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Mohammed Arkoun: A Profile

[Mohammed Arkoun. Image from screenshot of video on Arkoun's YouTube account] [Mohammed Arkoun. Image from screenshot of video on Arkoun's YouTube account]

Name: Mohammed Arkoun

Date of Birth: 1 February 1928  

Date of Death: 14 September 2010

Nationality: Algerian/ French

Place of Birth: Taourirt-Mimoun, Algeria

Category: Intellectual

Profession: Scholar

Mohammed Arkoun

  • 1950-1954: After graduating from the Oran high school, Arkoun studied Islamic literature at the University of Algiers. He would go on to graduate with a Master’s from the Sorbonne in Paris in 1956, passing the esteemed agrégation.
  • It took another twelve years and getting through a number of conflicts before he established himself academically with filing of his dissertation on Ibn Miskawayh in 1968, also at the Sorbonne.
  • In 1969 Arkoun completed his professorial agrégation in Arabic language and literaturewhich is a competitive examination to have access to higher positions in the public education system.
  • In 1971 he was appointed as a professor at the University of Vincennes.
  • He taught at several US universities. In 1969 he was a visiting professor at the University of California Los Angeles. He also held visiting professorships at Princeton University (1985), Temple University (1988-1990), and New York University (2001-2003).
  • In 1980, he became the director of the Department of Arabic and Islamic History at the Sorbonne Nouvelle.
  • From 1993 until his death in 2010, he was professor emeritus and visiting professor at the Ismaili Studies Institute in London.
  • Arkoun introduced deconstructivism to Islamic thought. He argues that, when studying the history of Islam, scholars do not adequately take into consideration the sociological framework of knowledge that shifts the interest of a society from a topic to another.[1]
  • According to Arkoun, one has to distinguish between the message given by the Quran that can be interpreted in different ways, and the practice of Islam.[2] The practice of Islam should be analyzed in its political and sociological context. He also argues that Islamic orthodoxy changed over the years depending on a small group of religious scholars and the political leader. Both the leader and the religious scholars ensured that Islamic orthodoxy served their interests.[3]
  • After his death in 2010, his wife created the Mohammed Arkoun Foundation for Peace between Cultures. Many of Arkoun’s works are available for free on the foundation’s website:


"The politics of traditionalization and the celebration of Islam as a component of national identities have thwarted the possibilities of modernizing tools of thoughts and institutions."[4]

"The politics of religion pursued in a large number of societies called “Muslim societies” make too many concessions to the forces of traditionalism, while favoring the adoption of all the benefits of material civilization. This results in dangerous mental cleavages, increasing backwardness in the systems of education, fruitless self-censorship, and the impoverishment of creativity in various domains of intellectual and cultural life."[5]

"I condemn the manipulation of religious texts for ideological purposes. Everything that belongs to Islam has been used by states that do not allow any debate."[6]

Books Translated into English   

  • Arkoun , Mohammad. Rethinking Islam: Common Questions, Uncommon Answers. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1994.
  • Arkoun, Mohammad. The Concept of Revelation: From the People of the B1ook to the Societies of the Book . Los Angeles: James A. Blaisdell Programs in World Religions and Cultures, Claremont Graduate School, 1987.
  • Arkoun, Mohammad. The Unthought in Contemporary Islamic Thought. London: Saqi Books, 2002.
  • Arkoun, Mohammad. Islam: To Reform or to Subvert? London: Saqi Books, 2007.

Books Written in French:

  • Arkoun, Mohammad. Humanisme et Islam: Combats et propositions. Paris: Librairie philosophique Vrin, 2005.
  • Arkoun, Mohammad. L'ABC de l'Islam. Pais: Edition Jacques Grancher, 2007.
  • Arkoun, Mohammad. Deux épitres de Miskawayh. PhD diss., Institut Français du Proche-Orient, 1961.
  • Arkoun, Mohammad. "Aspects de la pensée Islamique classique." Working Paper. IPN, 1963. Fondation Mohammad Arkoun.
  • Arkoun, Mohammad. L'humanisme arabe au Ive-Xe siècle: Miskawayh philosopher and historien. Paris: Librarie philosophique Vrin, 1982.
  • Arkoun, Mohammad. Lectures du Coran. Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 1982.
  • Arkoun, Mohammad. Ouvertures sur l'Islam. Paris: Jacques Grancher, 1989.
  • Arkoun, Mohammad. L'islam: Approche critique. Paris: Le grand livre du mois, 2002.
  • Arkoun, Mohammad. La pensée arabe. Paris: Presses Universitaires Françaises, 2008.



[1] Mohammad Arkoun, The Unthought in Contemporary Islamic Thought (London: Saqi Books, 2001).

[2] Nayla Abinader, "Mohammad Arkoun: une nouvelle approche de l'islam," L'orient le jour, sec. L'Orient littéraire, 2010, (accessed 22 September 2013).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Mohammad Arkoun,  “Present-Day Islam Between its Tradition and Globalisation,” in Intellectual Traditions in Islam, edited by Farhad Daftary, (London: IB Taurus, 2001), 179-221.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

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