Three years after his death Dr Kalim Siddiqui continues to nourish the global Islamic movement. Like a benign apparition his thoughts and ideas, hopes and aspirations pervade every private thought and every public halaqa of those Muslims who are consciously dedicated to the cause of Islamic change, from Borneo to Butiama, Pristina to Pretoria and, especially, among the largely bewildered Muslim communities living in the West.
In life Dr Siddiqui was one of the few Muslims in our times endowed with a larger-than-life presence. In death he has acquired a legendary status: a life larger than any single canvas can portray. Organisers of the Crescent International / Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought Kalim Siddiqui memorial seminar in London on 11 April must have realised this. The seminar, appropriately titled “The Global Islamic Movement: 20 years after the Islamic Revolution”, was well-planned and executed: the venue was ideal, the speakers inspiring and the audience a model of dedication and commitment.
The hall was not overflowing but it reflected the rich diversity of the catchment area of Dr Siddiqui’s ideas and thoughts. The podium was as multi-cultural and multi-racial as was the audience. Nigerians fired questions from the floor, Arabs and Kosovars chatted during the break for tea and salat, and Turks, Anglo-Saxons, Iranians, Malaysians and so on performed the prayers shoulder-to-shoulder. It was the way Dr Siddiqui would have wanted it. But as I sat listening to the highly stimulating talks and greeting the numerous old friends, my mind kept being distracted. The mention of every key word by the speakers and the smile of every friendly face in the audience was accompanied by a reminder of Dr Siddiqui.
Perhaps typically for such an occasion, I soon started to feel emotional and, in a way, possessive. Several times during the seminar I wanted to stand up and shout: “I knew Dr Siddiqui and he was not only all ideas and visions: he sweated, he pained and, yes, he did cry!” But somehow I managed to keep things under control. Later, after the seminar, the urge to capture my memories of the old warrior became too much. Soon my haphazard diary was so many pages fatter. It is as easy to write about Dr Siddiqui as it was to sit down and talk to him.
I knew Dr Siddiqui, literally, from the first day I arrived in Britain in 1983, and kept in close contact with him until his death in 1996. Ours was a deep relationship that endured many vagaries of life. This was partly because our fates seemed forever intertwined, and partly because our relationship was based on mutual respect and understanding. Dr Siddiqui was exemplary and inspirational as teacher, colleague, confidant or elder.
During the last decade I have had the privilege of working and knowing most of the community leaders in Britain. But when it comes to ability, competence and sheer commitment none comes close to Dr Kalim. Always focused, always brave and always appropriate, Dr Siddiqui left little to chance.Others might discuss the rest of his numerous skills - orator, political scientist, family man and so onbut it was his love and understanding of journalism that affected me most.
More than any Muslim I have met, Dr Siddiqui understood the world of the media. He also knew what needs to be done about it. The only way forward, he kept repeating, is for the Muslims to develop their own media. Both Crescent International and Muslimedia reflected of this pro-active approach. More significantly, Dr Siddiqui realised that a Muslim media needed to be run by professionals. I am among those he inspired and helped to enter the profession.
The role of a Muslim journalist, he believed, was to be the fair, honest and brave chronicler not only of events and issues but also of the Islamic movement. “What is going on within the Islamic movement is patchy and obscure”, he once told me. “It is the duty of a Muslim journalist to make sense of nonsense and contextualise everything within political Islam. We should not stop questioning anything until it fits in with the concept of taqwah [God-consciousness]”.
Before launching Q-News I held several long sessions with Dr Siddiqui, trying to sell him the idea. He disagreed with some of my proposals but this did not hinder him from giving his full support. Once we sorted some thorny issues out I fondly remember the long hours we spent from the coming up with a name for the magazine, the design of its logo and writing style we should adopt.
Throughout his life Dr Siddiqui was one of the main supporters for our magazine. The moment he received an issue he would call and express his opinion. He was as generous in his praise as he was in condemning something that he disagreed with. Actually for the first three years he was one of our main contributors, writing news, features and even editorials. “I don’t have an oil-well,” he used to laugh. “But l have an ink-tank and you are welcome to that.”
Dr Siddiqui the journalist was outstanding. He was a model correspondent who always supplied immaculate copy. His writing reflected his intellect: it was always precise, informed and extremely focused. “A Muslim journalist,” he once said, “does not look around for stories: he looks for signs to fill the Divine agenda - the agenda of the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet.”
When I had a heart-attack a few years back, he was among the first people to call. “Don’t worry or be depressed,” he told me, laughing; “now you can write the truth ruthlessly and nobody can accuse you of being heartless.” A few weeks before his death I attended a rally organised by anti-racist groups at Trafalgar Square, in which he was the key speaker. Dr Siddiqui’s address was short, incisive and majestic. The crowd, which consisted of activists from all political hues, cheered wildly at the end of his speech. “You Muslims have a great leader,” one of the rally’s organisers whispered into my ear. “Yes,” I mumbled. Pity about the Ummah, I thought.
[Fuad Nahdi is Editor of Q-News, the British Muslim magazine.]
Muslimedia: May 1-15, 1999