The Theological Thought of Fazlur Rahman: A Modern Mutakallim attempts to critically analyze and deconstruct Fazlur Rahman’s thought in order to ascertain the key principles that govern the oeuvre of his work. Further, the author has provided a ‘bridge’ to facilitate an empathetic introduction to Fazlur Rahman’s life, person, and thought which are essential for understanding him and his work. Also, the prejudice he faced from the orthodox ulama’ and political Islam activists in Pakistan foreshowed a biased misrepresentation of his work qua Orientalism and Western Imperialist agenda.
The author appraises and frames the theological thinking of Rahman from the perspective of considering him a significant contributor to the “Islamic theology of modernity” (jadid ‘ilm al-kalām) in the tradition of Muhammad Iqbal, the famous twentieth-century philosopher of the Subcontinent. The main aim the author sets himself in the book is to scrutinize Fazlur Rahman’s contribution to traditional kalam, theology proper (ilāhiyāt), and prophecy (nubuwwat) but with an eye on assessing the implications, Fazlur Rahman’s theological thought has on modernization and reformation of ʿIlm al-Kalām.
Methodologically, the author considers his approach as falling in line with “the constructivist method” associated with Albert Hourani’s Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age (1967), “wherein the emphasis is placed on the importance of locating ideas within their unique intellectual context” and maximum attention is awarded to the influences, personality traits and circumstances that have had a bearing on the intellectual under analysis.
The first chapter is a biographical overview of Fazlur Rahman’s life and his major works. It also helpfully positions Rahman’s ideas in the context of his two major interlocutory traditions, namely, what the author of the book terms as Orientalism and Islamic orthodoxy. Finally, the chapter provides an outline of the intellectual sources of Fazlur Rahman’s Islamic thought (Qurʼān, Sunna, ijmā’, and ijtihād) with special attention given to how his approach to these sources plays out in relation to major issues in Islamic intellectual history including the conceptual, epistemological, and hermeneutical relationship between the concepts of hadith and Sunna and his position on the issue of the closing of the gates of ijtihād.
Drawing upon Fazlur Rahman’s work Revival and Reform in Islam: A Study of Islamic Fundamentalism and Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual Tradition, in particular, the author in the second chapter examines Fazlur Rahman’s thinking on the issues pertaining to the emergence and the development of Islamic theology (kalām) and the major debates that have animated them (e.g., islām and īmān; qadar and jabr, irjā’, al-ḥusn wa-l-qubh) and the role of the major theological groups and scholars in the development of Sunni theology during the formative and post-formative stages of kalām and up to the modern period.
Chapter three is dedicated to Fazlur Rahman’s conceptualization of what constitutes an Islamic worldview and the necessary approach for arriving at it. The author argues that Fazlur Rahman’s thematic and contextualist approach to the Qurʼān and his dynamic concept of Sunna are the only sources he considers as normative in formulating such a worldview. In this respect, the author paints a picture of Fazlur Rahman’s theology as having affinities with ideas underpinning liberation theology, with its emphasis on orthopraxy, God’s concern for the poor and the marginalized, and the creation of a just (socio-economic) order. As such, Fazlur Rahman’s Qurʼānic worldview, for the author, points to the essentially ethical nature of the Islamic message.
In the final chapter, Fazlur Rahman’s theory of prophethood takes the front stage. The author argues that the roots of Fazlur Rahman’s theory of prophethood are to be found in the thinking of Ibn Sina, with important modifications and additions rendering theology on equal footing with philosophy. The author also describes Fazlur Rahman’s thinking on related issues such as historical debates on the doctrine of miracles and prophetic infallibility. The Theological Thought of Fazlur Rahman: A Modern Mutakallim importantly brings into the discussion in one volume all of the main topics that Rahman wrote on during the course of his life, and provides an informed discussion of Fazlur Rahman’s thinking as well as the major influences on his thought.