Morocco: Discussing a Free Thinker's Legacy

Medersa by Piero Sierra in Flickr

The death of Moroccan philosopher and social theorist, Mohammed Abed al-Jabri, has gone with little notice in the media. Yet al-Jabri's contributions over the last decades to the uphill battle between rationality and religious thought has probably never been so relevant as today. There has been an outpouring of tribute to the man and his work over the past weeks, but if the death of one of the most liberal Arab thinkers earlier this month has brought such an overwhelming sympathy, it has also uncovered the underbelly of Arab intelligentsia, one that is deeply divided along the lines of separation between passionate liberalism and firm conservatism. Over at the blogosphere and social networking websites, reactions were divided between those whose Jabri's thinking helped reconcile modernity and tradition, and those who see in the philosopher's work yet another attack against religious authority. Here are some of the reactions.

Abdeslam Ben Abdelali was one of al-Jabri's students. Writing on al-Awan, an online blogging platform dealing with philosophy and current affairs, he shares his thoughts [Ar] about the late philosopher:

[ كان الجابري يعلم ] أنّ الوقت هو وقت زرع البذور. الا أنّ زرع البذور لا يمكن البتّة أن يتمّ من غير جذور ووعي تاريخيّ. لذا وجب علينا أن ننفتح على التراث، على تراثين: التراث العربي الاسلامي وكذا على التراث الانساني، الا أنّ كلّ تملّك لما يسمّى تراثا انسانيا لا بدّ أن يتمّ عبر خصوصية هي خصوصيتـ”نا”.
[Al-Jabri knew] that is was time for planting the seeds. However, the seeding simply can not be done without learning about the roots and having some historical awareness. So we must open up to tradition; to two kinds of tradition: the Arab-Islamic tradition, as well as the human tradition. Only we should be aware that any adoption of the humanist heritage must be done through our own unique lens.

Mustafa Lemoueden blogs on He writes [Ar]:

لم يحدث أن تنازل الجابري يوما عن توجهه، وعن أفكاره، رغم كل الصعاب والعراقيل التي صافته، ومن ذلك طبعا عدم رضى بعضهم على كتباته التي تفتت الموروث الثقافي برمته، وقد انبرى بعض أشباه الكتاب للرد عنه ومحاولة دحض خلاصاته المخلخلة لعدد من المفاهيم، ومن المفجعات/المضحكات أن هناك جهات بالمشرق أفتت ب”هدر دمه”
Al-Jabri never wavered on his orientations or ideas, despite all the difficulties and obstacles, including the discomfort that his writings might have caused to many, as he was forensically breaking down the whole cultural heritage. This has prompted many pseudo writers to try to respond to him and refute his conclusions and disconcerting concepts. The sad/ironic point is that some groups ended up issuing edicts calling for his blood.

Reactions poured in from across the region. Mohammad Omar is a Jordanian blogger. He writes [Ar] :

[كنت أعيش في] حلقة مفرغة إذن، حلقة تدور حول نفسها تبحث عن إجابة السؤال “البسيط”، الذي طرح قبل 150 عاما، مع “بداية عصر النهضة العربية”، ويعاد طرحه يوميا منذ “خمسين عاما على هزيمة الثقافة العربية”،، لماذا تخلفنا وتقدم غيرنا؟…
بهذا السؤال بدأ الجابري مشروعه في نقد “العقل العربي”،،، وأسس لمفهوم “العقل المستقيل”،،،
عندما تعرفت على مؤلفات الجابري حينها، اختلفت كل نظرتي، لا بل وطريقة حياتي، فلم اعد ذاك الشاب الذي تكفيه النصوص وحفظها، ولا يكفيه الإعجاب بالجمل الثورية، وبالشخوص،،،
الجابري هو بداية رحلتي من اليقين إلى الشك، هو “لحظة وعي”، اشراقة،،،

[I lived in] a vicious circle, in a loop that hovered around itself looking for an answer to that “simple” question asked 150 years ago at the “beginning of the Arab Renaissance,” and that we keep asking ourselves everyday ever since “the defeat of Arab culture” 50 years ago: why are others moving forward while we are being left behind?
This question was the starting point of al-Jabri's project for the criticism of “The Arab Mind,” and it is the foundation of his concept: “the resignation of the mind.”

When I first discovered al-Jabri's work I completely changed my views and even the way I live. I was no longer that young man who merely read and memorized some texts or who would be satisfied by the mere admiration for revolutionary phrases or personalities.

Al-Jabri is the beginning of my journey from certainty to doubt. He is my moment of awareness; an enlightenment.


  • Is he published in English? What work would you recommend as an introduction?

  • His main work is the multiple-volume book/project series: “Critique of the Arab Reason.” It isn’t an easy read but it is worth the effort and money. One volume is “The Formation of Arab Reason” available for ordering online. It is a colossal book and might be intimidating. A good alternative would be “Arab-Islamic Philosophy: A Contemporary Critique” which can also be ordered online.

  • ~Al-Jabri is the beginning of my journey from certainty to doubt. He is my moment of awareness; an enlightenment.~
    I liked Mohammad Omar’s comment very much and feel the same way about Noam Chomsky, the late Howard Zinn (both intellectual giants), and Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. I love and respect them with all my heart, believing we live in a better world because they dared to share their brave, gentle and noble souls (quoting Josh Brolin) globally. May God bless all patriots in every country and keep you safe.xx

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