TUNIS - Mohamed Talbi, a prominent Tunisian academic and specialist on Islam, died early Monday aged 95, the country's culture ministry said.
Talbi, who was born in Tunis in 1921, was one of the "founders of the modern Tunisian university" and a "great intellectual" figure, the ministry said in a statement.
Having studied Arabic literature, he went on to earn a doctorate degree in history from the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris and later became the first dean to head the faculty of literature at University of Tunis.
Talbi penned around 30 books and 100 articles in Arabic and French in which he challenged rigid interpretations of Islam and called for a fresh view of Islamic thought.
Sharia law is "a human product" that has "nothing to do with Islam", he told French newspaper Le Monde in 2006.
"Religion, no matter which one, should not be constraining," he told the paper, adding that Islam should be a source of "freedom" and "is compatible with democracy".
He won many prizes, including the Legion d'Honneur, France's highest distinction, for encouraging inter-religious dialogue.
He once said Jews and Muslims should set up a "strong and well-publicised structure so as to work together for peace".