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Islam and Knowledge: Al Faruqi’s Concept of Religion in Islamic Thought

  • Book Title:
 Islam And Knowledge
  • Book Author:
Imtiyaz Yusuf
  • Total Pages
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  • List of Illustrations
  • Contributors
  • Introduction – Imtiyaz Yusuf
  • Part 1: Memorials
  • 1 Memories of a Scholar and Mujahid – John L. Esposito
  • 2 Isma‘il Al Faruqi: As I Knew Him – Khurshid Ahmad
  • 3 The Essence of Dr. Faruqi’s Life’s Work – Seyyed Hossein Nasr
  • 4 Isma‘il Al Faruqi: The Precursor to Civilizational Dialogue Anwar
  • Ibrahim
  • 5 How I Learned About Islam – John Raines
  • 6 Isma‘il R. Al Faruqi and the American Academy of Religion: A
  • Personal Remembrance – Richard C. Martin
  • 7 A Memoir of a Good Friend Most Foully Murdered – Gerard S.Sloyan
  • 8 Reminiscences of Al Faruqi, Factors that Shaped his Personality, and
  • Some Observations on Terminology – Muddathir Abd al-Rahim
  • 9 Isma‘il Al Faruqi: An Intellectual and an Inspiration – James Zogby
  • Part 2: Academic Papers by Students of Isma‘il Al Faruqi
  • 10 The Concept of Dīn (Religion) as Interpreted by Isma‘il Al Faruqi –
  • Imtiyaz Yusuf
  • 11 Islamization of Knowledge: A Futurist Perspective – Anis Ahmad
  • 12 Isma‘il Al Faruqi and Ijtihad Yushau Sodiq
  • 13 Ethics of Fertility Treatment: A Case Study of Nadya Suleman’s Feat –
  • Abul Fadl Mohsin Ebrahim
  • 14 Muslim Interfaith Dialogue in the Twenty-first Century: Building on
  • the Contributions and Legacy of Isma‘il Al Faruqi – Charles Fletcher
  • 15 From Tolerance to Celebration: Cultural Encounter and Religious
  • Engagement in Nurturing World Peace – Md. Salleh Yaapar
  • 16 Islamization of the Social Sciences: A Personal Reflection – Aminah
  • Beverly McCloud
  • 17 Isma‘il Al Faruqi’s Theory of Value: A Plea for Islamic Humanism –
  • Ibrahim M. Zein
  • 18 Tawhid and Aesthetics: Isma‘il Al Faruqi on Islamic Art:
  • Interpretation, Integration, Inspiration – Gisela Webb
  • 19 From Interfaith Dialogue to Theological Discourse: Al Faruqi’s Legacy in Interfaith Engagements – Kamar Oniah Kamaruzaman
  • 20 Visualizing Islam: The Art, Architecture, and Functions of Philippine
  • Mosques – Vivienne SM. Angeles
  • Appendices
  • Appendix A: Scheme for a Faculty of Islamic Learning at Karachi
  • University
  • Appendix B: A Memorandum on Methods of Creating a Modern and
  • Effective Islamic Ideology
  • Bibliography

The Concept of Dīn (Religion) as Interpreted imtiyaz Yusuf

The Qur’an uses the term dīn to describe what is known as ‘religion’ in English. Muslim religious thought in modern times has appropriated the English term ‘religion’ to describe the Qur’anic term of dīn. The concept of dīn as mentioned in the Qur’an is an important theme in the main works of the late Professor Isma’il al Faruqi, a major Islamic thinker of the modern era.

The primary focus of this paper is to visit the concept of dīn in the Qur’an and Sunnah as approached and analyzed by Isma’il al Faruqi through more modern methods for the study of religion. Very few contemporary Muslim scholars have adopted this line of comparative non-traditional research and analysis. This paper investigates al Faruqi’s interpretation of the concept of dīn through his analysis of the Arab history of monotheism in its Judaic, Christian, and Islamic periods.

Through this approach al Faruqi arrives at a holistic interpretation of the concept of dīn for Islamic thought in modern times.

Using an innovative and modern scholarly approach based on the history of religions for the study of Islam and its civilization, al Faruqi addressed the concept of dīn as identified with the theology of Tawhid – the unity of God, both historically and ideationally. This is evidenced in his works such as On Arabism: Urubah and Religion,1 where he asserted that Urubah – Arabism comprising monotheistic religious consciousness – interpreted in its  non-Arab  nationalist  notion  contains  the  theological  core  of  Jewish,

Christian, and Muslim religious consciousness and values. This has been identified by both Arabs and non-Arabs who became the members of the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Al Faruqi expanded further on this theme in his later works such as ‘The Essence of Religious Experience in Islam’,2 Tawhid: its implications for Thought and Life,3 and The Cultural Atlas of islam.4 In this paper, I focus on two of al Faruqi’s works: On Arabism: Urubah and Religion and ‘The Essence of Religious Experience in Islam’. I hope to cover other works in the future.

For al Faruqi the term ‘Arab’ is the original name for the inhabitants of the Arabian region, extending from the Arabian Peninsula to Mesopotamia. It has been in use for twenty-one centuries. The current term ‘Semitic’ is a later invention by Biblical scholars and archeologists and is only about 150 years old at most. This is in line with the archeological evidence about the movements of Arab peoples from the Arabian desert into the region of the fertile crescent and their return to the desert.5

Al Faruqi contended that, while Western scholarship had established the similarities in the linguistic and ethnic identity of the Semites or Arabs, he himself had taken up the task of showing the similarities in their religious and aesthetic identities in an academic way.

These likenesses would prove that the people all came from the same Arab source, based on the monotheistic consciousness which lies at the core of their being. He was aware that such a claim would be controversial and would not be accepted by Biblical scholars and would also astound the non-Arab Muslims.

This was evidenced when he presented this theory in Cairo and Karachi during his sojourns there, and al Faruqi continued to receive similar disbelieving responses from his non-Arab students during his teaching career at the Temple University. Interestingly, he had remarked earlier that:

The intellectuals of Cairo (al Azhar and Cairo University where I have been lecturing) and Karachi (Karachi University and the Central Institute of Islamic Research) whom I met at first reacted to my thesis in very much the same way as you did. But as the lectures progressed and their acquaintance with the problem deepened, they acclaimed it with enthusiasm. But they may have been too liberal to be representative of either Arab or Muslim circles.6

Faruqi: An Urubi

In my view, al Faruqi has been wrongly branded as an Arab nationalist; those who brand him in this way do not grasp the view of religion which is the basis of his thinking. Al Faruqi’s Arabism is based on religion and is opposed to the race-based nationalism of the modern age. He criticized both the Baathist and Nasserist nationalist versions of Arabism as being in contradiction to the Urubah based on Arab consciousness which is primarily religious and universalist. According to al Faruqi, the Arab nationalists had hijacked Urubah for their nationalist and secularist agenda.

For al Faruqi, the Urubah version of Arabism was a religio-ethical and aesthetic construct which is part of Arab consciousness, and Judaism, Christianity, and Islam contain this element. Urubah is religious universalism. In this sense, al Faruqi was an Urubi and not a modern Arab nationalist.  An Urubi,  irrespective  of  his/her  religious  affiliation,  views religion and not race as the basis of his/her identity.

Al Faruqi was a Urubi who in the later phase of his life and thought easily became an Islamist because monotheistic universalism is a core value of both Urubah and Islam. He changed from being a “Muslim Arabist” into an “Islamist Arab.”7

There is not much difference or strict separation between these two phases of al Faruqi’s intellectual life, as is often assumed; instead there is a continuum. As a student of his during the last part of his life I often heard him lecture on the Urubi dimension of Islam’s venture in history.

Ralph Braibanti comments:

His early emphasis was on Arabism as the vehicle of Islam and Muslim identity. He insisted that this attention to differences detracted from the paramountcy of universal doctrinal unity – especially the pristinity and immutability of the Holy Qur’an. This doctrinal unity was greater than that found in any other religion. It endured in large measure because of the sacred nature of Arabic as the unchanged language of the Holy Qur’an. For this reason, he put great emphasis on Arab civilization and on its preservation as a continuing fountainhead of Islam.8

Al Faruqi’s Approach to the Study of Islam and Religion

As a trained philosopher and scholar of religion, al Faruqi saw religion as meaning belief and faith in the hearts of humans, with practical implications for life. His emphasis on unity and universalism was based on deep scholarly reflection. He approached the study of Islam and religion through academic methods such as archeology, phenomenology, history of religions, etc.

Religion for al Faruqi was divine–human collaboration and a life- affirming activity. This approach to the study and practice of religion (and in his case Islam) led to his being labeled a ‘scholar-activist.’ Al Faruqi was no doubt a great and encyclopedic Muslim thinker of contemporary age who was both a philosopher and scholar of religion.9 Religion for Faruqi was not a ritual act but a dimension of everything he did.

It is not a thing; but a perspective with which everything is invested. It is the highest and most important dimension; for it alone takes cognizance of the act as personal, as standing within the religiocultural context in which it has taken place, as well as within the total context of space-time.

For it, the act includes all the inner determinations of the person as well as its effects in space-time. And it is this relation of the whole to the space-time that constitutes the religious dimension.10

Furthermore, Faruqi’s understanding of the tussle between monotheism and polytheism in the Arabian theater also highlights his geographical understanding of the theological and doctrinal differences between world religions, a subject to which he and his Syracuse colleague David Sopher contributed with their Historical Atlas of the Religions of the World.11 This approach to the study of religion is called cultural geography. It involves:

  1.    the significance of the environmental setting on the evolution of religious systems and particular religious institutions;
  2. the way religions’ systems and institutions modify their environment;
  3.    the different ways whereby religious systems occupy and organize segments of earth space;
  4. the geographic distribution of religions and the way religious systems spread and interact with each other.12

Isma’il al Faruqi also applied these topics in his study of monotheism in the Arabian environment, first in On Arabism: Urubah and Religion and in all his other works, including The Cultural Atlas of islam, where he engaged in a world-wide study of Muslim experience, practice, and expressions of Islam as a religious system.

Al Faruqi’s approach to the Qur’an is ideational, axiological, and aesthetical – three concepts which are central to the study of religion and philosophy.

  1.    Ideational: in the sense that it highlights the centrality of Tawhid (monotheism) as the core idea of Arabian consciousness in contrast to other civilizations. 13
  2. Axiological: it has a valuational adherence to Islam – it is faithful to the values of monotheistic piety, ethicality, Ummatism and affirmation with the materialistic world. It is not a national, racial or ideological (for these degenerate into fanaticism)14 adherence to Islam.
  3.    Aesthetical: for al Faruqi the Qur’an is an aesthetical revelation evident from the aesthetic character of its Arabic language, which has been the source of the aesthetical expressions found in Muslim arts of literature, calligraphy, architecture, music, and painting.15

Thus for al Faruqi the theological, moral, and aesthetical dimensions of Muslim life, thought, and action are infused with monotheistic consciousness which stresses the duality between creator and creature.

Dīn in the Qur’an

The term dīn has several meanings in Arabic. The Arabic English Dictionary of Qur’anic Usage offers the following meanings of the term dīn as used in the Qur’an:

religion, faith (2:256);

true religion, true faith (3:19); the teachings of religion (5:3);

worship, obedience, submission (8:39); law, custom, code (12:76);

 judgment (37:20–21);

reckoning, counting, calculation (9:36).16

The term dīn appears in the Qur’an ninety-four times, during both the Makkah and Madinah periods of the Prophet’s life. Yvonne Haddad discusses the four evolutionary ways in which the Qur’an employs the term dīn related to the different periods of the prophetic life of Muhammad.

She divides these into four phases: the first Makkah period – thirteen references; the second Makkah period – six references; the third Makkah period – twenty-nine references, and the Madinah period – forty-six references.17 During the first and second Makkah periods the term is used in reference to accountability to God and the coming day of reckoning as yawm al-dīn – the day of judgment for those who deny religion. Haddad remarks that in the third Makkah period the term dīn is used in the Qur’an in several categories of meanings, such as:

  1.    lahu ‘l-dīna: obedience to God and commitment to monotheism (Qur’an, 16:52);
  2. al-dīn al-hanif: the moral way of Abraham (Qur’an, 30:30, 10:105);
  3.    al-dīn al-qayyim: that which is undeniable (Qur’an, 30:30, 30:43, 12:40, 6:161; 9:36; 98:5);
  4.    mukhlisina lahu ‘l-dīna: sincere faith to God alone (Qur’an, 40:14, 40:65, 39:2, 39:11, 39:14, 29:65, 31:32, 10:22; 7:29);
  5. al-dīn al-khalis: sincere faith is to God alone (Qur’an, 39:3);
  6. shara’a lakum ‘l-dīna: God has prescribed that you follow His way (Qur’an, 42:13, 42:21);
  7. ittakhadu dīnahum lahwa wa-la’iban: they have made their moral law a mockery and play (Qur’an, 7:51, 6:20).
  8. hadani rabbi ila siratin mustaqimin dīnan qayyiman millatu ibrahima hanifan: my Sustainer has guided me onto a straight way through an ever-true faith – the way of Abraham, who turned away from all that is false, and was not of those who ascribe divinity to aught beside Him (Quran, 6:161);
  9.    aqim wajhaka li’l dīni: so, set thy face steadfastly towards the [one ever-true] faith (Qur’an, 30:30, 30:43).18

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