The scholar who polarised audiences with a Ramadan television show said the Arab world must not be held back by rigid interpretations of Islam.
Dr Muhammed Shahrour, who has faced criticism for his views on Islam for decades, was the guest speaker on an Abu Dhabi TV programme, La'llahum Ya'qilun
(So they May Reason). The show sparked widespread debate on social media, with some demanding it be cancelled.
"It is because I presented a new idea and way of thinking to a Muslim world that is in crisis and is stuck in the seventh century," Dr Shahrour told The National.
“Abu Dhabi will go down in history over such a show.”
Dr Shahrour was born in 1938 in Damascus, Syria. He studied to be an engineer in his home country, furthering his studies in the former Soviet Union and Ireland.
After the Arabs were defeated in the 1967 war with Israel, Dr Shahrour began to look for a way out of the region’s crisis.
“Religious interpretations are all based on the seventh century. Islam outlines only what is forbidden. It was never meant to define how we dress, what music we should listen to and our daily lives,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the Arab world has decided to use how people lived in the seventh century to define what is forbidden and what is not.” He has said that “jurisprudence in the name of God is a farce benefiting only those wishing to maintain political power”. Dr Shahrour claims to strongly oppose the views of Islamists and of Ulama, the traditional legal Islamic scholars.
Islam, he said, makes no laws, but sets limits (hudud) within which men and women shall enjoy “the greatest possible degree of freedom”.
“It is easier to build a skyscraper or a tunnel under the sea than to teach people how to read the book of the Lord with their own eyes. They have been used to reading this book with borrowed eyes for hundreds of years,” he said.
Dr Shahrour has written more than 10 books.
“The Quran is an objective truth and the message is subjective,” he said.
In spite of criticism that labelled him as a secularist, a communist and a heretic, among other things, Dr Shahrour has many supporters who welcomed a modern interpretation of the Quran.
“People are finally starting to notice that the main problem is that we are not moving forward,” he said.
His show was the most watched programme on Abu Dhabi TV during Ramadan, with the first episode attracting more than 200,000 views on YouTube.