The Rushdie Affair and the Muslim Manifesto
Until 1989, Dr Kalim’s work, even in support of the Islamic movement, was primarily academic and intellectual. He was largely insulated from the gaze of the wider British community, except when he was invited by the media, as an academic expert, to give an Islamic perspective on current news stories. All this changed with the Rushdie controversy, when his emergence as a spokesman for British Muslims angry at the publication of the blasphemous novel made him a hate figure for the anti-Islamic literati and the populist media and politicians.
Before Imam Khomeini gave his fatwa on the issue in February 1989, Dr Kalim was not unaware of the protests against the book, but had taken no major role in it. While it was undeniably serious, Dr Kalim took the view that campaigning for a ban on The Satanic Verses would be a major and pointless distraction from the main work of the Muslim Institute, and would serve only to give the book more status and publicity than it deserved.
That assessment changed with the Imam’s fatwa. Dr Kalim was actually in Tehran when the fatwa was issued, leading to reports that he prompted it. This is an exaggeration of his role. In fact, he was at Tehran Airport when Dr Khatami, then the Minister of Islamic Guidance, later president of the Islamic Republic, came to meet him and asked what he knew about Rushdie and his book. Dr Kalim explained the situation to him and Dr Khatami left. Later the same day, back in his hotel as his flight had been cancelled by bad weather, Dr Kalim heard that the Imam had issued his fatwa.
When he finally landed in London, the establishment, the literati and the media were up in arms. The British Muslim community, whose previous protests had been largely ignored, was under siege. This was now a totally different situation to that which had previously existed, and demanded a radically different response. It was thus that Dr Kalim became the community’s champion against hysterical media and establishment attacks.
Dr Siddiqui’s position remained precisely the same throughout. The fatwa had been pronounced by the Imam of the only Islamic state of the day and was therefore legally binding on all Muslims. However, Muslims in Britain had, under Islamic law, a prior and higher commitment to the law of the land in which they lived as a minority and therefore could not execute the fatwa in Britain. But such was Muslim anger at Rushdie’s offence that there remained the possibility that some over-zealous Muslim might execute the fatwa nonetheless; therefore Rushdie should not regard himself be safe on Britain’s streets.
Even as he was travelling from newsroom to studio, giving interview after interview representing the Muslim position on Rushdie, however, Dr Kalim was planning ahead as well. He had always taken a keen interest in community affairs. Now he turned his attention to considering the situation of Muslims in Britain, launching a consultation process with Muslim community leaders and organizations into how Muslims in Britain should view their situation in the country.
The result was The Muslim Manifesto. Published in 1990, at a Muslim Institute conference on ‘The Future of Muslims in Britain’, this laid out both the problems facing Muslims here and the duties and responsibilities the Muslim community had living in a non-Muslim country. The Muslim Manifesto was to become the foundation document of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.
The Muslim Parliament – a minority political system for Muslims in Britain
The Muslim Parliament of Great Britain was inaugurated on January 4, 1992, after nearly 18 months of intensive groundwork following the publication of the Muslim Manifesto. Along with the Muslim Institute, the Muslim Parliament was one of the two major institutions which Dr Kalim established to pursue his vision and which he left as his legacy for the Muslim Ummah.
It is often said that the community work which is the main focus of the Muslim Parliament was a new direction for Dr Kalim. That this is not true can be seen by any perusal of his writings. The problems facing Muslims living as minorities in western countries is a theme from his earliest book on Muslim political thought, Towards a New Destiny (1973). In this book, he said that the challenge facing Muslim minorities was two-fold: to survive uncontaminated as Muslims in a hostile environment, and to contribute fully to the global Ummah’s struggle to re-establish Islam as a civilizational force for good in the world.
Precisely the same points emerged again in his writings on the Muslim Parliament, particularly Generating ‘Power’ without Politics ( 1990) and The Muslim Parliament of Great Britain – political innovation and adaptation, his opening speech at the inauguration of the Muslim Parliament (1992). Dr Kalim argued that to survive as Muslims in this country, the community must develop its own institutions capable of meeting its needs in every area without dependence on the British state or government. He particularly opposed direct involvement in mainstream British politics, saying that Muslims could only exercise influence in Britain by becoming strong outside the system and exerting pressure on it from outside.
Immediately after its inauguration, the Muslim Parliament set to work undertaking further research into the conditions and needs of Muslims in Britain, and established projects to improve their situation in important areas. These have included education, poverty, unemployment, anti-Muslim discrimination, the state of the community’s mosques, and the halal meat trade.
In 1993, the Muslim Parliament established a registered charity, the Bait al-Mal al-Islami, to finance and administer those parts of its work which are charitable under British law. The Bait al-Mal established welfare provisions for deprived families and those suffering from hardship, and assistance schemes for students from poor backgrounds.
Another major area of work was education. Dr Kalim maintained that education was the only way of breaking the cycle of poverty and social deprivation which has kept British Muslims poor and exploited at the bottom of Britain s socio-economic ladder. While the education debate among Muslims in this country concentrated on obtaining government funding for the handful of Muslim schools, the Muslim Parliament took the view that the immediate need was for Muslims to establish supplementary education facilities to help Muslim children in state schools.
The third major institution of the Muslim Parliament network has been the Halal Food Authority, which was established in 1994 to monitor and regulate the halal meat trade in Britain, which unfortunately was largely fraudulent. Muslim Parliament research indicated that less than 20 percent of meat sold as ‘halal’ really is halal. This was an area particularly close to Dr Kalim’s heart. The HFA established a network of approved abbatoirs and shops to provide the community with what was, at the time, the only independently certified halal meat in Britain.
At the same time, the Muslim Parliament worked to help Muslims and the global Islamic movement overseas in their struggles. Some Muslims argued that the Parliament should concentrate on local issues and that taking a strong position on international issues would make it more difficult to work in Britain, but Dr Kalim never accepted this position, saying that Muslims in Britain had a responsibility to the global Islamic movement.
Central to this work was the Muslim Parliament’s work in support of Bosnia, largely done through its Human Rights Committee. The Muslim Parliament’s World Conference on Bosnia and the global Islamic movement (November 1993) contributed greatly to the understanding of events there, and led to the establishment of the Arms for Bosnia Fund at a time when most Muslims were concentrating only on humanitarian work.