Part 2 – The Muslim Institute: setting out to change the world

The establishment and early years of the Institute

The Muslim Institute for Research and Planning was established in 1973-74, by a group of young Muslims that came to be known as the Preparatory Committee of the Muslim Institute. This group emerged from meetings of Muslim students and others in London University in 1972 onwards. The meetings began with an invitation to Dr Siddiqui to address a meeting of Pakistani students at University College, London, shortly after the publication of Conflict, Crisis and War in Pakistan (1972). The invitation was from Zafar Bangash, then an engineering undergraduate, later one of Dr Kalim’s closest colleagues, and now Director of the ICIT.

Shortly after these meetings began, Dr Siddiqui was awarded his PhD and started teaching International Relations at the University of Southern California’s European teaching programme in West Germany. At the same time, he also remained on the staff of the Guardian. Nonetheless, the meetings continued, moving from London University to Dr Siddiqui’s home in Slough when Zafar Bangash graduated and left UCL.

The subject of these talks was initially the state of Pakistan, recently torn apart by the 1971 war and the creation of Bangladesh. The group’s initial idea was to establish a ‘Pakistan Research and Planning Institute’ (PRPI). But Kalim Siddiqui had always thought in broader terms than just Pakistan.

The Muslim Institute for Research and Planning

In July 1973, Dr Kalim was invited to attend an International Islamic Youth Conference convened by Colonel Mu’ammar Qaddafi in Tripoli. There Dr Kalim met Muslims from all parts of the world and discussed his ideas with them. Among them were two South African Muslims who were to remain life-long friends of Dr Kalim and supporters of the Muslim Institute. These were Abu Bakr Mohamad of Durban and Ismail Kalla of Pretoria, at whose home he was to pass away over 20 years later.

He was so inspired by the experience that within weeks of returning, he had written a book about it. This book, Towards a New Destiny, was a critique of Qaddafi’s thinking and a plea for a new intellectual movement among Muslims. It provides a remarkable insight to Dr Kalim’s thinking at time of the establishment of the Muslim Institute. He also took the same ideas to the Preparatory Committee. The Pakistan Research and Planning Institute became instead the Muslim Institute for Research and Planning (MIRAP); the precise name was suggested by Amir Ahmad, a long-standing friend of Dr Kalim’s. From then on, the focus of discussion became the writing of the Draft Prospectus of the Muslim Institute.

This was written by Dr Kalim but discussed in detail at meetings of the Preparatory Committee. Zafar Bangash has described it as “perhaps the most thoroughly debated and discussed document I have ever known”. The writing of the Draft Prospectus took over six months; the text was finally approved and sent to press early in February 1974. Where Towards a New Destiny was an intensely personal work, the Draft Prospectus is a detached, crystal-clear presentation of Dr Kalim’s vision, understanding and ideas.

This can be summarised as recognising the need for Muslims to lay the intellectual and practical ground-work for a future generation to re-establish the civilizational power of Islam through a series of Islamic revolutions.

Among the insights in these works which were radical at the time was that the west was totally and irredeemably an enemy of Islam; that no solutions to the problems of Islamic civilization could be based on western ideas; that western-educated Muslims were not equipped to lead the Ummah and could only contribute by acting in partnership with traditional scholars of Islam, the ulama; and that no quick fixes could be found for problems which had been almost 1400 years in the making. One of the remarkable features of the ideas laid out in the Draft Prospectus of the Muslim Institute is that not one of them has been proven wrong by over 20 years of some of the most radical possible changes in the Muslim situation.

A few days after the Draft Prospectus of the Muslim Institute was finalized, Dr Kalim suffered his first heart attack. He was seriously ill for many months and was to suffer from heart trouble for the rest of his life. Even then, in 1974, doctors advised him to retire from all forms of work and accept a full disability pension.

Instead, he resigned from the Guardian and the University of Southern California and committed himself fully to the Muslim Institute. He was determined not to waste whatever time he had left, but to fit in as much work for the Islamic movement in as possible. This was the attitude to his health he was to maintain over the next 22 years – through two more heart attacks and two by-pass operations, in 1981 and 1995 – as can be seen in his foreword to his final book, Stages of Islamic Revolution (1996).

Dr Kalim’s work in the early years of the Institute

Over the next few years, he travelled the world, explaining and discussing his ideas with Muslims everywhere and promoting the ideas and work of the Muslim Institute. The Institute organised seminars and teaching courses, and published books and academic papers. By 1978, it was well-enough established to move out of Dr Siddiqui’s home into offices at 6 Endsleigh Street, in Bloomsbury, the intellectual heart of London.

The same year, Dr Muhammad Ghayasuddin gave up his teaching career to join the Institute full-time as Assistant Director, and Dr Kalim became Director of the Muslim Institute. Dr Ghayasuddin was Dr Kalim’s right-hand man for the rest of his life and succeeded him as both Director of the Muslim Institute and Leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain. (Unfortunately, for a number of reasons that are not relevant here, both the Institute and the Parliament were to decline rapidly following Dr Kalim’s passing. Neither now exists in any substantial or meaningful form.)

But Kalim Siddiqui’s main interest was still in political thought, and the Institute’s work remained predominantly in this direction. Two major papers prepared by Dr Kalim for conferences during the seventies remain important today. These are The Islamic Movement: A Systems Approach (1976) and Beyond the Muslim Nation-States (1977).

In these papers he developed major aspects of his political thinking. In The Islamic movement: a systems approach he hypothesised the existence of a global Islamic movement dedicated to re-establishing the civilizational power of Islam, and explored aspects of its work.

In Beyond the Muslim nation-States, he critiqued both the existing political order in the Muslim world and Muslim attempts to emulate western social science, particularly political science. Both studies led him to similar conclusions: that, in the words of The Islamic movement: A Systems Approach, “the first priority… must be the development of integrated academic disciplines of economics, politics, and sociology, and alternative operational models for a future civilization of Islam.”

Both these papers were presented at Islamic conferences convened in Saudi Arabia. Nonetheless, Dr Kalim did not hesitate to describe the existing Muslim states as illegitimate and un-Islamic. This is indicative of both Dr Kalim’s own personality (he once joked that it was a wonder that he ever got invited to conferences after what he did to Qaddafi in Towards a New Destiny!) and of the state of the Muslim world at the time, when Muslim governments felt totally unthreatened by such radical and far-sighted ideas.

Less than two years after Dr Kalim wrote that the challenge facing Muslims was to build a platform from which a future generation could make its escape, came the event which was to change both Dr Kalim’s own life and the course of modern Muslim history: the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

The Impact of the Islamic Revolution

The Islamic Revolution in Iran surprised a lot of people. In September 1978, just four months before the Shah fled Iran, US president Jimmy Carter described his regime as an island of stability in a sea of turbulence . Dr Kalim had visited Iran in early 1978 and knew a number of active Iranian students in London. But he too saw little sign of a revolutionary movement with the potential to establish Islamic rule.

He later said that he realised that something very special was happening in Iran when he first saw Imam Khomeini on television. He realised immediately that this was no sham revolutionary educated in London, Harvard or the Sorbonne; this was a leader of Islam whose roots lay in the political traditions of Islam itself.

At the same time, he was shocked by the negative reaction to the revolution among many of the Muslims he knew on the Saudi ‘conference circuit’. These were men who had talked a good fight during the 1970s but then tried to ignore the Islamic Revolution in Iran for fear of losing their Saudi patronage.

Dr Kalim, by contrast, threw himself into both studying and serving the new Islamic state. He recognised that this was possibly the breakthrough in Islamic history that he had expected to come decades in the future. But he also realised, as he said later, that the breakthrough could prove transitory, and he was determined to capture as much of its light as possible in case it did not last.

At the same time, he was aware that academic study of the new phenomenon was not sufficient; as a Muslim, it was his duty to help the embryonic Islamic state to survive the massive pressures being put on it by its enemies.

As a result, Dr Kalim visited Iran several times to see and understand the Revolution. The Muslim Institute also arranged a lecture course in London by Hamid Algar, translator of Imam Khomeini’s writings into English. Dr Kalim and other Institute members also toured Britain, the US and other countries, addressing meetings to explain the true significance of events in Iran to excited but often uninformed Muslim audiences.

Dr Kalim’s developing understanding of the Islamic Revolution can be traced through his writings of this period. These include The State of the Muslim World Today (1979) and The Islamic Revolution: Achievements, Obstacles and Goals (1980).

At the same time, Dr Kalim’s insight into the broader historical situation was helping Iranians to understand the true depth of their own revolution. His insight into the nature of the revolution and the problems it faced can be gauged by his reaction to Imam Khomeini’s appointment of Abol Hasan Bani-Sadr as president. Dr Kalim’s comment: “The Imam will have to dismiss this man!”

Dr Kalim was to remain a close friend and supporter of the Islamic State of Iran for the rest of his life. He regarded this as the only possible relationship any Muslim could have with a genuine Islamic state. The relationship was often rocky; many Iranians did not like his regular criticisms of government policy, or his understanding of the Revolution as Islamic and relevant to all Muslims. Many Iranians would have preferred the revolution to have been purely Iranian and Shi’a. But there were also many Iranians who held Dr Kalim in great esteem and affection, as was witnessed by the reaction to news of his death.

Dr Kalim always maintained that the limitations of Iranian functionaries and bureaucrats could be overcome provided the leadership remained committed to the global Islamic movement. He never met Imam Khomeini, but developed a personal relationship with Imam Sayyid Ali Khamanei, based on the Imam’s admiration for Dr Kalim’s last major paper, Processes of error, deviation, correction and convergence in Muslim political thought (1989). Dr Kalim considered this relationship the greatest possible honour in the last years of his life.


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