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Al Fārūqī between the History of Religions and Islamic Theology 1

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Abstract Ismāʿīl Rājī al Fārūqī (1921–1986) played a considerable role in the academic study of Islam as it was developing in North America in the 1960s and 1970s. This paper is a critical examination of how he employed the categories of religion and religious studies in his scholarly, dialogical, and Islamist work. The paper follows his ideas of religious traditions, their truth claims, and ethical engagement in the world. For Al Fārūqī, these constituted the main foundations of all religions, and provided a distinctive approach to the study of religions. Al Fārūqī was critical of the then prevailing approaches, asserting that they were either too subjective or too reductionist. He offered an approach to the study of religions based on a Kantian approach to values. Al Fārūqī’s method and theory, however, could not escape the bias and prejudice that he tried to avoid. Following his arguments, I show that his reflections on religion and its systematic study in academia charted an approach to religions, but also provided a language for a particular Islamic theology that delegitimized other approaches, particularly experiential ones, in modern Islam.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Religious Studies, University of Cape Town Private Bag, Rondebosch, 7701 South Africa


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