Fundamental principles behind the establishment of the Muslim Parliament

In 1998, Iqbal Siddiqui, Dr Kalim’s son and a former Member of the Muslim Parliament, wrote a series of three articles on Dr Kalim Siddiqui’s vision for the Muslim Parliament. The articles were published in the Crescent International. This is the first article of the series.

Fundamental principles behind Kalim Siddiqui’s establishment of the Muslim Parliament

(Crescent International, July 16-31, 1998.)

The work of the Muslim Institute after its formal establishment in 1973, and particularly following the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1978-79, made Dr Kalim Siddiqui a senior and respected figure in the global Islamic movement. However, in Britain he remained relatively little known outside the circles of Islamic activists. It was not until the Rushdie controversy in 1989, and the establishment of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain in 1990-92, that he suddenly became a public figure.

Later he would sometimes comment, partly in jest, that the Rushdie episode ruined his life by dragging him away from his desk and his writings into British community affairs. In 1989, as the Rushdie controversy was at its height, Dr Siddiqui published his paper Processes of error, deviation, correction and convergence in Muslim political thought.

This paper articulated a unique understanding of Muslim history which he had developed over several years. It was intended as the first of a series of papers in which he planned to outline the intellectual basis of the contemporary Islamic movement. In the event, the next few years of his life were dominated by the establishment of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.

The result was that many of his latest ideas, insights and hypotheses on the nature and work of the Islamic movement, expressed in speeches, articles and other writings, were never drawn together into a coherent, all-encompassing whole as he had planned to do. He often expressed the hope that, within two to three years of the Muslim Parliament’s high-profile inauguration in January 1992, it would develop strong enough structures of its own to stand separately from himself and the Muslim Institute, allowing both to return to their original and main work. The failure of the Parliament ever to attain this level of self-sufficiency was the cause of constant concern for him in his later years.

However, the establishment of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain must not be thought of purely in terms of the impact it had, in the last years of Dr Siddiqui’s life, on the intellectual work to which he had dedicated most of his life. There is a tendency to identify one area of work as somebody’s ‘real’ work and make all else secondary. But Dr Siddiqui was never a one-dimensional man. He was, as Zafar Bangash put it in his introduction to the book, In Pursuit of the Power of Islam (the best analysis of Dr Siddiqui’s work yet available) “a product as well as a scholar of [his time]. He lived it, analysed it, understood it, explained it, and at the same time contributed to its shaping as few others have done… This combination of intellectualism and activism is rare indeed.”

At the level of the global Islamic movement, Dr Siddiqui’s activism took the form of supporting, promoting and assisting the first Islamic State of the modern era, established by the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The Muslim Parliament was the fruit not only of his activism in the Muslim community in Britain, where he lived from 1954 until his death, but of a unique understanding of the position of Muslim minority communities. It was undoubtedly as important as any other work he did.

Consideration of the position and role of Muslims in Britain, and of Muslim minorities in western countries generally, was not a new direction for Dr Siddiqui or the Muslim Institute. In Dr Siddiqui’s 1973 book, Towards a New Destiny, he bemoaned the lack of leadership of the Ummah shown by Muslim governments and suggested that Muslims living in western countries, who had previously looked to Muslim governments for direction, would henceforth have to provide leadership for the whole Ummah.

In the Draft Prospectus of the Muslim Institute (1974), he wrote that “in the ‘leading sector’ there is a special role for Muslims who have migrated to and are now ‘settled’ in the countries of western Europe and North America… having taken the soft option of migration and escape, the migrants must now use their greatly improved economic conditions to initiate and support the work that needs to be done in their countries of origin.”

The fact that Muslim communities living in western countries are a vital part of the wider Ummah and the global Islamic movement was an essential aspect of Dr Siddiqui’s thinking in establishing the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain. This was reflected in the importance given to the Human Rights Committee (HRC) in the early years of the Parliament. It was this committee which was largely responsible for the Parliament’s work on Bosnia, which was arguably the most important and successful work the Parliament ever undertook. The HRC’s ‘Arms for Bosnia’ fund was later up-graded to a ‘Jihad Fund’ which was intended to support mujahideen working in Algeria, Kashmir and other parts of the world.

Dr Siddiqui’s understanding of the position of Muslim communities in western countries in the wider Ummah needs to be examined and analysed in detail, and his leadership of the Muslim Parliament is an important area of study for this. The role of British Muslims in the global context, however, was only a part of the thought on which Dr Siddiqui based his idea for the Muslim Parliament. He described his plan for the Muslim Parliament, which had not come even close to fruition when he passed away, as “an experiment in social engineering.”

It represented the experimental application of a detailed and comprehensive understanding of Muslim political thought in the context of a minority community living in a western country. He hoped that the experience of the Muslim Parliament would provide a model for Muslim communities elsewhere. Unfortunately, the experiment was only in its early stages when he left it to its own devices; the Parliament’s subsequent decline should not be seen as disproving the understanding on which it was based. This needs to be examined in detail, a major task which cannot be attempted here. However, three areas can be highlighted.

Firstly, the realization of the west’s implaccable hostility to Islam and Muslims. The west has always pretended to be open-minded and liberal, and many Muslims are taken in by this facade. What Dr Siddiqui called the west’s “inherent anti-Islamic animus” was exposed by the Rushdie experience. He also realized that the rise of the political Islamic movements in the Muslim world, in opposition to pro-western governments and regimes, would create problems for Muslims living in western countries, who would increasingly be forced to choose between the west and Islam. In order to survive, he said, Muslim minorities would have to be strong, self-sufficient and speak with a united, collective voice outside the mainstream political systems which would always be dominated by non-Muslim and anti-Islamic interests. Any attempt to work through, within or in co-operation with the establishment was bound to fail in the long run, even though it might be rewarded with minor, short-term gains.

Secondly, Dr Siddiqui argued that a collective Muslim voice in Britain would have to arise through a community political system rather than through organizations; he deliberately called the Muslim Parliament “a minority political system for Muslims in Britain.” Dr Siddiqui considered that there were already too many organizations in Britain, through which well-meaning Muslim ‘leaders’ tried to do what they thought was best for a community which had no say in their decisions. These had become a cause of disunity rather than unity. (Critics of the Muslim Parliament since Dr Siddiqui’s death might say that it has become precisely the sort of organization Dr Siddiqui intended it to replace.)

The British Muslim community consists of Muslims of every race, language, nationality, and school of thought represented in the Ummah. Dr Siddiqui realized that a broad-based political system through which all British Muslims contributed to the formulation and articulation of the community’s concerns was essential for collective action. Thus, while other community leaders deliberately excluded all those who disagreed with them, accusing them of disloyalty and disruption, Dr Siddiqui’s Muslim Parliament movement was open and inclusive. All who shared its basic ideas and objectives were welcome. Through four years of Dr Siddiqui’s leadership of the Muslim Parliament, only one Member of the Muslim Parliament was ever excluded — and that was for financial misdemeanours rather than differences of opinion.

And thirdly, Dr Siddiqui planned for the Muslim Parliament to become a ‘non-territorial Islamic State’ for Muslims in Britain. He drew a deliberate distinction between ‘political system’ and ‘State’. A political system formulates the collective position of the community, while the ‘State’ provides the community with leadership and acts on its behalf. A political system cannot run schools and hospitals; that requires an executive in the form of a State. But a political system is required so that the State can know what sort of schools and hospitals the community wants, and which it considers more important.

Dr Siddiqui realized that British Muslims needed to be able to provide the Islamic education and other services they need to survive as Muslims in a hostile environment; they could not expect the British State to provide them. This required the mobilization of the community’s resources at the disposal of a leadership (‘state’) with the community’s confidence and trust. This he also hoped the Muslim Parliament would be able to provide.

The plans Dr Siddiqui developed for the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain were only partially implemented at the time of his death. The subsequent decline of the Muslim Parliament — some would already say its total failure — is partly because of the early stage at which he left the experiment, and partly because his principles and ideas were not sufficiently understood by those who followed him.

The greater tragedy, however, would be if his ideas and understanding were buried along with the failure of his experiment for reasons beyond his control. That would be a loss not only to the Muslims of Britain, but to Muslims everywhere. That must not be permitted to happen.

[Forward to next article in this series.]