Legacy of Al Faruqis: 30 Years On

A forum was held on Friday 27 May 2016 titled “Legacy of Al Faruqis: 30 Years on” at the International Islamic University Malaysia. The event, organized by the Current Affairs Forum to commemorate the life and legacy of the great scholar Ismail Raji Al-Faruqi and his wife Lamya Lois Al-Faruqi on the 30th anniversary of their assassination on 27 May 1986. The forum brought together a lively audience of scholars and students. The forum was moderated by Professor Tan Sri Kamal Hassan, IIUM’s former Rector. The panel speakers, Professors Ibrahim Zein and Abdul Rashid Moten, passionately shared their experience with and thoughts regarding the late Ismail Faruqi, drawing from their personal acquaintances with him.

The forum was kick started by Prof. Kamal, who introduced the audience to Ismail Faruqi and his work. In addition to his pioneering role in the establishment of the Institute of International Islamic Thought (IIIT) in the USA and his social and political, it was shown to the audience thatFaruqi was not an armchair scholar, but a scholar who engaged in intellectual jihad. Prof Kamal then invited Prof. Zein to share his thoughts on Faruqi.

Prof.  Zein, in a highly personal yet critical reflection of Faruqi’s academic and intellectual legacy, highlighted several important aspects of the late scholar’s work. Zein focused on a number of Faruqi’s known works,  such as Cultural Atlas of Islam, Tawhid: Implications in Thought and Life and Christian Ethics: A Systematic and Historical Analysis of Its Dominant Ideas. According to Zein, apart from his contributions towards the project of Islamization, Faruqi contributed towards developing the concepts of ‘meta-religion’ and ‘Islamic humanism’.  Zein then embarked upon a detailed discussion on those concepts and and Faruqi’s lasting contribution through them. In this regard, he also warned of  attempts which had been made to distort the meaning of such concepts which Faruqi had earnestly developed during his later years (Zein identified the period during which they were developed as the period of the ‘final Faruqi’) to serve our present-day agenda. Further, members of the audience were told that in person, Faruqi was warm, loving and dedicated towards his students. The Islamization project was his crowning achievement, and through his intellectual work, scholarly dedication and organizational aptitude, he channeled his energies into the project through his engagement with various initiatives such as the Islamic universities and the IIIT.

The moderator thanked Prof. Zein for his presentation, and agreed with the speaker’s view of the importance of formulating the image of the final Faruqi. The moderator then introduced the next speaker, Prof. Moten, a renowned political scientist and senior academic fellow at IIUM’s Centre for Islamisation (CENTRIS), and invited him to speak.

Moten’s first meeting with Faruqi was in 1983, while he was teaching at Bayero University in Nigeria. At that time, Faruqi came to the university to deliver a seminar lecture on research methodology from an Islamic perspective. After the lecture, they met, and a friendship was forged through mututal intellectual interest. Meeting Faruqi left a lasting impact on Moten. He reminisced that Faruqi had said to him that the erstwhile socio-economic system in the Muslim world was rotten and lacked the appropriate values. The dualistic modern education system, which is divided into the secular and religious, had produced graduates who were at odds with one other. They needed to be brought together. The education crisis in the Muslim world translated into a Muslim intellectual crisis, which Faruqi believed could only be remedied by the process of Islamization. Fast forward to the present, Moten made a critical evaluation of Islamization as understood in the present context. He iterated that Islamization was never meant to be an individual effort, but an institutional one, more so if one were to take into account the twelve-step work plan as formulated by Faruqi and the IIIT towards Islamization of education. In the course of his reflections, Moten praised Faruqi for taking the initiative to initiate correspondence with the former Prime Minister of Malaysia Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, which served as a basis towards the establishment of the IIUM.

After thanking the speaker on his thoughtful presentation, Kamal summarized the words of the two speakers and offered his own thoughts on Faruqi and his legacy. He brought into the discussion the eulogy written on Faruqi by one of his well-known students, John Esposito. He appreciated the finer points in the eulogy, such as the fact that Faruqi was not only at ease with multiple languages, but was also adept at looking into both Western philosophy and Islamic philosophy. Kamal also mentioned a lesser known fact about Faruqi’s appreciation and knowledge of classical music. Kamal then mentioned of his possession of the handwritten letter which Faruqi sent to Mahatir. He also mentioned that Faruqi, in light of his appreciation and awareness of his Palestinian roots, was conscious of his reality as a migrant (muhajir) on the face of this world, lived  as an ‘alim and passed away as a martyr (Shaheed). In light of his immense contributions, Kamal reiterated the importance of knowing the definitive Faruqi. Islamization was the legacy of Faruqi, and the IIIT, which he helped set up and establish, was part of his vision and concept of Ummatism.

Prof. Kamal then opened the floor for questions from the audience. Responding to the first question on the contributions of Lamya Faruqi, the wife of Ismail, Zein praised her contributions as an academic at Temple University, that of a specialist in ethnomusicology, and as a successful homemaker and intellectual shadow of Ismail at the same time. In addition, Zein noted that Ismail Faruqi was a great cook and used to invite his students to his house and cook for them. He also specialized talented interior designer, a skill he used to earn money in his earlier years, which helped fund his PhD studies. As an academic and faculty at Temple University, he was a vocal activist for the Palestinian cause and encouraged his students to engage in community activities. In the 1980s, out of 50 who studied in Master and PhD programmes in Islamic studies at Temple, 35 students, who hailed from different parts of the world, were studying under Faruqi.

The discussion also involved other distinguished guests present at the forum. Responding to a question on the influence of Faruqi’s works in the Arab world, Dr. Tahir el Mesawi, a faculty of KIRKHS, responded by affirming that Faruqi was well read and understood in the Arab world due to his initiative in writing in various Arab journals and other publications. However, many of the works are currently not accessible due to the lack of compilation and also translation. El Mesawi followed this up with a reflection of his own experience and memories of the late Faruqi.

After the extensive Q & A session, Prof. Kamal brought the programme to an end. He concluded the seminar with the summation of the various points that were raised in the course of the discussions, and closed the forum with a prayer to the Almighty for the soul of the deceased Faruqis and the well-being of the Muslim Ummah.

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