Laroui, Abdallah (1933–)

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Laroui, Abdallah

Abdallah (Abdullah) Laroui (the French rendering of his name; an Arabic-English transliteration is 'Abd Allah 'Arawi) is a Moroccan historian and philosopher. He has published extensively in French, Arabic, and English on contemporary Arab ideologies, Islam, modernity, and Maghrebi history. He taught at Muhammad V University in Rabat from 1963 until his retirement in 2000 and remains active in the Royal Society of Morocco.


Laroui was born in Azemmour, Morocco, in 1933 into an educated Arabic-speaking family that was engaged in government service. He briefly attended Qur'an school and then public school. After World War II, when the French authorities were more accommodating to talented Moroccan students, he won a scholarship to the Collège Sidi Mohammed in Marrakesh. He then studied for the baccalauréat at the Lycée Lyautey in Casablanca and the Lycée Gourand in Rabat and in 1953 entered the Institut d'Études Politiques in Paris, where he studied history and economics. Laroui learned from Charles Morazé, the author of Les bourgeois conquerants, that history was not facts but rather the development of social structures. He studied the ideas of Karl Marx as a historian and a theoretician but not as a prophet. He became interested in the history of the Islamic world and studied contemporary Arabic thought as an independent scholar.

In 1958, Laroui completed a diplôme d'études superieurs on the commercial relations between Morocco and Europe in the Middle Ages. He then returned to Morocco where he worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After serving as cultural attaché in Cairo and Paris he resigned from the Foreign Service for political and personal reasons. He then returned to Paris to study for the agrégation (a teacher's exam) in Islamic studies. In 1963 he completed the agrégation and was appointed assistant professor of history at Muhammad V University in Rabat. He taught the history of North Africa as a visiting professor at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1969–1970, then returned to Rabat, where he taught methods of historical research until he retired as university professor emeritus in 2000. He has for many years been an active member of the Royal Society of Morocco.


Name: Abdallah Laroui (Abdullah, 'Abd Allah 'Arawi)

Birth: 1933, Azemmour, Morocco

Family: Wife, Latifa Benjelloun-Laroui; son, Isam

Nationality: Moroccan

Education: Qur'an school, public school, Collège Sidi Mohammed, Marrakesh, and Lycée Lyautey, Casablanca, 1938–1950; baccalauréat, Lycée Gourand, Rabat, 1952; diplôme d'études superieurs, Institut d'Études Politiques, Paris, 1958; agrégation, Paris, 1963; doctorate, Paris, 1976


  • 1958–1963: Serves in Ministry of Foreign Affairs; cultural attaché in Cairo and Paris
  • 1963–2000: Teaches history, Muhammad V University, Rabat
  • 1969–1970: Lectures as visiting associate professor, University of California, Los Angeles
  • 1996: Delivers lecture as Fulbright 50th Anniversary Distinguished Fellow, Middle East Studies Association, Providence, Rhode Island
  • 2000: Retires as university professor emeritus, Muhammad V University, Rabat; active member, Royal Academy of Morocco


Whoever affirms categorically that such and such Western value-system, be it liberalism, rationalism, humanism, etc., is incompatible with Islam is talking theology and therefore, while he may well be right in his domain—I mean theology—he is in no way entitled to translate his idiom into sociology or political science. His assertion means no more than that the West, as he defines it, is never to be found in the non-West. I see the same tautology behind the so-called uniqueness of Islam, and during the last two decades my main concern was to unveil it to Muslim audiences. I continue then the same battle, in different circumstances, using the same language, the same logic….

The collapse of the Berlin wall was not due to the policy of containment, blockade, propaganda as much as to a wise policy of easy term loans, free trade and enhanced cultural exchanges. The same strategy should secure the same results elsewhere. Sooner or later a developing society frees itself from ideas and ideals that do no longer correspond to its new aspirations.

For reasons I need not detail here such an evolution will probably occur more easily in the "Ajam" countries of Asia than in the Arab Middle East and North Africa, not because the former are less religious but simply because the latter are on the whole less fortunate. Seeing that happening some time in the future, somewhere in the vast Islamic world, seeing that the law of society has at last prevailed over the orders of tradition or the commands of ideology, many will, I am sure, cry out, as they do now, facing the staggering performances of some Asian nations: Well, the seeds were always there; we failed to see them before, but now we take notice and we cheer.



Laroui's book, Idéologie arabe contemporaine: essai critique (Contemporary Arab ideology: a critical essay), was published just before the Arab-Israeli War of June 1967. He argued that Arab intellectuals and leaders should understand that the underlying processes of history govern all societies and are not specific to any region or civilization. It was not enough to call for scientific or technological advance without a better understanding of history. His ideas inspired many Arab intellectuals seeking to understand the weakness of Arab societies manifested during the June 1967 war, and impressed Gustave von Grunebaum, a leading scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), who invited him to teach at UCLA for the academic year 1969–1970. His book L'Histoire du Maghreb: un essai de synthèse (1975; The History of the Maghrib: An Interpretive Essay, 1977) grew out of his lectures at UCLA. He returned to Morocco to write his doctoral dissertation, which he defended in 1976 and published in 1977 as Les Origines sociales et culturelles du nationalisme marocain, 1830–1912 (The social and cultural origins of Moroccan nationalism, 1830–1912). In this work he analyzed Moroccan nationalism as a case of delayed consciousness and argued that nationalists prefer to hold on to their traditions rather than to see historical reality as it is.

He developed his ideas in La crise des intellectuels arabes: traditionalisme ou historicisme? (1974; The Crisis of the Arab Intellectual: Traditionalism or Historicism?, 1976), a collection of articles arguing that historicism can facilitate the modernization of Arab ideology. Arab intellectuals must break with traditionalism and work out—with the tools of historicism—new approaches to language reform and social policy. An historicist analysis can lead to the reform of the Arabic script, to women's liberation, and to urban planning. For Laroui, intellectual Marxism is the easiest and clearest way to grasp the analytical logic of historicism or the workings of history. In Islam et Modernité (1987; Islam and modernity), he explains that to understand the present situation in Muslim countries it is necessary for Islam to be analyzed as a process and not as an idea. "Islam" is not a dogma that can explain current problems.

Laroui disagreed with those who took critiques of Orientalism to mean that only Arabs or Muslims could write about themselves. He was, however, sympathetic to the view that the study of the "Orient" should be understood in the context of European imperial political interests, just as Arab cultural output should be understood in the context of Arab nationalism. He criticized the Orientalists who tended to stop with linguistic analysis. He believed that it was possible to work toward an objective science of society, whether it is called sociology, anthropology, or history. Insiders and outsiders should struggle for objectivity, though absolute objectivity was not possible. Western scholars may have a better understanding of comparative history, while Muslim scholars may understand the language or culture. For Laroui, contemporary Arab thought is more concerned with the Western world than it is with Islamic ideas. He disagreed with those who argued that Islamic culture was different from others in essential ways; he consistently argued that history is a science and that the laws of history can be applied everywhere. Islamists, on the other hand, believe that historical laws were given from the beginning in a well-guarded book (kitab mahfuz).

Laroui urges scholars to study the role of polygamy and the relation between family structure and war in Islamic history, and has argued that historians should specialize not only in history but also in literature, economics, linguistics, philosophy—anything but just history. Laroui himself has written several novels, and in recent years has been publishing his memoirs, Khawatir al-Sabah (Recollections). Volume three, covering the years 1982 to 1999, was published in 2005. His most recent book is the magisterial Le Maroc et Hassan II: un temoignage (2005; Morocco and Hassan II: testimony).


Laroui is widely recognized for his contributions to the international debate on Western and Islamic modernity. He is best known for his advocacy of historicism in a framework of Hegelian and Marxist humanism. For Islamic modernists who struggle to reclaim a sense of authenticity, Laroui's insistence that the tools of history apply equally and inexorably to Islamic and to all other religious and cultural traditions has been enormously influential. He has placed Islamic philosophy in a universal context. In the post-1967 era, his critique of Arab culture encouraged Arab intellectuals to question the nature of the Arab nation-state and to find it parochial and inauthentic.


Laroui's most important legacy may be his critique of the "Islamic" state. He has argued that this state, with its authoritarian and reactionary tendencies and rejection of open dialogue with the West, is a manifestation of the class interests of the petit bourgeoisie rather than of inherently Islamic or Arab values. He calls for a liberal bourgeois state that opposes the authoritarian Islamic state and that allows for academic and artistic freedom.



Idéologie arabe contemporaine: essai critique [Contemporary Arab ideology: a critical essay]. Paris: Maspéro, 1967.

L'Algérie et le Sahara marocain [Algeria and the Moroccan Sahara]. Casablanca: Serar, 1976.

La crise des intellectuels arabes: traditionalisme ou historicisme? Paris: Maspéro, 1974. (English: The Crisis of the Arab Intellectual: Traditionalism or Historicism? Translated by Diarmid Cammell. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.)

Les origines sociales et culturelles du nationalisme marocain, 1830–1912 [The social and cultural origins of Moroccan nationalism, 1830–1912]. Paris: Maspéro, 1977.

L'Histoire du Maghreb: un essai de synthèse. Paris: Maspéro, 1970. (English: The History of the Maghrib: An Interpretive Essay. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977.)

Islam et modernité [Islam and modernity]. Paris: La Découverte, 1987.

"Western Orientalism and Liberal Islam: Mutual Distrust?" Middle East Studies Association Bulletin 31, no. 1 (July 1997). Available from

Khawatir al-Sabah [Recollections]. Volume One, 1967–1973; Volume Two, 1974–1981; Volume Three, 1982–1999. Casablanca: Arab Cultural Center, 2001, 2003, 2005.

Le Maroc et Hassan II: un temoignage [Morocco and Hassan II: testimony]. Quebec: Les Presses Inter Universitaires, and Casablanca: Arab Cultural Center, 2005.

Al-Afah: riwaya. Casablanca: Arab Cultural Center, 2006.


El Kurdi, Bassam. Autour de la pensee de Abdallah Laroui [Debating Laroui's theory]. Casablanca: Le Contre Culturel Arabe, 2000.

Gallagher, Nancy. "The Life and Times of Abdallah Laroui, a Moroccan Intellectual." Journal of North African Studies 3, no. 1 (1998): 132-151.

                                         Nancy Gallagher

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Laroui, Abdallah (1933–)

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