x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Arab world mourns loss of leading intellectual

Mohammed Abed al Jabri is credited with adapting western and classic analytical concepts into Arabic theory.

The Moroccan thinker Mohammed Abed al Jabri.
The Moroccan thinker Mohammed Abed al Jabri.

The Arab world is mourning one of the most prolific and influential thinkers of the 20th century. Mohammed Abed al Jabri, celebrated for his four-part magnum opus, Critique of the Arab Mind, died at the age of 75 in Casablanca, Morocco, on Monday. Al Jabri, a husband and father of four, had a heart condition, but the announcement of his death did not state any medical complications. The king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, extended his condolences to the al Jabri family, referring to the philosopher as "one of the greatest Moroccan thinkers, a model of self-reliance, seriousness, integrity and enlightened thought", according to the Moroccan state news agency, MAP.

Al Sayed Ould Bah, a former student and later close friend of his, who now teaches philosophy at the University of Nouakchott in Mauritania, remembers him as being socially reserved in public and a workaholic scholar at home. "Of course, he never really left his house. He didn't have much time to spend with people or attend social occasions," Mr Ould Bah said in a phone interview. "He had no life outside academic research and production; I dare say he never had a personal life, period.

"He would start working in his private office at 8am, go for a lunch break around noon, then come back to read, study and write until the evening. He didn't have hobbies, didn't watch movies and didn't read novels for that matter. It was full-time scholarship for him." Al Jabri was born in Figeeg, a small town in the north-east of Morocco, near the Algerian border. He is considered one of the best-selling authors of cultural and political theory in the Arab world. His more renowned books have been translated into French, English and German, making him an academic authority on Arab civilisational issues, ethics and the Islamic notion of the state.

Trained in Renaissance philosophy and Greek thought, al Jabri is credited with the adaptation and dissemination of western and classic analytical concepts into Arabic theory and dissecting the origins and latent structures of Arab identity and reason. On that account, his oeuvre, often described as a catalyst for the Arab cultural rebirth, is widely taught in universities across the Arab world and parts of Europe.

Earlier in his academic life, al Jabri is said to have hesitated between maths and law, only to settle for humanities later on. He received his PhD in philosophy in 1970 from the Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco, where he taught a course on Arab and Islamic thought and general philosophy until he retired. In 1980, al Jabri quit the Moroccan political scene - where he occupied a prominent position at the central bureau of the Socialist Union of the Popular Forces, one of the main political parties in Morocco - to concentrate on academic research.

He is known for having declined financial awards offered by several Arab statesmen. But he accepted other awards over the course of his career, including the Unesco-fostered Baghdad Arab Culture Prize in 1988 and the Ibn Sina Medal, another Unesco honour, on the occasion of the World Philosophy Day in 2006. @Email:aelbahi@thenational.ae