You're a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?"
These were the beginning words of a now-viral Fox News interview with American religious scholar Reza Aslan about his new book "Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth." As breathtaking as the ignorance of the question was, his calm and measured response was equally breathtaking:
"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. So, it's not that I'm just some Muslim writing about Jesus, I am an expert with a Ph.D in the history of religions."
His interviewer, Lauren Green, did not stop pressing the issue: "It still begs the question: why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?"
For Mr. Aslan, it is his "job as an academic," but the basis of her question seems to be that a Muslim would simply not be interested in Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus is so much a part of Islamic belief that the more accurate question would be: Why wouldn't a Muslim be interested in Jesus?
The Quran mentions Jesus Christ more by name than the Prophet Muhammad himself. There are dozens of verses that speak of Jesus, including his birth (3:45-49), his miracles (5:110), the Last Supper (5:113-115). Chapter 19 is named "Mary" after his mother, and many verses speak very highly of Jesus Christ.
Jesus, as the Quran says, "shall be of the righteous" (3:46). "Peace be upon me the day I was born," says Jesus in the Quran, "and [will be upon me] on the day of my death, and on the day when I shall be raised to life [again]!" (19:33). The Quran also calls upon its readers to remember "she who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed into her of Our spirit and caused her, together with her son, to become a symbol [of Our grace] unto all people" (21:91), referring to Mary and Jesus.
As a Muslim, I have been raised with Jesus in my mind, heart and spiritual consciousness, even though I do not worship him as God or part of the Godhood. Indeed, this is the most glaring difference between Islam and Christianity: Islam rejects the divinity of Christ.
Still, the common love for and devotion to Jesus and his basic teachings is something around which Muslims and Christians can come together. One of my favorite Biblical passages is the Sermon on the Mount, and many of the same concepts were expounded by the Prophet Muhammad centuries later. There should be nothing nefarious or suspicious about a Muslim being interested in Jesus.
Though I am not an academic with unimpeachable credentials like Reza Aslan, he seemed to be talking about someone like me when he said, "It's not that I'm some Muslim writing about Jesus," because I have been writing about Jesus and his prominence in Islamic belief for more than a decade.
This should surprise no one. Islam and Muslims have been praising, honoring and loving both Christ and his mother for over 14 centuries. If more people like Fox News' Lauren Green knew that about Islam, such a terribly embarrassing interview, like hers with Reza Aslan, may not have taken place.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago-based doctor and writer. Copyright (C) 2013 Hesham A. Hassaballa -- distributed by Agence Global.