Roger Allen awarded Moroccan Medal of Honor

Roger Allen, professor of Arabic and comparative lit

The Kingdom of Morocco has awarded a Medal of Honor to Roger Allen, a professor of Arabic and comparative literature and chair of the Department of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations at Penn. The medal is one of the highest honors Morocco confers for contributions in the field of arts and sciences. Allen is now Commander of the Moroccan Order of National Merit.

Allen, the Sascha Jane Patterson Harvie Professor of Social Thought and Comparative Ethics, came to Penn from his native Bristol, England, in 1968. He holds the oldest professorial post in Arabic in the United States. A specialist in translating modern Arabic fiction into English, Allen recently worked on “The Muslim Suicide,” a novel by Moroccan Minister of Culture Bensalem Himmich.

Allen was invited by Himmich to attend the 2010 Casablanca Book Fair, which opened in Morocco on Feb. 12. When Allen arrived, he learned that he was invited to a private opening of the Book Fair, attended by Prince Rachid, the brother of King Mohammed VI of Morocco.

At the event, much to Allen’s surprise, he and six others were presented with the Medals of Honor by order of the king. The ministers of culture of Egypt, Bahrain and the Palestinian Authority, and two writers from Morocco were among the other awardees.

At the end of a conference session at the Book Fair held in his honor, Allen delivered a traditional maqama, a piece of rhyming prose, expressing his gratitude to his Moroccan colleagues.

“I’m glad that I took my best suit,” says Allen. “I left Morocco to return to the United States, my mind full of unforgettable memories.”

Originally published on March 11, 2010