Fuat Sezgin, who was born 24 October 1924 in Bitlis, came to Istanbul in 1943 after completing middle and upper school in Erzurum. Sezgin became the pupil of the German orientalist Helmut Ritter (m. 1971), one of the best-known academics who taught at Istanbul University’s Oriental Studies Institute. It was Ritter who recommended Sezgin to study the sciences in Islamic culture.
After Sezgin graduated from the Faculty of Arts of Istanbul University in 1951, he wrote a doctoral thesis on in the field of Arabic language and literature. He became a professor in 1954, having finished his thesis on “Buhârî’nin Kaynakları” [The Sources of al-Buḥārī]. In this work he challenged established views to show that al-Buḥārī, an important hadith scholar in Islamic culture, used written rather than oral sources.
The government brought about by the 1960 military coup put Sezgin’s name on a list of 147 academics who would be banned from the universities of Turkey. This news led Sezgin to leave the country and continue his career in Germany. In the Frankfurt University History of Science Institute he wrote a second doctoral thesis in 1965 on Jabir ibn Hayyan. One year later he became a professor, the same year in which he married fellow-orientalist Ursula Sezgin. In 1970 their daughter Hilal was born.
In 1967 Fuat Sezgin finished the first volume of the most wide-ranging work ever written in its field, the Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums (History of Arabic Written Works), and when he died he was writing the 18th volume. In 1978 he was awarded the King Faisal Prize in Islamic Sciences, and he used the associated funds to found in 1982 the Institute for the History of the Arabic-Islamic Science, which is linked to the Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe University.
In the course of his life Prof. Dr. Fuat Sezgin won honorary membership or other important awards from the Arabic Language Academy of Cairo, the Arabic Language Academy of Damascus, The Royal Academy of Morocco, the Arabic Language Academy of Baghdad, The Turkish Academy of Sciences
He received honorary doctorates from Erzurum Atatürk University, Isparta Süleyman Demirel University, Kayseri Erciyes University and İstanbul University. Fuat Sezgin also won the Frankfurt am Main Goethe award, the first class Federal Service award in Germany, the German High Service award, the Islamic Science Book award in Iran, the Hessen Culture Prize and Turkey’s Presidential Award for Culture and the Arts. Prof. Dr. Fuat Sezgin received the Culture and Tourism Ministry award in 2016 for the high quality of his contributions in establishing the Istanbul Museum for the History of Science and Technology in Islam.
Along with Syriac, Hebrew, Latin, Arabic and German, Fuat Sezgin mastered 27 languages. He died on 30 June 2018 in Istanbul and is buried in the garden of Gülhane Park and the Museum for the History of Science and Technology in Islam.