Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid

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Nasr Abozeid

Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid or Nasr Abozeid or Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd ( Arabic نصر حامد أبو زيد, DMG Naṣr Ḥāmid Abū Zaid ; born July 10, 1943 in Qufaha near Tanta , Egypt ; died July 5, 2010 in Cairo ) was an Egyptian Koran and literary scholar who called for a new Koran hermeneutics in his books that included the social and political conditions on the Arabian Peninsula at the time of Islam's emergence. He was publicly accused of apostasy in Egypt in the mid-1990s .


Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid was born in Quhafa near Tanta, Egypt, in 1943. After completing his technical training, he worked for the National Communications Organization in Cairo . At the same time he began studying Arabic at the University of Cairo (BA 1972).

Quran Studies

In his master's thesis (1977), Zaid dealt with the rational interpretation of the Koran by the Muʿtazila as well as their understanding of metaphorical expression ( majāz ) in the Koran , which he tried to interpret as a consequence of the political, economic and social conditions of the time. His dissertation, submitted in 1981, dealt with the allegorical interpretation of the Koran (taʾwīl) by the Andalusian mystic Ibn Arabi . After completing his doctorate, Abu Zaid began teaching at the Institute for Arabic Language and Literature there, first as a lecturer, since 1982 as assistant professor and from 1987 as associate professor.

In 1990 Abu Zaid published the study entitled “The Concept of Text” ( Mafhūm an-Naṣṣ ) as his main work , in which he programmatically called for a re-establishment of the connection between Koranic and literary studies. In doing so, he referred to Amīn al-Chūlī (1896–1967), who had established a new direction in exegesis in the middle of the 20th century that relied on the analysis of the Koran using modern literary methods. As a means of discovering the real meaning of the message of the Koran, Abu Zaid recommended the methods of hermeneutics and linguistics . The fact that the Koran describes itself (e.g. in Sura 53 : 4 f.) As waḥy was also very important for his interpretation of the Koran . From the fact that waḥy denotes a form of non-verbal communication in Arabic culture, he concluded that the revelation of the Koran to Mohammed must also have taken place in a non-linguistic form. From this, in turn, he deduced that the Koran text, as a speech that was already verbalized, no longer has a transcendent character, but belongs to the human side of the communication process and is therefore also accessible for rational analysis. With this interpretation, Abu Zaid took up certain Muʿtazilitic positions on the Koran.

The "Abu Zaid Affair"

In 1992 Abu Zaid made a contribution to the discussion between the Egyptian government and the Islamist opposition with his book Naqd al-ḫiṭāb ad-dīnī ("Critique of Religious Discourse"). In his opinion, both sides based their religious arguments on an anti-rational and backward-looking understanding of the Koran. However, the book was directed less against the fundamentalist than against the Egyptian "state Islam" with its Ashʿarite orientation, as it was disseminated through the media and the educational system throughout Egypt at that time. Abu Zaid criticized that the theologians had assumed a monopoly of interpretation of religious texts like a priesthood (kahnūt) , which hindered the free, pluralistic development of Islam.

When Abu Zaid applied for promotion from assistant professor to full professor at Cairo University in May 1992, ʿAbd as-Sabūr Shāhīn, a professor at the Cairo University of Dār al-ʿulūm, who was also the Friday preacher at the ʿAmr-ibn-al-ʿĀs- Mosque and who felt indirectly attacked by Abu Zaid's book, received a negative report, whereupon he was denied boarding. In his report, Shāhīn ruled that Abu Zaid's writings were a hideous insult to the religion, and he made these statements public. This started the "Abu Zaid Affair", which attracted a great deal of attention both at home in Egypt and among experts from abroad. Abu Zaid's critical analyzes of the Koran, in which he interprets it against the background of the time it was written, led to heated public discussions.

Conservative Islamic scholars tried to impeach him as an apostate . Since this is not permissible under Egyptian criminal law and could not be enforced against a university professor in the capital, a different legal path was taken. Marriage and divorce law is negotiated in Egypt by religious courts. The Sharīʿa applies to Muslims . Therefore, the scholars sued a marriage court for the annulment of Abu Zaid's marriage on the grounds that a Muslim woman may only be married to one Muslim according to Sharia law; but if Abu Zaid is no longer a Muslim due to apostasy, his wife should no longer be married to him. The Court of First Instance in Giza dismissed the suit on the grounds that the plaintiffs had no legitimate personal interest and therefore no legal standing.

The plaintiffs then went to a court of appeal. This ruled that the Sharia must be applied and that the plaintiffs are entitled, according to the Hanafi school of law, to file a lawsuit as part of their personal Hisba duty. In 1995 the court declared Abū Zaid an apostate and voided his marriage to Ibtihāl Yūnis. The court based its judgment on the fact that Abū Zaid had denied that the Koran was the word of God revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. The 16-page verdict, which the presiding judge ʿAbd al-ʿAlīm Mursī wrote, referred in particular to a passage in the book Naqd al-ḫiṭāb ad-dīnī , in which Abū Zaid expressed his specific understanding of revelation as a process of transformation of the divine word had made a human testimony. In addition, the judgment scolded Abū Zaid for having "used" his position as a professor to spread these "lies against the Book of God" among his students.

Because of the trial and the publicity associated with it, Abu Zaid received numerous death threats. The assessment of Abū Zaid as apostate was followed in Iran. As a result of the Egyptian judgment, the plan to translate his book Mafhūm an-Naṣṣ into Persian was abandoned. However, the Egyptian state opposed the plaintiffs in the process: ʿAbd as-Sabūr Shāhīn, for example, was banned from preaching in his entourage at the ʿAmr Mosque.

In European exile

From 1995 Abū Zaid lived in exile in the Netherlands. He initially taught Islamic studies as a visiting professor at the University of Leiden . In the academic years 2002/2003 and 2003/2004 he was a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin . Since 2004 he has held the Ibn Ruschd Chair for Humanism and Islam at the University of Utrecht . In 2005 he received the Ibn Ruschd Prize for Free Thinking, Berlin.


  • Naqd al-ḫiṭāb ad-dīnī , Cairo 1992. German translation: Islam and politics. Critique of Religious Discourse . dipa publishing house, Frankfurt a. M. 1996, ISBN 3-7638-0335-1 .
  • As told by Navid Kermani (ed.): A life with Islam . Herder, Freiburg i. Br. U. a. 1999, ISBN 3-451-26971-6 .
  • The term “justice” according to the Koran . In: polylog . No. 6 , 2000, ISSN  1560-6325 , p. 40-52 ( ).
  • Does God only speak Arabic? In: The time . No. 5 , 2003 ( ).
  • Jochen Hippler , Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid, Amr Hamzawy : War, Repression, Terrorism. Political Violence and Civilization in Western and Muslim Societies . ifa, Stuttgart 2006 ( [PDF; 697 kB ] Review by I. Küpeli ).
  • Mohammed and the signs of God. The Koran and the future of Islam . Herder, Freiburg a. a., 2008. ISBN 978-3-451-29274-3 . (The book is based on a series of interviews that Hilal Sezgin conducted with Abu Zaid in the summer and autumn of 2007 in English).
  • God's word of man. For a humanistic understanding of the Koran . Herder, Freiburg 2008, ISBN 978-3-451-29972-8 .
  • Islam in Europe / Europe Against Islam! Europe, Open Your Eyes . In: Caroline Y. Robertson-von Trotha (Ed.): Europe: Insights from the Outside (= Kulturwissenschaft interdisciplinary / Interdisciplinary Studies on Culture and Society, Volume 5), Baden-Baden 2011, ISBN 978-3-8329-5583- 0 (english)

A life with Islam

The book A Life with Islam is based on conversations by Navid Kermani and Chérifa Magdi with Abu Zaid, which were translated by Chérifa Magdi and edited by Navid Kermani and compiled into a biography . As part of this biography, various topics that were close to Abu Zaid's heart are dealt with, so that this book provides a first glimpse into his thinking.

Contents of the book A Life with Islam
chapter Biographical Thematic Quotes
1 Childhood, half- orphan at the age of 14, experiences in Koran school (kuttâb) The recitation of the Koran ( tadschwid ) ; the Koran as spoken text; different reading styles of the Koran “A religion without the physical experience of the ritual is little more than a structure of thought, a construct. Every religion needs sensual or aesthetic experiences. In Islam it is primarily the recitation of the Koran that fulfills this function. It is a spiritual process and a ritual act: when the believer hears the speech of God, he hears the speaker himself - he hears God. "(P. 19)

"The oral recitation of the Koran is very important because by its nature it is not a reading text." (P. 21)

2 Experience at the Christian elementary school, at the Taufiqiyya middle school, at the vocational school, work in the radio department of the Ministry of Transport The coexistence of Muslims and Copts

The Muslim Brotherhood

Sayyid Qutb

"The fabric of Egyptian society is damaged - but it is not destroyed." (P. 32)

“The Muslim Brotherhood in our village were friendly and honest people who helped the poor and stood up for justice. […] [They] have never spoken badly about Christians or other religious communities. They only complained about the colonialists "(p. 42)

“Sayyid Qutb has not committed a crime. He wrote a book. His execution is repulsive to me to this day. "

3 Religion, state and society “It makes a difference whether one recognizes a text as a religious authority and emphasizes its function in creating civilization, or treating it as the ultimate authority for all questions in life. Unfortunately we have to experience that a dogma has emerged according to which the authority of the Koran goes beyond belief and encompasses all areas of society and knowledge. "(P. 49)
4th Mother's death in 1982 The role of women in Islam "It is impossible to attribute a preference for the absolutely masculine over the absolutely feminine to the Koran." (P. 86)
5 Study time in Cairo Traditions of Exegesis of the Koran (100-110) "When I call the Koran a literary work, I am not reducing it to its poetic elements" (p. 100)
6th Stays abroad (USA, Sudan, Japan), experience with other cultures The hermeneutics

Hermeneutic interpretation of the Koran according to Ibn Arabi

7th Activity as a professor Decline of the universities in Egypt
8th The second marriage Cultural differences between the rural population ( fellahs ) and the aristocracy
9 The process of forced divorce (June 14, 1995), emigration “I have stated over and over that I am a devout Muslim. Nobody has the right to say otherwise. "(P. 174)

"The Koran does not forbid giving up Islam." (P. 175)

10 Life in exile in the Netherlands Islamic Mysticism ( Sufism ) "If I had come to Leiden under different conditions to work here for a few years, I would be the happiest person in the world." (P. 195)

"Islam is a simple belief with no complications." (P. 206)


  • Geneive Abdo: No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam . Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000. pp. 163-171.
  • Thomas Hildebrandt: Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid, Egypt / Netherlands . In: Katajun Amirpur , Ludwig Ammann (ed.): Islam at the turning point. Liberal and conservative reformers of a world religion . Freiburg / Br. 2006. pp. 127-135.
  • Navid Kermani: Revelation as Communication. The concept of waḥy in Naṣr Hāmid Abū Zayd's Mafhūm an-naṣṣ. Frankfurt / Main 1996.
  • George N. Sfeir: "Basic Freedoms in a Fractured Legal Culture: Egypt and the Case of Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd." in Middle East Journal 52/3 (1998) 402-414.
  • Jörn Thielmann: Naṣr Ḥāmid Abū Zaid and the re-invented ḥisba: Šarīʿa and Qānūn in today's Egypt . Ergon, Würzburg, 2003.
  • Stefan Wild: The other side of the text: Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid and the Koran . In: Die Welt des Islam , 33, 1993, pp. 256–261.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Kermani: Revelation as communication. 1996, p. 26 f.
  2. Kermani, p. 12.
  3. Rotraud Wielandt : Roots of the difficulty inner-Islamic conversation about new hermeneutic approaches to the Koran text . In: Stefan Wild (Ed.): The Qur'an as text . (= Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Science 27). Leiden / New York / Cologne 1996, pp. 257–282, 258. Thomas Hildebrandt: Neo-Mu'tazilism? Brill, Leiden 2007, p. 363 ff.
  4. Kermani: Revelation as communication. 1996, p. 13.
  5. Kermani: Revelation as communication. 1996, pp. 39-52.
  6. Kermani: Revelation as communication. 1996, p. 64.
  7. Hildebrandt, p. 133 and Kermani, p. 52 f.
  8. a b Kermani: Revelation as communication. 1996, p. 91.
  9. Kermani: Revelation as communication. 1996, p. 104.
  10. Abdo: No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam . 2000, p. 166.
  11. Abdo: No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam . 2000, p. 166.
  12. Abdo: No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam . 2000, p. 164.
  13. Abdo: No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam . 2000, p. 169.
  14. Hildebrandt: "Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid". 2006, p. 134.
  15. Katajun Amirpur : The depoliticization of Islam. ʿAbdolkarīm Sorūš's thinking and impact in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ergon, Würzburg, 2003, p. 34.
  16. Abdo: No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam . 2000, p. 170.
  17. ^ Previous Fellows in alphabetical order. Wiko-Berlin, archived from the original on September 6, 2012 ; accessed on January 4, 2014 .
  18. See Abu Zaid: Mohammed and the Signs of God . 2008, p. 220.