The Muslim Parliament: a short introduction

The Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, inaugurated in 1992, emerged from a study into the Muslim situation in Britain by the Muslim Institute, London, under the leadership of Dr Kalim Siddiqui, during the Rushdie affair in 1989-90. Unfortunately it was to decline rapidly following his death in 1996, and was defunct to all intents and purposes within a few years.

The Rise of the Muslim Parliament

The Muslim Parliament was led by Dr Kalim Siddiqui until his death in 1996, and depended on the facilities and infrastructure of the Muslim Institute. During this period, the Muslim Parliament was subjected to intense attacks from the British government, establishment and media. These obviously feared the emergence of a truly independent and popular Muslim political organization, preferring to promote community ‘leaders’ and ‘representatives’ who be less demanding and more malleable and co-operative.

Despite this hostility, the Muslim Parliament quickly became the most popular and influential Muslim community body in Britain. It established successful community projects in the areas of education, social welfare, halal food and charity work, working through sub-grouping such as its Education Committee, its Human Rights Committee, the Muslim Women’s Institute, and the Bait al-Mal al-Islami charity. Much of the Muslim Institute’s traditional work in the area of the Islamic movement was also done in the Parliament’s name in the 1990s, as Dr Kalim aimed to give the new institution as high a profile as possible.

However, in organizational terms, the Parliament remained embryonic, largely because of the emphasis on project work. The Muslim Parliament Groups which it aimed to establish in every area of the country did not develop as quickly as had been hoped. The dependence on the Muslim Institute infrastructure was also problematic. Dr Siddiqui revised his initial estimated time for the full organizational development of the Muslim Parliament from 3 years to 6-8 years.

Unfortunately Dr Siddiqui did not live to see the Parliament through this period. He left the Muslim Parliament as an organization with a massive public profile, good will in the Muslim community, and unlimited potential, but also a difficult task to consolidate that potential in organizational terms. The leadership that succeeded him proved unable to meet this challenge.

The decline of the Muslim Parliament

The Parliament had only one more session after Dr Kalim’s death, in November 1996, before collapsing into disputes over the authoritarian style of the new leadership. There was also increasing dissatisfaction with other areas of the leadership, not least the inability to tolerate disagreement and accommodate a range of opinions. This inevitably led to a loss of confidence among MMPs. The leadership also proved unable to sustain the Parliament’s projects, which quickly collapsed. The Parliament’s relationship with the Muslim Institute also broke down. In 1997-98, the Parliament dissolved into a number of cliques. The leadership continued to operate a rump of the organization for some time, but to all intents and purposes the institution ceased to exist.

The collapse of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain is tragic for two reasons. Firstly, it was an institution with massive potential to serve the Muslims of Britain, and provide a model of community organization for Muslims elsewhere. And secondly, its collapse has been used by critics and enemies as evidence that the principles on which it was based were wrong.

In fact the failure was of leadership and management. The Parliament’s success under Dr Kalim’s leadership from 1992-1996, and the impact that that short institutional life has had on British Muslim community affairs and the community’s position in wider British society, show that the principles were sound. The greater tragedy would be if those principles were buried along with the institution.