Will the Real Youssef Ziedan Please Come Forward?

Over at Al Masry Al Youm, Omar Cheta has an interesting piece about the perceptions and misperceptions of academic and author (and “Arabic Booker” winner) Youssef Ziedan.

And this isn’t entirely the public’s fault, Cheta argues. Ziedan has not worked hard enough to make his views on religion clear: in plain, un-adorned, un-academic language.

Ziedan’s Arabic Booker-winning Azazel (to be published in English by Atlantic Books in the summer of 2011) has been both popular and controversial: The Coptic Church decried it as defaming Christianity, and, Cheta says, many Muslims quietly cheered, thinking the historical novel “proved” the superiority of their religion.

The professor and author followed Azazel with the nonfiction Arab Theology, which has been a bestseller across Cairo. According to Cheta, this tome argues that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are strands of the same tradition, and cannot be pulled apart, but must be assessed together. The book, he says, argues that talking about the superiority of one over another is nonsense.

But, even though it’s selling well, Cheta is not sure people are actually reading the text:

But high sales have yet to stimulate much of a public debate. The book has not received half the media attention that accompanied ‘Azazil. This is not surprising given its inaccessibility. Al-Lahut is densely written, heavily footnoted and full of cumbersome terms such as kristuluijia (Christology) and al-munuthiliyya (Monothelitism). It is more likely the book is selling because of Ziedan’s unfortunate reputation as a scholar exposing the falsity of Christianity.