Obituary: Dr Kalim Siddiqui – an intellectual and an activist

(Courtesy: Crescent International, April 16-30, 1996.)

Well-known for his unreserved support for the Islamic Revolution in Iran, and its chief exponent to the outside world, Dr. Kalim Siddiqui, the late founder-leader of the Muslim Parliament in Britain, believed that the Muslim world needed a series of revolutions. His last book, Stages of Islamic Revolution, which in his own words has the “flavour of his last testament”, was launched only two weeks ago during the Crescent International conference in South Africa.

A leading exponent of the global Islamic movement, his strong defence of Imam Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie endeared him to the Muslim masses throughout the world.

One of his most important articles of faith was that jihad – which can mean anything from holy war to ‘holy struggle’ – is still a basic requirement of Islam. Another is that Islam requires an Islamic theocracy in order to flourish. “At the root of all our problems,” he said in a recent speech, “is the fact that Muslims have little experience of living as a minority in a country where we exercise virtually no political power.”

A third axiom is that the political and moral problems of today cannot be divorced from history. The colonies may have gone, but most Islamic countries are still ruled by westernised elites who allow their people to be exploited by the west in return for support for their unrepresentative regimes. The only Islamic country ruled by and for its people – not for the west – is Iran.

“The present crop of regimes in Islamic countries, from Morocco to Indonesia, is unacceptable,” he said. “They have to be overthrown. Islamic revolutions are needed all over the Muslim world. Muslims have an overriding duty to overthrow those governments which currently rule Muslim countries.”

Dr Siddiqui’s first brush with the authorities came in 1942, when, as an 11-year-old schoolboy, he was shot at by a British soldier during nationalist agitations in Azamgarh in north-east India. The bullet killed the boy behind him. Most of his teens were spent in the very unpleasant atmosphere of the years leading up to partition, and he fled to Pakistan at the earliest opportunity, aged 17. He spent six dissatisfied years in Pakistan before arriving in Britain in 1954 with plans to become a journalist.

For the next 10 years he worked as a reporter on various local papers. Then, from 1964 until 1972, he was a sub-editor at The Guardian, London. He also married, in 1960, and, at around the same time, began to address what he perceived to be gaps in his education. He spent most of the Sixties as a part-time student, doing his journalism by night and studying by day, starting with O-levels and culminating in a PhD from University College, London. He also wrote a book, about Pakistan, which was banned in that country. And he became prominent among Britain’s earliest Islamic activists. Suez saw him demonstrating in Hyde Park; the Algerian war saw him driving friends to Paris to demonstrate in the Champs-Elysees.

In 1972 he abandoned journalism and with some friends founded the Muslim Institute, in Bloomsbury, funded by subscriptions from members and donations from Muslims around the world. “We started from the idea that Muslim political thought needed to be rewritten. We felt that western political thought had penetrated Islamic political thought and that we needed an institute to disengage from the west at the intellectual level.” He himself became director of the Muslim Institute.

The Iranian revolution in 1979 was a turning-point, establishing for the first time in Dr Siddiqui’s lifetime the sort of Islamic state that his theories advocated. He became a regular visitor to Iran and was a friend of Imam Khomeini. Both men promoted a newly self-confident version of Islam, contemptuous of everything western. His ideas earned him respect among Islamic activists around the world – including South Africa, Sudan and Malaysia where he last visited in April 1994.

His affection for Imam Khomeini was palpable in his voice whenever he had occasion to speak about the Imam. He saw Imam Khomeini as a role model. Dr Siddiqui used to speak warmly of his hero. “The Imam was a very great man. I think his greatness was not in the sense that people like Churchill or Hitler were great. He was a simple man. He simply believed in certain basic values and rallied people to them. He lived a simple life. He slept on the floor, his food was simple. He took nothing for himself. He was an example to men.”

Some British Muslims prefer not to be associated with Dr Siddiqui’s Muslim Manifesto establishing the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, questioned his right to do so and criticised him. Dr Siddiqui was equally keen not to be associated with them. “These so-called moderates who are always being wheeled out to criticise me are not Muslims at all,” he said. Yet in the Manifesto he calls for all Muslims to unite in mutual self-defence. They are urged, for example, “to develop the Muslim community as an island of peace, harmony and moral excellence” and to achieve “the greatest possible degree of taqwa” (moral excellence acceptable to Allah). There are also worthy proposals to take practical steps to strengthen Britain’s network of mosques and protect Muslim interests in public life.

The Manifesto’s starting point is that “in Britain today, Muslims are being asked to accept subservience and the total disintegration of their identity, culture and religion, as the only real options open to them.” Its finishing point, to quote from the speech with which Dr Siddiqui launched it, is that “inside 10 years we can pack a greater punch than the Jews.”

How much influence his vision will have on Britain’s Muslim community remains to be seen. It is possible that its effects will be quite far-reaching. But it is also interesting because of the way it resembles Dr Siddiqui himself: intelligent, eloquent, perceptive and civilised.