Ikhwanweb” joins with so many others who knew Dr Osman in offering its deepest sympathy on his passing. Although it is little consolation at this sad time, it should be of some satisfaction to know that in his passing one can celebrate the end of a very long and productive life through the lives he touched and the sorrow he left behind.
Dr. Osman, who died at 82, from congestive heart failure, had taken on the scholarly task of explaining Islam to both Muslims and non-Muslim Westerners, publishing some 40 books in Arabic and English in an effort to counter the distorted versions of Islam propagated by ill-informed Westerners and radical Islamists.
He is most famous for his significant work in English with the monumental “Concepts of the Quran: A Topical Reading” a work of nearly 1,000 pages intended to acquaint non-Muslim readers with key concepts in the Koran, arranged according to subject.
He was obsessed in bringing forward two major ideas through his writings, the first was directed to non-Muslims that Islam is a complex civilization and should not be seen as a flat other and the second, was directed to Muslims to demonstrate through his scholarship that Islam is flexible where it can accommodate modernity and still remain authentic to Islamic values and practices.
Dr. Osman who joined the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1940’s wrote and lectured widely, where he offered an expansive, liberal interpretation of Quranic teaching focussing on topics such as the rights of women; democratic pluralism; the competing claims of Islamic, or Sharia, law and civil law. He also highlighted the obligation of Muslims in the West to embrace Western civic values.
Dr. Osman who is survived by his wife Aida and daughter Ghada was born in 1928. He earned a degree in history from Cairo University in 1948, a law degree from Alexandria University in 1960 and a master’s degree in Islamic-Byzantine relations from Cairo University in 1962.
In 1960, he published “Islamic Thought and Change,” setting forth his moderate version of Islam. After holding numerous prestigious and distinguished positions in universities worldwide he became a scholar in 1987 at the Islamic Centre of Southern California in Los Angeles. Osman was the founder of the Institute for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World, part of the Omar Ibn Al Khattab Foundation, and a senior scholar at the Centre for Muslim-Jewish Engagement at the University of Southern California.
His writings were laced with moderate views where he wrote in his essay on Islam and human rights
“We have to realize that God’s law is not an alternative to the human mind, nor is it supposed to put it out of action. Openness is life, while being closed off and isolated is suicidal”.