In last month’s issue of Crescent International, in his column, “From the Editor’s Desk”, Zafar Bangash highlighted the fact that the paper recently completed 40 years of publication, masha’Allah. This month marks another significant anniversary: 15 years since the death of Dr. Kalim Siddiqui in South Africa on April 18, 1996.
In last month’s issue of Crescent International, in his column, “From the Editor’s Desk”, Zafar Bangash highlighted the fact that the paper recently completed 40 years of publication, masha’Allah. This month marks another significant anniversary: 15 years since the death of Dr. Kalim Siddiqui in South Africa on April 18, 1996. The two are not unconnected, for it was Kalim Siddiqui who, after the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, was instrumental in converting Crescent International, previously a Pakistani community paper in Toronto, into an international newsmagazine of the new (or at least revitalised) global Islamic movement.
Dr. Siddiqui’s early recognition of the significance of the Islamic Revolution, and the need for a newsmagazine such as the Crescent, was just one example of his remarkable insight into the contemporary historical situation facing Muslims. This insight was reflected in so many of his initiatives, including the establishment of the Muslim Institute in the early 1970s, with the aim of preparing the ground for a resurgence of the Islamic movement at some time in the future; the transformation of Crescent International; the international conferences of the Islamic movement in London and other cities in the 1980s and early 1990s, which helped establish contacts between Islamic activists and leaders around the world; and the establishment of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain after the Rushdie controversy. The fact that the Muslim Institute and Muslim Parliament, the major institutions with which Dr. Siddiqui was associated, no longer exist in any meaningful form should not be allowed to diminish appreciation of their significance at the times they were established and active, or of the visions on which they were based.
I was reminded of the foundation of the Muslim Parliament recently, when the first congressional hearings into extremism among Muslims in the US took place in Washington on March 10. The calling of the hearings by Republican Congressman Peter King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, late last year caused controversy, with Muslims and other critics comparing them with the McCarthyite Senate hearings into communism in America in the 1950s, which became a witch-hunt against political opponents. Although media coverage focused on criticism of the hearings, suspicions that the new hearings would be little more than a platform for right-wing Islamophobes were confirmed by contributions such as the anti-Shariah diatribe from South Caronlina congressman Jeff Duncan, who described Islam as an ideology which threatens the primacy of the US constitution. It seems inevitable that future sessions will serve to promote and legitimise the bigotry of the numerous anti-terrorist “experts”, Christian Zionists, extreme Republicans and other right-wing think-tanks and advocates that have a long-record of portraying Islam as alien, hostile and intolerable in the US, and American Muslims as enemies within who pose an existential threat to the land of freedom.
Dr. Siddiqui’s early recognition of the significance of the Islamic Revolution, and the need for a newsmagazine such as the Crescent, was just one example of his remarkable insight into the contemporary historical situation facing Muslims.
This is another example of the problems that Muslims in western countries face because of their dual identities: as part of a global Ummah of Islam, large parts of which are engaged in struggles for freedom and self-determination against the power of a global hegemon, while also being citizens or residents of that global hegemon or countries culturally and politically aligned with it. Kalim Siddiqui recognised, as an Islamic intellectual and activist living and working in Great Britain that this dual identity would put Muslims in western countries in an increasingly difficult situation as resistance to western hegemony increased in Muslim countries, and therefore Islam was increasingly openly identified as a problem and a threat in the West.
The inauguration of the Muslim Parliament in 1992, after three years of groundwork beginning during the Rushdie controversy, was based on Dr. Siddiqui’s realization that this was a situation that Muslims in western countries could not avoid, but would just have to cope with. He argued, long before the attacks of 9/11, that Muslims in the West could expect nothing but hostility from western governments, and would need strong, independent and credible organizations and leaders, with genuine roots in the community, rather than the weak lobby groups whose instinct was to approach the government cap in hand rather than to deal with them firmly from positions of strength. The Muslim Parliament has long been attacked as a separatist and isolationist group by its enemies, and otherwise slandered and misrepresented, particularly by non-Muslims offended at the idea of a minority community having strong and assertive organization; but the reality was that it aimed to make the Muslims of Britain more self-reliant and less dependent on the favours of political parties and governments to achieve their needs and protect their interests.
As Dr. Siddiqui predicted, even before 9/11, the problems facing Muslims in western countries have intensified in recent years, as “the war on terrorism” has provided opportunities for both right-wing Islamophobes and secular liberal fundamentalists to mount increasingly blatant attacks on Islam and Muslims. The challenge for Muslims, meanwhile, remains exactly as Dr. Siddiqui stated it: to survive as Muslims individually, and as communities, despite the pressures on us; and to be able to use our unique position as Muslims in the heart of the western world to represent, articulate and support the legitimate aspirations of Muslims elsewhere and the Ummah as a whole as best we can.
The latter is what Crescent has been doing for the last 32 years, even though other institutions and projects which Dr. Kalim Siddiqui established have fallen by the wayside in the years since his death. As for Dr. Siddiqui’s broader vision, Muslims living in western countries must continue to face the enmity of western states and establishments as best they can, without the sorts of leadership and organization that Dr. Siddiqui attempted to establish in Britain. The one certainty is that Muslims in both America and Europe, as well as other non-Muslim countries, are inevitably going to suffer the consequences of their dual identity, and so continue facing precisely the sort of issues that Kalim Siddiqui anticipated and tried to prepare British Muslims for over 20 years ago.
Iqbal Siddiqui is a former editor of Crescent International (1998–2008). He now publishes a personal blog, ‘A Sceptical Islamist’: http://scepticalislamist.typepad.com.