A short introduction to the Muslim Institute, 1974-1998

The Muslim Institute emerged from talks in 1972-73 among a group of young Muslims in London led by the late Dr Kalim Siddiqui. Its foundation proper can be dated to the publication of the Draft Prospectus of the Muslim Institute, its foundation document, in 1974.

The early years

The Muslim Institute’s initial object was to lay the intellectual groundwork for a revival of Islamic civilizational fortunes which Dr Kalim and his colleagues expected to occur at some stage in the future. These objectives are laid out in the Draft Prospectus. During the 1970s, the Institute arranged a series of events in London, primarily aimed at local and overseas Muslim students, designed to remind Muslims of the intellectual roots of Islam and encourage them to think of political and social science issues in Islamic terms rather than those of the west. In his writings at this time, Dr Siddiqui hypothosized the existence of the global Islamic movement which would develop the capability to re-establish Islamic civilization.

The Islamic Revolution and the global Islamic movement

The Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1978-79 was a turning point. Dr Kalim Siddiqui and others associated with the Muslim Institute realized that this was a beginning of the revival of Islamic political fortunes which they had expected to occur decades in the future. The resources of the Muslim Institute were immediately committed to studying and supporting the Islamic Revolution itself, and also the global Islamic movement which it inspired.

During the 1980s, the Institute held a series of annual international seminars in London, at which members of the Islamic movement came together to discuss key issues and develop their understanding of them. The papers presented at these seminars, and later published, influenced the understanding of Islamic movements and activists around the world. Smaller seminars, lecture tours and courses were also arranged in other countries. This work, particularly overseas, continued on a smaller scale into the 1990s.

It was also immediately after the Islamic Revolution, in 1980, that the Crescent International, previously a Muslim community paper in Toronto, Canada, was taken over by the Muslim Institute’s publishing wing and converted to a ‘newsmagazine of the global Islamic movement’ under the editorship of Zafar Bangash. Alhumdulillah, it has continued in this role ever since.

The Muslim Parliament of Great Britain

In 1988, Salman Rushdie published his notorious book The Satanic Verses. Dr Kalim Siddiqui was at the forefront of Muslim reaction to it. At the same time, the Muslim Institute launched a research project into the position of Muslims in Britain, which resulted in the publication of The Muslim Manifesto in July 1990. This proposed the establishment of a ‘Council of British Muslims’. The Muslim Institute also took on the task of establishing this institution, which was inaugurated as ‘the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain’ in January 1992.

The Muslim Parliament immediately acquired a far-higher public profile, as a community and political organization, than the Institute, an intellectual body, had ever had. Over the next few years, the greater part of the Muslim Institute’s resources were committed to the development of the Muslim Parliament as a radically new type of Muslim community organization. Many of the Institute’s traditional activities, such as conferences and seminars on global Islamic issues, were continued in the Parliament’s name. The plan was to establish the Parliament as a separate and independent body once it was able to stand alone.

The decline of the Muslim Institute

After Dr Siddiqui’s death in April 1996, while attending a Muslim Institute/Crescent International conference in South Africa, he was succeeded as Director of the Muslim Institute by his assistant, Dr M. Ghayasuddin. Dr Ghayasuddin also became Leader of the Muslim Parliament. However, the Institute was unable to maintain its previous work and declined within two years to a point where it was effectively defunct. The Muslim Parliament continued to demand open access to the Institute’s resources, but was also unable to maintain its development and momentum.  Both institutions also suffered from internal disputes, more over the style of leadership and management than their future directions. As a result, both the Muslim Institute and the Muslim Parliament became effectively defunct within a few years of Dr Kalim’s death.

(In 2009, Dr Ghayasuddin – now using the name Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui – and others launched a new institution, using the name ‘The Muslim Institute’ and tracing its history back to the foundation of the original Muslim Institute in the 1970s. This is in fact a wholly separate institution following a completely different agenda, disowning Dr Kalim, his intellectual legacy and the bulk of the work done by the original Muslim Institute.)

The Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought

Disillusioned with these developments in the period following Dr Kalim’s death, and unable to persuade the new leadership of the Muslim Institute and the Muslim Parliament to address the issues, a number of Muslim Institute members and associates, including Zafar Bangash (a Trustee of the Muslim Institute and editor of the Crescent International), Dr Maqsood Siddiqi (a Trustee of the Muslim Institute), and Iqbal Siddiqui (Dr Kalim’s son), decided in 1998 to establish a new institution to continue the Muslim Institute’s work. This became the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT).

Virtually all Dr Kalim and the Muslim Institute’s overseas friends, associates and contacts, including Imam Mohammed Al-Asi and Imam Abdul Alim Musa in the USA, Dr Perwez Shafi in Pakistan, and Dr Kalim’s key contacts in Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria and other countries, transferred their support to the ICIT, taking the view that it was more important to continue the work of Dr Kalim and the Institute than to get involved in a fight over the institution, its name and resources.