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Laroui, Abdullah (1935–)


A Moroccan intellectual born in 1935, Abdullah Laroui taught at Mohammed V University in Rabat and was one of a distinguished group of Moroccan thinkers such as M. A. Lahbabi and M. A. al-Jabri. His work involves a variety of theoretical and disciplinary perspectives, including history (his main professional discipline), sociology, philosophy, and literature. He has produced histories of the Maghreb (North Africa) and of the Arab world in general, and his writings on modernity and strike at the heart of many key issues that are important for Arab culture in the postcolonial world. He raised in particular the questions how history should be written and how to understand the cultural life of a group of people through understanding their histroy. This comes out as a much more complicated issue than might initially appear to be the case, and Laroui uses the conceptual machinery of both Ibn Khaldun and Machiavelli to try to position Arabi history within an appropriate theoretical context.

One of Laroyi's major achievement is in laying out the ambiguous nature of some of the key concepts of Arab culture in the contemporary world, including modernity, the state, authenticity, continuity, rationality, and tradition. He argues that the Arab world cannot adopt wholeheartedly the Western concept of the state since this is essentially a secular notion and pays little regard to the past, while for Arabs the link with Islam and their history is a crucial aspect of political legitimacy. In any case, the state is only a part of the whole Islamic umma, or community, and there is a notion of an Arab umma in which the state exists, and that produces a nexus of relationships for the concept of the state, that makes little sense of the Western notion. As with his predecessor Ibn Khaldun, Laroui has an approach to understanding society that makes it important to develop and clearly specify a theoretical perspective and put a particular social structure with in its historical and cultural context. In this way it is possible to say something both true and interesting about Arab ideology, while using the conceptual tools imported directly from outside the region is unlikely to be helpful.

Laroui's thought has moved from his earlier Marxism to produce a more nuanced approach to the philosophy of history and the understanding of culture. He is part of a significant movement in the modern Arab world that tries to define Arab culture and its unique features, while at the same time making use of theories from outside the region where they can shed light on the issue.

See also Ibn Khaldūn; Islamic Philosophy; Machiavelli, Niccolò; Marxist Philosophy; Philosophy of History.


Laroui, Abdullah. Crisis of the Arab Intellectual: Traditionalism vs. Historicism. Translated by D. Cammell. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

Hasan Hanafi (2005)

Oliver Leaman (2005)

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