Egyptian scholar Nasr Abu Zayd looks back without rancour

May 2, 2008

“Religion has been used, politicised, not only by groups but also the official institutions in every Arab country … Nearly everything is theologised — every issue society faces has to be solved by asking if Islam allows it. There is no distinction between the domain of religion and secular space.”

Ulema (Muslim scholars) are too keen to deliver rulings on economic, social or even medical issues like organ transplants: “You’ll hardly find any scholar who says, ‘I’m very sorry, but this is not my business, go consult a doctor’.”

Nasr Abu ZaydNasr Abu Zayd was declared an apostate, divorced from his wife by court order, threatened with death by Islamists and forced to flee his native Egypt in 1995. Now a professor of humanism and Islam at the University for Humanistics in Utrecht in the Netherlands, he has lost none of his critical perspective. But he looks back on his case, a major human rights issue at the time, without rancour.

“Now when some people say ‘you are an apostate’ or something, I really laugh rather than try to defend myself,” he told Alistair Lyon, our Middle East Special Correspondent, in an interview in Beirut.

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Interestingly, Abu Zayd was singled out in an analysis of Muslim reformers by distinguished US-based anthropologist Saba Mahmood as colluding with US Imperial ambitions to reform Islam to be more compliant to US global interests, as per the recommendations of the RAND report:

http://ls.berkeley.edu/dept/anth/mahmood .secularism.pdf