that he lies about them to assert himself over others, and uses them as a type of proof for his claims. A BA in Religion and a PhD in Sociology do not magically transform into a PhD in Sociology of Religions. There is actually a great deal of distinction between these academic programs. You cannot legitimately claim to be historian with ZERO history credentials.

Aslan on Islam and FGM (Female Genital Mutilation)

Pakman introduces the harsh practice of FGM as “a procedure that sometimes kills the girl involved, either by bleeding or infection. Victims of FGM can also experience lifelong health issues like chronic pain or infertility.”

FGM is a terrible practice that is perpetrated on innocent women in many countries, even in this day. If we are to address this issue, it’s important that we get our facts straight about it.

Reza Aslan’s FGM Claims:

1—FGM isn’t an Islamic problem, it’s a central-African problem.

2—“nowhere else (outside of Africa) in the Muslim majority states is female genital mutilation an issue.”

3—No connection could possibly link religion to female genital mutilation.

Pakman Challenges Reza Aslan FGM Map of AfricaAslan cites a map of Africa (see left image), which, upon closer inspection, doesn’t help his case. The map shows that most of the countries with FGM problems are majority Muslim. Of the top eight countries with the largest percentage of FGM, where nearly all girls are subjected to FGM, seven of them are majority Muslim. Muslim women have stated that “FGM is (their) Islamic duty.” Pakman goes on to clarify that there are many Islamic leaders who make the connection between Islam and FGM. Muhammad is cited as saying that FGM “brings more radiance to the face, and it is more pleasant for the husband.”

FGM is also a large problem in many countries outside of Africa. Pakman rebuts Aslan here: “FGM is almost exclusively a Muslim problem outside of Africa. Practically all FGM outside of Africa is practiced by Muslims in the Middle East and Asia.” He lists 25 countries outside of Africa where FGM is a huge problem, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Jordan, Kuwait, India, Thailand and so on. Twenty of those countries are majority Muslim states, and in the five that are not, FGM is only practiced in Muslim-populated areas of those five states.

Pakman further explains that these numbers are likely underrepresented because it’s more difficult to collect data with surveys in the Middle East than in Africa, and because “researchers and organizations are often in fear of seeming bigoted… specifically, Islamophobic.”

Even with data that possibly under-represents the problem, Reza’s bold and liberal-pleasing remarks, backed only by his distorted credentials (and an image that contradicts his own argument), are undone by an examination of the facts.

Aslan on Islamic Free and Fair Societies for Women, Sex Slaves in the Quran

Aslan Claims:

1—“(In Indonesia) women are absolutely 100 percent equal to men.”

2—Indonesia, Bangladesh and Malaysia are examples of free and open Islamic societies for women.

3—The Quran forbids slavery and Muhammad freed the slaves

Pakman’s response: “Bangladesh is known for its Islamic vigilantism against women, and in Malaysia, Islamic shariah courts notoriously treat women unfairly, not giving them full parental rights and not regarding their testimonies to be as trustworthy as men’s. Malaysian courts require women to obey their husbands, and men are entitled to women’s inheritance because it is mandated by Islamic scripture. And by the way, 93% of Muslim females in Indonesia are victims of FGM.”

With regard to slavery, the Quran never forbids slavery, it gives instruction for the treatment of slaves. Pakman corrects Aslan, noting that the slaves that Aslan says were freed by Muhammad were Muslims, and that the non-Muslims were not freed, but remained as slaves. Pakman provides the following examples from the Quran, which include Allah granting sex slaves to the prophet Muhammad:

33:50—Prophet, we have made lawful to you the wives to whom you have granted dowries and the slave girls whom God has given you as booty.

24:32—And marry those among you who are single and those who are fit among your male slaves and your female slaves.

23:5—Except with their wives and slave girls, for these are lawful to them:…

But how could Aslan be wrong? Haven’t you heard his evidence? He says he has a PhD in Islam!!!

Aslan on Hamas and Human Shields

Aslan’s Claim:

1—It’s “nonsense” to suggest that Hamas is using human shields.

Every serious scholar on the Middle East, as Pakman points out, does not deny that Hamas uses human shields. There is video footage of rockets being fired from highly populated civilian areas, there are many international testimonies of the fact, and even Amnesty International has changed its position with regard to Hamas’ use of human shields. Hamas has also admitted to using human shields and has encouraged citizens to make themselves shields when they can.

Pakman Challenges Reza Aslan — Conversation Police in the Far Left

I wasn’t one of those taken in by Reza’s viral video where he verbally batters some people on Fox news. Perhaps this is because I’d had earlier exposure to Reza (it’s not hard for liberals to mindlessly cheer for a guy when he’s up against Fox News), and I’d seen him flaunt his credentials (I didn’t know they were false, but I didn’t understand why he kept bringing them up), and I’d seen him make relentless ad-hominem attacks on those who oppose him. I was genuinely bothered to see his viral video appear on the front of many of my friends’ Facebook pages. Now that David Pakman challenges Reza Aslan with real evidence, I would love to see Pakman’s video go viral in turn. Here it is, share it!

Reza Aslan is one among a cluster of public figures who defeat their opponents by asserting that they are bigoted. As Dave Rubin explains: “It’s using terms like racist and bigot and homophobe and sexist and all of those things… those are terms meant to shut down debate and take this moral high ground, as opposed to actually furthering debate.” If you’re like me, and you’ve ever tried to be honestly critical of any religion in a public forum, you know that these terms are always just around the corner waiting for you.

David Pakman ultimately makes a strong case against Reza’s claims, and more importantly, his ignorance-breeding, accusational methods of conducting public discourse. To conclude, a warning from Pakman:

“All true bigotry and racism must be condemned. People, Muslims, should not be hated. But in a post-enlightenment world, any idea itself should be subject to criticism. Reza Aslan’s tactics, if not critiqued, could produce a world where everyone is afraid of being labeled an Islamophobe for criticizing injustice inspired by the doctrines of Islam.” –Pakman

Have any thoughts or disagreements? Leave a comment below!

Written by Space Cadet Dan
Space Cadet Dan has a BA in English and an MA in International Relations. Born in New Jersey, raised in Southern California and now a Colorado resident in the Denver suburbs, he enjoys traveling and getting in over his head debating controversial subjects.