CAIRO: Renowned Islamic scholar and former professor of Arabic Literature at Cairo University, Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid, 67, died Monday morning after contracting an unknown virus during a recent trip to Indonesia.
He died at Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Sixth of October City on Monday, July 5 .
In 1995, Abu Zeid went into self-exile in the Netherlands when a Cairo Appeals Court for personal status annulled his marriage to Ibtihal Younes, then a lecturer of French literature at Cairo University, on grounds that he was an apostate.
The verdict was based on hisba, a doctrine that entitles any Muslim to take legal action against anyone considered harmful to Islam.
In 1993, a group of Islamist scholars rallied against Abu Zeid’s analysis of Islam when he presented an examining committee with two examples of his research to be considered for a promotion to the post of professor, “Imam Al-Shafei” and “A Critique of Religious Discourse.”
His application was rejected by Abdel-Sabour Shahin, then a professor of Arabic linguistics and a committee member at Cairo University, where Abu Zeid had obtained his PhD in 1981. Abu Zeid was accused of undermining the authority of the Quran.
After the court ruling, Abu Zeid feared becoming a target by opponents to his views so he fled to Leiden, Holland with his wife . He accepted an offer to teach at the Islamic Studies Department at Leiden University.
Last December Abu Zeid was banned from entering Kuwait to give two lectures about religious reform and women’s position in Islam. He was sent back to Cairo despite obtaining a valid visa.
At the time, he told journalists in a press conference before flying back to Holland, “The politicians in our countries have become a faint reflection of extremism in the name of religion. It’s a major cultural crime that some intellectuals ally with politicians in their so-called war against extremism and terrorism. … We, the nation, including intellectuals, are their victims.”
“I emphasize the independence of intellectuals to always be the guardians of values, and be careful not to be transformed through alliance with politicians,” he was quoted as saying by UAE-based daily The National.
Abu Zeid is an award-winning scholar. Alongside working in Egypt and Holland, he was a visiting professor at Osaka University in Japan between 1985 and 1989. He also received a fellowship from the Center for Middle East Studies at Pennsylvania State University in the United States of America between 1978 and 1980.
He was born in Tanta, Gharbeya, on July 10, 1943.