On the evening of Sunday, August 4, 1985, in a room in John Adams Hall of the University of London, there was held one of those spontaneous meetings that no one plans, that has no convenor, no agenda, no chairman, or any of the other structural trappings usually necessary for a meeting of about 40 people. The Muslim Institute’s world seminar on ‘The Impact of Nationalism on the Ummah’ had concluded the day before. Overseas participants were getting ready to return to their homes. Nevertheless an air of expectancy was abroad. There was a feeling that something more was required; that the ideas, emotions and hopes that had been stirred called for a deeper satisfaction.
I had been in John Adams Hall from early that morning. A series of meetings had been arranged with groups from Africa, Bangladesh, North America, Paris (mostly from the North African Islam belt), and with subscribers of the Crescent International. These meetings were most absorbing. Virtually every group demanded and expected the Muslim Institute to take steps towards creating a ‘central body’ of the global movement. To everyone my answer was the same: it was unrealistic to expect the Muslim Institute by itself to move in that direction.
To each of the groups in turn I explained how I visualised the ‘structure’ of the Islamic movement that recognized no ‘national’ frontiers. To me every Muslim is, by virtue of being a Muslim, a ‘member’ of the global Islamic movement. The Ummah is the Islamic movement. The individual Muslim can only be ‘active’, ‘inactive’, apathetic or just unaware of the goals of the global Islamic movement and the demand these make upon him or her. There are of course those whose vision falls far short of the total, global vision of Islam. Such brothers are found in the ‘national’ Islamic parties. Such parties are now busy backing the fraudulent Islamization programmes of such rulers as those in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan, Malaysia and so on.
Even asking secular rulers to ‘implement Shari’ah’ betrays a certain lack of depth in the understanding of the contemporary situation, and the nature of the nation-States and the regimes that rule over them. Those following this path are massively supported and patronised by the Saudis and others. Apart from a couple of young doctors from Egypt, who seemed to think that putting up candidates for elections conducted by the regime was a good idea, there were no representatives of the ‘Islamic parties’ at the seminar and certainly none in the groups I met throughout Sunday.
Everyone seemed to understand that henceforth the Islamic movement is a global ‘open system’. The Ummah is a seamless garment. But the Ummah and the Islamic movement urgently require the setting up of specialized institutions of all kind in all parts of the world. The Muslim Institute is only one such institution. It is small but serves, and seeks to serve, the entire Ummah, all parts of it without exception. Such institutions must not be divisive and/or exclusivist, as political parties invariably are. This does not exclude institutions from having their own priorities in resource allocation and the selection of short-term goals to be pursued.
An example of this is a subjective judgement as to which geographical areas of the Ummah are closer to reaching the stage of undergoing an Islamic Revolution. If in the opinion of one specialized institution the Islamic movement in one particular geographical area is closer to achieving an Islamic Revolution than others, then that institution would be right to concentrate all or most of its resources in that country. In this judgement parts of the global Islamic movement may differ with one another. So long as such judgement is not based on national or ethnic bias no harm can come from it.
The Islamic State is of course the highest ‘institution’ known in Islam. It is the ultimate form of organization achieved within the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad, the last and ultimate exemplar of Allah’s Will and Guidance for mankind, upon whom be peace for ever and ever more. Thus every part of the Islamic movement must consciously and deliberately be moving towards establishing the Islamic State. And if an Islamic State already exists in any part of the world, then that State is, ipso facto, the leader or the global Islamic movement. In today’s conditions such an Islamic State is undoubtedly Iran and Iran alone.
From the course the seminar had taken over the previous four days I knew that no one disputed the paramount position of the Islamic State of Iran, or that of the leadership of Imam Khomeini. And fewer than 5 percent of the 400 participants were Shi’i and the number of Irani participants was precisely six. Throughout that day as I met group after group I was enthralled by the total understanding and consensus that had clearly emerged among brothers from different and distant parts of the Ummah. Having completed the round of meetings, I went into maghrib deeply conscious of the historic nature of the new emerging consensus. But immediately after maghrib I was looking forward to going home.
After the prayers no one said anything and no announcement was made. But slowly some brothers began to drift towards a committee room. I was invited to join them. Brother Ghayasuddin and I went in and somebody closed the doors. For the next two hours I was closely questioned on all aspects of the Islamic movement, especially about the Muslim Institute, its priorities, the seminar programme and, above all, our finances. I answered all questions without inhibitions. I was then questioned about the role of the Islamic State of Iran in the global Islamic movement and our relationship with Iran. Many of those present were surprised by my frankness, openness and willing mess to discuss anything and everything. And I in turn was surprised that my views found almost complete acceptance among those present in the room.
It was after midnight. There was no chairman to bring the meeting to a close. Then suddenly I was asked to leave the room. ‘You are tired, you go home’, said a senior brother from Egypt. He added: ‘We want to talk alone’. Brother Ghayas and I left. As I drove back home I felt that perhaps this informal, unarranged, unstructured meeting had been the most important of my life. What struck me most was the deep concern everyone felt for the hardships we in the Muslim Institute had endured over so many years and the difficulty we had encountered in making our position understood. My audience was also impressed by my enduring faith in those who had so failed to respond to our needs.
Next morning Brother Ghayas telephoned to tell me that the meeting had gone on for some considerable time and a ‘delegation’ had been appointed. That evening I met the members of the ‘delegation’, including two leading ulama. My advice to them was that they should wait; that the step they proposed to take was a historic one and would need careful planning. They accepted my advice and returned home to their respective countries, leaving me to ponder over the many issues.
One of the difficulties is that time and ‘events’ do not always move together. There are times when ‘time’ runs ahead of ‘events’; there are other times when ‘events’ run ahead of time. A similar relationship exists between ideas and time. Ideas mature more slowly than events and the process of converting ideas into action or events is even slower. And if you happen to be trying to turn history around, then you have to forget the time factor altogether! History does not tolerate those who attempt to take short cuts. The path of history is strewn with the corpses of those who attempted to get there by the back door. The Islamic ‘parties’ and other ‘Islamizers’ are already doomed for this reason.
The new global Islamic movement will be slow, very slow, in taking shape and in breaking the surface. Most components that will eventually form the global Islamic movement already exist, but many are not even aware of the role that awaits them. There are others who are too busy consolidating recently gained local ground to worry about the global dimensions.
In these circumstances sabr is the greatest virtue. History demands patience and a great deal of it.
Crescent International, October 16-31, 1985.