Sunday 22 December 2019

Syrian Muslim intellectual and critic Muhammad Shahrur (Shahrour) (1938-2019)

وفاة المفكر السوري محمد شحرور
The Syrian intellectual Muhammad Shahrur (Shahrour) has passed away at the age of eighty in Abu Dhabi. Although he made name as a thinker and writer about Islam, and the interpretation of the Qur'an in particular, Shahrur was neither a traditionally trained 'alim, nor a conventional scholar of religion. Educated as a civil engineer in the Soviet Union and Ireland, he made a living as a foundations expert in the construction industry and only published his first book on Islam in 1990.

His The Book and the Qur'an: A Contemporary Reading was both admired and derided. Not shying away from courting controversy, Shahrur's writings are characterized by a tone that is both anti-clerical and anti-traditional. While reaching hundreds of thousands throughout the Muslim world, the book was criticized and dismissed by both the Islamic religious establishment and other Muslim academic scholars of Islam, including figures such as Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, who considered Shahrur's approach methodologically naive.
Shahrur's interpretation of scripture was part of a broader epistemological concern with reconciling revelation with advances made in the modern sciences. His idiosyncratic approach shows even greater confidence in the modernity project than the nineteenth-century reformer Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) or the Pakistani-American Fazlur Rahman (1919-1988). While his vocabulary is reminiscent of that of the controversial exegesis by fellow engineer Mahmud Muhammad Taha (1909-1985), Shahrur's 'scientific hermeneutics' drew on the neo-Kantian idealism and logical positivism of Western mathematician-philosophers, such as Alfred Whitehead and Bertrand Russell.

To learn more about Shahrur/Shahrour's work, click on the book cover images below for one of the few translations of his writings in English, Andreas Christmann's edited volume, or the section of the chapter on Scripture  in my Contemporary Thought in the Muslim World (pp. 69-72).