Farooq Abdullah was born to the veteran statesman and National Conference leader Sheikh Abdullah and Begum Akbar Jehan Abdullah. He studied at Tyndale Biscoe School, and subsequently received his MBBS degree from SMS Medical College, Jaipur. He subsequently travelled to the UK to practice medicine.
He is married to Molly, a nurse of British origin. They have a son, Omar, and three daughters, Safia, Hinna, and Sarah. Their son Omar Abdullah is also involved in state and national politics, who was a member of the Lok Sabha and was the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Sarah is married to Congress politician Sachin Pilot.
Abdullah was elected to the Lok Sabha unopposed from Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency in the 1980 General Election.
Abdullah was a novice in the political arena of Jammu and Kashmir when he was appointed president of the National Conference in August 1981. His main qualification was that he was the son and heir of Sheikh Abdullah. After his father's death in 1982, Farooq Abdullah became the chief minister of the state. In 1984, a faction of the National conference led by his brother-in-law Ghulam Mohammad Shah broke away, leading to the collapse of his government and his dismissal. Shah subsequently became the Chief Minister with the support of the Congress.
In 1986, G.M. Shah's government was dismissed after communal riots in South Kashmir, and a new National Conference–Congress government was sworn in with Abdullah as the chief minister, after the Rajiv-Farooq accord. A new election was held in 1987 and the National Conference–Congress alliance won the election amid allegations of fraud. This period saw a rise in militancy in the state, with the return of trained militants from Pakistan and incidents that included the kidnapping of the daughter of the Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Subsequently, Farooq Abdullah resigned in protest after the Gawkadal Massacre, and the state was brought under Governor's Rule. He subsequently moved to the United Kingdom.
After returning to India, and winning the Legislative Assembly elections in 1996, Abdullah was once again sworn in as chief minister of the state, his fifth time. His government lasted for a full six-year term. In 1999, the National Conference joined the Atal Behari Vajpayee led National Democratic Alliance, and his son Omar Abdullah was subsequently appointed a union minister of state.
In the 2002 Legislative Assembly elections, Omar Abdullah was chosen to lead the National Conference, while Farooq Abdullah intended to continue his political career the Centre. The National Conference lost the election, with Omar Abdullah losing the traditional family seat of Ganderbal. A coalition government involving the Indian National Congress, People's Democratic Party, and Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party, headed by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took office.
Abdullah was subsequently elected to the Rajya Sabha in 2002 from Jammu and Kashmir for a six-year term. He was subsequently re-elected in 2009. He resigned from the Rajya Sabha in May 2009, after contesting and winning from Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency. Abdullah joined the United Progressive Alliance government as a Cabinet Minister of New and Renewable Energy.
He contested the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat again in the 2014 General Election, but was defeated by the People's Democratic Party candidate Tariq Hameed Karra. In 2017, he won the closely watched by-poll for the Srinagar parliamentary seat by defeating Nazir Ahmed Khan from the People's Democratic Party.