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ARKOUN, MOHAMMED (b. 1928), Algerian Islamic scholar and writer. One of today’s leading Arab Muslim intellectuals, Arkoun is involved in the sensitive task of reinterpreting and recasting the classical religious, legal, and philosophical traditions through a sophisticated hermeneutical system inspired by contemporary Western critical methodologies, a task that has made him a controversial participant in the creation of a modern Arabo-Islamic critical discourse.

Arkoun was born on 2 January 1928 in the Berber village of Taourirt-Mimoun in Kabylia. From his modest beginnings as the son of a spice merchant, Arkoun went on to become a highly successful international scholar and thinker. He began Arabic studies in his native country and completed them in Paris. He is presently attached officially to the Sorbonne as Professor of the History of Islamic Thought and was formerly Director of the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies there. He has also been editor in chief of the French scholarly journal Arabica for many years. Arkoun’s international visibility has brought lectures and visiting appointments at academic institutions worldwide, including the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. His adopted homeland has appointed Arkoun Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur and Officier des Palmes Academiques.

What distinguishes Arkoun from many other contemporary Arab and Muslim intellectuals is precisely what qualifies him to be Editor of Arabica-his serious training as a medievalist. Arkoun established himself as a foremost student of medieval Islamic thought with his work on the philosopher and thinker Miskawayh (d. 1030). He edited two treatises by Miskawayh and translated his Tahdhib al-akhldq, a work whose close relationship to Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics forces anyone dealing with the Arabic text to grapple with Greek philosophy.

With this solid philosophical background combined with the resources of French criticism, Arkoun began his own intellectual crusade. His rereadings of the rich Islamic religious and legal traditions are an extension of this dual intellectual allegiance to the modern humanities and social sciences and to medieval studies. Arkoun has also written widely on topics ranging from the twelfth-century Andalusian philosopher and physician Ibn Tufayl to Orientalism.

Arkoun’s Lectures du Coran is perhaps his most challenging and important work. The author pleads eloquently and passionately for clear analytical distinctions in dealing with the Muslim holy book. According to Arkoun, too many levels of production of the sacred text are amalgated under the title of the Qur’an. There is the word of God, the Logos, of which the revelations of the three monotheistic religions are but fragments. There are also the Qur’anic discourse, the actual written text of the Qur’an, and the commentaries on this text. These distinctions permit a much more sophisticated reading of the scriptures.

Arkoun’s ideas have not gone unchallenged by the intellectual leaders of the contemporary Islamist movement. An impassioned debate occurred between Arkoun and the Egyptian Shaykh Muhammad al-Ghazali in Algeria; almost as quickly as the works of al-Ghazali are becoming available to an international audience, so Arkoun’s works are being reedited in French in North Africa, translated into Arabic, and published in London. [See the biography of Ghazah.] Arkoun’s impact on the contemporary Arab Muslim intellectual scene will become increasingly important as the Islamist movement grows in strength. Arkoun defines the Islamic concept of the jihad al-nafs (personal jihad) as the work of the intellectual who feels a sense of solidarity with the society to which he belongs. This jihad al-nafs is Arkoun’s mission.


Arkoun, Mohammed. Lectures du Coran. 2d ed. Tunis, 1991. Essential work that brings together various studies ranging from close readings of Qur’anic surahs to an essay on Islam and politics. Arkoun, Mohammed. Ouvertures sur l’Islam. Paris, 1989. Fascinating

essay on Islam and Islamic thought; essential for understanding Arkoun’s interpretive system.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/arkoun-mohammed/

  • writerPosted On: October 12, 2012
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