Remembering the Muslim Institute and the Muslim Parliament

Developing Just Leadership

Iqbal Siddiqui

Dhu al-Hijjah 22, 1428 2008-01-01

Perspectives

by Iqbal Siddiqui (Perspectives, Crescent International Vol. 36, No. 11, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1428)

The end of the year is often a time for looking back and reflecting on events past. This is particularly the case in Western countries, where the new year coincides with the annual Christmas break, the main holiday period in most Western countries, although it is no longer a particularly Christian or spiritual occasion. This year, the Islamic new year follows very soon after the new year on the Gregorian calendar; in fact, 2008 will be a rare Gregorian year because it has two Islamic new years, as the year 1430AH will begin at the end of next December.

For us at Crescent, 2008 will mark the 10th anniversary of a major turning point in our history: the establishment of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT) and, on a less positive note, the problems in the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain and the Muslim Institute, London, that prompted it. Many of our newer readers will not know what I am talking about; but the many others who have known Crescent since before the death of Dr Kalim Siddiqui in 1996 – and in many cases, since the relaunch of Crescent as a “newsmagazine of the Islamic movement” after the Islamic Revolution in Iran – will remember the close links between Crescent and those institutions in the UK in the 1980s and early 1990s. The main link was with the Muslim Institute, founded and led by the late Dr Kalim Siddiqui, who inspired Lateef Owaisi and Zafar Bangash, who published Crescent as a local community paper in Toronto, to convert it into an international newsmagazine in 1980. The Muslim Parliament was established in 1992 as the result of research into the situation of Muslims in Britain carried out by the Muslim Institute after the Rushdie affair of 1989-90. It too was led by Dr Kalim Siddiqui as a close adjunct of the Muslim Institute.

The Muslim Institute and the Muslim Parliament were very different institutions. The Institute had been running since the early 1970s as an intellectual thinktank of the Islamic movement, which had come out in support and defence of the embryonic Islamic state after the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. The Muslim Parliament was concerned with providing a platform and a voice for the Muslim community in Britain. In some ways these two sets of priorities pulled in different directions; certainly the Parliament brought in many people who did not understand or share the outlook of the Institute or Crescent. They were inspired by Dr Kalim’s personality and views on the British Muslim situation, but had limited understanding of, or interest in, the intellectual Islamic work to which he had committed most of his life. The resulting tension, combined with failures of leadership on the part of some of those who succeeded Dr Kalim, resulted in the breakdown of both institutions after his death. While much of the work of the Muslim Institute has been carried on by the ICIT, under Zafar Bangash, the Institute itself and the Muslim Parliament no longer exist in anything like the form in which Dr Kalim had built them.

Part of the purpose of community institutions is to record and transmit the experiences and wisdom of a community to future generations, so that people don’t have to reinvent the wheel time and time again. That is what has been lost, and young Muslims in Britain are now facing an even more difficult situation than that of nearly two decades ago, without the benefit of some of the key experiences of those years. That is the tragedy of the loss of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.

Living in London and known to have been closely associated with both the Muslim Institute and the Muslim Parliament before their decline (and not to be involved with either since 1998), I still regularly hear people telling me how much they miss both institutions, but particularly the Parliament, for the structure and leadership it provided for British Muslims. Something like it, I am told, is desperately needed now, with Muslims under increasing attack, both from the government in the name of “the war on terror”, and from Islamophobic secular fundamentalists in the liberal establishment. And yet time passes very quickly, and people have short memories; those who remember the Parliament are now in their middle age, while many young Muslims confronting these issues now have no idea of the original vision of the Muslim Parliament and how it could guide them today.

Part of the purpose of community institutions is to record and transmit the experiences and wisdom of a community to future generations, so that people don’t have to reinvent the wheel time and time again. That is what has been lost, and young Muslims in Britain are now facing an even more difficult situation than that of nearly two decades ago, without the benefit of some of the key experiences of those years. That is the tragedy of the loss of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.

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