Dr. Kalim Siddiqui, the great Islamic scholar, visionary and, activist, joined heavenly company on April 18, 1996. This is an abridged version of the welcoming address delivered by ICIT Director Zafar Bangash at the Memorial Conference held for the late scholar in Toronto on April 23.
Human history progresses on the basis of ideas of past generations. These serve as building blocks for the achievements of future generations. This is as true in economics and political thought as it is in the physical sciences. Concurrently, people’s thoughts and ideas are influenced by the peculiar circumstances of their time. Human beings however need not become prisoners of circumstances. In fact, great personalities and leaders create their own circumstances.
The peculiar circumstances of the 20th century — colonialism, abolition of the khilafah (even if it had already been reduced to a shell) and the fraudulent independence of Muslim nation-states — forced the genesis of many great Islamic personalities who offered their perspectives on dealing with this intolerable situation.
In the first half of the 20th century, the poet-philosopher Dr. Muhammad Iqbal gave a vision to the Muslims of British colonial India to throw off the yoke of colonialism by establishing a separate homeland for themselves.
Hasan al-Banna established al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun in Egypt in 1941, initially with a view to ameliorating the social condition of Muslims, but the movement gradually evolved into an Islamic political party. Maulana Maudoodi enlightened Muslims about early Islamic history through his book, Khilafat wa-Mulukiyyat (Khilafah and Monarchy), as well as created a better understanding among Urdu-speaking Muslims of the noble Book through his tafsir, Tafhim al-Qur’an. Sayyid Qutb analyzed the prevalent systems in Muslim societies and denounced them as jahili for which he paid the price with his life.
In the second half of the 20th century, Imam Khomeini’s book on Islamic government, Walayati Faqih, broke fresh ground as far as Shi‘i political thought was concerned and led the Islamic movement to a successful Islamic Revolution in Iran. Around the same time, Dr. Kalim Siddiqui analyzed the plight of Muslims and suggested the way forward by proposing to bring about an intellectual revolution in Muslim political thought. He set about producing the building blocks of such a revolution through the establishment of the Muslim Institute as an intellectual centre in London as well as the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.
All these scholars and many others responded to the grim reality of their times: colonialism and the abolition of the khilafah in the first half of the 20th century. By the middle of the 20th century, a number of Muslim nation-states emerged on the world map but their independence proved fraudulent. This became clear through such disasters as the June 1967 War between Arabian and Zionist armies when large parts of the Muslim East (aka the Middle East) went under Zionist occupation, and the December 1971 War between India and Pakistan resulting in the breakup of Pakistan.
The common thread between all of the scholars mentioned above was not only their understanding of the prevailing situation in the Muslim world as unsatisfactory but also their advocacy of the establishment of the Islamic state as a remedy from these dire straits.
As a young university student, this writer too was affected by the disastrous events of the previous years and was groping for answers when he had his first encounter with Dr. Kalim Siddiqui. It occurred in February 1972 at a meeting convened in London to discuss the disaster that had befallen Pakistan.
While other speakers condemned India’s enmity toward and aggression against Pakistan, Dr. Kalim went to the heart of the matter. He said it was unrealistic to expect anything different from one’s enemy. Instead, he urged the Muslims to look inward and examine their own weaknesses that had led to such disasters.
This writer was a student at University College London where Dr. Kalim had just completed his PhD in International Relations. The February 1972 meeting turned into a life-long association that would result in a series of meetings and discussions leading ultimately to the establishment of the Muslim Institute for Research and Planning as a vehicle to produce the requisite body of knowledge to lead the Muslim world out of its grim predicament.
Dr. Kalim Siddiqui was already a well-known figure on the international scene. He had a degree in Economics and PhD in International Relations. He was also on the staff of the Guardian newspaper in London ultimately joining the editorial board and was visiting Professor at the University of Southern California program in Germany.
He was, however, not a careerist. He was Western-educated but not westernized. The difference is important. Here is why. He rejected an offer from President Ayub Khan to become his Press Secretary. He turned down an offer from British Prime Minister Harold Wilson to run for the Labour Party. Given his intellectual abilities and eloquence, he would have made it pretty high but he was not interested in worldly pursuits. Instead, he sacrificed all these in order to dedicate his life for the revival of the Islamic civilization. The vehicle for this was the Muslim Institute of which he became the director, giving up his lucrative career in journalism as well as the academia.
The Muslim Institute produced the Draft Prospectus that became its founding document outlining a clear vision for the future. The quality of a principled leader is to correctly understand the present situation, propose a detailed conceptual map of how to get out of it, and to motivate a body of people toward the ultimate goal, that is, set a directional course. This is what Dr. Kalim did in the Draft Prospectus. Some of its salient points include:
1. The socio-economic and political systems in the Muslim world are completely alien to the values and ethos of Islam and they cannot be fixed by mere tinkering; Muslims have to demolish these and create altogether new systems based on the values and principles of Islam;
2. The task of rebuilding the Islamic civilization cannot be performed by any single group but that two separate groups — the modern educated Muslims and the ‘ulama — must work together to produce the requisite body of knowledge before a program of action can be embarked upon;
3. The proposed change in the Muslim world would require between 50 to 100 years to accomplish. There can be no shortcuts in such work (The Islamic Revolution in Iran was a blind spot in the thinking of those at the Muslim Institute given their “Sunni” background!).
In July 1977, Dr Kalim laid out his vision in even more eloquent terms,
Our task is to dream and work for the future — for a time when a new Muslim civilization will emerge — a dynamic, thriving, growing, healthy, and happy civilization; a civilization in which man will be at peace with himself, with his physical environment and, above all, with his Creator. In the meantime, we must plan and produce the prerequisites for such a civilization.
In his extremely eventful life, several milestones can be identified. In February 1974, he suffered a massive heart attack, one of several that he would suffer over the next 22 years. He had two bypass surgeries, in 1981 and 1995, but they did not slow him down.
In May 1974, when this writer moved to Canada, it culminated in turning the small local community biweekly Crescent International into the newsmagazine of the Islamic movement in August 1980. This was largely due to the efforts and input of Dr. Kalim and the Muslim Institute in London.
In July 1977, he attended the Education Conference in Makkah at which he presented his paper, Beyond the Muslim Nation-States. Even in those early days, he boldly spoke truth to power without mincing words. The assembled heads of state and their representatives would have looked with bemused expressions at the armchair intellectual from London!
From the very beginning, Dr. Kalim was clear that no funds would be accepted from any of the regimes in the Muslim world. If the Muslim Institute set out to get rid of these regimes, it would be hypocritical to seek their help. Dr. Kalim thus sought help from individual Muslims who took him to many parts of the world. A meeting he had with the Secretary General of the Islamic Secretariat in Jeddah (part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, OIC), Hassan Tohamy, is reflective of Dr. Kalim’s style of operations. When Dr. Tohamy offered $5 million with the condition that the Secretariat would appoint a committee of Muslim ambassadors in London to supervise the work of the Muslim Institute, Dr. Kalim dismissed the offer and walked out of the meeting. He told Tohamy that the Muslim ambassadors and the regimes they represent are not fit to supervise the Institute’s work. How many Muslim scholars or activists would refuse a cheque from a donor because of such conditions?
In pursuit of producing the requisite body of knowledge, the Muslim Institute organized lectures and seminars that were attended by students and academics not only from London but from all over the world. The Muslim Institute became the hub of academic and intellectual activity in London. While Iran was a blind spot, once the Islamic Revolution occurred in Iran, Dr. Kalim had little hesitation in throwing his full weight behind it calling it a “flash of lightning in a sea of darkness.” The success of the Islamic Revolution in Iran led by Imam Khomeini fully vindicated the Muslim Institute’s position.
The decade of the 1980s was extremely eventful, even more so than before. It could be called the decade of seminars at which Muslim scholars, intellectuals, activists and students from all over the world converged on London. These seminars produced a vast body of literature. More significantly, these seminars helped connect Muslims from different parts of the world to discuss the burning issues affecting the world of Islam.
This function should be performed at the time of Hajj. Bani Saud’s control of the Haramayn (in reality, they are under the control of imperialists and Zionists) prevents any such discussion from taking place. Hajj has been reduced to mere rituals and emptied of all meaning and relevance.
The Muslim Institute seminars, Crescent International, the annual anthologies titled, Issues in the Islamic Movement (Volumes 1–8), Dr. Kalim’s other writings as well as the short-lived but extremely important appearance of al-Hilal al-Dawli, the Arabic version of the Crescent, had a profound impact on the world of Islam. Many Islamic movements and activists were inspired by these writings in their local settings.
Two other points about Dr. Kalim’s contribution and how he was always thinking ahead are relevant. These also reflected his intellectual clarity and political courage. In 1989, he wrote the extremely important paper, titled, Processes of Error, Deviation, Correction and Convergence in Muslim Political Thought. He wanted to present a Farsi translation of this paper to Imam Khomeini but before it was ready, the Imam passed away (June 3, 1989). Dr. Kalim then sent this paper to his successor, Imam Seyyed Ali Khamenei who endorsed it and even invited Dr. Kalim for a private meeting. Given the wave of sectarianism sweeping the world of Islam today, this paper should be compulsory reading for all sincere Muslims interested in understanding the different schools of thought (madhahib) in Islam. It would also help the sincere seekers of truth to see beyond the sectarian divisions and understand the reality of Islamic history.
The second episode that brought out Dr. Kalim’s leadership qualities and courage was the Rushdie fitnah that erupted in 1988–1989. This was most seriously felt in Britain where Rushdie resided. The blasphemer was backed not only by the British establishment but by the entire Western world. Muslims everywhere were angry and frustrated but what could they do apart from holding demonstrations?
Dr. Kalim provided them direction. He channeled their energies from simply holding rallies and shouting slogans to mobilizing them to establish the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain. This was the most innovative piece of social engineering in contemporary history. He did not, however, simply establish another toothless body of Muslims. He first produced the Muslim Manifesto giving Muslims the direction they needed. And he held big and small meetings all across Britain inviting Muslims to become part of it.
The Muslim Parliament was officially launched in January 1992. It was an instant success and became the most talked about Muslim project globally. Dr. Kalim would appear on British TV almost on a daily basis to discuss the Muslim Parliament idea.
This was even discussed in the British Parliament where there were calls to put him on trial for challenging the authority of the British state. Dr. Kalim was not intimidated; he stood his ground. The British government had to back down!
The Muslim Parliament created such a stir globally that Muslims suffering anywhere from Bosnia, Palestine, Kashmir to the Philippines sought its help in highlighting their plight. And it did. In November 1993, the Muslim Parliament held a highly successful conference on Bosnia offering direct and tangible support to the beleaguered Bosnians suffering the Serbian onslaught amid a Western-imposed arms embargo.
Dr. Kalim articulated grand ideas such as the global Islamic movement inspiring Muslims to achieve great things. He rejected the nation-state structure and the political party approach to politics. He denounced both as impositions of the West and divisive in nature. Instead, he advocated change in Muslim societies through a series of Islamic revolutions.
He argued that an Islamic civilization could not be revived through ideas borrowed from the West. He was emphatic that Islam had within it the regenerative power to revive itself. While not a traditional scholar of the Qur’an, he insisted that Muslims must seek solutions to their problems in the Qur’an and the Sunnah and Sirah of the Prophet (pbuh).
Just before he passed away, he had produced a remarkable paper on studying the Sirah from a power perspective. It was titled Political Dimensions of the Sirah. Imam Muhammad al-‘Asi’s tafsir, The Ascendant Quran: Realigning Man to the Divine Power Culture, and the ICIT’s Sirah literature are both directly inspired by Dr. Kalim’s works and ideas. The Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT) has continued the work of Dr. Kalim from the point where the Muslim Institute left off, following his untimely death in April 1996.
He represented the bold and confident voice of Islam that envisioned a better future for Muslims past the fog of confusion and divisions currently gripping the Muslim world. When he passed away in South Africa on April 18, 1996, the Rahbar, Imam Seyyed Ali Khamenei of Iran, issued a statement of condolence to his family, colleagues, and friends.
As the noble Qur’an says, “And We vouchsafed him his reward in this world and verily, in the life to come [too], he shall find himself among the righteous” (29:27).