Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dr. Reza Aslan on BFM's Evening Edition (podcast transcript)

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I've transcribed the audio for BFM's Evening Edition in which Dr Reza Aslan (@rezaaslan) was a guest on. You may know him from this this interview.

Or these tweets:

Read on for insights into what a theologian and Muslim scholar of religions thinks about Malaysia's role in the Muslim world (the answer might surprise you), the importance of culture and media in changing people's perception and the power of poetry and music in fueling revolution.

Oh, and of course the whole 'ownership of Allah' issue in Malaysia.

All content below transcribed directly from this podcast by BFM 89.9 and is correct to the best of my ability. Enjoy.


Umapagan: BFM 89.9, this is the Evening Edition. You're with Uma and Ezra and this evening we'll be discussing the role religion plays in politics, culture and democracy in the modern world. And with us this evening is Dr Reza Aslan, an internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions. He's the author of #1 New York Times Bestseller, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Aslan's first book is also an international bestseller; No god but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam. It was named one of the 100 most important books of the last decade. It has been translated into 13 languages including Malay, "Tiada Tuhan Melainkan Allah" which is available in all good bookstores.

Ezra: He's also the founder of an online journal for news and entertainment about the Middle East and the world, Aslan's degree is, now wait for it, include a Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies from Santa Clara University, Master of Theological Studies, history of religions from Harvard University a PhD in Sociology of Religions from University of California, Santa Barbara and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa.

Uma: You can take a deep breath now.

Ezra: In August 2000, Aslan was named visiting professor of Islamic Studies in the University of Iowa making him the first full time professor of Islam in the history of the state. Currently he is the associate professor of Creative Writing and cooperative faculty member in the department of religion in the University of California, Riverside.

Uma: We have Dr Reza who is based out in California with us on the line right now Reza thanks for taking the time to speak to us on BFM.

Reza: Oh it's a pleasure to be on the programme, thanks for having me.

Uma: Reza, just to get things off and perhaps provide some context: in this interconnected globalized world, how different are the conversations that are taking place within Islam and that which the West is having about Islam?

Reza: Oh well, night and day. I think if you talk to the general person in the western world in the US or Europe, uh, they would think that, you know, Islam is a monolithic thing. That it's just one version, you know, that all Muslims believe exactly the same thing. Of course the one thing that you hear over and over again from uh, a lot of westerners is that Muslims do not condemn terrorism. This is you know, couldn't be any further from the truth. I mean there are, for every single act of terror that takes place in the world in the name of Islam, there are thousands and thousands of uh, statements and declarations and fatwas condemning it, but the fact of the matter is that because Muslims spend so much time speaking, uh, with each other, you know, conversing with each other that, that sometimes that those conversations that I think that we are having don't always uh, you know, get communicated to the rest of the world and that, I think that's a real problem.

Uma: Right, but in the 12 years um, I guess since 9/11, there must have been some kind of progress that's taking place within these conversations

Reza: Well, there's an enormous amount of progress taking place between the conversations between Muslims, absolutely.

Uma: Right.

Reza: I mean you have a whole host of different Muslim organizations and groups. you have progressive Muslims groups, conservative Muslim groups, you have gay and lesbian Muslim groups, you have Muslim groups dedicated to democracy promotion, uh, Muslim groups dedicated to going back to the Quran and sort of the Quranist principles. A lot of these Muslims you see particularly in Indonesia and even in Malaysia who believe that you know, that Muslims should only follow the Quran and not the sunnah, these things did not exist 12 years ago to be perfectly honest. Or if they did exist, they were in the shadows and I think what 9/11 did is really allow these disparate voices to rise up, but have those voices been heard by non-Muslims? No, I don't think so.

Uma: Reza, just touching on what you mentioned just a little bit earlier, how does the Islamic experience differ between those in the Middle East and those in the West and of course um, for us here, where do you think South East Asia figures in the greater discourse concerning Islam?

Reza: Well frankly, I think South East Asia is not just the future of Islam but is the model of Islam. I mean what's remarkable about what's happening in South East Asia is that these experiments in Islamic modernity (however you want to define that) are taking place in what are enormously pluralistic societies. I mean if you look at a country like, let's say Egypt, the largest Arab country in the world. Egypt is something like 88-89% Muslim. You know, so.. even when you have these very important discussions about Islamic democracy, Islamic modernism you know, Islamic politics, they're being had in a society in which 9 out of 10 people are Muslim. You don't get that same kind of thing in South East Asia because of the enormous diversity of Buddhists and Hindus and Christians and Jews and that I think really makes it a much more robust discussion than you have in the Middle East, for sure.

Uma: Right, and you mentioned, uh, a pluralistic society now, but how does Islam function I guess in a pluralistic society especially one where say, freedom of religion is touted as a basic tenet?

Reza: Well you know, if you go back to the principles that were actually preached by the prophet Muhammad and the early Muslim community it is all about pluralism and religious liberties. I mean what's remarkable about the time in which the Quran is revealed is that this is an era in which religion was a matter of state control. There's no such thing as pluralism in Christian Europe or in the Sassanian Empire that was Zoroastrian at the time of Muhammad, so for the Quran to talk the way that it does about the so-called 'peoples of the book' and to give them these rights and privileges under Islamic rule, you know, 1500 years later it may seem anachronistic, we may look back on it and say, "Well you know, this idea of (any?), enforcing non-Muslims to pay an extra tax? That shows that Islam is actually not tolerant," well, put it in context and you're talking about an era in which if you're a Jew in the Christian Empire you're burned at the stake, whereas if you're a Jew in the Muslim Empire, you pay an extra tax..

Uma: (laughs)

Reza: ..and you can go about living, you know, (chuckles) however you want to.

Uma: It's all relative, I guess.

Reza: Yeah, exactly. So, I mean, we have to remember that, that this is the foundation of Islam as a religion to begin with and it's something that unfortunately uh, has been forgotten by a lot of Muslims.

Uma: So, correct me if I'm wrong, I mean there is a perception that, and I guess Islam was not set out to work this way but there is a perception that Islam grows out from the center, in the sense that I guess the Middle East as being the home of Islam because of um, it's home to Islam's greatest monuments, if you will.

Reza: Yea.

Uma: ..and then everything else, everyone else in the outskirts are followers, right? But like you said earlier, South East Asia is the face of modern Islam, um, is there a sense that the Middle East can learn from South East Asia?

Reza: I think that most people outside the Middle East would say 'Yes'. Most people inside the Middle East would say 'No'.

Uma: (chuckles)

Reza: You put it perfectly, there's this idea that somehow the Middle East, and particularly the Arab world is synonymous with Islam. Well frankly, Arabs make up about 15% of the world's 1½ billion Muslims. That's it! Of the top 10 most populous Muslim countries on Earth, only 3 of them are Arab countries.

Uma: Mmhm.

Reza: Uh, the other 7 are non-Arab countries. So, I mean it's just, the days in which the Middle East was the heart and soul of Islam are long gone. Islam now exists primarily on the outskirts of the Middle East. Not just in South East Asia by the way, but also in the West. I mean look, the numbers of Muslims in the United States is still very very small, it's about 1% of the population..

Uma: Right.

Reza: In Europe it's anywhere between 4 and 7% of the population so it's still very very small, but you have Muslims who are living in societies in which they are much more encouraged to be individualistic, to experiment with religion, to experiment with different political ideologies and most importantly, they have access because they live in a sort of wealthy, developed part of the world.

They have access to communication technologies, they are able to get their ideas on television, on radio, on the internet. So even though the West has very small numbers of Muslims, they, I think, are far more influential than the Muslims in the Middle East and certainly Muslims in South Asia, South East Asia where the core, I mean the bulk of the world's Muslims live are also having a far greater influence on the interpretation and the evolution of Islam than the people in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, all this sort of political and economic and social conflicts within Islam are taking place primarily in the Middle East and so that's where everyone's focus and attention is. But, you know, Egypt again, the largest most important Arab country in the world barely has 80 million Muslims. I mean, that is a small number when you look at Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Turkey, you know, we always have to remember to keep that perspective in mind.

Uma: We'll be back right after this. More with Reza Aslan right here exclusively on the Evening Edition. BFM89.9

Uma: BFM89.9 this is the Evening Edition with Uma and Ezra on the line with us right now from California, we're speaking to award-winning author, scholar, theologian, Reza Aslan about a range of issues concerning religion, politics, culture, democracy. Reza, I guess, uh, keeping to conversations in the Middle East, what is the role of aslanmedia? I know it's a journal/web/social media platform for discourse, on such issues?

Reza: Right, so aslanmedia was created right after the Green Movement in Iran precisely to give, young people especially, an opportunity to join in the conversation about the religion, politics, culture, art, film, music.. we have probably the best music reporting about, uh, music from the Middle East and the larger Muslim world, that you'll find anywhere..

Ezra: Fantastic.

Reza: ..books, you know, it's an opportunity for young people to sort of understand that there's a lot more going on in this part of the world than just the sort of conflicts over religious and political identity. You know, again, from the outside world you would think that that's all anyone ever talks about in the Middle East, you just sit around all day you know, uh, smoking shishas and talking about politics and religion..


Reza: they do *not* (chuckles). You know, they talk about art..

Ezra: What? You mean they don't?

Reza: ..and music

Ezra: No, you're absolutely right, and I guess it's an old, it's an age old myth isn't it? It's promoting soft culture again.

Reza: Absolutely, and you know what, it is also, it's still as relevant today as it has always been, I mean, just look, just very very quickly look at the so-called Arab Spring. What I think has been very poorly reported about, about the Arab Spring is precisely the role that art and music and poetry, that these things played in these revolutions.

The people who are out on the streets were not chanting Quranic verses, they were chanting bits of poetry. There were rock stars out there, hiphop artists, you know, who actually fueled this movement and who continued to do so, who are still sort of the primary cultural critics. You know, that's something that definitely been lost, I have to say, in the West, where music and especially this sort of alternative music like hiphop or punk rock or heavy metal is all about you know, making money and selling records.

It used to be about a political and social message. It's just not anymore in Europe and the United States, but it still is in the Middle East. You know, when you can write a poem and be executed for it, when you can write a hiphop song and be thrown in prison forever, it, all of a sudden, art matters, you know what I mean? Like, it *matters*. It's not about selling records, it's about changing the world again.

Uma: And I guess, Reza I mean, very much a part of what you're talking about in terms of the arts and the music and people going to prison for these things, um, I'd like to talk about freedom of expression and about how fundamental of an idea it is in Islam, according to the Quran or the prophetic traditions, the hadiths, and if so, when can freedom of expression be legitimately curtailed in Islam?

Reza: Well, look, I mean, this is something for societies themselves to understand  because freedom of expression is a cultural construct. You know, even in the United States where we like to think that we have, you know, pure freedom to say whatever we want to, this is *not* the case. I mean there are libel laws that you have to deal with, you can get sued for defamation, certainly if your expression causes direct harm to someone or is interpreted as promoting violence against someone, we don't allow it! I mean, so there are curbs and limitations to what you can and cannot say in even the most open societies in the UK.

You have all the freedom of expression that you want to unless your expression is racist. And so racism, racist expression in the United Kingdom is illegal whereas in the United States you can be as racist as you want to and we may find you disgusting and despicable  but we're not gonna throw you in prison for it. So it's all about culture, but I think its important to understand that the freer a culture is, the more powerful it is. I think there's this idea that you know, if you curb freedom of expression, that you are sort of controlling people in some way or that it's a symbol of how powerful a state you are and the *opposite* is true.

If you are so worried about the things that people may say, that you think it might harm or damage society or the state and so you have to curb it, that means that your society, your state is weak. It's so weak that it can't handle, you know, the expression of its citizens. So, yes I'm not somebody who's just gonna stand here and say that there should be freedom of expression in all places of the world, and you should be able to say and do whatever you want to do no matter where you are, I mean that's not how it works, I get that. But at the same time let us not forget that the ability to allow your citizens to say and think whatever they want to is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.

Uma: But Reza, I mean allow me to play devil's advocate for a second, but isn't religion all about that kind of control? In the sense that, um, it doesn't allow for such random and..

Ezra: Disparate voices.

Uma: ..and expansive, um, even, interpretations if you will?

Reza: Religion of course, as man-made institutions (and I use that term literally, because they're all man-made institutions), are of course all about control and power, that's absolutely right, but faith is not. And there is a difference between religion and faith. Faith is indescribable, it's inexpressible, it's deeply deeply personal.

Religion is nothing more than the language we use to express our faith, and that language of course is made up of symbols and metaphors and those symbols and metaphors are historical constructs, they come from a particular time and place and so those symbols can evolve, they can grow, they can mean different things to different people in different times, but again, let's not confuse those symbols and metaphors with the institutions of religion. If your faith is in an institution, then you're doing it wrong.

Uma: So, allow me to press you even further, how do we then reconcile, I guess, freedom of expression, with Islam?

Reza: Well, I mean, I think that you do so.. again it goes back to what I was saying about, you know, culture and society because there is no such thing as religion without culture and society. Islam is expressed and understood in 10,000 different ways around the world depending on the culture itself, and so the reason I keep bringing this conversation back to culture is because this is not a question about Islam, it's not a question about what does or does not Islam allow.

Islam allows whatever you think it allows. It's up to you as the individual to interpret the Quran according to your own needs, your own desires. If you're someone who needs an imam to do that for you, fine, but at least recognize that your imam thinks differently than my imam who which thinks differently than the other guy's imam, and in Islam, unlike Catholicism, we don't have a single authority.

We don't have a Pope who gets to say what is and what is not Islam, who is and who is not a Muslim. That has never existed since the death of the prophet Muhammad and it shouldn't exist. So this idea that 'Islam says X' or 'Islam says Y', I know makes people feel good, but it's nonsense.

Uma: After the 7 o'clock news, we'll speak about last week's Court of Appeals ruling on the "Allah" issue here in Malaysia. We'll be back. More with Reza Aslan right here exclusively on the Evening Edition, BFM89.9

Ezra: Good evening, I'm Ezra Zaid.

Uma: And I'm Umapagan Ampikaipakan.

Ezra: We're speaking to Reza Aslan, currently the associate professor in the department of religion at the University of California as well as a New York Times' bestselling author.

Uma: Earlier we spoke concerning developments taking place in the discourse of Islam in the West, the Middle East and South East Asia, now bringing the conversation closer to our shores is the court ruling that's made international headlines. Last Monday, the Court of Appeals unanimously overturned the 2009 KL High Court ruling that allowed the Catholic church to use the word "Allah" in the Bahasa Malaysia section of its weekly newsletter, The Herald.

Ezra: Reza, at the center of the current controversy here in Malaysia, um, is the word "Allah", and of course over here there have been many clerics, scholars, historians, um, who have given their two cents' worth on the origins and usage of the word. What is your take on it?

Reza: My take is the historical take on it. It's not an interpretation, it's a historical fact: "Allah" is a construction of the word "Al-ilah". That's what the word is. "Al-ilah" means "The God". "Allah" is not the *name* of God, frankly, anyone who thinks "Allah" is the *name* of God is not just incorrect, but going against the Quran itself. It's almost a blasphemous thought to think that God has a name.

"Allah" is just a word that in Arabic means "God". It means *every* God. In fact, we know for a *fact* that Christians and Jews in the Arabian peninsula before the time of the prophet Muhammad referred to their God as "Allah". Why? Because they spoke Arabic. That's why. Not because "Allah" *meant* a specific God, but because it is nothing more than the Arabic word for God. That's not an opinion, that is a *fact*.

Uma: So uh, yea, you tweeted with some amusement as to the absurdity of our recent court ruling prohibiting the use by non-Muslims, and you said that it's the equivalent would be for the US to ban the word "twerking" by anyone over the age of 17. (chuckles)

Ezra: (laughs)

Uma: Um, why do you find that, why do you find that so ridiculous?

Ezra: Uma's referring to the prohibition, not so much twerking.

Uma: (laughs)

Reza: (chuckles) Yeah, let me just be clear, I think the word that I used was not 'ridiculous', but 'stupid'.

Uma: That's right.

Reza: And I use this word, I mean, I am, I am deadly serious about this. To think that somehow Muslims own this word "Allah", that somehow "Allah" refers to a specific God. "Allah", as I said, again, is just the word for "God". And this idea that not only should, you know, this, Christians not being able to use the word, but that using the word is somehow a threat to Islam, that Malaysians are so stupid, that if they hear a Christian use the word "Allah", they'll accidentally become Christian! I mean the idiocy of that statement speaks for itself.

And frankly, I think it's a, I think it's an embarrassment, it's an embarrasssment to a modern, constitutional, democratic, and yes, deeply Muslim state like Malaysia, that belongs in the first world, not this kind of idiotic stuff that one would expect to see in a place like Saudi Arabia.

Uma: And, and that's the thing, I guess, trying to get into that a little bit more as read from the summary judgment by the Court of Appeals: "The Court ruled that the use of the word 'Allah' was  not an integral part of the faith and the practice of Christianity and as mentioned if such use was to be allowed it would inevitably cause confusion within the community and henceforth threaten the peace of the country."

Reza: (laughs)

Uma: Now, in Malaysia, the Malay Muslim--

Reza: How can you read that and not laugh?

Uma: Well..

Reza: How can you read that and not start laughing?

Uma: I'm a professional that way but--(laughs)

Reza: (laughs)

Uma: But the point is in Malaysia, the Malay Muslim community had appropriated the word "Allah" for themselves now, I guess, does the idea of a community taking ownership of a word supercede the historical and etymological context behind said word?

Reza: Historically the answer is 'No', culturally and etymologically the answer is 'No', but most importantly for Muslims, theologically, the answer is 'No'. Any imam that tells you that God has a name, is blasphemous. It's as simple as that. "Allah" is not God's name. Muslims do not own the word itself. Allah is if you look at the Bible in Arabic, God is referred to as "Allah". I mean it's just, and even in Iran, which doesn't speak Arabic, God is referred to as Allah as much as it is refers to as "khoda".

It's just, the notion that you can control people's ideas, their behaviour, their faith, their minds, simply by trying to control the word that they use is absurd. And the other thing, I just have to come back to this again, it's an embarrassment. I mean, it's, it's shameful. Really, more than anything else. It's not worthy of a great country like Malaysia.

You know, this idea which is beyond the pale of what a modern democratic state should be discussing even, just casts this negative light on a country that, as I said earlier on, is a model for Muslims around the world. And yet, this has made it a laughing stock. And I want to be as clear to your audience as I possible can: We are laughing at you.

Uma: Um, when you draw comparisons to what the court's decision is saying of course, say, a foreigner comes in to the country and has been using that word because they know no other word to describe God, then of course it is absolutely crucial and essential to their faith (whatever that faith may be) whether it's Christianity or Sikhism, for example, right?

Reza: Absolutely, yes.

Uma: ..and of course

Reza: Both of which, by the way, use the word "Allah".

Uma: That's right. Um, I think there's something like 56 instances of the word Illah, Allah --

Ezra: Yeah.

Uma: the Sikh book. Um, and, and in that context, the people of Borneo, which this, this..

Ezra: This ruling.

Uma: ..judgment, um, targets, knew no other word for Allah.

Reza: That's right, that's right. And, you know, again, I have to come back to this sort of, this one thing because there's obviously.. Look, I get it. There are political machinations taking place here, I understand that this court is not exactly independent of the executive branch. I get a little bit about how Malaysian politics work, I get that.

I know that this was a political decision more than anything else, but I want to talk about the other aspect of it. Which is that this notion that somehow Muslims in Malaysia need to be protected, "Oh, you poor poor people, you need to be protected by the court because you can't think for yourself, you can't make decisions on your own," I believe that one of your justices said something to the affect of, of a threat to Islam. And, you know, my response of course, this decision came out the same exact day in which we had this horrible Eidul Adha massacre in uh, in Pakistan.

Ezra: That's right.

Reza: Where a Taliban member put a bomb inside of a Quran, took it into a mosque, on one of the holiest days on our calendar and slaughtered Muslims. And you want to talk about a threat to Islam? That's a threat to Islam. A Christian in Malaysia using the word "Allah" to mean God is not a threat to Islam.

Ezra: Uh, Reza, speaking of um, I guess, ownership, history and Christians and of course yourself as author or Zealot, the New York Times bestseller, is it tough nowadays for a scholar who happens to be Muslim to write about Jesus in the United States?

Uma: (laughs)

Reza: (laughs) Look, it's tough for Muslims in the United States for a whole host of reasons..

Everyone: (laughs)

Reza: A lot of anti-Muslim activity and sentiment going on here in the United States and frankly it's a profitable venture, I mean that's the thing is that there are a great great many people in the United States who have become enormously wealthy by trying to convince Americans that Muslims are out to get them. Any minute now, the 1% of the population of the United States that's Muslim is going to rise up and take over the country

Uma: (chuckles)

Reza: You know, a lot of that idea is starting to dissipate, I think people are starting to recognize the absurdity of it, but you know, it's an idea that is born of fear. And America  is dealing with a serious identity crisis right now, I don't know if you've noticed.

Uma: Just a little bit.

Reza: The economy is in shambles, yeah. Our politics are as broken as they can possibly be, meanwhile--

Ezra: But hey, a debt crisis has been averted.

Reza: (pause)

Ezra: (chuckles)

Reza: Yeah, right once again at the last minute we hit the brakes before going off a cliff. Yea, congratulations to us. We'll just be right here again in probably four months. Uh, we also are dealing with some serious racial and cultural changes that are taking place. Demographers tell us..

Uma: Mm-hm.

Reza: In less than a decade, we'll become the first nation in the history of the world, to be majority minorities and that is remarkable.

Ezra: Yeah.

Reza: I frankly think it's something to celebrate, but as you can imagine, a lot of Americans do not feel that way.

Ezra: Oh, the Republicans have no idea what they're gonna do.

Reza: Oh yea, that's sort of the end of their political hopes, unless they figure out a way to, to stop being the party of angry white southern men. So in a sense, this is less about Muslims than it is about America itself.

Uma: Right.

Reza: This is about America's identity crisis and Muslims are simply the scapegoats for it, that's all.

Uma: And of course, Reza there's a tremendous opportunity to counter that, to have enough of people, making a lot of money saying, "Hey we're your buddies!"

Reza: Yeah well, listen, one thing I'll tell you about American Muslims is that we don't have a problem making money.

Ezra and Uma: (chuckles)

Reza: Uh, the Muslim American community in the United States is absurdly wealthy. In fact, an advertising group called JWT recently put the annual combined disposable income of America's Muslim and Middle Eastern community at 170 billion dollars

Uma: Wow.

Reza: I mean all you have to do is look at the founding members of eBay or Google or Yahoo, Apple. Just go look at it. Tell me how many Mohameds you see, you know, on that list. How many Alis you see on that list. I mean the community has managed to make an enormous amount of money. Now they have to figure out a way to spend it correctly. This is a problem and I think it's a generational problem, people don't understand because you're talking about communities that have come here from Iran like I did, or from Pakistan or from parts of the Middle East. Uh, these are areas that do not have a long tradition of civic engagement or  political participation.

So, you know, I think, unfortunately, many of these incredibly wealthy Muslims do not realize the power that they have to transform the society because America is a society that runs on money. I mean this is country in which your money is your voice. And, you know, I'm so sick and tired of hearing, you know, these guys complain about all the anti-Muslim sentiment in America and I think, "Well if you've got a problem with it, you've got enough money to destroy any politician that you want to that says anything about Muslims." That's how this country works, it's all about money.

They haven't figured that out yet. You know it's something that the Jews figured out very very early on. In the 1920s and the 1930s in the United States, anti-Jewish sentiments were out of control, I mean anti-semitism, you know..

Uma: That's right.

Reza: Some of the greatest politicians, business leaders were the most despicable anti-Semites. I mean Jews are seen as a fifth column in American society. 50 years later, they are so deeply a part of American culture and life that Americans constantly talk about the Judeo-Christian values of this country

Ezra: That's right.

Reza: Um. How did that happen? They were smart enough to realize that the way that you change the perceptions of Jews in the United States is by using your money to promote education, to promote relationship, in the arts, in film, in music, there are barely 6 million Jews in America. Out of 350 million Americans, 6 million Jews. And yet, they are all over television, all over radio, all over books, some of the greatest writers are Jews, some of the greatest artists are Jews, some of the greates architects are Jews. I mean people in business, people in politics, you know that they did is they actually integrated themselves fully into society so that despite their tiny tiny numbers, they have enormous influence over American culture.

Ezra: And I think that's a lesson--

Reza: We need to figure that out ourselves.

Ezra: I think that's a lesson for us in Malaysia as well.

Reza: Oh absolutely. I think it's a lesson for all peoples. It's something that we all have to learn sooner or later. Instead of sitting around complaining about how people see us.

Uma: Well, Reza considering that we are a business station I appreciate you ending on a financial analysis

Ezra: On an economical note. Great.

Reza: (laughs)

Uma: Reza, thank you for speaking to us in the Evening Edition. Hopefully you get to visit us here in Malaysia, it's, I understand it's equally as sunny in California, so uh, thank you for your time.

Reza: I hope to be there soon.

Uma: That was doctor Reza Aslan, scholar and New York Times bestselling author on the line exclusively with us from California discussing the many issues related to Islam, politics, culture and democracy. We hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as we did.

Ezra: And if for some reason you missed the interview, you can of course head over to to download the podcast, download the BFM app on your iPhones. We'll also be posting it up on the Evening Edition Facebook page as well.

Uma: That's on

Ezra: This has been the Evening Edition, BFM 89.9

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

"Mamak Beggars"

1 comment

One time I was eating outside at a mamak. It was cold and kinda wet since it's been raining.

I saw from where I was a couple of beggars several tables away. One was younger and a fair bit smaller than the other.

The older one was walking from table to table with packs of tissue and a walking stick. Her coming seemed to be met with at best a cursory wave away. She was in good spirits still, though.

The arrival of beggars always manage to unsettle me some no matter how good the table chat was. I'm never sure if I should give. On the one hand, charity is always good and people who beg are always people in need. On the other hand, the giving might be encouraging them to continue begging and not look for other opportunities to support themselves. Not to mention the alleged syndicate of beggars being used in groups as a form of organized panhandling. That's definitely not to be encouraged, right?

The smaller beggar was met with better response. People smiled warmly, asked him how he was doing. Some outwardly generous people even offered their food which he gladly accepted.

The way the two of them were going about the tables it was clear that mine would be next soon.

The older one reached me first and held out her hand. I looked up, half expecting her to say something, but really more for me to take a good look at her face. I figure it's only polite.

She took my cash and gave me the tissues. None of us said anything to the other. Perhaps she knew my giving was clouded by the insincerity of not wanting to appear miserly in public. She'd be right.

The smaller came up to me almost immediately after. He looked up at me as I gestured apologetically to the lady.

I don't expect him to know what I meant. His charmingly nonchalant way of dealing with people is part of how his gig is so successful, I gather. He nodded away and turned to face the table next to mine, still unmoved from his spot.

With his head turned away I figure I had a good chance to, so I kicked him.

Sorry to say this, but I'm not a big fan of cats.

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