Today—April 18—marks a sad anniversary for intellectuals, academics and activists in the global Islamic Movement. It was on this day 24 years ago that Dr Kalim Siddiqui, one of the leading intellectuals of his time, left this earthly abode and joined heavenly company.
He had just attended the highly successful international conference in Pretoria, South Africa when he passed away before returning to his home in Slough (outside London), England.
The theme of the conference was: ‘Creating a New Civilization of Islam’. It attracted much attention from friends and foes alike.
Held from April 7 – 9, 1996, the conference was attended by thousands of people from all walks of life.
Organized jointly by Crescent International Canada and Crescent International South Africa, it attracted intellectuals, academics, activists and businessmen from most parts of Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.
When the conference idea was originally discussed, Dr. Kalim Siddiqui was not on the speakers’ list.
The reason was that he was seriously ill and had only a few months earlier undergone his second bypass operation that he nearly did not recover from.
He had spent many weeks in hospital in the Intensive Care Unit as well as in isolation.
When he saw the conference announcement in the Crescent International, Dr. Kalim called this writer and said, “How can you hold a conference without inviting me?”
I told him that he was in poor health and it was not good for him to travel or exert himself.
His reply was typical of Dr. Kalim’s style. In his booming voice, he said: “Zafar, you are not going to get rid of me that quickly!”
We both had a hearty laugh.
After the conference, we recorded a number of panel discussions on camera with Dr. Kalim as well as some of the other attendees.
Our friends in Botswana insisted that Dr. Kalim must visit them in Gabarone, the capital city. About 20 of us went there.
During one of his talks in Gabarone, Dr. Kalim quoted a hadith that he was fond of. Even if you know the world will end tomorrow and you are planting a date palm tree, you go ahead and do it.
He lived this hadith in his own life. Even while seriously ill, he insisted on mobilizing Muslims to become actively engaged in the Islamic movement and he demonstrated this by example.
His health deteriorated quickly upon return from Botswana and was unable to attend a number of social gatherings in Pretoria.
He was due to fly out of Johannesburg on Monday April 16 as was this writer but he had to delay his departure due to poor health.
Instead, his flight to London was rebooked for Thursday April 19.
On the evening of Wednesday April 18, he made wudu for Maghrib prayers and was heading out to pray when he suddenly collapsed.
He joined his Creator as the adhan for Maghrib prayers was being called out.
Inna lil Lah-e wa inna ilayh-e rajioon.
Before saying a few words about Dr. Kalim’s contribution to the global Islamic movement (a lot needs to be said and will perhaps be done in a separate article), the propaganda campaign against the conference in Pretoria also needs to be highlighted.
The enemies of Islam made scandalous allegations against the conference and those who might be in attendance.
The right-wing British daily, The Telegraph alleged that Hizbullah and Hamas representatives would be attending the conference. The organizers were stunned at this scandalous allegation.
But the enemies of Islam not only exposed themselves for such blatant lies (nothing new), their allegations led the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) to invite Dr. Kalim and this writer to appear on their newscast to discuss the conference and who might be in attendance.
Naturally, it garnered immense publicity for the conference and resulted in massive attendance beyond the expectations of the organizers.
The matter went as far as President Nelson Mandela of South Africa, who to his great credit, said the organizers had every right to hold such a conference and invite whomever they wanted.
When asked if he would meet Hamas and Hizbullah representatives, President Mandela said if they were in South Africa and wanted to meet him, he would be glad to do so!
The theme of the conference was clearly intended to convey the message that the current state of affairs in the Muslim world was unacceptable and a new civilization of Islam must be created.
This had been Dr. Kalim’s message throughout his life and eloquently encapsulated in the Draft Prospectus of the Muslim Institute for Research and Planning that was published in 1974 after two years of rigorous debate among academics, students and activists in London.
This writer, then a student at University College London (UCL), was intimately involved in this process inviting students and activists to participate in the study circle that subsequently became the Preparatory Committee of the Muslim Institute.
Dr. Kalim had also studied at UCL and obtained his Ph.D. in International Relations in 1972 after getting a degree in Economics.
He was both an intellectual and an activist. His activism was underpinned by his intellectual rigor that he brought to his work.
In addition to the Muslim Institute, he also established the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.
He wrote many books and papers that continue to guide Muslim activists everywhere to this day.
“Ideas make history,” wrote Dr. Kalim in a paper entitled “Integration and disintegration in the politics of Islam and kufr.”
This paper was 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, contrasting it with the Western notion that history makes ideas.
Dr. Kalim 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 1972-74, he posited that not a single Muslim country was truly independent.
What was called “independence” was merely the handing over of power from 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 do that would 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 (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 Muslims 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 busied themselves 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.
Under the weight of the earth-shaking events in Iran led by Imam Khomeini, 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 radical and 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.
Dr. Kalim did not suffer from such confusion. Like Allama Muhammad Iqbal, the great Muslim philosopher and poet, he knew the Western political system well. He had studied it thoroughly and had no illusions about its true nature.
Dr. Kalim’s intellectual rigor and clarity of thought are sorely missed at a time when Muslims are facing great oppression and persecution while struggling to reassert their rights in this deeply troubled world.