The Muslims of America

By Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad | Go to book overview
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5
Ismail R. al-Faruqi:
Muslim Scholar-Activist

John L. Esposito

On May 24, 1986, the Muslim world and the academic community lost one of its most energetic, engaging, and active colleagues— Ismail al-Faruqi. I think he would be pleased by the characterization of his life as that of a mujahid, one who struggled in the path of Allah. Such a designation might well be applied to all faithful believers, but it seems especially fitting for one who struggled from his early years both as a Palestinian refugee and later as an Islamic activist. Certainly it would be fair to say that he saw himself as a scholar—activist in the service of Islam. His Palestinian roots, Arab heritage, and Islamic faith made the man and informed the life and work of the scholar. Issues of identity, authenticity, acculturation, and Western political and cultural imperialism, which are so significant today, were continual themes in his writing, though he addressed them differently at different stages in his life. As we will see, his early emphasis on Arabism as the vehicle of Islam was tempered by a later centrality accorded to the doctrine of tawhid (divine unity) as the foundation for faith, knowledge, and society.

Ismail al-Faruqi was born into a well-established family in Jaffa in 1921. His education made him trilingual, at home in the language, music, literature, and other arts in Arabic, French, and English. He drew on these sources intellectually and aesthetically throughout his life. After an early traditional Islamic education at the mosque school, he attended a French Catholic school, College des Frères (Saint Joseph) in Palestine. This was followed by five years at the American University of Beirut, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1941. Al-Faruqi entered government service and in 1945, at age twenty-four, became governor of Galilee; the future direction of his life seemed set. All came to an abrupt end with the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Al-Faruqi became one of thousands of Palestinian refugees, emigrating with his family to Lebanon. Having jettisoned his career as an administrator, he turned with equal enthusiasm to academia. America became the training ground where he prepared himself by earning master's degrees at Indiana and Harvard universities and, in 1952, a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Indiana.

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