Colonialism still reigns supreme (Crescent Int.)

Editorial in Crescent International (September 1-15, 1986) on the MI World Seminar on ‘Muslim political thought during the colonial period’. Reprinted in Issues in the Islamic movement, Vol. 7, 1986-87 (1405-06), pp. 35-37. This editorial was not written by Dr Kalim Siddiqui.

How do you bury something that is still alive? This question was neither asked nor answered at the Muslim Institute’s world seminar on ‘Muslim political thought during the colonial period’ held in London last month. The organizers will no doubt argue, with some justification, that the seminar did not assume the end of the colonial period, so the question of its death and burial did not arise. In any case the seminar was designed to draw attention to the political thought of the Muslims in this period of their decline and defeat.

Within this limited framework the seminar was undoubtedly a considerable success. This is the first time that attention has been drawn to the political ideas that emerged in the ‘dark ages’ of Islam as a subject fit for separate treatment and academic discourse. The response of the Muslim world’s active academic community to the Muslim Institute’s invitation was also clearly enthusiastic. Dr Kalim Siddiqui’s paper once again showed that the Muslim Institute itself has a close grasp of the subject and is prepared to offer its views for open examination and discussion.

Once again the seminar attracted ulama, scholars, students and some of the most active workers of the Islamic movement. They came from all continents. all ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and, above all, from all schools of thoughts in Islam. In his concluding speech Dr Siddiqui stated that more than one hundred overseas participants had travelled to London at their own expense. A month earlier a similar number had travelled, again at their own expense, to Toronto for Crescent International’s third Hajj conference.

There is no doubt that the Muslim Institute’s worldwide activities in recent years have attracted widespread attention and even following. Perhaps it was this realization that persuaded the Muslim Institute to create a Majlis-e Shura. The members of the Shura were introduced to the seminar. Of the five new members who have not taken any part in the affairs of the Institute before, three are ulama, one a doctor from Cairo and the other a professor from Karachi. Dr Siddiqui has often spoken of the need for the ulama to lead from the front. The Muslim Institute’s weakness has been that it emerged, 15 years ago, from a group of western-educated intellectuals living in London. Although the Institute has founder-members in all parts of the world, at its centre it was still narrowly based. The introduction of three ulama – Shaikh Toure of Senegal, Shaikh Ibrahim Alawneh of Jordan and Maulana Sulaiman Tahir of Pakistan – has given the Muslim Institute a broader base. It was announced that the members of this Majlis-e Shura would soon embark on a world tour. Clearly the Institute’s own development has reached an interesting stage.

The subject matter of the seminar attracted papers of very high quality. To get a large number of scholars all over the world thinking and writing about a subject is an outstanding achievement. The number of papers in Arabic far exceeded those in English. This is a measure of the Muslim Institute’s increasing influence in the Arab world. It is also indicative of the fact that universities in the Arab world do not provide opportunities for creative thought and writing. The recent publication of Arabic translations of some of the Muslim Institute’s books has also been influential. There is evidence also that the Islamic wing of the Palestinian movement is being attracted to these seminars. There was also a strong contingent from North America there, including many of our Afro-American brothers and sisters. They made strong speeches and their contributions added a new dimension to the understanding of colonialism and its many faces.

The persistent theme heard at the seminar was that those Muslims who welcomed colonialism and cooperated with the colonial powers acted against the interests of the Ummah as a whole. Their political ideas were largely those of the European colonialists and were designed to prolong the dominance of the west over the world of Islam. The present rulers of the Muslim nation-States are not only politically subservient but also cultural and economic instruments of western interests.

More than that, the seminar heard papers and speeches analysing the causes of the failure of the jihad movements in the nineteenth century, the causes of the failure of recent Islamic movements, and the factors that led to the success of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

The ghost of colonialism still stalks the lands of Islam, ‘The fallen giant of Islam,’ said Dr Kalim Siddiqui, ‘has risen again at least in Iran.’ The rising giant clearly has a long way to go before colonialism is finally dead and buried.