Memorial Seminar highlights Dr Kalim Siddiqui’s understanding of the global Islamic movement

Developing Just Leadership

Laila Juma

Sha'ban 08, 1420 1999-04-16


by Laila Juma (World, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 4, Sha'ban, 1420)

The Kalim Siddiqui Memorial Seminar which took place in London on April 11 focused on his understanding of the global Islamic movement, and on issues facing the movement at this time. The title of the seminar, convened by Crescent International and the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT) was ‘The Global Islamic Movement 20 Years after the Islamic Revolution’.

The tone of the seminar was largely academic and intellectual, rather than populist. The presentations, while owing much to Dr Siddiqui’s unique contribution, concentrated on the areas in which he worked rather than his own life and work. The keynote speech was given by Zafar Bangash, Director of the ICIT.

He began by referring to Dr Siddiqui’s development of the idea of the Islamic movement long before it became a global reality after the Islamic Revolution in Iran. He pointed out that Dr Siddiqui’s 1977 paper The Islamic Movement: A Systems Approach had presented a functional outline of the Islamic movement which well described the way in which the movement has actually emerged over 20 years later.

The Islamic Revolution in Iran was a turning point, Mr Bangash said. The subsequent massive expansion of the Islamic movement, inspired by the Islamic Revolution, has taken a number of forms. The dominant theme, however, has been that only revolutionary change can result in the ‘total transformation of the Ummah’.

One of the key lessons Dr Siddiqui taught, Mr Bangash said, was that Islamic movements could not succeed by working within the existing, western-imposed and western-styled, social and political systems which exist in virtually all Muslim countries. To illustrate the dangers and limitations of this approach, Mr Bangash cited the examples of the Jama’at-e Islami in Pakistan, the FIS Party in Algeria, the Refah and Fazilat Parties in Turkey, and the Ikhwan Al-Muslimeen in Egypt. All these groups, he said, had tried to operate within their countries’ existing political systems in order to bring change and found it impossible to make meaningful progress.

Dr Siddiqui, he said, charec-terised these as ‘partial Islamic movements’ and predicted that they would either have to adopt a more revolutionary approach, or would be effectively superceded by other Islamic movements who did take a more revolutionary approach.

Mr Bangash also highlighted the importance of jihad against Islam’s external enemies, as exemplified by the Hizbullah in Lebanon, and the mujahideen in Mindanao, Chechenya, Afghanistan, Palestine and so many other places. Their success, he said, proved that Muslim fighting in the cause of Allah could overcome any odds, and further showed the failure of Muslim nation-states. Iqbal Siddiqui, the editor of Crescent also spoke on the Islamic movement later in the day. In his short presentation called The global Islamic movement in historical perspective, he emphasised that the movement must take a long-term view, and could not afford to be purely political. Islamic movements have to prepare for what they will do after coming to power, as well as just fighting the external enemies in the short term. The other four papers, reflecting this outlook, were on intellectual or other matters, rather than politics. Dr Yusuf Progler, of New York, presented a paper called Colonising Muslim minds: the impact of western hegemony on Muslim thought. He highlighted the way in which the west by abandoning the divine writ, had first indulged in deicide and from there, perpetrated the slaughter of women (burning of witches in Europe was widespread), destruction of the environment, and from there to infanticide and genocide. All these were peculiar to the western civilization.

Dr Progler pointed out that there was vigorous debate in America, for instance, about the Native population and whether they were humans or not. This led to the argument of whether they were rational or irrational. On the outcome of this debate depended the treatment metted out to them: domesticate in one case, and exterminate in the other. This mindset also led to slavery in which millions of people were uprooted from their lands in Africa to America. He concluded that the west’s policy was and remains the liquidation of the assets of others. Muslims, he said, must free themselves from such thinking and return to operating in the framework of Islam. Dr Ghada Ramahi, also from New York, presented an interesting paper on The Implications of Muslim allegiance to western science. A specialist in genetics, Dr Ramahi pointed out that Muslims must not accept developments in science as value-free. In fact, much of what is considered scientific knowledge is in fact guided by the western way of life and thinking. Such confusion is reinforced by the Muslim belief that western science owes its progress to Muslim discoveries. While the basic premise is correct, the west has turned science into a tool of its own policy which, as Dr Progler had pointed out, operates outside the framework of divine guidance. Imam Mohammed al-Asi, also of ICIT from Washington DC, presented an interesting paper on The Prophet and Power. He quoted what western philosophers believed power to be and then outlined three basic points about power, authority and legitimacy. He explained systematically that since the west did not find any legitimising references in their scriptures, they abandoned their scriptures. They need to resort to seeking legitimacy outside their scriptures, that is, by a reference to the people. Thus, an idea could be legitimate today but may become illegitimate the next day because the majority of people think so.

This is not the case in Islam. The Prophet, upon whom be peace, was provided legitimacy by Allah. Even though he did not have power in Makkhah, he had legitimacy and authority. He had a small band of followers who obeyed all his orders without hesitation. He made an interesting observation that in Makkah, the first group of people who accepted the Prophet’s message were virtually powerless people: his wife Khadijah, cousin Ali, who was a youth, and Zaid, a slave. These were all individuals who would be considered powerless in today’s terminology. Yet with these people as his followers, the Prophet had both legitimacy and authority.

It was a most interesting concept that fitted in with the study of the Seerah as outlined by Dr Kalim Siddiqui when he called for studying it afresh from the power perspective.

A lively panel discussion brought the session to a close.

Muslimedia: April 16-30, 1999

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