Nasr Abu Zayd, a liberal Egyptian Qur’anic scholar, died yesterday in a Cairo hospital. He had been living in exile in the Netherlands since 1995 after being declared an apostate and having his marriage annulled by an Egyptian court. In his work, Abu Zayd distinguished between the ‘Meccan verses’ and the ‘Medinan verses’ of the Qur’an. The ‘Medinan verses,’ he believed, should be read within their context and should not be used to establish an Islamic polity in the modern era; he argued against the atomistic approach to reading the Qur’an. Brian Whittaker draws on a 2008 interview he conducted with Abu Zayd to discuss modern interpretations of the Qur’an—as they relate to the Islamic polity—the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the drama of Abu Zayd’s exile:
He started by challenging the widespread view among Islamists that the city of Madina [sic] in the time of the Prophet was a fully-fledged state – and a model for establishing Islamic states today. That, he said, is simply “a projection of the present over the past”:
We cannot really think of Madina as a state in the modern sense. It was multi-communities – the community of the believers, the community of the Jews and the community of the pagans – the Arabs – so the Madina document [often referred to as a “constitution”] is some sort of an agreement for these communities to live together. Of course, gradually the community of believers became stronger and took over the city and then took over Arabia. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say this was a state … I don’t think it is a state in the proper sense.
Read the full article here.