In Memoriam Prof. Dr. Hamdi Zaqzouq (1933-2020); a truly great man of dialogue

Sent On: 
Thu, 2020-04-02
Newsletter Number: 

Dr. Hamdi Zaqzouq  - photo: Egyptian State Information Service


Yesterday, April 1, our friend Prof. Dr. Mahmoud Hamdi Zaqzouq [Maḥmūd Ḥamdī Zaqzūq] (born 27 December 1933), former Minister of Endowments (1995-2011), passed away. I first met with Dr. Zaqzouq when I interviewed him about Dr. Nasr Abu Zayd [Naṣr Abu Zayd] after an Egyptian Sharia [Sharīʿah] court had declared him an apostate in 1995 which was followed by death threats and Nasr Abu Zayd fleeing to the Netherlands. The court made its ruling on the basis of hisbah [ḥisbah], the individual or collective duty (opinions differ depending on the school of Islamic law) to intervene and "enjoin good and forbid wrong" in helping others to take the straight path and abstain from reprehensible acts in order to maintain the norms of Sharia. Dr. Zaqzouq took steps to limit the use of hisbah to government authorities only. In my interview he made the off the record statement that the thoughts of Dr. Nasr Abu Zayd were not revolutionary and that many scholars thought like him. Dr. Zaqzouq then said that Dr. Nasr Abu Zayd was welcome to return to Egypt and that Egypt would provide police protection. I told Dr. Nasr Abu Zayd this, but he chose not to return to Egypt until years later.  


I met Dr. Zaqzouq again at a press conference at the Cairo Foreign Press Association in 1997, shortly after the attack on Coptic worshippers inside a church in Abu Qurqas, south of Minya, Upper Egypt. This was related to a radical preacher in the town. Dr. Zaqzouq then stated that the Ministry of Endowments intended to bring all mosques under its control in an effort to reduce the space for radical preachers. Dr. Zaqzouq followed this up during his tenure as minister which turned out to be very hard to realize because of the large number of mosques and Zāwiyah (small prayer houses) and the lack of sufficient qualified preachers.


In 2004 the German organization Missio organized a campaign titled ‘Dare to meet the other.’ I, among several others, was invited to speak about Muslim-Christian relations in Egypt. As far as I am aware I was the only invited speaker who asked Missio that if they want presentations about Muslim-Christian relations that they should also invite a Muslim. They agreed. I asked Dr. Hamdi Zaqzouq for advice and he recommended Dr. Hassan Wagieh [Ḥassan Wajīh] of the Azhar University. This was brilliant. Whenever questions came about Islam Dr. Hassan Wagieh was the better person to respond and whenever questions came about the position of Christians in Egypt, I was the better person to respond.


Dr. Hamdi Zaqzouq has throughout his life demonstrated to be in favor of dialogue, not only through the many books and articles he authored but also through his actions. It was thus unbelievable that Dr. Zaqzouq was in 2007 falsely accused by the International Society for Human Rights [IGMF] in Frankfurt for having called for the death penalty for apostates from Islam. This accusation came after he had been nominated for the prestigious Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize of the city of Osnabrueck. It is sad that Islamophobia can be so deeply rooted that those who criticize Islam cannot accept it that a prominent Muslim who has done good receives such a prize. I investigated the claims and wrote for Arab-West Report a press release that went to all members of the Cairo Foreign Press Association that the claims made by IGMF were not true.


Not long after this I was invited by the Catholic Diocese of Osnabrueck to speak in Osnabrueck. IGMF claimed to have done ‘research’ before they had made their statement about Dr. Zaqzouq but did not make that public. In the discussions in this meeting I described Dr. Hamdi Zazqouq “a careful reformer.” He was certainly a diplomat who would not advocate radical change, simply because he knew that was not feasible in Egyptian society. He believed he could do more with small steps instead of trying to enforce a change that could backfire.


After the bomb attack on the Two Saints Church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve 2011 Dr. Zaqzouq took the initiative to create with H.H. Pope Shenouda [Shinūda] and Grand Imam Dr. Sayyed Tantawi [Sayyid Ṭanṭāwī] of the Azhar the Egyptian Family House (Bayt al- ʿĀʾila) to bring the Azhar and Christian churches together for mutual understanding and dialogue.


In 2013 Dr. Hamdi Zaqzouq honored Arab-West Report with a letter of recommendation.


Just days ago, in our newsletter of March 26, Dr. Hassan Wagieh highlighted Dr. Zaqzouq’s work in Muslim-Christian dialogue in the past years. Dr. Zaqzouq has been tremendously important for Muslim-Christian dialogue. We will greatly miss him. He was in Germany for treatment where he passed away.



Cairo, April 2, 2020


Cornelis Hulsman,

Editor-in-Chief Arab-West Report 



Prof. Dr. Hassan Wagieh wrote about the above words:


Dear Kees,


Your words do carry a very good message. His humanistic deeds, his contributions to Islamic scientific research and his enormous contribution to intercultural and interfaith dialogue will remain with us as a significant contribution to the fair-minded interactants everywhere in our world.