Dr. Kalim Siddiqui: His life And Thought

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Ramadan 10, 1444 2023-04-01

Islamic Movement

by Zafar Bangash (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 2, Ramadan, 1444)

Dr. Kalim Siddiqui (1931-1996) was an intellectual, a visionary and a revolutionary. He died in Pretoria, South Africa on April 18, 1996 after attending a highly successful international conference on “Creating a New Civilization of Islam” organized by Crescent International. His death left a huge void in the intellectual struggle of not only his colleagues but also in the Ummah at large.

Being a staunch advocate of Muslim unity, he was naturally an ardent supporter of the Islamic revolution in Iran whose message he communicated to the rest of the Ummah which belongs to a different School of Thought in Islam. He chose different vehicles for this task: the Crescent International, his many papers and books, international seminars in London and extensive travel worldwide to deliver the message of unity among Muslims.

His thought cannot be fully understood or appreciated without a proper understanding of the political environment and circumstances of the 20th century. At the beginning of the century, colonialism reigned supreme in most parts of Asia and Africa. When Mustafa Kemal abolished the khilafah in Turkey in 1924 (it had already been reduced to a shell), it severed the last organic link with the first Islamic State in Madinah established by the Prophet (pbuh) 1400 years ago.

In the second half of the twentieth century, there emerged a number of Muslim nation-states. While the nationalist leaders—all products of colonialism—basked in “glory”, such independence was a façade. The only change that occurred was that European colonialists handed over power to Brown or Black replicas continuing the colonial legacy. These brown and black sahibs, contemptuous of the masses, have made a mess of their societies. There is a hardly a country that is not mired in corruption and gross mismanagement in the Muslim world.

Many Islamic scholars warned about the fraudulent independence granted to them. They tried to provide a path out of this intolerable situation fearing that continuing with the colonial legacy, Muslim societies would suffer even more. Several decades after such fraudulent independence, Muslim societies are in an even bigger mess than they were during the colonial period.

This became evident through such disasters as the June 1967 War between Arabian and zionist armies when large parts of Muslim West Asia (aka the Middle East) went under zionist occupation, and the December 1971 War between India and Pakistan resulting in the breakup of Pakistan.

Such scholars as the poet-philosopher Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, Ustadh Hasan al-Banna and Maulana Maududi immediately come to mind who warned about colonial influence. Allama Iqbal (as he came to be called) left this earthly abode in April 1938 but he had provided a vision to the Muslims of British-ruled India that their future lay in an independent state where Islam’s laws would reign supreme.

Allama Iqbal’s vision was realized in the form of Pakistan as an ‘independent’ state but those who took over had little idea of what a true Islamic state would look like. Even Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who led the Pakistan movement, otherwise an upright person, had little appreciation of an Islamic State.

This was evident from the fact that at ‘independence’, he became the first Governor General of Pakistan, a title that clearly indicated continuation of the British raj. Here was an opportunity to make a clean break with the colonial legacy but it failed to materialize. His successors have only exacerbated the situation. Pakistan’s terrible plight today, standing at the brink of precipice, is ample proof of this disastrous legacy.

Ustadh Hasan al-Banna and Maulana Maududi in their own ways gave a vision to the Muslims of their time. Banna was a teacher and social reformer; Maulana Maududi was a great scholar of the Qur’an and Hadith. His influence spread beyond the borders of Pakistan although even he did not fully grasp the divisive nature of the political party approach.

The political party he founded—the Jama‘at-e Islami—has had a lack-lustre performance in politics. The message that Ustadh Banna and Maulana Maududi delivered was universal but the application was local.

A discerning reader would immediately notice that all these scholars belonged to the “Sunni” School of Thought in Islam. To their great credit, however, they never couched their message in sectarian terminology.

In the second half of the 20th century there was another movement underway, this one in Iran, of which the predominantly “Sunni” Muslim world was largely oblivious. This was especially true of the works and struggle of Imam Khomeini. His book on Islamic government, Velayat-i Faqih, based on a series of lectures delivered in Najaf, Iraq in 1971, broke fresh ground as far as Shi‘i political thought was concerned and led the Islamic movement in Iran to a successful Islamic Revolution.

Around the same time (early 1970s), Dr. Kalim Siddiqui had started to analyze 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, and later, the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain (Unfortunately, the Muslim Parliament was destroyed by the incompetent bunch of opportunists who took over after Dr. Kalim’s death).

The common thread between all these scholars mentioned above was not only their understanding of the prevailing situation in the Muslim world but also their advocacy for the establishment of the Islamic state as a remedy for this intolerable state.

As a young university student, this writer too was affected by the disastrous events of 1967 and 1971 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 through the breakup of Pakistan.

While other speakers condemned India’s enmity 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 literature 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. He rejected an offer from President Ayub Khan to become his Press Secretary. He also turned down an offer from then 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 dedicated his life to 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 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 analyze the prevailing situation, propose a 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 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 (that he referred to as the ‘traditional sector’)—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 perhaps 50 to 100 years to accomplish given the great damage inflicted on these societies by colonialism. The Islamic movement 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.

This was part of his paper, Beyond the Muslim Nation-States, that he delivered at the Education Conference in Makkah in 1977. Even in those early days, he fearlessly spoke truth to power. The assembled heads of state and their representatives would have looked with bemused expression as the armchair intellectual from London dismissed their nation-states as colonial legacies that had to be replaced!

In his extremely eventful life, several milestones can be identified in Dr Kalim’s life (as he came to be called by colleagues and friends). 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.

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 demolish these regimes, it would be hypocritical to seek their help. Dr. Kalim thus sought help from individual Muslims that led to visiting 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 in 1977 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 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 residing in the UK but from all over the world. The Muslim Institute became the hub of academic and intellectual activity. While Iran was a blind spot, once the Islamic Revolution occurred, Dr. Kalim had no 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 of the highest intellectual standard. More significantly, these seminars helped connect Muslims from different parts of the world to discuss the burning issues affecting the world of Islam.

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 publication of al-Hilal al-Dawli, the Arabic version of the Crescent, had a profound impact on the Muslim world. Many Islamic movements and activists were inspired by these writings that energized their struggles.

Two other points about Dr. Kalim’s contribution and how he was always thinking ahead are relevant. These also reflected his intellectual clarity. 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 Islamic history without the sectarian lens.

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 could do little 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 intellectual clarity they needed. And he held big and small meetings all across Britain inviting Muslims to become a 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 appeared on British TV almost on a daily basis to discuss the Muslim Parliament idea.

The British establishment was livid. How could there be two parliaments in Britain, they demanded to know. There were even calls in the British parliament to put Dr Kalim on trial for challenging the authority of the state. He was not intimidated; he stood his ground. The British establishment had to back down!

The Muslim Parliament created such a stir globally that Muslims suffering anywhere, whether in Bosnia, Palestine, Kashmir or the Philippines, sought its help to highlight 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 Serbian onslaught amid a western-imposed arms embargo on the victims: the Bosniaks.

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 produced a remarkable book, Stages of Islamic Revolution, and a paper on the Sirah emphasizing the power perspective. The Stages book was called his last will and testament outlining what steps are needed to bring about Islamic revolutions in other societies!

The Sirah paper was titled Political Dimensions of the Sirah. Imam Muhammad al-‘Asi’s tafsir, The Ascendant Quran: Realigning Man to the Divine Power Culture, the ICIT’s Sirah books and the Crescent International are all directly inspired by Dr. Kalim’s works and ideas. The Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT) has continued Dr. Kalim’s work from the point where the Muslim Institute left off, following his untimely death in April 1996.

He represented a 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.

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