Egypt: Liberals mourn the death of Dr. Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid

Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid after receiving the IBN RUSHD Prize

Dr. Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid, a prominent Egyptian scholar once accused of apostasy for his contemporary interpretation of Islam, has died on July 5, 2010. He was 66. Officials at the Cairo hospital where Abu Zeid had been receiving treatment for the past two weeks said he died Monday from a brain infection.

Calling him her hero, Mona ElTahawy reposted an article she wrote about him and his strife in 1996:

An Egyptian court on Monday threw its weight behind Islamists by upholding a ruling that a happily married university professor must divorce his wife because he was found to have renounced Islam.

A human rights group, saying it feared for the life of Arabic professor Nasr Abu Zeid, urged President Hosni Mubarak to overturn the “unjust” decision by Cairo’s Court of Cassation.

The court rejected Abu Zeid’s appeal against a ruling ordering his separation from fellow academic Ibtihal Younis.

Abu Zeid and Younis moved to the Netherlands earlier this year to take up teaching posts. The Court of Cassation is the last stop for appeals in Egypt and court sources say if the couple ever return to Cairo they will have to separate.

Abu Zeid has argued he is still a Moslem and has accused mainstream Islamic clerics of quoting the Koran out of context and of making even simple factual errors. Younis has criticised the fundamentalists for treating her like a child by interfering in her private affairs.

Moftah quoted correspondent Hend Adel and wondered:

شيع المئات من المواطنين فى الثانية من ظهر اليوم جنازة الكاتب نصر حامد أبو زيد (67 عاما) من مسجد وهدان بمنطقة قحافة بطنطا، وسط إقبال متوسط من ذويه وأهالى المنطقة، كما خلت الجنازة تماما من أى شخصيات عامة أو مسئولين أو وفود رسمية.
Hundreds of people, including a few relatives, showed up at Dr. Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid's funeral who died at the age of 67 to bid him farewell in his hometown in Tanta. No public figures, VIPs, officials, or delegations attended his funeral.

Voice of Egypt lamented Dr. Abu Zeid's sudden death:

لم أجد كلام أفضل من ما قاله مينا زكري علي تويتر:

مات من رفض السلطة المطلقة للنصوص ورفض تغييب العقل…. مات من آثر انتهاج التفكير في زمن التكفير… مات من فرقوا بينه وبين زوجته بسبب أفكاره،.. مات من طفشوه الكلاب من البلد… مات نصر حامد أبو زيد

I could not phrase my sorrow in better words; Mina Zekri said on Twitter:
He who rejected the notion of the absoluteness of the scripts and the opium of the minds has died! He who gave in to his mind at a time when everyone gave up their minds has died! He who was separated from his wife over his ideas has died! He was was forced into exile has died! Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid has died!

Desert Cat wrote a post titled An enlightened page is torn:

دائماً عندما أسمع خبر وفاة شخص وارى الحزن فى عيون ذوية تكون اولى كلماتى ليه نحزن على حد مات وراح يقابل اللى خالقه .. انا مش بحزن غير على اللى اتولد لانه جاى للمجهول ميعرفش مصيره ايه ولا هيروح فين خصوصاً والحياة كل يوم من سيئ لأسوء .. اليوم فقط استدركت شعور الفقد اليوم فقط جربت معنى الحزن كما لم احزن من قبل .. حينما اقرأ كتباته يشرد ذهنى واتمنى لو مصر بها نصف عقل هذا الرجل صاحب العقل الرائع والإبداع الراقى .. رجل عانى من الجهلة والجهلاء الذين جعلوا من انفسهم أوصياء على الناس فى الأرض ولا أعلم من أعطاهم الحق فى الفصل والقرار فى شئون الأدب والنقد إذا كانوا لا يقرأون ولا يفقهون فسمحوا لأنفسهم بتكفيره بل وتفريقه عن زوجته خوفاً من أن يبزغ شعاع أمل للعقول فتبور بضاعتهم الفاسدة من نخاعات مسلوقة حلت مكان المخ بالعقول .. من الذى يستطيع أياً كان وزنه وحجمه أن يصادر حقنا فى التقدم والرقى الذى يسعى إليه العالم كله بعد أن كنا فى مقدمة العالم اصبحنا فى اسفل سافلين .
قتلوا بجهلهم فرج فودة فصفق لهم اعوانهم من الجهلاء وكانت اسلحة المثقفين هى القلم فظنوا انه سلاح الضعف فنصبوا من انفسهم أمراء إفتاء ورجال إدعاء وقضاة حكم بالتكفير والقتل .. اعتدوا على نجيب محفوظ فكانت الحق أقوى منهم .. حتى اليوم يحاولون جاهدون قتل أى إبداع فى مهده فتصدى لهم نصر حامد ابو زيد بثقافته ورجاحة عقله .. الأن فقط أتسائل لماذا كل من نحبهم يرحلون وكل من يسعون لتقدم ورقى هذا الوطن يذهبون ؟ هل كتب عليكى يا بلادى ان تحيى دائماً وسط جهلاء لا يفكرون ولا يتدبرون ؟ يمثلون ادوار بهلاونية فى العلن وفى الخفاء للشيطان حلفاء
When someone passes away and I see his grief-struck family I wonder why they are so sad that he will finally rest in peace; I mourn over those who are born and are destined to face the unknown into a world that is getting worse by the second. Today I felt the true meaning of loss; I have grieved the way I have never grieved before.
When I read his words, I cannot help but wish that Egyptians had half his brain. He is a man of true genius and creativity. He endured the hardships imposed on him by ignorant delusional creatures who assumed guardianship over the world. I truly wonder who gave them the right to judge literary work when they are far from knowledgeable! In a time when darkness prevailed, they feared his enlightened mind; they accused him of atheism, and separated him from his wife.
With their ignorance they killed Farag Fouda, assaulted Naguib Mahfouz, and exiled Dr. Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid – they are all dead now! I wonder why the enlightened leaves are the ones that fall! My beloved country is destined to be the home of ignorant parasites who entertain us with mediocre clownish performances of virtue when we all know that they are the true allies of the devil.

Gaberism wrote:

نصر ابو زيد مفيش كلام كفايه يكفي اقوله عنك، ولا الكلام اللي هقوله هنا عن مفكر عظيم زيك يضيف اي شئ لمكانتك ولكن اا بكتب هنا عنك فقط عشان ارد على المتخلفين تبعة الحويني و عمرو خالد -المتخلفيين الجدد- و اللي انهالوا بالشماتة في خطاباتهم معلنين وفاتك … رحل جسدك و بقت افكارك و تلاميذك لها حافظون.
Dear Dr. Nasr Abu Zeid! Nothing I write will do you justice and nothing I say will add to your legacy; I am obliged to write about you here to stand in the face of those backward followers of the Sheikhs of darkness and backwardness who pathetically gloated over your death. Yes! Your body is gone but your thoughts will live forever through your students and scholars.

Dr. Sherif Hafez wrote for Middle East Youth saying:

لقد شكل الدكتور نصر حامد أبو زيد بالنسبة لى “الثورة الشخصية” على الموروث! جعلنى أرى دينى وكل الكتب، بشكل مختلف. لقد أوجد هذا الرجل فى الإيمان، بأن النص خلق للإنسان ولم يخلق الإنسان للنص! قبلها كنت أحيا الأزمة مع هذا النص، أدافع مثلما يدافع كل من يعلقون ضد ما أكتب عندما أقول لهم بأن ينظروا فيما هو أبعد من هذا النص،.. إلى روح هذا النص! إلى المعنى فيه، ومواكبة العصر به!
Dr. Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid represents my own personal revolution against our heavy heritage! He made me see my religious book – and all books – in a different light! This man has inspired me with faith and belief; a firm belief that the scripts were made to serve us not the other way round! I used to be a script-worshiper like those who leave me angry comments on my posts today when I tell them to look beyond the words, to try to read into the spirit and the meaning of the script, and to see how to utilize the script in our lives today.

Start the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.