Voice of an Exile: Reflections on Islam

Voice of an Exile: Reflections on Islam

Voice of an Exile: Reflections on Islam

Voice of an Exile: Reflections on Islam

Synopsis

"In 1995, Ayman al-Zawahiri, a prominent terrorist figure recently associated with Al Qaeda and al-Jihad, issued a bounty against Dr. Nasr Abu Zaid, a respected Islamic scholar at Cairo University. What was Zaid's offense? Arguing that Islam's holy texts should be interpreted in the historical and linguistic context of their time, and that new interpretations should account for social change. His controversial claim that the Qur'an be interpreted metaphorically rather than literally further enraged fundamentalists. Labeled an apostate by the Cairo court of appeals, his life was threatened and he was forced to flee to the Netherlands with his wife. A professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at Leiden University in his adopted country, this progressive Islamic scholar insists that change is still possible and that new understandings of Islam can be accepted and advanced. Forgoing claims that Islam is a violent religion, Zaid shows us that, above all, justice and obedience lies at the heart of the Qur'an. At the outset of this book, we find Zaid growing up in Quhafa, a village in northern Egypt. Islam gives meaning and definition to his life. As he matures, we see him sorting through Egypt's various political developments and upheavals. Zaid carefully weaves such developments into the events of his own life - his father's death, raising his younger siblings, attending Cairo University, his study abroad, his marriages, the events leading to his exile, and his visit to Egypt after a seven-year absence. Through it all, we see him advancing in his academic career and applying new skills to his study and interpretation of the Qur'an. He wrestles with subjects such as polygamy, wife beating, inheritance, and the practice of usury in Islamic cultures. He asserts and illustrates that Islam must be separate from the State in order to protect the religion from political manipulation. Zaid's personal story and academic pursuits, reflecting the social reality of the broader culture, offer new perspectives on Islam and provide hope to Muslims who feel their religion has been misrepresented and misunderstood." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

I first became acquainted with Nasr Abu Zaid after reading Mary Anne Weaver's article [Revolution by Stealth] in The New Yorker (June 8, 1998). I was immediately drawn to his story. Islamists forced Nasr from Cairo University, his alma mater and the institution where he currently taught, charging him with heresy. His crime? Nasr had stated in his writings that history and culture must be taken into account when interpreting the Qur'an. in addition, Nasr argued for a metaphoric interpretation of the Qur'an rather than an inflexible, literal understanding of that sacred text.

In June 1995, the Cairo Court of Appeals found [that Abu Z[a]id's writings in and of themselves proved him to be an apostate.] Islamists threatened his life. He no longer was able to teach. Guards, armed with machine guns, surrounded his home. Islamist lawyers attempted to separate him from his wife, Dr. Ebtehal Younes, also a professor at Cairo University, on the grounds that a Muslim woman cannot be married to a non-Muslim. Nasr, having been declared an apostate, could no longer be considered a Muslim. Subsequently both of them fled to the Netherlands, and since then Nasr has been teaching Arabic and Islamic Studies at Leiden University.

In 2000, my husband began working for an oil company in Saudi Arabia. Since then, I've split my time between Saudi Arabia and the United States. When I'm in the States, I teach religious studies in the School of World Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. in February 2002, I discovered Nasr all over again in an . . .

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