Tan Sri Professor Dr Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas was born in Bogor, West Java, on 5 September, 1931. In 1937 he joined his paternal relations in Johor Bahru. He received his early education in Sukabumi and Johor Bahru. He later studied at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, England and, subsequently, at the University of Malaya, Singapore, McGill University, Canada and the University of London, England.
Tan Sri Syed Naquib received his M.A and Ph.D. (1965) from McGill University, and the University of London respectively with a special focus on Islamic philosophy, theology and metaphysics. His two-volume doctoral thesis on The Mysticism of Hamzah Fansuri remains the most important and comprehensive work to-date on one of the greatest and perhaps most controversial Sufi scholars in the Malay world. He returned to Malaysia in 1964, and in 1965 became the Head of the Division of Literature in the Department of Malay Studies at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. Between 1968 and 1970 he served as the Dean of the Faculty of Arts. He later in 1970 became one of the founders of the National University Malaysia where he founded and directed the Institute of Malay Language, Literature, and Culture (IBKKM).
As a scholar of Islam, Tan Sri Syed Naquib has made significant contribution to the contemporary world of Islam in the domains of the Islamisation of contemporary knowledge and of Muslim education. He was responsible for the conceptualisation of the Islamic University, which he initially formulated at the First World Conference on Muslim Education, held in Makkah (1979).
In 1987, Tan Sri Syed Naquib founded and directed the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC), a world-class post-graduate institution where he taught and collected, over a ten-year period, the unique multilingual library comprising more than one hundred and forty thousand volumes including rare books and manuscripts.
The ISTAC library represents a collection of the very best ideas, selected and adapted from fine examples collected from all over the world. It demonstrates an infrastructure produced by serious thought and strong commitment resulting in the establishment of a dynamic, world-class educational institution.
Since 1974, Marquis Who’s Who in the World has listed Tan Sri Syed Naquib among individuals who have demonstrated outstanding achievements in their own field of endeavor. As an internationally recognised scholar, he has delivered more than 400 lectures throughout Europe, the United States, Japan, the Far East and the Muslim world. Tan Sri Syed Naquib has written 30 books and many articles on Islam in the fields of Islamic philosophy, theology and metaphysics, history, literature, art and civilisation, religion and education. Some of his works written in English and Malay have been translated into Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Punjabi, French, German, Italian, Russian, Bosnian, Albanian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, Malayalam and Indonesian. He is the only scholar in Malaysia who has been awarded the honor of occupying academic chairs in various disciplines.
Tan Sri Syed Naquib’s work has received international recognition and he is at present listed as the 500 most influential Muslims in the world by The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre report (2010). In 1975, he was conferred Fellow of the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy for outstanding contribution in the field of comparative philosophy. From 1976-77, he was a Visiting Professor of Islam at Temple University, Philadelphia, United States. In 1979 the President of Pakistan, General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, conferred upon him the Iqbal Centenary Commemorative Medal. He was also the first holder of the Tun Abdul Razak Chair of Southeast Asian Studies at Ohio University, U.S.A. (1980–82).
For his creative and scholarly contributions to the contemporary Muslim world, Tan Sri Syed Naquib has been internationally honoured including as a Member of the Royal Academy of Jordan (1994). The University of Khartoum conferred upon him the Degree of Honorary Doctorate of Arts (D. Litt.) in June 1995. The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), through its subsidiary, the Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA) conferred upon him the IRCICA Award for excellent contributions in the various fields of Islamic civilization (2000); The Russian Academy of Sciences honoured him in a Special Presentation to the Academicians, Moscow (2001); The Iranian Government, through its Society for the Appreciation of Cultural Works and Dignitaries, conferred upon him a special Award of Recognition (2002).
Also in 2002 The Cranlana Programme in Australia has listed him among its scholars (a list which includes Jean-Paul Sartre, Amartya Sen and Martin Luther-King) having powerful ideas and perspectives on the good society, acknowledging him as the first scholar in contemporary times to formulate a comprehensive concept of the Islamic university. The Cranlana Programme acknowledges powerful ideas from the classical period, the Renaissance, the nineteenth century and up to contemporary times.
Tan Sri Syed Naquib has also made significant contribution to the history and origin of the modern Malay language. He discovered and published his research on the oldest Malay manuscript, and solved the riddle of the correct arrangement of the Malay-Islamic cyclical calendar. He is the first scholar to discover and establish the correct date of the Trengganu Inscription. His works are referred to by scholars today, especially regarding Malay language studies, and Islamic studies, throughout the world. He is well recognised by Malay historians due to his contribution in formulating the general theory of Islamisation in the Malay-Indonesia Archipelago.
Tan Sri Syed Naquib is among the most outstanding and multi-faceted Muslim thinkers in the contemporary world. He is the author of authoritative works on various aspects of Islamic thought and civilisation, particularly on Sufism, cosmology, metaphysics, philosophy and Malay language and literature.
At age 81, he remains passionate about his pursuits and is still an active contributor in enhancing Islamic scholarship and understanding. His most recent published work dealing with historical fact and fiction gives new solutions to problems of historical interpretation and explanation in the history of Islam in Southeast Asia. He is currently writing a book on various aspects of Justice. Tan Sri Syed Naquib is Member of the Advisory Board of al-Hikma Islamic Translation Series, the Institute of Global Cultural Studies, Binghamton University, SUNY, Brigham Young University; a Member of the Advisory Board of the Royal Academy for Islamic Civilization Research, Encyclopedia of Arab Islamic Civilization, Amman, Jordan; and a member of the Assembly of the Parliament of Cultures, International Cultures Foundation, Turkey.
Tan Sri Syed Naquib is a distinguished and foremost thinker, philosopher and educator in the Muslim world. He is among the few contemporary scholars who is thoroughly rooted in the traditional Islamic sciences, being a competent master in theology, philosophy, metaphysics, history, and literature—truly reflecting the Imam AlGhazali Award that personifies thought leadership and innovation.