Controversial Egyptian thinker and professor of Arabic Studies Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd died Monday morning in a Cairo hospital of a virus described by his doctors as “rare.”
After 15 years of self-imposed exile in the Netherlands, Abu Zayd, born in 1943, returned to Egypt after suffering from an illness the doctors failed to diagnose. He stayed in a hospital in Cairo and his condition was described as “severe but stable” by his wife Ibtihal Yunis, professor of French at Cairo University.
Since he returned to Egypt, Abu Zayd stayed in the intensive care unit and he was expected to get better within a couple of weeks. No visitors were allowed to see him.
In 1992, Abu Zayd, then assistant professor at Cairo University’s Department of Arabic Language and Literature, was denied promotion to professor due to his controversial research on Islam and in which he argued that the Quran is a literary as well as religious text or what is known as “humanistic Quranic hermeneutics.”
In 1993, he was accused of apostasy by Islamist scholars and his marriage to Yunis was officially annulled by an Egyptian family court on the grounds that a Muslim woman cannot stay married to a heretic.
Two years after the verdict, Abu Zayd took Yunis and left for the Netherlands where he lived till he fell ill.
Among Abu Zayd's best known works are The Founding of Medieval Ideology and A Critique of Religious Discourse. His books were translated into several languages including German, French, Dutch, and Turkish. He wrote in both Arabic and English.
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid).