Fazlur Rahman Malik

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Fazlur Rahman Malik (Urdu: فضل الرحمان ملک‎) (September 21, 1919 – July 26, 1988), generally known as Fazlur Rahman, was a modernist scholar and philosopher of Islam from today's Pakistan. He is renowned as a prominent liberal reformer of Islam, who devoted himself to educational reform and the revival of independent reasoning (ijtihad).[1] His works are subject of widespread interest in countries such as Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey.[2]

Fazlur Rahman Malik
فضل الرحمان ملک
Born(1919-09-21)21 September 1919
Died26 July 1988(1988-07-26) (aged 68)
Chicago, Illinois, United States
Alma materPunjab University (M.A.)
Oxford University (Ph.D.)
Notable work
Avicenna's Psychology, Islamic Methodology in History, Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition
EraContemporary Islamic philosophy, 20th-century philosophy
Main interests
Islamic Modernism, ijtihad

After teaching in Britain and Canada, he was appointed head of the Central Institute of Islamic Research of Pakistan in 1963. Although his works were widely respected by other Islamic reformers, they were also heavily criticized by conservative scholars as being overtly liberal.[1] This was quickly exploited by opponents of his political paymaster, General Ayub Khan, and led to his eventual exile in the United States. He left Pakistan in 1968 for the United States where he taught at the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Chicago.


Rahman was born in the Hazara District of the North West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) of British India (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, prophetic narrations, Quran'ic commentaries, logic, philosophy and other subjects. Even if Fazlur Rahman himself didn't go to a Darul uloom (traditional seat of Islamic knowledge), his father acquainted him with all these traditional Islamic sciences, and he eventually memorized the entire Qur'an at the age of 10.[3]

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 at the behest of President Ayub Khan to head up the Central Institute of Islamic Research in Karachi 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. Orthodox ulema opposed his modernist interpretations and after Ayub Khan's power weakened, they denounced Rahman as an apostate and called for his death as a wajib ul qatl.[4] He resigned from the post in September 1968 and left for the United States.

In the US he returned to teaching, and taught at UCLA as a visiting professor for a year. 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. Rahman died in Chicago, Illinois July 26, 1988 at the University of Chicago Medical Center from complications of coronary bypass surgery. A resident of suburban Naperville, Illinois at his death, he is buried in Arlington Cemetery, Elmhurst, Illinois.[5]

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. In his memory, the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago named its common area after him, due to his many years of service at the Center and at the University of Chicago at large.

He was a polyglot who, apart from mastering Urdu, Persian, Arabic and English quite early in his life, eventually also learned classical Greek, Latin, German and French in order to be more efficient in his academic career.[6]


He argued that the basis of Islamic revival was the return to the intellectual dynamism that was the hallmark of the Islamic scholarly tradition (these ideas are outlined in Revival and Reform in Islam: A Study of Islamic Fundamentalism and his magnum opus, Islam). He sought to give philosophy free rein, and was keen on Muslims appreciating how the modern nation-state understood law, as opposed to ethics; his view being that the shari'ah was a mixture of both ethics and law. He was critical of historical Muslim theologies and philosophies for failing to create a moral and ethical worldview based on the values derived from the Qur'an: 'moral values', unlike socioeconomic values, 'are not exhausted at any point in history' but require constant interpretation.

He also believed that the modern conservatism of Islamic world is a defensive and temporary posture against the perceived political and economic setbacks of the Muslim world. Adding to this was stagnation in Islamic education begun in the early Middle Ages, which led to the inadequate understanding of Qur'anic teachings.[1]


The issue of what is riba and whether it includes all interest on loans has been a major issue in Islam during the 20th century and early 21st. The Islamic revival movement that grew in strength and influence during Rahman's lifetime, considered all and any interest on loans riba and a "curse", and considered putting an end to it a top priority. As an Islamic Modernist, Rahman disagreed, believing that only high-interest loans were riba, and in particularly that riba referred only to a particular type of interest charged in the time of Muhammad. He cited the Muwatta of Imam Malik in arguing that riba should not be interpreted literally but must be understood in the context of pre-Islamic Arab moneylending customs. Feisal Khan describes his position as being that

The banned riba in the Quran referred to a particular custom, riba al-nasiah or riba al-jahaliyah, where when the debt came due it was traditional to ask the borrower `will you pay or will you riba?` If the borrower chose the latter, he would be granted an extension on the loan but the amount due would be doubled -- hense the riba. ... If the borrower then defaulted on the doubled amount, his debt was redoubled and he was given another time extension: if unable to pay, he and all his possessions could be auctioned off to satisfy his creditors.[7]

Rahman himself wrote that

the initial interest itself was not usurious and was, therefore, not considered riba. What made it riba was the increase ... that raised the principal several-fold by continued redoubling.[8]

This contradicted the contention of famous Islamist author Maulana Maududi that there was no initial interest—that money lenders made initial loans "granted free of interest"—which was doubtful on the grounds that professional moneylenders would ever make loans for free. Rahman concluded that the Quran banned "extreme usury and so by extension injustice but not interest."[7]


  • Islam, University of Chicago Press, 2nd edition, 1979. ISBN 0-226-70281-2
  • Prophecy in Islam: Philosophy and Orthodoxy, University of Chicago Press, 1979, 2011 ISBN 9780226702858
  • Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition, University of Chicago Press, 1982. ISBN 0-226-70284-7
  • Major Themes of the Qur'an, University of Chicago Press, 2009. ISBN 978-0-226-70286-5
  • Revival and Reform in Islam (ed. Ebrahim Moosa), Oneworld Publications, 1999. ISBN 1-85168-204-X
  • Islamic Methodology in History, Central Institute of Islamic Research, 1965.
  • "Riba and Interest" (PDF). Islamic Studies. Karachi. 3 (1): 1–43. March 1964. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-03.
  • Shariah, Chapter from Islam [Anchor Book, 1968], pp. 117–137.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Sonn, Tamara. (1995). "Rahman, Fazlur". In John L. Esposito. The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Bektovic, Safet. Towards a neo-modernist Islam. Journal Studia Theologica - Nordic Journal of Theology. p.160-178.
  3. ^ Emi Irfa, "The concept of battle againts non Muslim in the Holy Qur’an (application of Fazlur Rahman’s double movement method)" (thesis), 2015, p. 22
  4. ^ Khan, Islamic Banking in Pakistan, 2015: pp.42, 48
  5. ^ Death Certificate #614834: Rahman, Fazlur. Cook County Clerk's Office. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ Muhammad Khalid Masud, In Memorium: Dr. Fazlur Rahman (1919-1988), Islamic Studies, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Winter 1988), p. 399
  7. ^ a b Khan, Islamic Banking in Pakistan, 2015: p.54
  8. ^ Rahman, Fazlur; Siddiqi, M. (translator) (1964). "Riba and Interest" [Tahaqiq-i-Riba]. Islamic Studies. 3 (1): 6.

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