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Professor Muhammad Arkoun

Professor Muhammad Arkoun (1928 - 2010), an Algerian/French thinker, defends a postmodernist position, criticizes the 'Islamic reason' as well as the 'Eurocentric' Modernism, using an historical anthropological methodology, and aims at founding the new science of 'Applied Islamics'.

His Life

Mohammed Arkoun was born in Taourirt-Mimoun, a town in Grande Kabylie in Algeria. He spent his primary education in Taourirt-Mimoun and his secondary education in Oran. He majored in philosophy in Algeria and France at the University of Sorbonne. He lectured Arabic language in Paris in 1956, and he attained his PhD in philosophy at the University of Sorbonne in 1968. From 1961-1991, Dr. Arkoun was a lecturer at Sorbonne and a visiting lecturer at the following several universities.

 Dr. Mohammed Arkoun is a retired lecturer at the Sorbonne. He is also a member and a visiting lecturer at the board of directors in the Islamic Institute in London. In addition to that, he is scientific director at the Magazine ARABICA (Brill, Leiden) since 1980. He is on the board of directors of the arbitration committee for Aga Khan dArchitecture between 1989-1998. From 1995 to 1998 he was member of the High Council for Family and population. Between 1990 and 1998 he was member of the National Committee for Ethics, Philosophy of Life (Weltanschauung) and Health. In 2002, he was a member of the international jury of the UNESCO Prize for the promotion of peace and a member of the arbitration committee for the Arabic/French prize in 2002, which was established by the Arab ambassadors in France. He ist member of the scientific council of the International Centre for the Study of the People of Byblos (Lebanon). He is a member of the committee for laicism in France (2003).

 His Philosophical Project

All the writings of Professor Arkoun since about 40 years can be put under one heading 'Critique of Islamic Reason', he describes his project as follows,

 The project of 'Critique of Islamic Reason' doesn't take a position in favor of one sect against the others or one belief against other beliefs that has appeared or may appear in the future. It is an historical and anthropological project at the same time, it launches anthropological questions in all stages of history. It surpasses the classical approaches that depend on the historical information that points to names, events, thoughts and remains, and questions the history of the basic foundational concepts such as Religion, State, Society, human rights, the Sacred, the forbidden, Nature, Reason, the 'Imaginaire', Conscience, the Unconscious, the Irrational, the Mythical Knowledge, the Scientific Knowledge, and the Philosophical Knowledge, etc.  No doubt historians of thought and literature have studied the history of such concepts but we stress on uplifting the cognitive and procedural boundaries between fields of history, literature, philosophy, religions, political science, sociology and anthropology. These boundaries are thick and high in the Arabic universities which most of them has been founded around mid the twentieth century. Anthropology, especially, is still absent from university programs as well as from the minds, and consequently its problematic is absent from Islamic studies. (Min Faysal al-Tafriqa il Fasl-al-Maq, P. XVI)

   In addition, the process of 'Critique of Islamic Reason', as a project, includes a trial to integrate such a critical process of Islamic reason within a wider critical process of the religious reason in general. Dr. Arkoun explains such an endeavor as follows,

 I have formulated with father Claude Jeffery and Francoise smith Florentine and Jean Lambert the 'Paris group' within the wider group of the Islamic Christian research that has been already formed by father R. Casper. Within this particular group, I tried to transfer the question of revelation from the 'orthodox' believing faith and the sectarian discourse that excludes the others from 'salvation' in the hereafter reserved only for its group. I said that I tried to transfer the question of revelation from this well-known ground to the ground of the linguistic and semiotic analysis that is related also to a new approach to studying history as a science. By this, I mean to study history as an anthropological science of the past, not as a straight linear narration of selected events in a specific way. (Min Faysal al-Tafriqa il Fasl-al-Maq, P. 55)

His Methodology

Dr Arkoun's methodology upon which he depends to realize his project is represented by applying modern and contemporary human sciences, in general, and contemporary methods of studying religions and religious texts, in particular. This includes sciences of history, anthropology, philology, linguistics, sociology of knowledge, social psychology, archeology of knowledge, linguistic deconstruction, semiotics, hermeneutics, etc. Arkoun points out to his use of such a methodology as follows,

 The strategy we follow in our study of the societies of the book [means the monolithic religions in Arkoun's dictionary] derives us to uncover all the mechanisms of producing the sacred to study and deconstruct it. The same applies for the mechanisms of transcendence and enforcing the ontological or theological, ideological, or mythical, nature or enforcing a canonical form or stripping the historical nature of things, etc, all these procedures that nourishe a dynamic social dialectic. In reality the classical faith has tied itself to an enduring non-evolutionary rigid essences that we call 'orthodox'. However, modern faith undertakes all the historical evolutions and its mobility and accepts reconsidering everything including the foundational basis in order to deconstruct and reconstitute it to cope with the mutual circumstances of the social dialectic. (Min Faysal al-Tafriqa il Fasl-al-Maq, P. 61)

He also expresses the question of methodology as follows,

We remind here, for what will follow of our speech, by the successes realized by the science of history through implementing the new advances of social sciences, such as linguistics, semiotics, anthropology and social psychology. The works of Paul Ricoeur, for example, with respect to time and narration transfers decisively the classical well contradictions and struggles between faith/reason, or myth/history. It transfers it from its classical positions into  new spaces of rationalism and understanding the religious factor within the historical social mobility, and hence understanding history under the pressure of the religious factor. (Min Faysal al-Tafriqa il Fasl-al-Maq, P. 81-82)

The final result of Professor Arkoun's methodology is his call for founding a new scientific field under the title, 'the applied Islamics'.

External Links

His Works

 In English:

- Arab Thought, d. S.Chand, New-Delhi 1988;
- Rethinking Islam : Common questions, Uncommon answers, today, Westview Press, Boulder 1994.
- The concept of Revelation: from Ahl al-Kitb to the Societies of the Book-book, Claremont Graduate School, Ca.,1988;
- The Unthought in Contemporary Islamic Thought, London 2002.

in Arabic:

- Al-Fikr al-'arabiyy, d.'Uwaydat, Beyrouth 1979;
- Al-Islm: Asla wa Mumrasa, Beyrouth 1986;
- Ta'rkhiyyat al-fikr al-'arabiyy al-islmiyy, d.Markaz al-inm' al-qawmiyy, Beyrouth 1986;
- Al-Fikr al-islmiyy: Qir'a 'ilmiyya, d. Markaz..., 1987;
- Al-islm: al-Akhlq wal-Siysa, d. Markaz..., 1988;
- Al-Islm: Naqd wa-jtihd, d. Dr al-Sq, Beyrouth 1990;
- Al-'almana wa-l-dn, Dr al-Sq 1990;
- Mina-l-ijtihd il naqd al-'aql al-islm, Dr al-Sq 1991;
- Min Faysal al-Tafriqa il Fasl-al-Maql: Ayna huwa-l-Fikr al-islmiyy al-musir, Dr al-Sq 1993;
- Al-Islm, Urubb, wal-Gharb: Rihnt al-ma'n wa Irdt al-Haymana, Dr al-Sq 1995;
- Nazat al-Ansana f-l-fikr al-arabiyy, Dr al-Sq 1997 ;
- Qady f Naqd al-Fikr al-dn, Dr al-Tala, Beyrouth 1998 ;
- Al-Fikr al-usl wal-stihlat al-Tasl, Dr al-Sq 1999.
- Marik min ajli-l-ansana f-l-siyqt al-islmiyya, Dr al-sq, 2001.
- Min al-Tafsr al-mawrth il tahll al-khitb al-dn, Dr al-Tala, Beyrouth 2001.

in French:

- Deux Eptres de Miskawayh, dition critique, B.E.O, Damas, 1961 ;
- Aspects de la pense islamique classique, IPN, Paris 1963;
- L'humanisme arabe au 4e/10e sicle, J.Vrin, 2d. 1982;
- Trait d'Ethique, Trad., introd., notes du Tahdhb al-akhlq de Miskawayh, 1e d.1969; 2e d.1988;
- Essais sur la pense islamique, 1e d. Maisonneuve & Larose, Paris 1973; 2e d. 1984;
- La Pense arabe, 1e d. P.U.F., Paris 1975; 6e d. 2002; Trad. en arabe, anglais, espagnol, sudois, italien ;
- L'islam, hier, demain, 2e d. Buchet-Chastel, Paris 1982; trad. arabe, Beyrouth 1983;
- L'islam, religion et socit, d. Cerf, Paris 1982; version italienne, RAI 1980;
- Religion et lacit: Une approche laque de l'islam, L'Arbrelle, Centre Thomas More, 1989;
- Lectures du Coran, 1e d. Paris 1982; 2e Aleef, Tunis 1991;
- Ouvertures sur l'islam, 1e d. J. Grancher 1989;
- Lislam. Approche critique, Le livre du mois, Club du livre 2002
- Pour une critique de la Raison islamique, Paris 1984;
- L'islam, morale et politique, UNESCO-Descle 1986;
- Combats pour lHumanisme en contextes islamiques, Paris 2002
- The Unthought in Contemporary Islamic Thought, London 2002.
- De Manhattan Bagdad: Au-del du Bien et du Mal, Paris 2003

 in Dutch:

- Islam in Discussie, 24 vragen over de islam, d. Uitgeverij Contact, Amsterdam 1993;
- Islam & De Democratie; Een ontmoeting, en collaboration avec Frits Bolkestein, Uitgeverij Contact, Amsterdam 1994. -Plusieurs articles et interviews dans Revues et journaux nerlandais..

in Indonesian:

- Nalar islami dan nalar modern: Berbagai Tantangan dan jalan Baru, trans. Johan H. Meuleman, INIS, Jakarta 1994.
- Berbagai Pembacaan Quran, trans. Johan H. Meuleman, INIS, Jakarta 1997, 256 p.


in English

Orient and Occident, the Forgotten Kinship -  Ibn Rushd-Prize for Freedom of Thought, Press release

A Modern Critic of Islamic Reason - Burhan Schawi


in Arabic



Ibn Rushd-Prize for Freedom of Though


By: Samir Abuzaid