Kalim Siddiqui's vision of a 'minority political system' and a 'non-territorial Islamic State'

Developing Just Leadership

Iqbal Siddiqui

Jumada' al-Akhirah 19, 1417 1996-11-01

Special Reports

by Iqbal Siddiqui (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 25, No. 16, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1417)

Dr Kalim Siddiqui referred to the Muslim Parliament as both 'a minority political system for Muslims in Britain' and a 'non-territorial Islamic State.' Many people regarded these terms as meaning the same thing, and being virtually interchangeable. Dr Siddiqui, however, understood and meant them quite differently, and the distinction is vital to appreciating his vision of the Muslim Parliament.

When Dr Siddiqui spoke of the Muslim Parliament as a 'minority political system', he was talking about it as an internal community mechanism for determining and measuring the concerns, opinions and priorities of Muslims, and expressing their common views on key issues. A political system, in this sense, is primarily an instrument of communication. Its role is to listen to the community, think collectively for the community, and speak on its behalf.

An Islamic State, on the other hand (territorial or non-territorial), is far more than that. It is the executive arm of the community, empowered and authorized to act on their behalf. The key word here is 'power' - the State is the instrument by which a community can exercise its collective power in action. It is this concept of power which is central to understanding Dr Siddiqui's vision of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.

Dr Siddiqui had emerged as a British Muslim community leader during the Rushdie controversy, and it was at this time that his ideas and thinking on the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain crystallized. What the Rushdie affair did, Dr Siddiqui believed, was to demonstrate the lack of power of Muslims in Britain. Muslims all across the country protested, marched, and burnt books, and numerous British Muslims tried to explain their position to the British media and establishment to no avail. Despite all the hurt, pain and effort of Muslims, Rushdie was feted and honoured as a hero, and remains so to this day, albeit a hero in hiding. This is in sharp contrast to the villification and slander which is the lot of authors whose works offend the Jews. The difference, Dr Siddiqui pointed out, was purely and simply a reflection of the relative power Muslims and Jews are able to exercise in the west.

Power is a key element of Dr Siddiqui's thought at every level. From his analyses of Muslim history - particularly Muslim decline - to his political thought on the global Islamic movement, the importance he placed on the power factor has always been a common strand. In his final paper, Political Dimensions of the Seerah, which he was still working on when he passed away in April 1996, he wrote that 'Power relationships are the basis of all relationships in nature... Islam achieves justice by regulating the use of power in all relationships. Islam does not equalize power. That would be against the state of nature. No order would be possible without power differentiation. But what Islam does is that is places strict limits and moral codes on the exercise of power at all levels.'

Nowadays, by contrast, power has become almost a dirty word, something to be avoided. Good Muslims, many people say, should concentrate on perfecting their piety and practices, without getting their hands grubby trying to interfere in power or political matters. This is a modern Muslim version of the traditional Christian separation of church and State, justified by the alleged instructions of Prophet Isa, upon whom be peace, to 'render unto God that which is God's, and unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.' The Machiavellian understanding of statecraft as being inherently amoral, an arena in which the end justifies the means, ethics and morality have no place, and which is no place for a God-fearing man, has been deliberately promoted by western politicians and political thinkers. This serves two purposes: it minimizes censure, and keeps troublesome 'do-gooders' working in marginal areas outside the political mainstream, which is left to the amoral pragmatists.

This attitude is totally alien to Islam which has always sought to regulate power at all levels of society. But, over time, it has come to be adopted by many Muslims for various reasons. Some are similar to those of the west: in order to justify the abuses of the numerous illegitimate and oppressive Muslim rulers. But perhaps even more so, it has been a response to the Muslim failure on the stage of history; as political power passed not only to illegitimate Muslim rulers, but into the hands of non-Muslims, and all attempts to defeat them proved futile, so the loss of power was turned into a virtue.

Now, as the global Islamic movement is fighting to correct the results of this error, the attitude is still being actively promoted, in different forms, by the west and their secular Muslim allies whose interest it is to keep Muslims divided, weak and powerless. The successes which the Saudis and others are having in promoting non-political versions of Islam are among the greatest problems facing the global Islamic movement today.

Dr Kalim Siddiqui understood this apolitical attitude as an abdication of responsibility and a dereliction of duty on the part of Muslims. Islam is a social religion, which makes demands on Muslims collectively as well as individually. These collective responsibilities require that Muslims living together in one area organize themselves in order to be able to mobilize their resources and act together to fulfil their collective duties as Muslims. It is this collective organization of Muslims which is referred to as the Islamic State, and precisely such a body that Dr Siddiqui intended by the establishment of the Muslim Parliament.

Traditional Muslim theories of the Islamic State focused on Muslim majority areas, with Muslims in power. As Muslim power expanded, Muslim became minorities albeit ruling minorities, establishing Islamic justice and order for the benefit even of non-Muslims under their rule. Traditional Islamic thought on non-ruling Muslim minorities was that they should follow the Prophet's example and emigrate - make hijrah - to areas where Muslims did rule. This simplistic interpretation was soon confronted with harsh realities. First some Muslim minorities came under non-Muslim rule and had little option but to stay. Even worse, Muslim majority areas found themselves under non-Muslim rule in the colonial period. This was a possibility which traditional Islamic thinkers had never envisaged. Muslims were ill-equipped to handle it and reacted in different ways, some of which we discussed above.

Dr Siddiqui understood that the position of Muslims in Britain was different and new. Muslims did not come to the UK as conquerors but as workers or students seeking to better their lives. When Islamic civilization dominated history, people came from all over the world to study, live and work in the great Islamic cities. Now, Muslims were doing the same as the west established itself as the dominant civilization of the time. But, Dr Siddiqui understood, the solution to the new problems this situation created must rest in the re-assertion of old principles.

Reflecting on the experience of Muslims as minorities during the time of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, Dr Siddiqui focused on the situations facing the Prophet in Makkah and later in Madinah, as well as the experience of Muslims who left Makkah before the hijrah to find safer conditions in Habasha. Dr Siddiqui pointed out that in all these circumstances, the Prophet and other Muslims dealt with non-Muslims not as individuals but collectively. In minority situations, divorced from the main centres of power, as in Makkah and Habasha, Muslims related to the rest of the population as a community, as strongly, powerfully, and as self-sufficiently as possible.

The State in the west is dependent on control of territory, and all those living within that territory are obliged to pay total allegience to the State, whether they like it or not. In Islam people are organized into communities which may or may not control territory. In Habasha, the Muslims settled on territory controlled by the Negus under certain conditions: they would be free to practise Islam, organise themselves, and maintain community structures separate from those of the Negus's State. Their obligations to that State were also restricted.

Islam being a fair, just and realistic system, the way it treats minorities living under its rule is similar and comparable. Instead of treating these minorities as individuals outnumbered by the Muslim majority and therefore subjected to what Dr Siddiqui called 'the dictatorship of the majority' in a 'democratic' system, Islam permits minority communities certain rights (which go far beyond those permitted in Britain or other contemporary 'democracies') in return for their accepting certain collective responsibilities. This is a formula which might, in modern parlance, be called a social contract between communities. The obligations of non-Muslims to the Islamic State are similarly limited. It is not expected that they should be as committed to it as Muslims, as they do not share the principles and assumptions on which it is based.

Dr Siddiqui thought of the situation of Muslims in Britain in a similar way. Among other things, he explicitly used the term 'social contract' in his writings on the Muslim Parliament. While he did not expect that the British system would change its principles to those of Islam, he felt that British Muslims could draw on traditional Islamic thinking on the position of minorities to learn lessons on how they should think, act and organize. While continuing to relate to the British establishment as individuals, and playing a full part in British social affairs, Muslims should also be able to think and act collectively in order to exercise community power.

Defined in Islamic terms, this would make them a 'non-territorial Islamic State'. In the British context, meanwhile, they would operate as a self-helping community in social terms, and a pressure group or lobby in political terms, seeking to influence political matters from outside the mainstream system. Their position would be dichotomous, without being contradictory. They would be thinking and acting both as British Muslims and Muslim Britons.

This would enable them to exercise the moral and social power of Islam even as a minority community in Britain. It would also enable them to pursue their particular goals and objectives as Muslims in Britain. And it would enable them as Muslim Britons to benefit British society as a whole by their demonstration, from a position of power and strength, of Islamic principles, values and ideas in the British context.

This is what Dr Kalim Siddiqui meant by the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain as a 'non-territorial Islamic State for Muslims in Britain.'

The writer can be contacted at Crescent.uk@muslimedia.com.

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