The Ibn Rushd Fund learned with great sorrow about the death of the Algerian-born philosopher Mohammed Arkoun. The great Arab intellectual died Tuesday night, September 14th, at the age of 82 in Paris, where he had taught the history of Islamic Thought at the Sorbonne University. In his late years he also taught Applied Islamology at different European and American Universities. He insisted on a genuinely Islamic approach to reason and enlightenment and searched for a way to a peaceful co-existence of cultures and religions. His death creates a vast loss to enlightened thinking and progressive forces in the Arab World, and in the Western World, which would need this wanderer between cultures and religions today more than ever.
Mohammed Arkoun stood for a dialogue between the cultures and was explicitly opposed to the thesis of the ‘clash of civilisations’ that has been made to look so inevitable. He pointed out similarities between Islam and the West to counter the present tendency to magnify existing differences resulting in demonising the ‘Other’, and dismantled these poles as an imaginary construct. In his comparative approach to religions and cultures, he scrutinises the cultures’ common past and their present mutual disapproval and condemnation as a result of “institutionalised ignorance” that spread at an unprecedented scale during the last 50 years.
He reproaches the West for the image it has created of Islamic cultures as remaining in medieval times, and points out that Baghdad was the most modern city of the world during the time that inquisition raged in Europe; Arab scientists were the ones who preserved the mental heritage of Greek and Roman antiquity by translating Greek philosophers and scientists. This heritage is absent from Western minds and collective memory, and even neglected in Western sciences.
Mohammed Arkoun’s main focus, however, was on Islamic cultures. He criticised them for being unable or unwilling to create an accomodation between Islamic ideas and scientific and intellectual modernity. Calling for radically rethinking the concept of ‘Islam’, he wanted to put an end to so many arbitrary ideological and even phantasmagoric manipulations by both Muslims and non-Muslims. Arkoun’s provocative thesis is that Islamic society has never had and desperately needs its own renaissance to revolutionise the “closed official corpus” that Islam has become especially in the last 40 years.
The Ibn Rushd Fund expresses its deepest sympathy to the family of Prof. Arkoun, the winner of the 2003 Ibn Rushd Award, as well as all his friends, students and followers. We wish them and ourselves the strength to bear the loss of this great thinker and to preserve his thoughts within us and to perpetuate and spread them.
Mohammed Arkoun was the editor of the journal Arabica: Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies founded at the Sorbonne in 1953 and published by Brill. He produced an extensive body of scientific works, such as L’humanisme Arabe au 4e-10e Siècle (1970, 1982); La Pensée Arabe (6e edition 2003); Lectures du Coran (1982); Critique de la Raison islamique (1984); L’islam. Approche Critique (1989); The Unthought in Contemporary Islamic Thought (2002); De Manhattan à Bagdad: Au-delà du Bien et du Mal (2003); L’Islam, l’Europe et l’Occident; Ou est la pensée islamique contemporaine; Lectures du Coran; Penser l’Islam auhjourd’hui.
Ibn Rushd Fund for Freedom of Thought
Hikmat Bushnaq-Josting – Chairman
Dr. John Nasta – Vice chairman