(Courtesy: Q-News International, April 19–May 9, 1996.)
Although he was best known in Britain for his stand against Rushdie, and as the founder and Leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, Dr Kalim Siddiqui’s involvement in British Muslim community affairs was a new direction for him in the later years of his life. His life’s main work was as an intellectual and visionary of the global Islamic movement. It is significant that he was in South Africa for a conference on ‘Creating a New Civilisation of Islam’ when he died. While there, he had spoken on every day of the three-day conference, and seen the first print run of his final book, Stages of Islamic Revolution, sold out in less than two days.
Dr Kalim collapsed and died at the Pretoria home of Ismail Kalla, an old friend and founder-member of the Muslim Institute, on the evening of Thursday April 18 (Dhu al-Hijjah 1, 1416AH), shortly before he was due to leave for the airport to return to London. He had been resting in the afternoon, and then got up to make wudhu and get ready for travelling. Shortly after 6pm, the maghrib adhan sounded. He and his wife left the annex they were staying in to walk to the main house for jama’at. In the passage between the buildings, he suddenly felt giddy, collapsed into his wife’s arms, and slid to the ground.
Ismail Kalla ran immediately to try and revive him but Dr Kalim’s eyes were already dilated and when the doctors and paramedics came, they could do nothing. Death was instantaneous, even as the adhan was still sounding.
Nearly 2000 people attended janaza prayers for Dr Kalim in Pretoria the next day before the body was flown to London. He was buried in Slough Cemetery on Sunday April 21 after mass janaza prayers at the Stoke Poges Country Club. Messages of condolence from Imam Ali Hussaini Khamenei, Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Dr Hasan Turabi, of Sudan, and the Hizbullah of Lebanon were among those read out. Tributes were paid by a wide range of Muslim personalities, including Dr Muhammad al-Masa’ari, Yusuf Islam, Omar Bakri Muhammad, Fuad Hussain, and Q-News editor Fuad Nahdi.
Most of Dr Kalim Siddiqui’s work for the Islamic movement was done through the Muslim Institute for Research and Planning, which he and other like-minded young Muslims had established in 1972. Discussing the plight of the Muslim world, these young Muslims concluded that Muslim societies could only physically and politically liberate themselves from western control after an intellectual revolution by which Muslim freed themselves of the shackles of western-imposed systems of thought. The object of the Muslim Institute, as defined in its Draft Prospectus, was to lay the foundation for this intellectual revolution. In this document, Dr Kalim predicted that the intellectual work of the Institute might bear fruit in terms of concrete political change some decades in the future.
Throughout the 1970s, Dr Kalim travelled the world, with friends such as Dr Muhammad Ghayasuddin, who joined the Institute in 1978, and Ismail Kalla of South Africa, whom he met in Tripoli in 1973, attending conferences, meeting intellectuals and political leaders, and developing and promoting the ideas and vision of the Muslim Institute. The development of Dr Kalim’s ideas during this time can be traced in such works as Towards a New Destiny (1974); Beyond the Muslim Nation-States (1976); and The Islamic Movement – a Systems Approach (1978).
The Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1978-79 proved that his vision was correct, only his timescale was wrong. Dr Kalim would later say that he knew nothing of Iran or the Islamic movement there, but recognised Imam Khomeini as a radically new kind of Muslim leader, with roots in the traditions of Islam rather than the Sorbonne, London University or Harvard, when he first saw him on television. Dr Kalim was shocked by the cool reception the Islamic Revolution received among Muslim rulers, politicians and intellectuals in other parts of the world, and immediately offered the new Islamic state every support he possibly could.
Overnight, the Muslim Institute changed from being an academic and intellectual body to one that was also politically active. Central to the Institute’s work was the Crescent International newspaper, a community paper in Toronto, Canada, run by Lateef Owaisi and Zafar Bangash, founder-members of the Muslim Institute. This was transformed into an international newsmagazine for the emerging global Islamic movement and became the main vehicle through which the Institute’s ideas were spread.
During the 1980s, as the global Islamic movement enjoyed the boost given to it by the victory of Islam in Iran, Dr Kalim became the leading interpreter and analyst of the phenomenon of the Islamic Revolution, both presenting it to the rest of the world and helping Iran’s leaders to understand the historic process of which they were a part. In the early 1980s, the Muslim Institute hosted a series of important international seminars and conferences in London at which leaders and members of the Islamic movement from all parts of the world came together to consider and understand the new historical situation created by the Revolution. Leaders of the Islamic movement who attended these conferences included Shaikh Fadhlullah of Lebanon, Shaikh Omar Abdel Rahman of Egypt, and Maalam Ibrahim Zakzaky of Nigeria.
His paper on Processes of Error, Deviation, Correction and Convergence in Muslim Political Thought (1989) was the climax of his intellectual work, summarising his understanding of Muslim history. This and other works published by him during the eighties have become essential reading for understanding the Islamic movement, translated into numerous languages of the Muslim world. It is a sign of their importance that their Arabic translations are taught at schools and colleges run by the Hizbullah in Lebanon.
Throughout this period, Dr Kalim’s work was academic and intellectual. His involvement in British community affairs was minimal except for local affairs in Slough. This changed with the Satanic Verses affair, and in Britain he is now better known as a community leader than a political thinker. Although he had always insisted that the civilisations of Islam and the west were bound to clash, the British reaction to Muslim concerns over Rushdie’s book alerted him to the problems being faced by the community here, and he threw himself into local affairs with all the verve and commitment he showed the Islamic movement. The Muslim Parliament, established in 1992 as a ‘minority political system of Islam in Britain’, is still in its early years, as he repeatedly acknowledged. He always warned against expecting too much too soon, saying that unrealistic expectations led to unwarranted disappointment.
Dr Kalim Siddiqui was born in Sultanpur, UP, British India, on September 15, 1931, although his papers give his birth-date as July 3, 1933. He came to Karachi in July 1948, where he became a student-leader and editor of a radical community paper, The Leader. The editorials he wrote for the Leader in support of Dr Mossadeq’s nationalist government in Iran, and against US and British interference in Muslim affairs, read familiarly even now.
Dr Kalim came to London in 1954, learnt typing and shorthand, and developed a journalistic career working for a series of local and regional newspapers over the next 10 years, including the Kensington News, the Wokingham Times, the Northern Echo and the Slough Express. He also maintained a keen interest in Muslim political affairs, being a member of a London-based ‘Khilafat Movement’ and travelling regularly to Paris to demonstrate against French policies in Algeria at the time. At the same time, he took O-levels and A-levels at night classes.
In 1964, he moved to Slough, to the house in which he lived for the rest of his life, and started working at the Guardian. During the sixties, he simultaneously held down a job at the Guardian, where he worked as sub-editor, foreign correspondent and picture editor, and studied full-time at University College, London, where he got a BSc(Econ) in International Relations, and then went on to complete a PhD in 1972. In 1972, he established the Muslim Institute for Research and Planning and also joined the teaching staff of the University of Southern California, working on its European programme.
He left academia and joined the Muslim Institute full-time after his first heart-attack in 1974, after which doctors advised him to retire on a full disability pension. He had two more heart attacks before his final one, and two by-pass operations in 1981 and last year. He deliberately postponed his second operation until June last year in order to finish his last book, Stages of Islamic Revolution, for he did not expect to survive the surgery. In the event, he had just nine more months to live.