Abdelwahab Meddeb – Tunis & France

Linked with Islam and the Enlightenment – Between Ebb and Flow.

Abdelwahab Meddeb is a high-profile French writer of Arab origin. He was born in Tunis in 1946 and comes from a long family line of theologians and scholars. He studied art history and literature, beginning his working life as an editor for a major Paris publishing house. Between 1974 and 1988, he edited his own series of literary titles at Editions Sindbad. He has published the novels Talismano (1976) and Aya dans les villes (1999). His book The Malady of Islam (2003) gives a precise analysis of contemporary Islam. He lives in Paris. (sigt and sigt.com, scroll down).

He says: ” … Because at that time, the Islamic world was home to a large, well-educated upper class which encouraged debate. Throughout the medieval period, there were renowned literary salons in major cities like Baghdad that were run by aristocratic patrons and merchants and whose sole raison d’être was to bring together Christians, Jews and various sects who did not agree at all on questions of faith. The Pope is wrong to speak of a single Islamic doctrine; there were many, and they were often the subject of open disputes. In Tunis, the capital of the Maghreb, the Sultan explicitly placed progressive theologians under the protection of the freedom of opinion and defended them against attacks by the people. Of course, the majority of simple Muslims were uneducated and hardly willing to be persuaded by the power of logic and arguments as the intellectuals hoped. Today, we have comparable Muslim masses, but there is little trace of an educated elite capable of leading the discussion … (full interview text – Islam’s heritage of violence/05/10/2006 … originally appeared in German in Die Zeit – dem Islam ist die Gewalt in die Wiege gelegt/September 21, 2006.).


Abdelwahab Meddeb – Tunis & France

Abdelwahab Meddeb, né en 1946 à Tunis, est un écrivain et poète franco-tunisien. Directeur de la revue internationale Dédale, il enseigne la littérature comparée à l’Université Paris X. Il est aussi professeur invité dans de nombreuses universités (dont Yale et Genève). Il anime l’émission Cultures d’islam sur France Culture … (tout le texte sur wikipedia.fr).

Transatlantic Intelligencer: Barak on Hamas, Barcelona Plot, and Tariq Ramadan, on World Politics Review Exclusive, by John Rosenthal, 05 Feb 2008.

For Abdelwahab Meddeb, the Koran is the product of man. In an interview conducted by Gilles Anquetil, Abdelwahab Meddeb, the Frano-Tunisian poet and writer believes that “the return to the Mutazilites, these 9th Century rationalist theologians, is priceless. Didn’t they defend the idea of a ‘created Koran’ against those literalists who took the Koran as ‘received’? What is the ‘created Koran’ if not the belief in writings inspired by God and translated into the language of man? This human mediation implies the necessity to situate the text in the context of its proliferation and to go back to the time of its relevation, which is anthropologically outdated. Its meaning is thus relative. What happened with the Bible at the end of the 17th Century is happening with the Koran today. There are many Muslim researchers who are participating. Our role is to bring the results of this research to the largest number of people possible” … (on english Courrier International janvier 18, 2008 – a translation from Comment guérir l’islam?, on Nouvel Obs, 17 Janvier 2008).

Vidéo en français du salon du livre en Tanger: Interview de Abdelwahab Meddeb, March 3, 2007.

Vidéo en français pour son livre ‘la maladie de l’Islam‘, 1.51 min.

He says also: “Today, the Muslim world is in a state of civil war. But internal criticism is growing. The French revolution of 1789 was preceded by two centuries of intellectual effort. Faced with violence, critical thought is spreading, particularly in the Shi’ite world. In Iran, the concept of vilayat e-faqih introduced by Khomenei has been criticised by theologians. In Iraq, the idea of spiritual caliphate, which presupposes a separation of religion from politics, seems to be gaining ground among the Shi’ite majority. As for Saudi Arabia, if it does not want to implode it must resolve the contradiction between its religious discourse, which leads to anti-Western sentiment, and its geo-political alliance with the United States … (full interview text, Oct. 3, 2003).

Affaire Redeker: blasphème ou liberté d’expression? 06.10.06.

He writes: … (fondements du pouvoir / Islam and the Foundations of Power) … Here, the author demonstrates that the notion of an Islamic State has never existed. He notes that the Caliphate, at the time of its greatness, under the Umayyads as well as under the Abbassids, did not produce a new form of government; it simply adopted the imperial structures of Byzantium and then of Persia, both of which had proven their administrative and military efficacy. Thus contemporary Muslims should construct their State by drawing inspiration from the best examples that other nations have produced; they should therefore construct a State, inspired by the Western example created by the Enlightenment. Abderraziq emphasizes moreover that what matters in the prophetic experience of Mohammed is spiritual and moral direction much more than giving military or royal examples; for him, Islam is a divine message, not a system of government; a religion, not a State. And he ends by recommending a radical separation between the spiritual and temporal in order to re-found the State and reconstruct law according to the requirements of modernity … (full long text, not dated).

Tunisian Reformist Abdelwahab Meddeb: It’s Up To the Arab to Take the Courageous Step Of Questioning His Faith.

Reviews of his book ‘The Malady Of Islam’:

  • In this impassioned, erudite, and deeply moving book, Abdelwahab Meddeb, born and raised in Tunis and now living in Paris, details the breadth and scope of the Arab intellectual tradition and dismantles common preconceptions held by the Islamic and Western worlds. He describes the growing resentment between the West and the Islamic world as being due, in large part, to Islam’s drift away from its own pluralist tradition. Tracing the history of the ‘conquering’ of the Arab world by the West, he provides a detailed history of the ways in which Islamic fundamentalism has come to compensate for Western dominance. Directly addressing the terrorist attacks of September 11, he challenges us to reconsider the presumption that the gulf between the Islamic world and the West is too wide to breach. The ‘malady’ of Islam lies in its alienation from the West and the corrosive influence that fundamentalism has wrought. This book is a correction of the historical record, a passionate description of the best of Islamic thought and culture, and an absolutely necessary read for those seeking a better understanding not only of Islam but also ourselves. (perseusbookgroup, July 1, 2003);
  • Time and again he however asks one question – »Why?« Why did mu’tazilite theology become a minority doctrine, why was someone like Ibn Hanbal victorious, why did the liberal mysticism of someone like Ibn Arabi not become a common property of the Islamic civilisation? Again and again Meddeb reaches the limits of explanation, again and again a perplexity about the way things developed is reflected in his analyses.
    The Malady of Islam thus constitutes a process of clarification that has not yet been concluded. It is the clarification process of a liberal-minded, Arabic thinker, attempting to reconcile himself with one strand of his intellectual development while simultaneously raising a number of questions: Why did that, which is dear and precious to him in this tradition, not become the common property of the entire group? Why did instead dogmatic thinking, full of contempt for humanity, prevail?
    Meddeb’s rejection of fundamental thinking is accordingly harsh. He identifies the main reasons for the strengthening of such a political Islam in the thinkers that have already been mentioned as well as in the specific political situation, i.e. the disastrous combination of repression and promotion of Islam in the Egypt of today. The exclusion by the »other« is mentioned several times as a contributing element, but – and this is an inevitable consequence for Meddeb – the »sickness of Islam« is in the end a home-made problem and can only be resolved through an internal process … (full text);
  • The Malady of Islam is as much a lament as it is a critique. Abdelwahab Meddeb probes the thorny issue of Islamic fundamentalism and examines how it has gained such a dangerous foothold in the 20th century. His analysis, while learned and compelling, is, unfortunately, not entirely startling. A devout Muslim now living in Paris (he was raised in Tunis), Meddeb speaks with the authority and indignation of one who recognizes a “paradise lost.” Citing a host of historical, poetical, and religious texts from the advent of Islam to the 20th century, he describes, with regret, how the one-time pluralistic tradition of the Muslim faith has been undercut by narrow readings of the Qur’an that denounce any departure from the letter of the law … (full text);
  • Après les événements du 11 septembre, dont les auteurs étaient membres d’organisations islamistes, événements qui avaient été précédés depuis une vingtaine d’années d’autres, plus ou moins sanglants, il était inéluctable pour les citoyens du monde de se poser la question du “ pourquoi ? ”, question corrélée à l’appartenance religieuse des auteurs de ce crime. Dans un livre très érudit, Abdelwahab Meddeb pose cette question et y donne des réponses. Il est important que ce soit un auteur qui s’est “ symboliquement constitué dans la croyance d’islam ”, selon sa formule, qui le fasse et Abdelwahab Meddeb considère qu’il est de sa responsabilité, en tant qu’écrivain, “ de pointer la dérive des siens et d’aider à ouvrir les yeux sur ce qui les aveugle ”. Ce texte, écrit d’abord en français, est désormais traduit en arabe. Le courageux contrat que l’auteur s’était fixé est donc réalisé. Les conditions de sa réception dans les pays arabes ne manqueront pas d’être intéressantes … (texte intégral);
  • Press Rewiew for Meddeb, Abdelwahab on Euro Topics.

Abdelwahab Meddeb et Libération au secours du pape.


He writes: “I come from a family of Muslim theologians and academics in Tunis who belong to the theological tradition and I was present, during the fifties, at the unveiling of women in one of the strongholds of Islam, in the name of an ideology of westernisation and modernisation. It was for me a shock when the question of the veil and re-veiling of women in one of the strongholds of freedom and western culture, namely France, Paris, was raised again. I asked myself, what is happening here, where is the actual problem?” … (full text).

Extremismus und Freiheit – Abdelwahab Meddeb.

Find him also: on find articles; on Google Video-search (all in french); on wikipedia.fr; on Google Book-search; on Google Scholar-search; on Google Group-search; on Google Blog-search; on amazon.

Chemins de contrebande.


Johan Schloemann on the Pope’s intolerant concept of truth;

University TOTAL;

sur LIMAG;

… penser loin de l’un;

Culture d’Islam sur radio France Culture;

Entretien en français lors du Salon du livre à Tanger;


Perception of the Other through the Myth of the Prodigal Son in Contemporary French-Language Moroccan Literature.

Comments are closed.