I went to a lecture by Nasr abu Zayd this evening, which was pretty interesting. Nasr abu Zayd is an Egyptian academic who wrote a book about the Qur’an 20 years ago that was pretty controversial. The government then declared him an apostate (sigh) and they wanted to force his wife to divorce him since he was “no longer a Muslim”. Because of that he decided to move to Holland, where he still lives today.
The lecture was interesting. His main point is that we can’t understand the Qur’an without looking at the context, especially asbab al-nuzul (occasions of revelation). He also spoke a lot about the verse that says men can beat their wives. He points out that since the beginning of Islam, interpreters have been trying to reconcile this verse with the ethics in the Qur’an. So even they saw a contradiction. He argues that the early interpreters virtually abrogated the verse by saying things like “beat lightly” or “don’t beat”. He also pointed out that the Prophet never raised his voice to any of his wives, let alone beat any of them. So we can either follow the example of the Prophet or the literal meaning of that isolated verse.
He also pointed out that scriptures survive because they are ambiguous. The Qur’an was clear to the people who received it, but with distance a space is created within which we can understand Islam according to our own needs and context.
What I really liked about the lecture was how he said that the problem with Muslims today is that everyone needs a mufti. No one is willing to make decisions themselves anymore: we all need to be spoon-fed simple answers by self-appointed “experts”. I find this SO true. Muslims are terrified of thinking, questioning, understanding. We all want a simple answer from an “authority”. Someone asked why the Salafi muftis were doing so well, and Zayd said it is because they give very simple answers. He said this is not possible, since Islam is complicated. You need to understand the context, the culture, the political scene, etc.
Has anyone heard of him? What do you think of his ideas?