Dr. Kalim Siddiqui: Muslim intellectual and visionary

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Jumada' al-Akhirah 23, 1437 2016-04-01

Main Stories

by Zafar Bangash (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 2, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1437)

April 18 marks the twentieth anniversary of Dr Kalim Siddiqui’s passing away. He was one of the leading intellectuals of the last century blending intellectualism with political activism that created a unique personality.

April 18, 2016 will mark the 20th anniversary of Dr. Kalim Siddiqui’s passing away. He had died in Pretoria, South Africa after attending the highly successful international conference on “Creating a New Civilization of Islam.” Most members of the Crescent International team who had organized the conference plus those who came to establish the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT) following the decline of the Muslim Institute were present at the conference.

Dr. Kalim’s death was a great loss to the Ummah, leaving a huge void that has not been filled yet. He was an intellectual giant, a visionary, scholar and activist. He combined all these in perfect harmony creating a captivating and engaging personality. His yearning for Muslim unity revived memories of Sayyid Jamal al-Din al-Afghani/Asadabadi. As a visionary, he could be compared to Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, better known as Allama Iqbal (Iqbal Lahori to the Iranians). While not a poet, Dr. Kalim enjoyed poetry immensely but those verses that reflected the frustrations, struggle, hopes and aspirations of Muslims.

He insisted that ideas make history contrary to the Western notion that history makes ideas. Dr. Kalim conceptualized in grand terms proposing big ideas. One such idea was the existence of the global Islamic movement. Prior to that leaders of Islamic movements had talked only in terms of and operated within the boundaries of nation-states. Unfortunately, this is still the case in much of the Muslim world. The concept of the global Islamic movement had become part of the Muslims’ lexicon in Dr. Kalim’s lifetime.

As a keen student of Western political thought (he had obtained a PhD in International Relations from University College London where this writer was also a student when they first met in early-1972), he understood its true nature with its inbuilt injustices, inequality, and exploitation of the weak and poor for the benefit of the rich and powerful. He rejected these completely, arguing that only Islam offered a solution to the myriad problems plaguing the world. And he went about creating the building blocks for a future Islamic civilization.

Dr. Kalim, however, was no ivory tower intellectual detached from the realities of the world. He understood that the road back to a new Islamic civilization would not be easy; there would be many hurdles on the way. It would require a long hard struggle because Muslims had strayed so far from the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah and the Sirah of the noble Messenger (pbuh). But as the saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

When he looked at the Muslim world, he found the people disillusioned because they saw no hope in the grossly incompetent and corrupt rulers. Dr. Kalim understood clearly that the “fathers of nations” had sold the Muslims a false promise of independence. Without exception, they were little more than Western agents. As products of Western colonialism, they could not survive except in the Western bequeathed system. What “independence” did was to change the white man as ruler and replace him with a brown sahib but the exploitation continued as before, or even in worse form.

What did he propose to do about this grim situation? He proposed setting up the Muslim Institute for Research and Planning to begin to analyze the reasons for the Muslims’ decline and to propose solutions for reversing this decline. He gathered around him a group of students, academics, and activists in London where these ideas were debated and discussed. He led such discussions but allowed participants to express their views freely. After many months of informal discussions, a preparatory committee was established to produce the Draft Prospectus of the Muslim Institute. Dr. Kalim prepared the entire draft but in his customary magnanimity, allowed others to own it. He invited their input that in its final form came to be called the Draft Prospectus of the Muslim Institute.

Several features of the Draft Prospectus stand out. First, it argued that the colonial imposed order in the Muslim world would have to be dismantled entirely because it was based on alien ideas borrowed from Western political thought. He emphasized that an Islamic civilization cannot be built on borrowed ideas. Second, he felt that no single group of Muslims could bring about the desired change. He proposed that the ‘ulama — he described them as the “traditional sector” — and Western educated Muslims, whom he called the “modern sector,” must come together to bring about such change. He was careful, however, to point out that Western-educated Muslims must not assume leadership positions because they are contaminated by Western thought and ideas. Only the ‘ulama can have the role of leaders. Subsequent developments in the Muslim world would prove him absolutely right.

Third, studying the situation in the Muslim world, he postulated that the damage to Muslim societies was so great and extensive that it would take perhaps 50–100 years to bring about the desired change. For this to occur, first a body of knowledge had to be created. This must be rooted in the teachings of Islam as exemplified by the Sunnah and Sirah of the noble Messenger (pbuh) and not based on Western political thought.

The Muslim Institute registered as a charitable trust in 1976, set to work on producing the requisite body of knowledge. Seminars and lectures were organized at the Muslim Institute offices in London. Dr. Kalim also started to travel extensively around the world to share and discuss these ideas with Muslim academics, intellectuals, and activists.

Coming from a “Sunni” background, he was not fully aware of developments in Iran and the stirrings of revolt there. During and immediately after the Islamic Revolution, Dr. Kalim quickly adjusted his understanding of the fast-paced developments occurring in Iran. He had no hesitation in throwing his full support behind the Islamic Revolution seeing in it the realization of the very ideas he had postulated in the intellectual heart of London. What he thought would take 50–100 years had come to fruition in less than a decade.

The Muslim Institute became the intellectual centre for studying the Islamic Revolution. Seminars were held and academics from all backgrounds were invited to discuss the impact of the Islamic Revolution on the Muslim world. The Muslim Institute became the conduit for the permeation of Islamic Revolution’s ideas into the rest of the Muslim world, which was predominantly Sunni. Outside the circle of ‘ulama, many revolutionaries even in Iran did not fully comprehend the true import of the Islamic Revolution. They often talked in terms of Shi‘i theology, unaware that the rest of the Muslim world did not share their particular understanding.

Across the Atlantic, the Crescent International of Toronto had, quite independently, arrived at a similar understanding. Since this writer was intimately involved with the Crescent International and had been a member of the Muslim Institute preparatory committee in London, it was natural that the two would link up, especially in view of the vicious propaganda of the Western corporate media against Islamic Iran. With Dr. Kalim’s input, the standard of Crescent International went up immensely. It became the most reliable source of news about the Islamic Revolution, the most authentic and uncompromising voice of the Muslim world and a vehicle to promote the cause of the global Islamic movement. While there have been many glossy “Islamic” magazines in the world, Crescent International remains the only one with global readership that has survived, and this, because it has concentrated on ideas rather than gloss.

The ideas that Dr. Kalim articulated in his numerous articles, papers, and books became the foundation for the establishment of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT). This body continued from the point where Dr. Kalim had left since the Muslim Institute fell victim to the machinations of opportunists who had penetrated its inner circle. Dr. Kalim was an extremely honest and transparent person; he thought everyone else was equally honest and pure. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the real world. The opportunists destroyed the Muslim Institute but the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought has continued the work of Dr. Kalim.

Just before his death, Dr. Kalim had proposed the study of the Sirah from a new perspective: the power dimension. In a finely argued paper entitled “Political Dimensions of the Sirah,” Dr. Kalim proposed that Sirah studies should not merely be descriptive, but rather analytic, such that lessons from it would guide Muslims — and indeed the rest of humanity — in their wayward journey through this world.

He insisted that establishment of the Islamic state was an essential part of the Prophet’s (pbuh) mission in life; that Islam is incomplete without the Islamic state because without power, the divine message cannot be fully implemented in society. The idea of the power dimensions of the Sirah has been taken up by the ICIT. A number of papers and books have been produced on this vital subject. Together with a new tafsir of the noble Qur’an in English, The Ascendant Qur’an: Realigning Man to the Divine Power Culture by Imam Muhammad al-‘Asi, Qur’an- and Sirah-based knowledge is being produced for the global Islamic movement.

In his last book published just before his untimely death, entitled Stages of Islamic Revolution (not to be confused with the Islamic Revolution in Iran), he talked about “the role of the intellectual revolution.” The Stages book as it has come to be called, is not about the Islamic revolution in Iran per se but about future revolutions in the Muslim world that would be based on the principles of Islam and would bring about the desired change in the socio-political and economic fields in different parts of the Muslim world.

Describing the Muslims’ present predicament, he wrote “…we have digressed and deviated from Islam in many important respects. Intellectual revolution is a process that makes a significant contribution toward the correction of past mistakes and sets us on a course leading to total, or near total, corrective action by all the people acting together” (p. 9). He said that this corrective action results in the establishment in a defined area of the Islamic state under a muttaqi leadership. He readily admitted that the struggle may lead to “partial successes, many failures, the revision and refinement of ideas, new forms of leadership and, ultimately, to the total Islamic revolution that defeats all opposition and sets up the Islamic state.”

Dr. Kalim was emphatic on one point: that ideas must be validated by historical experience and success in one place must be repeatable in other places to be valid. If this does not occur, then the original idea must be carefully examined, refined, and reformed in order to produce the desired result. His analysis of sectarianism was straightforward: both Shi‘i and Sunni theology are partial understandings of the totality of Islam and emphasis by either side that it has the whole truth is the cause of most of the problems in the Muslim world today. How did he plan to overcome sectarian differences? “If Sunnis were to become a little less Sunni and the Shi‘is a little less Shi‘i and both were to become a little more Muslim, the world would be a far better place,” he argued. How could any sincere Muslim disagree with this? His intellectual input and clarity of thought are sorely missed today. May Allah (swt) rest his soul in peace forever more, ameen.

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