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Fārūqī, Ismāʿīl Rājī al-

John L. Esposito
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

Fārūqī, Ismāʿīl Rājī al-

Born in Jaffa, Palestine, Ismāʿīl Rājī al-Fārūqī (1921–1986), Islamic scholar and activist, received an education that made him trilingual (Arabic, French, and English) and provided him with multicultural intellectual sources that informed his life and thought. He studied at the mosque school, attended a French Catholic school, Collège des Frères (St. Joseph) in Palestine, and earned a bachelor's of arts degree at the American University of Beirut (1941). Having become governor of Galilee in 1945, Fārūqī was forced to emigrate from Palestine after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948; he then earned master's degrees at Indiana and Harvard universities and a doctorate in philosophy from Indiana University (1952).

Both a poor job market and an inner drive brought Fārūqī back to the Arab world, where, from 1954 to 1958, he studied Islam at Cairo's al-Azhar University. He subsequently studied and conducted research at major centers of learning in the Muslim world and the West as Visiting Professor of Islamic Studies at the Institute of Islamic Studies and a Fellow at the Faculty of Divinity, McGill University (1959–1961), where he studied Christianity and Judaism; as Professor of Islamic Studies at the Central Institute of Islamic Research in Karachi, Pakistan (1961–1963); and as Visiting Professor of History of Religions at the University of Chicago (1963–1964).

Ismāʿīl al-Fārūqī taught in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University (1964–1968) and then became Professor of Islamic Studies and of History of Religions at Temple University (1968–1986). During a professional life that spanned almost thirty years, he wrote, edited, or translated twenty-five books, published more than a hundred articles, was a visiting professor at more than twenty-three universities in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and served on the editorial boards of seven major journals.

For Fārūqī, Arabism and Islam were intertwined. Arab-Muslim identity was at the center of the man and the scholar. His life and writing reveal two phases or stages In the first, epitomized in his book On Arabism: Urubah and Religion, Arabism was the dominant theme of his discourse. In the second, Islam occupied center stage, as he increasingly assumed the role of an Islamic activist leader as well as of an academic. His later work and writing focused on a comprehensive vision of Islam and its relationship to all aspects of life and culture.

Living and working in the West, Fārūqī presented Islam in Western categories to engage his audience as well as to make Islam more comprehensible and respected. Like the founders of Islamic modernism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, he often presented Islam as the religion par excellence of reason, science, and progress with a strong emphasis on action and the work ethic.

If during the 1950s and 1960s Fārūqī sounded like an Arab heir to Islamic modernism and Western empiricism, by the late 1960s and early 1970s he progressively assumed the role of an Islamic scholar-activist. This shift in orientation was evident in the recasting of his framework: Islam replaced Arabism as his primary reference point. Islam had always had an important place in Fārūqī's writing, but it now became the organizing principle. Islam was presented as an all-encompassing ideology, the primary identity of a worldwide community (ummah) of believers and the guiding principle for society and culture. Like Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb and Muḥammad ʿAbduh, Fārūqī grounded his interpretation of Islam in the doctrine of tawḥīd (the oneness of God), combining the classical affirmation of the centrality of God's oneness (monotheism) with a modernist interpretation (ijtihād) and application of Islam to modern life. In Tawḥīd: Its Implications for Thought and Life, he presented tawḥīd as the essence of religious experience, the quintessence of Islam, and the principle of history, knowledge, ethics, aesthetics, the ummah (Muslim community), the family, and the political, social, economic, and world orders.

This holistic, activist Islamic worldview was embodied in this new phase in his life and career as he continued to write extensively, to lecture and consult with Islamic movements and national governments, and to organize Muslims in America. During the 1970s he helped establish Islamic studies programs in the Arab world and Southeast Asia, recruited and trained Muslim students, organized Muslim professionals, established and chaired the Islamic Studies Steering Committee of the American Academy of Religion (1976–1982), and was an active participant in international ecumenical meetings where he was a major force in Islam's dialogue with other world religions. Fārūqī was a founder or leader of many organizations, including the Muslim Student Association and a host of associations of Muslim professionals, such as the Association of Muslim Social Scientists; he served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the North American Islamic Trust; he established and was first president of the American Islamic College in Chicago; and in 1981 he created the International Institute for Islamic Thought in Virginia.

At the heart of Fārūqī 's vision was the Islamization of knowledge. He believed that the categories, concepts and modes of analysis that originated in the secular West needed to be subordinated to the belief, ethics, and categories of Islam in order to bridge more effectively the gap between Islamic tradition and reform and revive Muslim society. His goal was to revive those methods of ijtihād, reinterpretation of Islam, and integrate scientific method within Islamic limits.

Fārūqī regarded the political, economic, and religio-cultural malaise of the Islamic community as primarily a product of the bifurcated state of education in the Muslim world with a resultant loss of identity and lack of vision. Fārūqī believed that the cure was twofold: the compulsory study of Islamic civilization and the Islamization of modern knowledge.

Ismāʿīl al-Fārūqī 's life ended tragically in 1986 when he and his wife, Lois Lamyāʿ al-Fārūqī, also an Islamic scholar, were murdered by an intruder in their home.



Primary Sources

  • On Arabism. 4 vols.Amsterdam: Djambatan, 1962.
  • Christian Ethics. Montreal: McGill University Press, 1967.
  • “Islam and Christianity: Diatribe or Dialogue?”Journal of Ecumenical Studies5.1(1968): 45–77.
  • “Islam and Christianity: Problems and Perspectives.” In The Word in the Third World, edited by James P. Cotter, 159–181. Washington, D.C.: Corpus Books, 1968.
  • Historical Atlas of the Religions of the World. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1974.
  • “Islamizing the Social Sciences.”Studies in Islam16.2 (April 1979): 108–121.
  • Islam and Culture. Kuala Lumpur: Angatan Belia Islam Malaysia, 1980.
  • “The Role of Islam in Global Interreligious Dependence.” In Towards a Global Congress of the World's Religions, edited by Warren Lewis, 19–38. Barrytown, N.Y.: Unification Theological Seminary, 1980.
  • Essays in Islamic and Comparative Studies. Washington, D.C.: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1982. Collection of essays edited by al-Fārūqī.
  • Islamic Thought and Culture. Washington, D.C.: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1982. Collection of essays edited by al-Fārūqī.
  • Islamization of Knowledge. Islamabad, 1982.
  • Trialogue of the Abrahamic Faiths: Papers Presented to the Islamic Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion. 2d ed.Herndon, Va.: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1986. Collection of essays edited by al-Fārūqī.
  • Tawḥīd: Its Implications for Thought and Life. 2d ed.Herndon, Va.:International Institute of Islamic Thought, 1982.

Secondary Sources

  • Esposito, John L., “Ismail R. al-Faruqi: Muslim Scholar-Activist.” In The Muslims of America, edited by Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, 65–79. New York and Oxford: Oxford Universtiy Press, 1991.
  • Ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhāb, MuḥammadSources of Islamic Thought: Three Epistles on Tawḥīd. Translated and edited by Ismāʿīl Rājī al-Fārūqī. Indianapolis, 1980.
  • Shafiq, Muhammad. Growth of Islamic Thought in North America: Focus on Isma'il Raji al Faruqi. Amana Publications, 1994.
  • Quraishi, M. Tariq. Ismail R. al-Farūqi: An Enduring Legacy. Plainfield, Ind., 1986.
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