‘Exhausted by the excitement of generating political thought’ – reflections on the MI world seminars

Article by Dr Kalim Siddiqui published in Crescent International, 16-28 February, 1987. Reprinted in Issues in the Islamic movement vol. 7 1985-86 (1405-06), pp. 153-154.

Exhausted by the excitement of generating political thought

By Kalim Siddiqui

In recent years my time from March to August has been taken up by the annual world seminars in London. I travelled to many countries meeting ulama, scholars, students and intellectuals. I persuaded them to write papers and to come to the seminar. Many did. Beginning with the Hajj Seminar in 1982, these seminars became a major annual event. Many brothers and sisters from all over the world simply got into the habit of coming to London in August at their own expense. Last year nearly 300 came and stayed, on average for 10 days each. Their boarding and lodging costs alone totalled £75,000 (£25 per person per day). With no sponsor to underwrite such escalating costs, this could not go on for ever.

The actual seminars were only the visible tip of the iceberg. Below the surface, the seminars generated a great deal of research and writing throughout the world. In 1986 we received nearly 200 papers. The academic committee selected 60 for circulation and nearly half of the 60 for presentation.

Thus the total number of papers written for the seminars over the years runs into many hundreds. We have published five volumes of these papers and many have been published elsewhere. Many university libraries have ordered complete sets. The total amount of new thinking, debate and writing that these seminars have generated is very large. Their total effect on the intellectual and cultural life of Muslims everywhere is incalculable.

These seminars were designed to redefine, step by step. the parameters of Muslim political thought in the light of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Beginning with State and Politics in Islam (1983), the Impact of Nationalism on the Ummah (1985) and Muslim Political Thought During the Colonial Period (1986), the seminars succeeded in pulling Muslim political thought out of the rut of western influence. In the next phase we were to define the political goals and methods of Islam and of the Islamic movement.

But, sadly, like long-distance runners, we have to stop to take breath. Like intervals between operations in a long war, we have to stop, take stock, recharge our batteries, build up our strategic reserves, and start again. And so our seminar programme must be suspended for a while. This will inevitably mean some loss of momentum and continuity. To use yet another metaphor, the first five seminars have been a trial run. These trials have proved the point that Muslim political thought is moving in an entirely new direction. The old colonial mould built around ‘Islamic parties’ that sought to come to power by ‘democratic’ means within the feudal and capitalist nation-State structure has been broken. These political parties and the ‘Islamic political thought’ that went with them were a peculiar product of the political and intellectual domination that the west had acquired over Muslims during the colonial period.

There is a profound relationship between political power and political ideas. The political ideas that gain rapid acceptance at any time are usually those that are identified with the established centres of political power! Perhaps this is why monarchy, thinly disguised as khilafah, continued to secure endorsement and acceptance from the beginning of the Uthmaniyyah rule to the end of the Uthmaniyyah State earlier this century. The advent of western political rule over Muslim areas had a similar effect. European ideas of freedom, equality, fraternity, democracy, and women’s emancipation were all accepted by many Muslims, including some renowned thinkers, as originating in Islam itself.

Now the emergence of a new revolutionary Islamic State proclaiming a greatly invigorated body of political ideas is having a similar effect. For all parts of the world of Islam to escape from the orbit of colonialism, nationalism and secularism, a total reconstitution of political ideas would be necessary. If the political ideas generated by colonialism were the only obstacles, the operation would be relatively simple. But under the colonial coating lies another deeply ingrained habit of legitimizing every de facto ruler. It is almost as if revolt against tyranny had been taken out of Islam’s political method altogether!

In this situation the task of rejecting an old, established system of political thought, and replacing it with the original dynamic and revolutionary body of political ideas of Islam, is a monumental one. The task is so great that we in the Muslim Institute on our own could not take it very far. Nonetheless it is fair to say that together with the five seminars, the hundreds of papers written, the dozens of books published, the fearless journalism of the Crescent International and Muslimedia, and all our other activities between them have shaken the established political thought to its very roots. In every part of the world there now exist groups of people, among them many ulama, scholars, writers and other intellectuals, who reject the old mould of Muslim political thought. They now accept that without undergoing Islamic Revolutions, Iran-style, there is no future for Islam as a political force in the world.

We in the Muslim Institute wish we had the resources to keep the momentum going; that we could go on to define the political goals of Islam, that we could go on to formulate the stages of growth of the global Islamic movement, that we could develop intensive training courses for the workers of Islam who are to bring about new Islamic Revolutions.

All this and much much more, we could do. But we cannot at the moment. We are suffering from the exhaustion of the long-distance runner. The Muslim Institute’s resources, collected before and since the Islamic Revolution, have been used up. We have even eaten into our reserves. Our current account is in deficit to the tune of several thousand pounds. Our workers have always suffered hardship, but some of them are now, for the first time, dependent on the British Welfare State!

These are very hard times for everyone in the Islamic movement. The magic formula for coupling the Islamic movement with the Islamic State has not yet been devised. Until that happens, perhaps a number of Islamic groups should come together and pool their resources to resume the program of world seminars in London. In the meantime the ideas already generated will continue to percolate to the grassroots of the Ummah under the warm glow of the power and achievements of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, insha’Allah.

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