As we at Crescent and the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought prepare for the Kalim Siddiqui Memorial Conference to be held in London on April 23, it is remarkable how many echoes of his work we find in events unfolding around us.
At a time when Muslims around the world continue to protest against the publication and republication of the Danish caricatures of the Prophet (saw), parallels with the Rushdie affair of nearly 20 years ago are inescapable. The anger that Muslims felt at that time was defined by the fatwa against Rushdie pronounced by the late Imam Khomeini (ra). However, as Britainbecame the epicentre of the Rushdie debate, Dr Kalim became the spokesman of a community under intense attack from the political, cultural and media establishment. Before this, Dr Kalim had been known primarily for his intellectual work as Director of the Muslim Institute, and was perhaps better known in the global Islamic movement than in the British Muslim community. However, he was quickly recognised as the voice and champion of British Muslims. His position throughout was clearly defined and utterly unshakeable: Muslims in Britainhad to remain within the law, but were entitled to express their views and to be heard. As the authorities tried to browbeat the community with accusations of violence and intolerance, and demanded that they denounce the fatwa and accept Britain’s traditions of “freedom of speech”, he refused to be distracted from the main issue, Muslims’ right to protest against attacks on Islam and the Prophet (saw), and to make their anger known when their rights and sensitivities are attacked.
The development of the Muslim Parliament (now sadly defunct) was one major product of Dr Kalim’s experience at this time, but the results of his stance (and the support he received from the community) have also had far more lasting and contemporary consequences. Ten years after Dr Kalim’s death, the British establishment may like to claim that the refusal of any British publication to reprint the Danish cartoons reflects a particularly British tradition of understanding and multiculturalism; but many quietly acknowledge the influence of the marker laid down by Dr Kalim and British Muslims during the Rushdie affair.
Another feature of both the Rushdie affair and the current controversy over the Danish cartoons is that the protests have been globalized, despite efforts by our enemies to say that they are local affairs that have nothing to do with Muslims elsewhere. In the Rushdie affair, the British government was outraged that Imam Khomeini should take a stance on what they saw as a local, British affair. Likewise the Danish government has disparaged the global response to the cartoons, saying that it is politically motivated and nothing to do with the cartoons themselves, which concern only Denmark’s small Muslim community. In fact, at a time when the Ummah is often portrayed as being deeply divided along numerous faultlines, the global protests are evidence of the essential unity of the Ummah, based on our common commitment to the fundamentals of Islam and in particular the life and model of the Prophet (saw).
The unity of the Ummah and the centrality of the Seerah were both themes on which Dr Kalim placed great emphasis. Like countless Muslims around the world, at the time of the Islamic Revolution in Iran he recognised Imam Khomeini not as a Shi’a or an Iranian but as an ‘alim and leader who was deeply rooted in the traditions and history of Islam, transcending any issues of nationality or school of thought. The enemies of Islam raised the sectarian issue to counter the influence of the Islamic Revolution, and had some success because of the natural tendency towards sectarianism among many Muslims. With Iraq threatening to split on sectarian lines, and many Muslims outside Iraq supporting different factions in Iraq along similar lines, this is another issue that is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago.
For Dr Kalim, the solution to sectarian tendencies was simple enough: the realization that what we have in common as Muslims – as followers of the same Prophet (saw) – far outweighs whatever differences may have emerged after his death. This was one reason for the tremendous importance Dr Kalim placed on working on the Seerah of the Prophet, which ranks alongside the Qur’an as part of the core of Islam on which all Muslims agree and can stand together. The global protests against the Danish cartoons confirm the validity and potential of this understanding.