zaydNasr Abu Zayd, an Egyptian Koranic scholar declared an apostate for challenging mainstream Muslim views on the holy book, died on Monday in a Cairo hospital, aged 66.  Abu Zayd held a liberal, critical approach to Islamic teachings that angered some Muslim conservatives in his homeland in the 1990s, a decade when President Hosni Mubarak’s government was combating an uprising by armed Islamic militants.

Abu Zayd critiqued the use of religion to exert political power. He argued the Koran was both a literary and religious text which clashes with Islamic teaching which sees the holy book as the final revelation of God.  His approach challenged Egypt’s mainstream Islamic thinkers and popular sentiment in a country where conservative Islamic trends have been on the rise, reflected in part by the prevalence of the Islamic veil. (Photo: Nasr Abu Zayd/ University for Humanistics)

“I am anti-dogma,” he told Reuters in 2008. “It’s a meaning produced by humans, and I don’t find that I am going outside the domain of religion if I challenge this dogma.”

In 1995, an Egyptian sharia court declared Abu Zayd an apostate from Islam, annulled his marriage and effectively forced him and his wife into exile.  But he had quietly returned to his homeland in recent years, first for lectures and later staying for health reasons.

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