Who was Dr Shabbir Akhtar? Respected British Muslim philosopher dies aged 63

Tributes are pouring in for British Muslim academic Dr Shabbir Akhtar, who died earlier this week at age 63. The philosopher and intellectual was known as a staunch defender of Islam and the Prophet (SAW).

Dr Shabbir was also renowned for looking at the Bible and critiquing it from his considerable expertise in Western and Islamic philosophy. He published extensively on Islam, Christianity and secularism, with his articles appearing in many academic journals. 

Dr Shabbir was at the forefront of work related to British race relations in the 70s and 80s and later played a key role in the ‘Rushdie Affair’.

An unapologetic Muslim, he was the leading spokesperson for the Bradford Council of Mosques during the ensuing media interest in the reactions of British Muslims.

His book, “Be Careful with Muhammad,” eloquently explained and defended the Muslim outrage. In 2020, he released a second edition delving into the boundaries of freedom of expression – an issue he was passionate about. 

Dr Shabbir published papers for several Islamic organisations, like the Yaqeen Insitute, and regularly contributed to The Muslim World Book Review, published by The Islamic Foundation. 

“Inna lilah wa inna ilayhi raje’oon…We are saddened by the passing of Dr Shabbir Akhtar, an insightful scholar who published several papers with Yaqeen. We ask that you make du’a for him and his loved ones, and continue to benefit from his work,” said Yaqeen Institute.

He also worked for several years lecturing at the Markfield Institute of Higher Education on philosophy and Islamic history. “We reflect upon the privilege of having known this remarkable scholar and the blessing of having his presence in our lives,” the Markfield Institute said.  

“Great fondness and affection for him instilled in our memory, recollects his outstanding intellect, his sense of humour and the friendship and care that he showed to us all.” 

Tributes flood in from Muslim scholars and academics 

Prominent Muslim figures and academics have flooded in with tributes, highlighting the high regard in which Dr Shabbir was held. Many expressed regret that he wasn’t fully recognised in the mainstream during his lifetime.

A burial & memorial fund has been set up for Shabbir. “Dr Shabbir bore many personal sacrifices to tread the path that he did, not least financially. The primary purpose of this fundraiser is to cover the direct and incidental costs of his burial on behalf of his family,” the gofundme page says.  

Since Dr Shabbir’s body is due to undergo a post-mortem examination, his Janazah is unlikely to occur before Tuesday, August 1.

Who was Dr Shabbir Akhtar? 

Having moved to Bradford from Pakistan as a child, Dr Shabbir excelled academically and studied philosophy at the University of Cambridge. He later obtained a doctorate in Philosophy of Religion at the University of Calgary in Canada. 

His teaching career encompassed many decades, including teaching philosophy of religion at an Islamic university in Malaysia and then the Old Dominion University in Virginia, USA.  

Shabbir was a research fellow at the Centre For Muslim-Christian Studies (CMCS) from 2013 to 2018. “It is with great sadness that we have heard of the sudden passing of our friend and colleague Dr Shabbir Akhtar,” said CMCS.

Following his time at CMCS, he continued to be an associate member of the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Oxford. 

In terms of his published work, in 2018 he released ‘The New Testament in Muslim Eyes: Paul’s letter to the Galatians.’ It was seen as a significant piece of work and the first scholarly commentary written by a Muslim on one of Paul’s epistles. 

He was also an editor of the Reading the Bible in the Context of Islam series published by Routledge.  

Other works included the Light in the Enlightenment (1990), The Quran and the Secular Mind (2007), and Islam as Political Religion (2010). He has also published three volumes of poetry in English. 

Author and academic Paul Williams released a tribute video detailing some of Dr Shabbir’s work. 


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