After the MI seminar on ‘State and Politics in Islam’, Dr Kalim Siddiqui wrote two articles reflecting on it. This is the first, discussing its background and significance. It was published in Crescent International, September 16-30, 1983, and reprinted in Issues in the Islamic movement, vol. 4, 1983-84 (1403-04), pp. 62-66.
The discovery and statement of the new political, consensus
By Kalim Siddiqui
Why are Muslims so hopelessly divided among themselves? This question is part of the common rhetoric among modern educated Muslims. The unstated assumption is that the ‘divisions’ are permanent and endemic to Islam itself. The secular nationalist position is that Muslims can only be united in smaller ‘national’ units with Islam providing a backdrop of common culture and a feeling of ‘brotherhood’. In this view Islam is reduced to a subsidiary role; it is held that modern States with Muslim populations must be nation-States and that their ‘politics’ must be ‘national politics’.
So powerful has been the influence of this view that even ‘Islamic parties’ and many leading Muslim thinkers in the recent past have refrained from challenging it. Men like Maulana Abul ‘Ala Maudoodi were so impressed by the popular stature and achievements of men like Mr M. A. Jinnah that they tried to tailor the message of the Islamic movement to include the nationalist phase. This reduced Islam to a secondary and subservient role in the ‘politics’ of the new ‘States’ of the nationalist era.
Everyone used Islam as a prop for nationalism and the ‘national interest’. For secular politicians and statesmen it became a matter of judgement how much Islam was required in their manifestoes and ‘constitutions’ at any time.
The great advantage derived by the secularists from this mixture of Islam and nationalism was that all the failures could be attributed to Islam; thus Muslims came to be divided by Islam and united by nationalism! The rulers could not solve socio-economic problems because Islam offered no solutions to these ‘modern’ problems. The politicians could not even offer credible solutions for the same reason. The politicians of the ‘Islamic parties’ merely offered to ‘Islamize’ existing capitalism, feudalism, democracy, nationalism, and even the nation-State. Nobody, just nobody, offered Islam alone because that would mean Revolution.
All this was suddenly and dramatically changed by the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The revolutionary ideas that had powered the Revolution were little known outside Iran. What was clear for all to see was that for the first time an Islamic movement had taken the bull of ‘State’ and ‘politics’ by the horn and brought the beast under the control of a muttaqi leadership supported by the Muslim masses. In the first four years, despite formidable campaigns of counter revolution, the ‘State’ and ‘politics’ in Iran had been transformed from instruments of kufr into the instruments for the expression of the collective taqwa of the Muslim masses and of the ulama.
The time had come to consider ‘State and Politics in Islam’ in a framework free of the environmental pressures of the secular State, secular politics and nationalism. It had been my view for 20 years or more that Muslim political thought needed restatement and reconsolidation at a world assembly of scholars. Since the publication of my book Towards a New Destiny ten years ago, I had travelled all over the world canvassing this view. The complete eradication of the secular State, politics and nationalism had also been the cornerstone of the ideas with which we tried to establish the Muslim Institute in London. During my travels before and after the Islamic Revolution I had become convinced that the general outline of our ideas already represented the outline of a new consensus emerging among a large number of Muslim scholars all over the world. The success of the Hajj Seminar in London in the summer of 1982 finally convinced me that the time had come to test our optimism at a world seminar to examine State and Politics in Islam.
A number of obstacles were clearly visible, nevertheless. The one that caused least worry was the Jama’at e Islami of Pakistan.A number of its leading figures had been invited to the Hajj Seminar. They had failed to take up any principled stand on any issue. At one moment they were disruptive, the next day they were cooperative, and finally they wanted to save the Saudi face if they could. The reports of the seminar that appeared in the Jama’at’s press left me with a poor opinion of these ‘lslamic journalists’. I knew that the Jama’at’s senior echelons would offer no further resistance to the denunciation of the political party approach.
The reaction of some of the Ikhwan circles was the cause of some concern. The problem was that the Ikhwan spectrum now included some of the most sycophantic servants of the Saudi regime as well as some of the most determined mujahideen in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and many other Arab countries. Despite some fears of infiltration we felt confident enough to invite most of those who sent in promising synopses in response to our invitation. The outline of the subject matter of the seminar and the list of topics on which we invited papers could leave no one in any doubt about our position on all major issues in the political thought of the Muslims and of Islam.
We were also determined to have a number of ulama at the seminar. No consensus on political thought was worth having without the presence of both Shi’i and Sunni ulama. Three of us from the Muslim Institute undertook extensive tours of Arab countries, Iran, Pakistan, India, and some countries of North and West Africa, visiting the leading ulama there. Their response was immediate and positive. The presence of leading ulama at the seminar representing all the major Schools of Thought in lslam and all the major areas of Muslim populations in the world made it a most representative and authoritative gathering. Another pleasing fact to emerge in recent years is that there is now a large body of western-educated Muslim scholars who are not ‘modernists’. We had thus succeeded in bringing to London a wide spectrum of opinion in the Ummah and from all parts of the world. They were the guests of the Muslim Institute and away from the immediate pressures of their own secular States, secular universities, and nationalist politics. Perhaps for the first time in all history so many ulama, scholars, students and workers in the Islamic movement were gathered together to consider some of the most basic issues in Muslim political thought.
If the Ummah were as divided as our detractors would have us believe, then the stage was set for a great explosion, a great conflict of mind, belief, passion, will, emotion and historical assessment. Such an explosion would set the cause of the global Islamic movement back a generation or more. The four days of the seminar could tear the Ummah apart to the great satisfaction of our enemies; these four days could also assert the unity of the Ummah as it had not been before. I was aware of all these possibilities as I took the chair at the opening session on August 3.
Before the seminar began the number of papers received had risen quickly to 30 in English, 18 in Arabic, two in Persian and one in French. I had read through all the 30 papers in English and was briefed on the contents of the others. About half the papers were of a very high standard, and another third of reasonable quality.
The contents of the papers were most reassuring. Before I went up to open the seminar, I knew that whatever the range of opinion present there, a substantial opinion would be on the side of a future world of Islam free of nationalism, nation-States, capitalism and superpower control.
The day before the seminar began, I had invited 30 of the leading figures to my house for dinner. The conversation there had lingered far into the night. Shaikh As’ad al-Tamimi, Ayatullah Jawwadi al-Amuli, Ayatullah Jannati, Shaikh Alawneh and many other ulama and scholars were there. The evening’s relaxed disposition and the affections exchanged and warmly felt were deeply moving and satisfying. During these informal exchanges I invited Shaikh Asad al Tamimi, Ayatullah Jawwadi al-Amuli, Dr Hisham Abdur Rahman Sultan and Ustad Ahmed Muhammad Kani to be vice-presidents of the seminar. The four vice-presidents were also to act as a drafting committee. They would draft declarations and resolution at the final session on Saturday (August 6). In the end the drafting committee arrangement worked well.
In drawing up a programme for the seminar we were determined to make the best use of available time. In a letter to the participants on the eve of the seminar I suggested that little time should be spent on such common ground as Allah’s sovereignty. The seminar must get down to the basic concepts of contemporary Muslim political thought and the political objectives of the Ummah. Most scholars responded positively to this request. They left the theological and theoretical parts of their papers to be read by participants in their own time and brought matters of urgency and immediate relevance to the floor of the seminar. Each scholar was allowed only 30 minutes to present his arguments. This led to extremely concise presentations and clarity of thought on major issues. We also wanted to secure the widest possible expression of opinion from the floor. I departed from the usual attempt of seminar chairmen who insist that only questions should be asked during panel discussions. Nearly two hours of each day was given over to panel discussions. The participants were offered up to five minutes for the expression of opinion provided that their opinion was then followed by a question. This worked extremely well. Some very valuable contributions were made from the floor and no one felt oppressed or stage managed.
This led to four days of open, constructive and relaxed deliberations. The final declarations and recommendations were a clear and concise statement of the new political consensus that now exists in the Ummah.
Crescent International, September 16-30, 1983.