The Egyptian Islamic thinker Nasr Hamed Abuzayed died on July 5 at 67 years of age. He was a leading proponent of modern Islamic thought, applying critical tools to the classic and contemporary discourse in Muslim theology, philosophy, law, politics, and humanistic studies. His work aimed at a humanistic hermeneutics, or manner of interpretation, that would help Muslims build a bridge between their traditions and the modern world of free speech, civil equality (minority rights, women's rights, social justice), general human rights, democracy, and globalization.
Most of his intellectual activity focused on understanding the Qur'an and the classic Sufi texts. In general, Nasr Hamed Abuzayed was critical of established modes of interpreting Islam. In August 1992, several of his opponents in Cairo petitioned a local family-law shariah court to divorce his wife from him on the basis that he was an "apostate." On June 13, 1995 the appellate court in Cairo affirmed his "apostasy" and ordered that the couple be divorced.
Among other radical organizations, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, headed by Ayman Al-Zawahiri, issued a fatwa calling for Abuzayed to be killed. Abuzayed was protected by the Egyptian authorities, but soon went with his wife to the Netherlands, where he taught at Leiden University and, later, at Utrecht. He wrote tweleve books in Arabic and more than 70 articles in Arabic and English.
Nasr Hamed Abuzayed was close to the Islamic school of thought known as the Mutazila, which flourished in the 8th-10th centuries C.E. His main work, The Concept of the Text: A Study of the Qur'anic Sciences (Mafhūm al-Naṣṣ: Dirāsah fī 'Ulūm al-Qur'ān), shows the influence of the Mutazilites upon him.
He believed that the crisis of the Muslim world is based on misunderstandings and false readings in Islamic thought. Any person or group may try to apply some part of the Qur'an and the past interpretations of Islamic scholars and jurists in current conditions on a one-dimensional basis. Nasr Hamed Abuzayed called for exposing incorrect methodologies and resolving them.
He saw Islamic fundamentalism mainly as a response to political corruption and the economic and social problems of the Muslim countries, with its goal of mobilizing the majority under Islamic rules of life. Thus such fundamentalist groups as the Egyptian Gamaa al-Islamiyya [Islamic Group], Al-Takfir wa'l Hijra [Expulsion of "Apostates" and Migration of Believers], Egyptian Islamic Jihad and others share a single purpose: the transformation of theological and established religious principles into an ideology. This ideology is to be applied to the whole of society and social progress and development may be halted under the domination of ideology.
Nasr Hamed Abuzayed's ideas about the Qur'an were sometimes controversial. He sought to understand the Qur'an in the Mutazilite way, i.e. rationally, and tried to reconcile revelation and reason. He questioned the logic and methodology of revelation. He clarified that the revelation of Muhammad was not as we would understand it and showed that the revelation changed according to the Prophet's understanding of it. The described the Qur'an as a historical text, through the 23 years of its gradual revelation, and his literary methodology in the understanding of the Qur'an dealt with its philosophical, sociological, and psychological aspects.
Last year, he was banned from entering Kuwait to lecture on women's rights.
He died in Cairo, having contracted an unknown virus during a recent visit to Indonesia, according to the Egyptian Daily News.