This month marks the seventeenth anniversary of Dr Kalim Siddiqui’s demise. His deep understanding and penetrating analysis of global events are sorely missed at this critical juncture.
“Ideas make history,”... This is the Islamic position, he insisted and contrasted it with the Western notion that history makes ideas.
“Ideas make history,” wrote Dr. Kalim Siddiqui in a paper entitled “Integration and disintegration in the politics of Islam and kufr,” and presented at the Muslim Institute’s World Seminar on “State and Politics in Islam” in London (August 1983). This is the Islamic position, he insisted and contrasted it with the Western notion that history makes ideas. Dr. Kalim, as he was popularly known, however, was not an armchair intellectual. He put his ideas into practice and tested them against the harsh reality prevailing in the world.
When he embarked upon establishing the Muslim Institute in London in 1973, he posited that not a single Muslim country was truly independent. What was called “independence” was merely the handing over of power by the colonial masters to their Muslim puppets. The raj continued under a new guise. Dr. Kalim insisted that the established systems in Muslim societies were totally alien and had to be uprooted and replaced by systems that were rooted in the values of Islam. He rejected the nation-state structure as well as the political party approach denouncing both as Western imposed concepts that led to the disintegration of Muslim societies. So what did he propose to solve the problems of the Ummah?
While denouncing the ruling elites as agents of colonialism, he called for the emergence of a new movement led by the ‘ulama... ‘ulama must lead these movements to bring about the total transformation of society.
While denouncing the ruling elites as agents of colonialism, he called for the emergence of a new movement led by the ‘ulama (whom he described as the “traditional sector”) and the modern educated elite (categorized as the “modern sector”) to bring about change. He insisted, however, that Western educated Muslim elites were too contaminated by Western ideas to play a leading role in the Islamic movement. Instead, he said the ‘ulama must lead these movements to bring about the total transformation of society. Looking at the situation in the Muslim world that appeared bleak at the time, he felt it might take 50–100 years before there was meaningful change. Coming from a Sunni background, Iran was not on his radar screen; he did not foresee the Islamic Revolution breaking out within a few years of propounding his vision for the future but he was able to make a quick course correction. Policy makers in the West as well as many leading Muslim intellectuals, barring a few notable exceptions (Sayyid Qutb had already paid the price with his life in August 1966 for such thinking) dismissed such pronouncements as being out of touch with reality. They had accepted the West’s supremacy and had busied themselves with acquiring Western education and mannerisms as the only route to progress. When Western policymakers dismissed Islam, like any other religion, as irrelevant to the needs of the modern world, most Muslims accepted this view as well.
The Islamic Revolution in Iran not only confirmed Dr. Kalim’s analysis but also left the westoxicated Muslim intellectuals shell shocked... Instead of supporting the Islamic Revolution against the West’s onslaught, they castigated the Islamic leadership in Iran for being too rigid.
The Islamic Revolution in Iran not only confirmed Dr. Kalim’s analysis but also left the westoxicated Muslim intellectuals shell shocked. Under the weight of the earth-shaking events that had occured in the Imam Khomeini-led Iran, all regimes in the Muslim world and many leading Muslim intellectuals were forced to issue statements in support of the Islamic Revolution. Such statements, however, were quite hypocritical as became evident soon. Instead of supporting the Islamic Revolution against the West’s onslaught, they castigated the Islamic leadership in Iran for being too rigid. While the position adopted by Muslim regimes was understandable, since their existence depended on the West’s patronage, the attitude of most Muslim intellectuals was not only disappointing but quite appalling. They, as well as most leaders of Islamic movements, had struggled against corrupt dictatorial regimes to establish Islamic governments in their societies. They should have welcomed the Islamic Revolution and joined hands to support it. Instead, they insisted the Islamic Republic must conduct its affairs within the nation-state framework and not “interfere” in the internal affairs of other states even if Muslims were oppressed and persecuted there. The illegitimate Muslim regimes in the nation-states further exposed themselves when they all sided with the Iraqi Ba‘thist regime of Saddam Husain in his murderous assault on the Islamic Republic. Far from condemning such aggression, as Islam demands, all the so-called Muslim regimes backed Saddam, some with money, others with weapons and all of them with vicious propaganda against the Islamic Republic. The only exception was Syria, which today is the target of the very regimes that had backed Saddam’s aggression against Islamic Iran.
Dr. Kalim left this earthly abode to join heavenly company on April 18, 1996 after attending an international conference in Pretoria, South Africa. His intellectual rigor and clarity of thought are sorely missed at a time when Muslims are struggling to reassert their rights in the Muslim East.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought