(Photo: Random House/Hilary Jones)
Reza Aslan, the religious scholar and author whose interview with Fox News went viral, said evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is "the worst kind of zealot" after Dawkins, who has a reputation for attacking religion, criticized Muslims on Twitter.
The Guardian recently interviewed Aslan, a Muslim, at his Los Angeles home. Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, posted a message that morning to Twitter, saying, "All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though."
But Aslan responded to a question about the tweet, which he had not seen, by saying he's "not interested" in Dawkins.
"I find him to be a buffoon, embarrassing himself every day," Aslan told The Guardian. "This is a guy who said: 'I've never read the Qur'an,' but often says that Islam is the greatest force of evil in the world. He's the worst kind of zealot."
Aslan, who is an Iranian-American and the author of Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, said he was not raised in a religious household. As a teenager, however, he became an evangelical Christian, though he later turned from his beliefs while in college.
"Jesus and I are like a married couple that are divorced but will always be friends – more than friends," he told The Guardian.
He added, "You can't spend your life studying the world's religions and take any one of those religions all that seriously, in so far as it's a manmade set of doctrines espoused and enforced by an institution. I self-identify as a Muslim now because the language of it makes most sense to me."
Zealot was already popular before Aslan's interview with Fox News chief religion correspondent Lauren Green, but the author says it did help drum up some attention for the book, which has since become a number one New York Times bestseller. The book, which is promoted as a biography of Jesus, suggests the man known as the Christian savior was a revolutionary rather than a peaceful spiritual leader, and that he was passionate but often self-contradictory.
During his Fox News interview, Green pressed Aslan as to why he wrote a book about "the founder of Christianity" when he is a Muslim.
"Well, to be clear, I am a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament, and fluency in biblical Greek, who has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades, who also just happens to be a Muslim," Aslan responded. "It's not as if I'm just some Muslim writing about Jesus. I am an expert with a Ph.D. in the history of religions."
Many have criticized Fox News for Green's line of questioning about Aslan's faith and how it influenced his book, which he claims is "not an attack on Christianity." Still, some critics have argued there is a Muslim bias to the book, and some experts say all Aslan has done is reuse earlier scholarship about Jesus that ignores the account of his life given in the New Testament.