Ismail al-Faruqi (1921-1986)


Isma’il al-Faruqi was born in 1921 in Jaffa, Palestine. He first studied in Arabic in the local mosque, and then in French in a convent school. At the age of twenty-four, he became governor of Galilee. When the state of Israel was formed, he moved to Lebanon where he studied at the American University of Beirut, and later did his Master’s degree at Harvard, and his Ph.D. in Western philosophy at Indiana University, Bloomington. He spent several years at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, taught at several universities in North America, including McGill University in Montreal, and became widely recognized as an authority on Islam and comparative religion.  He was professor of religion at Temple University, where he founded and chaired the Islamic Studies program. He and his wife, Lamya’, were murdered in their home on May 27, 1986.


Faruqi attempted to articulate an Islamic worldview by fortifying it with rational and scientific arguments. In the latter part of his career, he became more and more concerned with the spiritual aspects of Islam. He advocated a radical Islamization of new knowledge. He recognized that the crisis of the modern world was the crisis of knowledge. And this crisis, al-Faruqi thought, could only be cured via a new synthesis of all knowledge in an Islamic epistemological framework.  The ‘Islamization of Knowledge’ project sought to arouse Muslims to become active participants in intellectual life and contribute to it from an Islamic perspective. But for unknown reasons, al-Faruqi and the institute his thought inspired, left natural sciences out of his program. Thus his views only apply to social sciences.

Summarizing the approach of Ismail al-Faruqi, Ibrahim Kalin wrote in God, Life and the Cosmos (Ashgate, 2002 p. 60-61):

Ismail [al-]Faruqi’s work known under the rubric of “Islamization of knowledge” is a good example of how the idea of method or methodology (“manhaj” and “manhajiyyah”, the Arabic equivalents of method and methodology, which are the most popular words of the proponents of this view) can obscure deeper philosophical issues involved in the current discussions of science. Even though [al-]Faruqi’s project was proposed to Islamize the existing forms of knowledge imported from the West, his focus was exclusively on the humanities, leaving scientific knowledge virtually untouched. This was probably due to his conviction that the body of knowledge generated by modern natural sciences is neutral and as such requires no special attention. Thus, [al-]Faruqi’s work and that of [International Institute of Islamic Thought] IIIT after his death concentrated on the social sciences and education.  This had two important consequences. First, [al-]Faruqi’s important work on Islamization provided his followers with a framework in which knowledge (`ilm) came to be equated with social disciplines, thus ending up in a kind of sociologism. The prototype of [al] Faruqi’s project is, we may say, the modern social scientist entrusted as arbiter of the traditional`Alim. Second, the exclusion of modern scientific knowledge from the scope of Islamization has led to negligent attitudes, to say the least, toward the secularizing effect of the modern scientific worldview.  This leaves the Muslim social scientists, the ideal-types of the Islamization program, with no clue as to how to deal with the questions that modern scientific knowledge poses. Furthermore, to take the philosophical foundations of modern, natural sciences for granted is tantamount to reinforcing the dichotomy between the natural and human sciences, a dichotomy whose consequences continue to pose serious challenges to the validity of the forms of knowledge outside the domain of modern physical sciences.



S Parvez Manzoor

The Faruqis are dead, brutally murdered in their home. The brilliant scholar of Islam and his gifted spouse are both gone, snatched by the icy hand of death. The valiant knight and his lady have fallen, slain not in combat but in ambush. The sneaky blade of a barbarian has smitten them, earning not glory but eternal damnation. The ink of the scholar has mingled with the blood of the martyr, triumphing over both hatred and ignorance. Peace has finally come to the Palestinian expatriate, ending the agony and ignominy of exile. Only the grief of a bereaved Umma continues.

In mourning the departure of the Faruqis, the eye weeps, the heart cries but the mind searches for answers. Was this merely a wanton act of a senseless killer or the planned deed of a fanatical group? Was the tragedy caused by the external or the internal enemies of Islamic faith? Was the scholarly couple ‘liquidated’ by the Assassination Squad of the Chosen or was the Holy Revenge its ultimate rationale? Alas, within the lonely and unfriendly fortress where the Muslim thinker moves, looking across his shoulders for pious rage from within and the crusading fury from without, any of the above votaries of violence and fanaticism could have answered this roll call of infamy.

If it was a meaningless fit of ‘Rambo-mania’, the shadow falls on the sick nation which thrives on mindless violence at home and planned terror abroad. If the blood trail of this ritual slaughter trickles down to the occupants of the Holy Land or to the Temple of the Anointed One, let the world know, justice will be exacted according to the Law of Deuteronomy. If the hand of the Puritans of True Faith has struck the innocent couple, the nation of Islam will bow down its head in sorrow and shame but it will certainly amputate that hand. It will also reaffirm its historic resolve to weed out all the seeds of Kharijite mania from among its midst. The scholars of Islam cannot be expected to trade places with the sacrificial lambs of atonement.

Alas, even the scholar is increasingly becoming a target of the political assassin. No longer is it the ruler or the despot who alone may live under the shadow of the psychopath or the fanatic. Men of learning too have become political prizes today. True enough, the scholar as the object of kidnap and ransom has long been known to history. Nonetheless, the systematic liquidation of scholars 'for reasons of state' is a hallowed stratagem of our times. If ideas cannot be out-shouted, their progenitors must be eliminated, has become enshrined as a maxim of statecraft in our age of 'free information flow'!

The political uses of men of learning, if anything, are likely to become more brutal with time. In the coming political battle between contending civilizations, men of ideas will become more desirable as pawns on the chessboard of ideology and global hegemony than all the oil in the Arabian sands. The enemies of the faith of Islam, traditional establishments within as well as historical foes without, have been rudely awakened by the challenges of Islamic ideals. For them, the dissemination of these, emancipatory, ideas of Islam has to cease. Even the civilisation that professes the right of free expression as sacrosanct, thus, will show no compunction in silencing those whose ideas cannot be outdebated. The changing times demand that Muslims not only cherish their scholars but protect them as well. The scholars of Islam deserve both freedom and security if they are to discharge satisfactorily their sacred trust to the Umma.

Ideas are sharper than swords, the world has always known. Violence kills but does not triumph, also belongs to the timeless insight of man's collective wisdom. Not only is the ink of the scholar more sacred than the blood of the martyr, as claimed by the Islamic tradition, but the idea of civilisation, culture and learning, so nobly personified by the Faruqis, is mightier than all the daemons of fanaticism and revenge. When it cuts, it reaches the very heart of things. And it kills not but heals. It is the idea of Islam.

The world needs more of the Faruqis and less of the Rambos because ideas are sharper than all the bullets and blades of destruction and no knife in the world can silence a man of ideas.

Originally published in Muslim Journal (Chicago) Vol. 13, No. 33, June 10, 1988, p. 6.