Algerian Scholar Ali Merad

Ali Merad, the Algerian historian who spent much of his professional life in France,  passed away in Lyons on 23 May 2017 at the age of 86.

Ali Merad was born in Laghouat, Southern Algeria, in 1930, completing his graduate studies at the University of Algiers in the Faculty of Letters in 1954, and then proceeding to the Sorbonne for further studies in Arabic literature. On returning to Algeria, he taught at the lycée ‘‘franco-musulman’’ of  Ben Aknoun in Algiers (now lycée Amara Rachid).  For the FLN, his decision not to join the strike that had been called in 1956 was a sign of mixed loyalties. Merad stated that he was unable to comply because of his ongoing research at the Sorbonne.

Ali Merad’s scholarship led him to the archives of the  Association des Oulémas d’Algérie, founded by Shaikh Ben Badis in 1931, in particular the journal Le Jeune Musulman. He also benefited from access to Shaikh Bashir Ibrahimi, an early leader of the Association (died 1965).  This provided the basis of his theses submitted to the Sorbonne in 1968, and later published as   Ibn Badis, Commentateur du Coran (Paris: Geulthner, 1971) and Le Reformisme Musulman en Algerie de 1925 a 1940 (Alger: El Hikma, 1999).

Independent Algeria’s experience with independently minded scholars was an unhappy one. For example, while the first President, Ben Bella, had appointed the veteran thinker Malek Bennabi as a director of higher education,  Colonel Boumediene’s coup on 19 June 1965, brought in a new minister of education,  Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi.  He was a shallow personality, much unlike his father, Bashir Ibrahimi, and felt overshadowed by senior scholars like Bennabi, whom he ousted from post. Ahmed Taleb offered patronage to younger scholars, including Ali Merad. Notwithstanding this support, Ali Merad departed from Algeria in 1970 to take up a chair at the University of Lyons, where he remained to the end of his days.