Dr Kalim Siddiqui: There is light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel still exists

Developing Just Leadership

Kalim Siddiqui

Dhu al-Hijjah 27, 1423 2003-03-01

Islamic Movement

by Kalim Siddiqui (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 1, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1423)

Here we continue our reprinting of a series of articles reflecting on the Islamic Revolution in Iran and its impact on world history, written by the late DR KALIM SIDDIQUI and first published in 1989.

This series of articles began with a discussion of the nature of crisis in history. By capturing a fleeting moment in history we have solved a major crisis. We did not know how to get out of the stranglehold that the global power of kufr, or the western civilization, had acquired over us. Now we know how because Iran has set the example. However, before we can follow the example of Iran, the experience of the Islamic Revolution has to be conceptualised and internalized in the consciousness of the Ummah. At one level this has already been achieved. The moral high ground exists in all parts of the world.

The first step, the conceptualization, has also been attempted. This requires a two-pronged approach. In the first stage we have to show that the methods of the Islamic Revolution are not peculiar to Iran or to the Shi’i school of thought. We have put great emphasis on this point, perhaps so much that our motives have been misunderstood in Iran as well as outside Iran: I have heard it said that I was trying to take the credit for the Islamic Revolution away from Iran and the Shi’i ulama. After a speech at a conference in Tehran in November 1987, Ayatullah Amid Zanjani came up to me and said: ‘You want the ulama to lead the Ummah, but you want the ulama to follow you.’ This was of course said in jest, but it was said all the same.

The second part of the approach towards conceptualization of the Islamic Revolution is to argue that the Islamic Revolution represents a convergence in Muslim political thought. The two major schools of thought, Shi’i and Sunni, have differed on political issues. I have argued that Imam Khomeini’s ijtihad has brought the Shi’i position to a point where it is no different from the classical Sunni thought. But in practice the Sunni position itself has shifted to such an extent that virtually any ruler, however corrupt, has become acceptable. The present obsession of a large number of Sunni ulama with the Saudi regime is a case in point. But our own campaign around the world has created a strong and influential body of Sunni ulama and other scholars, intellectuals, writers and students who have accepted the leader of the Islamic State of Iran as the ‘leader of the Ummah.’ The same body of Sunni opinion also agrees that the Haramain Sharifain have to be liberated from Saudi-US control and that all Muslim countries have to undergo Islamic Revolutions for true liberation from the post-colonial control that the west has acquired over them. There are few people now who seriously disagree with this position.

The conceptualization of the Islamic Revolution for its total acceptance and understanding also requires its presentation in terms of the Seerah of Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace. The Islamic Revolution is nothing if it is not the modern manifestation of the methods of political action first employed by the Prophet. If the Islamic Revolution cannot be extrapolated from the Seerah and the Sunnah of the Prophet, then it cannot be conceptualized for global acceptance by all Muslims irrespective of their ‘school of thought’ and fiqh. A framework of thought and action that is not derived from the Seerah and the Sunnah of Muhammad, the Last Prophet of Allah, upon whom be peace, will not be acceptable to Muslims. Short-term political or military success are no criteria of acceptance in Islam. The various schools of fiqh that Muslims follow are all derived from the Seerah and the Sunnah. Or else they will have no validity. Thus the Revolution’s success or performance in Iran does not necessarily make it ‘Islamic.’ To be accepted as ‘Islamic’ and globally valid the Revolution has to show that it conforms to the highest standards of veracity laid down in all schools of thought in Islam.

Of course those of us who occupy the moral high ground today–those who happened to be in the right place, at the right time, in the right frame of mind and looking in the right direction–are totally convinced of the veracity of the Islamic Revolution in terms of the highest standards laid down in all schools of thought. We are not small in number and there are many ulama among us.

However, we face some major difficulties. The most basic of difficulties is the non-politicised situation of most Sunni ulama. These ulama have failed to challenge the authority of the rulers. In return for subservience they have received patronage from the state. This tradition of political subservience has made them ineffective as leaders of the Muslim masses. They have no radical alternatives to offer. This is clearly seen today in all Arab States, especially Saudi Arabia. In India the ulama, especially during British rule, practised a minimalist Islam concerned largely with social rituals and private prayers. During the closing years of the colonial period a new breed of leadership and political thought emerged in the form of political parties preaching ‘democracy’ as ‘Islamic.’ These political parties flourished among the new western-educated elites who were relieved to find that their western ideas were quite compatible with Islam. The best-known of these ‘Islamic parties’ are the Jama’at-e Islami, founded by Maulana Maudoodi, and al-Ikhwan al-Muslimoon, founded by Hasan al-Banna. The Ikhwan included the option of jihad, while the Jama’at was totally committed to a constitutionalist path. Neither called upon the Muslim masses to overthrow the established order. They also failed to denounce the nation-State structure as created by the colonial powers. Both the Jama’at and the Ikhwan ultimately ended up as willing and obedient servants of the Saudi regime. Their link with the Saudi kingdom was perhaps the largest single factor in the Jama’at and the Ikhwan turning against the Islamic Revolution.

Nevertheless, the political work of the Jama’at and the Ikhwan has politicized some Sunni ulama. In India and Pakistan the politicized Sunni ulama have ended up by creating their own parties in pursuit of democratic goals within the post-colonial secular states. Virtually all of them have followed the Jama’at’s example without joining the Jama’at. In the Arab world the ulama joined the Ikhwan but were unable to convert the party into a revolutionary movement. Most of these ulama found the attractions of Saudi patronage too much to resist.

In recent years the Saudis have been unmasked as out-and-out agents of kufr and enemies of Islam. This is now increasingly realized by Sunni ulama everywhere. And many of these ulama have also realized that the example set by the ulama of Iran is the only way forward. But their madaris and resources are still controlled by Saudi-paid senior ulama. This makes it difficult for the ulama to oppose the establishment. I suspect that Imam Khomeini and his followers faced a similar difficulty in Qum. They had to wait until the death of Ayatullah Burujardi in 1961 before they could openly challenge the regime of the shah.

Another major obstacle in our path are the Shi’i ulama in such countries as Pakistan. They claim allegiance to Iran and the Islamic Revolution, and some even claimed to be personal representatives of the late Imam. But in Pakistan, for instance, they pursue a narrowly sectarian line. At its root is their fear that if there were an Islamic Revolution in Pakistan, and an Islamic State were set up there, it would be a Sunni State in which the Shi’i minority would not be proper protected. These Shi’i ulama, because of their traditional links, are well-received in Iran and generously financed. This damages the image of the Islamic Revolution in Pakistan, and the strong Saudi lobby there exploits the situation to great advantage.

Despite these difficulties the future lies in persisting with the task of conceptualizing the Islamic Revolution, in presenting the convergence of Muslim political thought, and in inviting the ulama, Sunni and Shi’i, to join us on the strategic high ground that alone can liberate the Ummah. The Islamic parties will collapse and the ulama will eventually abandon the Saudis, but perhaps not yet. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel still exists. l

[This article first appeared in Crescent International, November 16-30, 1989. The final article of this series will appear in the next issue.]

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