On 8 October 2022, the International Institute of Islamic Thought East and Southeast Asia organised a talk on the topic “Professor Ismail al Faruqi: The Multifaceted Scholar” as a part of its monthly Intellectual Discourse Series. The talk was presented by Associate Professor Dr Imtiyaz Yusuf from the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC-IIUM) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Prof. Imtiyaz began by referring to the late Prof. al Faruqi as an intellectual mujahid, a brilliant man who was a “walking encyclopedia of Islam” and a trailblazer of academic study of religion. Speaking passionately, Professor Imtiyaz said that Professor al Faruqi made important contributions in a wide range of fields such as the academic study of Islam, the history and phenomenology of religion and interreligious dialogue.

Associate Professor Dr Imtiyaz Yusuf from the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC-IIUM)

Revisiting some of Professor al Faruqi’s ideas, Professor Imtiyaz said Professor al Faruqi saw the history of religion in Arabia as a struggle between monotheism and polytheism i.e., Tawhid and Shirk.  Dr Imtiyaz referred to Professor al Faruqi as “the al Biruni of the modern age” who emphasised on the need for scholars to study every religion within its own context. Professor al Faruqi described Islam as al-Din al Fitrah or the natural religion and urged Muslim scholars to study Islam as the religion of all Prophets since the pre-hijrah era.  Dr Imtiyaz reflected that al Faruqi’s approach to Islam was ideational, axiological and aesthetical. He stressed on the Ummatic methodology to the study of Islam that includes the Ulama, students and even bankers and lawyers. Professor al Faruqi, Dr Imtiyaz recollected, invited everyone to come and join him in the project of Islamisation to help the Ummah face the postcolonial era crisis in Muslim education, and emphasised that Islam was not opposed to modern science and technology.

However, Dr Imtiyaz noted, Professor al Faruqi saw an intellectual crisis in modern education. Islam was virtually removed from modern education. He saw the Muslim ummah to be in a state of crisis, secularised, Westernised and de-Islamised. He urged the Muslims to “master the disciplines” that they wish to Islamise and develop alternative, sound and scientific theories based on Islamic perspectives. Prof al Faruqi emphasised that mastering the disciplines is necessary if we are to make Islam relevant in facing modern challenges and as a civilisational project to help humanity to come out of the challenges it faces today. As part of the Islamisation effort, Prof. al Faruqi urged Muslim scholars to work to develop new methodological and theoretical responses and engage with new challenges that we are facing today such as postmodernism, artificial intelligence and the “posthuman future”.

As for interreligious dialogue, Dr Imtiyaz said, Prof. al Faruqi was a pioneer in Muslim-Christian dialogue as well as with other religions.  He noted that Professor al Faruqi worked together with scholars of other faiths and even authored works with Japanese, Chinese and Jewish scholars. On a personal level, Professor Imtiyaz recalled, Professor al Faruqi was “a hard task master” but was also a friend and a teacher who closely related to his students at a personal level. The recorded lecture is accessible at  https://youtu.be/mIELZWu4Zpo.

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