Jessi Fortner’s Reflective Essay

Jessica Fortner

Professor Bakich and Professor Griffith

Y: 1 9/11 “New Normal” Decade

12 September 2011

Imagine your son off to war leaving behind everyone who loves him. Imagine the shock and sorrow you would feel hearing of his death overseas, and think of the unimaginable anger you would feel if someone picketed at his funeral. Yielding signs that said “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and other horrid sayings, the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas pickets at soldier’s funerals, claims that God hates fags and partakes in other unmentionable acts of hatred, yet this church claims to be Christian.  Many Christians feel that this church is a terrible representation of Christianity; being a Christian myself I am embarrassed by the bad name that they have given Christians.  Reza Aslan’s book Beyond Fundamentalism portrays a similar theme: that one group or sect does not represent an entire religion.

Jihadist Muslims are an extremist sect of Islam.  In the book Aslan returns to the basics or fundamentals of Islam attempting to prove that not all Muslims interpret the Qur’an as the Jihadists do.  Aslan makes the point that there are certain people within each religion that are violent, and a specific faith cannot be blamed for the violence.  I personally do agree with Aslan that one person or group does not represent the overall religion or sect, but I disagree in the perspective that the religion cannot be blamed.  As mentioned above I am a Christian and while I do not identify with the Westboro Church and am ashamed of them, I can understand where they obtained their information and way of thinking.  Their interpretation of the Bible may not be the same as mine, but it is where they got their set of values.  I believe this applies to the Qur’an also because although Islam as a whole may not be a violent religion, the Jihadist sect is an extremist group that has become violent over the years.

Throughout his book Aslan protects faith and religion claiming that it is the people who are bad and it does not have anything to do with their religion. Although the Qur’an does not directly encourage violence it does have violent verses that can be interpreted differently.   Aslan blames the people who commit unimaginable acts of violence, but I believe their attacks come from their faith and beliefs.  Aslan uses the example in his book of the nine eleven suicide bombers; they truly believed that they were honoring their God with by sacrificing their lives and killing Americans. Although they were morally wrong in murdering thousands of innocent Americans they were under the influence of the Qur’an. While their interpretation of the Qur’an may be different from other Muslims’ interpretations, it does not change the fact that their passion grew from the verses of this Islamic text.

All holy texts are open to different ways of thinking and interpretations.  The bible has been translated countless times and each translation is a little bit different from the last.  When going from one language to another there are so many different ways to translate and read into words that one must be content in analyzing each verse to fit what he or she believes it to mean. I have always been told since a Sunday school age to question my pastor and teachers and think for myself, to draw my own conclusions regarding the Bible. But ultimately the conclusions we draw from each holy text have a basis in that text.  We cannot draw a conclusion from the Bible or Qur’an without reading them; therefore I believe that religion can be blamed for the violence because it is from a holy text that a religious person draws his or her values and interpretations.

Another example that Reza Aslan gives the reader in his book to educate them of his theme is the Shi’a Muslims.  Although they only make up about fifteen to twenty percent of the Islamic community they are regularly hunted down by Jihadist for their alternate views of Islam.  One of their main beliefs is that the caliphate must be a descendent of Muhammad; this is their unique interpretation of the Qur’an.  But they are only one group of Muslims meaning that their beliefs and traditions do not represent the entire Islamic community as a whole. While they are not an extremist sect of the Islamic faith Shi’a Muslims do view their religion differently than other Muslims. I applaud Aslan for using this example because it is a refreshing alternative compared to the extremist sect of Jihadists.

I believe that Aslan does a good job in portraying his theme throughout the book, yet he shows some weakness and biasness.  He illustrates why people should not be judgmental of Muslims and also proves that not all Muslims are Jihadists or even extremists in general, yet when it comes to variety he lacked other religious examples.  I believe that his major weakness was his lack of diversity and effort to include Christian and Jewish samples.  Aslan could have given his theme more credibility if he had added different religions with extremist groups as examples. The theme also would have been more justified if Aslan had included different views within popular religions such as the different denominations in Christianity or the different beliefs in Judaism. His lack of variety is disappointing for an author of his status.

Extremist groups are a part of every religion in the world, but that does not mean that they represent their entire religion. Reza Aslan proves time and time again that one group cannot represent an entire faith.  It is impossible to narrow down a religion to one representation due to the different sects and their individual traditions as shown by Aslan’s book Beyond Fundamentalism.


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One Response to Jessi Fortner’s Reflective Essay

  1. sperrazza15 says:

    I thought your example at the beginning was a very good way to start off the essay. I felt that it related to the reader in a very personal way. I agree with you that not everyone in a religion has the same beliefs, but I feel that Aslan did a good job giving examples and illustrating that other religions exhibit extremism. Judaism and Christianity are the main religions of those who are most likely to read this book (other than Muslims). I also did not feel that Aslan needed to include different denominations of Christianity because I felt that there were too many details that would confuse the reader.

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