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Omar makes good his promise to Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd
Writer Gamal Omar launches his book about theologian Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd's life, fulfilling his promise to the renowned late thinker
Published in Ahram Online on 16 - 03 - 2013

Egyptian writer Gamal Omar first learned about well-known Muslim theologian Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd in 1991, after the release of Nasr's famous book, 'Mafhum Al-Nass' (The Concept of The Text: The Study of Quranic Sciences.)
When he met Nasr in 2007 in USA, he made a promise to him; that he would collect all his talks, interviews and lectures, and would write a book about him as a 70th birthday gift.
Abu Zayd was apparently excited and supplied Omar with all the recordings he kept over the years. On 10 July of this year, Abu Zayd would have been 70, although unfortunately his passing in 2010 means that he is not here to see the fulfilment of Omar's promise.
The new book, 'Ana Nasr Hamed Abu Za'yd (I, Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd) written by Omar and published by Dar Al-Ain, was the topic of an evening's discussion at the premises of the publishing house in downtown Cairo on Thursday.
The evening was sparsely-attended, a reflection of the reluctance of many to come too close to areas of violence. Nevertheless, the respected wife of the late thinker, Ibtihal Younis, as well as a group of intellectuals, journalists and young people, reflected on the diverse legacy left behind by Abu Zayd.
Younis, a professor of French literature at Cairo University, introduced the book by calling Omar "the living encyclopaedia of Nasr Hamed Abu Zayd," giving her full endorsement to every word written by the biographer.
Ibtihal agreed that the book fulfils the promise made by Omar back in 2007. Its launch is the first in a series of lectures and events that will take place to celebrate the 70th birthday of the remarkable Islamic writer and thinker.
Collecting hundreds of interviews and many hours of voice recordings, Omar attempted to bring to life all that Abu Zayd lived through and lived for, from his birth in Kohafa, the small village outside the northern city of Tanta (120km north of Cairo) until his exile in Holland and finally his last days in Egypt in 2010.
"It's not suitable to call this a biography," Gamal Omar told his audience. "It's a version of Nasr's life from my point of view, which is certainly going to be very different than if he had written it himself or if Ibtihal had done that."
The book is written in the first person, giving the microphone to Abu Zayd to speak about himself in a language that navigates between simple fact-telling and emotion-sharing.
Owing to Gamal Omar's own experience as a novelist, the book comes in simple flowing language and reads more like a novel than a record of someone's life.
"There is a thread that bonds together all my writings, including 'Muhager Gheir Sharei' (Illegal Immigrant) and that is the fact that it's a fictional novel but it's based on a true story," Omar explained.
In various instances, Omar imagines a conversation that took place, for example between Abu Zayd and his wife when they met in 1991. As Omar shared, Ibtihal asked him whether Nasr shared his own memoirs with him, surprised that his imagination came so close to what had actually taken place back then.
To Omar, the book hardly fulfils his dream, and according to the author, Abu Zayd's legacy requires numerous books and much research, to articulate his contribution.
"The true value of what Abu Zayd has done is not in what he has written; it's in the continuous act of thinking, of challenging what is known and moving beyond it. His desire was that future generations would be able to ride on the shoulders of what he has achieved, to be able to see further than he ever saw," commented Omar.
The biggest contribution that Omar saw in Abu Zayd's work is his ability to see the holy Quran within the context of a series of articles, and likewise to see the history of the Prophet Mohamed as a popular story carried by storytellers and mixed with other local stories from that era.
According to Omar, some of the studies Abu Zayd wrote during his lifetime were only published once and then lost forever, and he is hoping that these works will be collected and republished on the occasion of his birthday.
"Nasr was without doubt a believer," writer Nabil Abdel-Fattah asserted, reminding the audience of the controversial incident in 1995 when Abu Zayd was a victim of a hisbah [a lawsuit brought by one individual against another, usually on the grounds of religious contempt] verdict. The court ruled that Abu Zayd was an apostate, and therefore should be divorced from his wife. Abu Zayd left Egypt that same year and resided in Holland with his wife.
Younis announced that the celebrations around Abu Zayd's birthday will aim to introduce young people to his thought, stressing that Abu Zayd's faith in the youth had never failed, and that she receives invitations from many young people all over the country to speak about her former husband, particularly at the current time.

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