Personal Mufti

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?

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11 thoughts on “Personal Mufti

  1. I’ve never heard of him, but agree with what he said as was relayed in your post. I especially agree with the statement about Salafi scholars and “simple” answers. I so prefer my answers to be complex and thought provoking…

  2. “So we can either follow the example of the Prophet or the literal meaning of that isolated verse.”

    Well I definitely agree with that 🙂 There are strong hadiths that say Muhammad lived the Qur’an so if he didn’t do that, then how could he have lived it?

    Anyway yes I like what you have shown here from him. I don’t understand how he could’ve been thought of as an apostate though? But then I’m only going off what you’ve written here. It seems to me that he’s just like us who comment on this blog, albeit a bit more educated lol.

    • I don’t really understand why he was controversial either, or at least I didn’t find out why from the lecture.

      I found this: “Dr Zaid argued that “the Koran is a literary text, and the only way to understand, explain, and analyze it is through a literary approach”. Dr Zaid remained in Egypt for some time in order to contest the charges of apostasy, but he later moved to the Netherlands, with his wife, in the face of continuing threats to his safety.”

      “It seems to me that he’s just like us who comment on this blog, albeit a bit more educated lol.”

      LOL

  3. “No one is willing to make decisions themselves anymore: we all need to be spoon-fed simple answers by self-appointed “experts”. ”

    Complete agreement!
    Or they just brush aside any other opinion by saying that no one is as learned enough as a scholar, so we can’t ‘possibly’ think or make decisions on our own.

    And that’s interesting about the ‘wife beating’ verse, because in Laleh Bakhtiar’s translation of the Qur’an, she translates it as ‘to go away’. She talks about lengthly in the preface of translation.
    http://www.sublimequran.org/ (in case you wanted to so, or if you already know 🙂 )

  4. I’m wondering if he was considered an apostate because of: “He also pointed out that scriptures survive because they are ambiguous. ”

    To me, that sounds logical … but I can see why that might be a problem for some. I wonder if the label of ‘apostate’ is slapped on those that have a view different from the majority or those in power?

    “Muslims are terrified of thinking, questioning, understanding. ”
    Yes, totally agree! (of course this is a general statement, doesn’t apply to everyone but to many I’ve seen).

  5. He really looks Egyptian. He looks a lot like my husband’s father! And what he is saying makes a lot of sense. I love open views in Islam and I cannot stand the idea of only trusting one source! For me, Islam is so open and there are so many possibilities. Islam is truth and Islam is life. God will take every little thing in consideration when making His judgement on a person… even things the person herself doesn’t know! So it is beyond me how people can so confidently say that God disapproves of such and such thing.

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