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Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid: A Profile from the Archives

[Intellectual Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid] [Intellectual Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid]

[”A Profile from the Archives“ is a series published by Jadaliyya in both Arabic and English in cooperation with the Lebanese newspaper, Assafir. These profiles will feature iconic figures who left indelible marks in the politics and culture of the Middle East and North Africa. This profile was originally published in Arabic and was translated by Mazen Hakeem.] 

First Name: Nasr

Last Name: Abu Zaid

Date of birth: 10 July 1943

Date of death: 5 July 2010

Nationality: Egyptian

Category: Intellectual and writer

Profession: Researcher and intellectual

Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid

  • Born on 10 July 1943 in Tanta, Gharbia governorate.
  • His father died when he was fourteen years old. He was preparing to be an Azharite sheikh had it not been for his father's illness, and later his death, which forced him to support his family.
  • Memorized half the Koran by the age of ten, enabling him to become the youngest preacher at his village’s main mosque.
  • Joined the Muslim Brotherhood in Tanta in 1954 and participated in its scouts program at the rank of “cub.” He soon gained prominence in the group.
  • Obtained a diploma as an industrial technician in 1961. He worked as a radio technician in the General Egyptian Establishment for Communication and Radio between 1961 and 1972.
  • Went to Cairo in 1967 and joined the Department of Arabic Language in the College of Arts. He graduated in 1972 with a rank of "very good." He was appointed a lecturer at the college.
  • Obtained his master's degree in 1976. Then in 1978, he travelled to the United States to continue his studies.
  • Obtained his doctorate's degree in 1981 with first honor rank for his thesis "The Philosophy of Interpretation: Mohi Eddin Ibn Arabi's Method of Interpreting the Koran; falsafit al-ta'weel: ta'weel al-Quran i'nda Mohi Eddin Ibn Arabi."

[Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid's lecture: Sufi interpretation and Ibn Arabi]


  • Got married twice: first time in 1968; the marriage lasted for 22 years. His second wife was Dr. Ibtihal Younis whom he married in April 1992.
  • Worked as a professor at Cairo University, Bani Sweif University, and the University of Khartoum universities between 1982 and 1985.
  • During his stay in Sudan in 1985, he conducted an extensive research entitled "A Study in the Science of the Koran; dirasah fi o'loom al-Quran." After he returned to Egypt in 1990, he devoted himself to completing the research. He published this research in a book as one of the publications of the General Egyptian Establishment for Books.
  • Worked as a visiting professor in Osaka University in Japan from 1985 to 1989.
  • Applied for professorship position in the beginning of 1993. The matter was presented before a committee headed by Dr. Abdul Sabour Shahin who objected to giving him the position and filed a report against him accusing him of apostasy.
  • Referred to court by Islamist lawyer Muhammad Hameda Abdul Samad, then the Vice President of the State Council, alongside others, on the charge of apostasy. They demanded he be separated from his wife.
  • On 27 January 1994, the court of Giza refused the lawsuit. It based its refusal on the grounds that the matter was not in the "interest" of the court.
  • On 14 June 1995, the head of the court of appeal in Cairo, Farouk Abul Aleem, decided to turn down the decision of the court of Giza and ruled in favor of the separation between him and his wife.  This decision triggered a huge wave of reaction in the Arab world denouncing the ruling and advocating the writer's freedom and right to express his views.
  • Left Cairo with his wife for Spain. By October 1995, he had joined Leiden University in Holland.
  • On 12 January 1996, the Court of Cassation refused his appeal to the separation ruling.
  • On 19 January 1996, the Urgent Matters Court of Appeal upheld the cessation of executing the separation between him and his wife. However, he remained an apostate in eyes of the judiciary.

[The film "Waiting for Abu Zaid", directed by Muhammad Ali Al-Atasi -2010]

  • In the fall of 2008, he made his longest visit to Egypt since his departure as a guest of Alexandria Library to talk about his research project "The Koran as a Text; al-Quran ka nas."). He gave a lecture in 2009 at the Egyptian Philosophical Society in Giza.
  • Kuwaiti authorities prohibited him from entering the country on 15 October 2009, on the pretext that he may be assassinated.
  • Was prohibited from entering the Egyptian Journalist's Syndicate building in Cairo on 22 December 2009, as per the request of the head of the Syndicate Makram Muhammad Ahmed.
  • Recognized with the Ibn Rushd's Forum’s Award for Freedom of Thought on 25 November 2005.
  • Died on 5 July 2010 in Cairo.

[Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid's lecture surrounding the Mu'tazila and the definition of the Koran]


  • Rational Tendency in Interpretation, A Study in Metaphors in the Koran According to the Mu'tazila; al-itijah al-a'kli fi al-tafseer, dirasah fi qadiet al-majaz fi al-Quran i'nda al-mu'tazila. Al-Tanweer publishing house, Beirut, 1993. The fourth printing was published by the Arabic Cultural Center, Beirut and Casablanca, 1996.
  • The Philosophy of Interpretation: Mohi Eddin Ibn Arabi's Method of Interpreting the Koran; falasafet al-ta'weel, dirasah fi ta'weel al-Quran i'nda Mohi Eddin Ibn Arabi. Al-Tanweer publishing house, Beirut, 1993. The third printing was published by the Arabic Cultural Center, 1996.
  • The Systems of Signs in Language, Literature, and Culture; An Introduction to Semiotics; anzimet al-a'lamat fi allogha wa al-adab wa al-thaqafa; madkhal ila al-semotiqia.Co-supervised by Siza Qasem, Elias Modern Publishing House, Cairo, 1986; and O'yoon publishing house, Casablanca, 1987.
  • The Concept of Text, A Study in the Science of the Koran; mafhoom al-nas, dirasah fi o'loom al-Quran. The General Egyptian Establishment for Books in Cairo, 1994; and the Arabic Cultural Center, Beirut and Casablanca, 1996.
  • Paradoxes of Reading and Mechanisms of Interpretation; ishkaliyat al-qira'a wa aliyat al-ta'weel. The Arabic Cultural Center, Beirut and Casablanca, 1995.
  • Imam Shafi'i and the Establishment of the Ideology of Moderation; al-imam al-shafi'i  wa ta'sees al-idyologia al-wasatiya. Sina publishing house, Cairo, 1992; Madbooli Library, Cairo 1996.
  • Criticism of Religious Discourse; naqd al-khitab al-deeni. Sina publishing house, Cairo, 1994; Madbooli Library, Cairo 1995. (Translated to German under the title: Islam und Politik, Kritik des Religiosen Diskurses; translated by Shareefa Magdi and presented by Navid Karmani. Dipa publishing house, Frankfurt, 1996.
  • Women in the Discourse of the Crisis; al-mar'a fi khitab al-azma. Nosoos publishing house, Cairo, 1995.
  • Thinking During the Times of Expiation; al-tafkeer fi zaman al-takfeer. Sina publishing house, Cairo, 1995; and Madbooli Library, Cairo, 1995.
  • Caliphate and the Authority of the Nation; al-khilafa wa soltat al-omah. Presented and researched by Nahr publishing house, Cairo, 1995.
  • Useful Words in Abu Zaid's Story; al-qool al-mofeed fi qiset abu zaid. Madbooli Libraray, Cairo 1996.
  • Text – Authority – Truth; al-nas, al-soltah, al-haqiqa. Arabic Cultural Center, Beirut and Casablanca, 1997.
  • Circles of Fear: A Research in Women's Discourse; dawa'r al-khawf; dirasah fi khitab al-mar'a. Arabic Cultural Center, Beirut and Casablanca, 1999.
  • Vernieuwing in het islamitisch denken; a Dutch translation for some collections: articles and chapters from "The Concept of Text" and "Criticism of Religious Discourse. Translated by Fred Ruby Limhouse, Boulak publishing house, Amsterdam, 1996.
  • Critique du Discours Religieux; a collection of texts. Translated by Muhammad Charit, Sinbad publishing house, 1999.
  • Ein Leben mit dem Islam, Self Translation; prepared by Navid Karmani, Hirdir publishing house, 1999.
  • Discourse and Interpretation; al-khitab wa al-ta'weel. Arabic Cultural Center, Beirut and Casablanca, 2000.
  • This is What Ibn Arabi Said; haktha takllam ibn arabi. General Egyptian Establishment for Books, Cairo 2002; Arabic Cultural Center, Beirut and Casablanca 2004.
  • Islamic Left Wing: A General Overview; al-yassar al-islami: itlalah a'mmah. The Institute of Ibrahim Abu Laghad for International Research, Bir Zeit University 2004.

[List from the website of the Institution of Ibn Rushd; a full list of Nasr Hamid Abu Zaid's publications and works]

[Click here for a passage of his book Criticism of Religious Discourse; naqd al-khitab al-deeni]

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