IN MEMORIAM: Fazlur Rahman 1919-1988

Fazlur Rahman Malik (September 21, 1919 - July 26, 1988) was a well-known scholar of Islam; M. Yahya Birt of the Association of Islam Researchers described him as “probably the most learned of the major Muslim thinkers in the second-half of the twentieth century, in terms of both classical Islam and Western philosophical and theological discourse.” [1]

Rahman was born in the Hazara area of what is now Pakistan. His father, Maulana Shihab al-Din, was a well-known scholar of the time who had studied at Deoband and had achieved the rank of alim, through his studies of Islamic law (fiqh, hadith, Qur’anic tafsir, logic, philosophy and other subjects).

Rahman studied Arabic at Punjab University, and went on to Oxford University where he wrote a dissertation on Ibn Sina. Afterwards, he began a teaching career, first at Durham University where he taught Persian and Islamic philosophy, and then at McGill University where he taught Islamic studies until 1961.

In that year, he returned to Pakistan to head up the Central Institute of Islamic Research which was set up by the Pakistani government in order to implement Islam into the daily dealings of the nation. However, due to the political situation in Pakistan, Rahman was hindered from making any progress in this endeavour, and he resigned from the post. He then returned to teaching, moving to the United States and teaching at UCLA as a visiting professor for a few years. He moved to the University of Chicago in 1969 and established himself there becoming the Harold H. Swift Distinguished Service Professor of Islamic Thought. At Chicago he was instrumental for building a strong Near Eastern Studies program that continues to be among the best in the world. Rahman also became a proponent for a reform of the Islamic polity and was an advisor to the state department. He died in 1988.

Since Rahman’s death his writings have continued to be popular among scholars of Islam and the Near East. His contributions to the University of Chicago are still evident in its excellent programs in these areas.

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