The British Muslim intellectual Dr Shabbir Akhtar, who defended Islam against Salman Rushdie’s blasphemy, has died aged 63.
Dr Shabbir, who passed away on Monday in Oxford, was a philosopher, poet and prolific author.
He published widely on political Islam, Islamophobia, extremism and interfaith dialogue, as well as Islam and Christianity’s differing responses to the challenges of modernity.
His most famous book was Be Careful with Muhammad! (1989) which is considered a classic critique of Salman Rushdie.
Dr Shabbir rose to national prominence as a spokesperson for the Bradford Council for Mosques during the Rushdie affair. Seen frequently on television, he debated with the likes of Ian McEwan, Melvyn Bragg and Michael Ignatieff.
Ishtiaq Ahmed, formerly of Bradford Council of Mosques, said his passing was a monumental loss for the Muslim Ummah and the intellectual world.
He said: “Their journeys are short but their impact is for generations to come. Such would be the case with Dr Shabir Akhtar, a son of a bus driver from Bradford, a man of an exceptional intellect who went on to inspire many through his groundbreaking writings. Today we hear that he has joined his maker. Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.
“Dr Shabir’s sudden death at a relatively young age is an enormous loss to the Muslim Ummah. For me the loss is even greater for he was a dearest friend and an intellectual inspiration.Together, we enjoyed our intellectual excursions over many years.
“Along with an exceptionally brilliant mind he had an absolute command of the English language and the sharpness of wit to go with it, making him an outstanding orator and debater. His traits came through during the infamous Rushdie affair when he became the intellectual voice of the British Muslims. He went on to write and publish the very first rebuttal of the ‘Satanic Verses’ – ‘Be Careful with Muhammad: The Salman Rushdie Affair’ at my insistence…
“Dr Shabir was also a brilliant poet but not something that he saw it as his principal trait yet he had some of his work published. He use to say ‘poetry is something that comes naturally to me which he has to keep it under wrap for the fear of it taking over all the other things that he needs to do.’
“The Muslim ummah has lost a giant of man, Bradford has lost its foremost son, I have lost a friend. Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun.”
And prominent Muslim educator Iqbal Nasim said: “Dr Shabbir Akhtar returned to his Lord on Monday 24th July at the age of 63. He was a formidable intellectual, an outstanding philosopher and a passionate advocate for our faith. He was courageous, insightful and humorous. He leaves behind a number of trailblazing books. For a comprehensive summary of his life and works, please see here. He was truly one of a kind and his passing is a great loss to our community. May God have mercy on him, overlook his shortcomings and elevate him into the highest ranks of paradise…
“On a personal note, I had the great privilege of knowing Dr Shabbir, learning from him and working with him closely over the last few years. I was profoundly impacted by his writings and the many conversations I had with him… Dr Shabbir strove sincerely and, in his own inimitable style, was a leader for God’s cause. Continuing the legacy of such people isn’t just an option; it’s our collective obligation.”
Due to the fact that Dr Shabbir’s body is due to undergo a post-mortem examination, his janazah is very unlikely to take place before Tuesday August 1.