Friday 8 July 2011

The Legacy of Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd: One Year On...

A year ago this week, the leading Egyptian Islamicist Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd died rather unexpectedly in Cairo (see my post of 6 July 2010). The Qantara website carries two articles to commemorate the event, the first one reports on the conference organized by Navid Kermani and Katajun Amirpur, bringing together scholars such as the Syrian scholars Sadiq al-Azm and Aziz al-Azmeh, the Iranian intellectuals Abdolkarim Soroush and Muhammad Shabestari, South Africa's Farid Esack and Amina Wadud from the USA.
But the fact that this conference with its star-studded guest list took place in Essen and not in Cairo, Tehran or Lahore is an indication of the lack of acceptance with which innovative approaches are met within the Islamic world. It is also a reminder of the fact that Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd was declared divorced from his wife against his will in 1995 as a result of his very cautious attempts to stimulate reform in Egypt.
To read the whole article click here.

The other contribution was Yoginder Sikand's last interview with the Egyptian scholar.In response to the question how he sees his work, Abu Zayd replied:
 I see it as part of my long interest in Islamic hermeneutics, the methodology of understanding the Koran, the Sunnah and other components of the Islamic tradition. Of particular concern for me are certain assumptions in popular Islamic discourse that have not been fully examined, and have generally been ignored or avoided. Thus, for instance, Muslim scholars have not seriously reflected on the question of what is actually meant when we say that the Koran is the revealed 'Word of God'. What exactly does the term 'Word of God' mean? What does revelation mean?
In a historical understanding of the Koran one would also have to look at the verses in the text that refer specifically to the Prophet and the society in which he lived. Some people might feel that looking at the Koran in this way is a crime against Islam, but I feel that this sort of reaction is a sign of a weak and vulnerable faith. And this is why a number of writers who have departed from tradition and have pressed for a way of relating to the Koran that takes the historical context of the revelation seriously have been persecuted in many countries.
I think there is a pressing need to bring the historical dimension of the revelation into discussion, for this is indispensable for countering authoritarianism, both religious and political, and for promoting human rights
 For the whole interview, click here

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