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The Muslim Parliament – a historical background

Since its inception in 1992 the Muslim Parliament has concerned itself with the affairs of Muslims in Britain and abroad in a bold and forthright manner. It debates issues affecting Islam and Muslims, and champions their causes. Community action on this level is only feasible because the Parliament is an independent national forum on which all Muslims, irrespective of denomination or racial origin, can meet to pursue their common objectives.

The Muslim Parliament during its early days under the leadership of Dr Kalim Siddiqui, whose brain-child the Parliament was, opted for a high-profile, confrontational approach in its championing of Islamic causes. The need for a ‘Muslim Parliament’ arose out of the frustration felt at the time of The Satanic Verses controversy as well as a wider feeling that governmental and policy-making bodies were adopting indifferent and at times discriminatory policies toward Muslim pre-occupations. The idea was instead to empower Muslims with their separate and distinctly Islamic institutions to meet their needs independently of the British government and local authorities. It also sought to discourage Muslims from entering mainstream politics or even from voting in elections; rather, the focus of debate was the need to create a “non-territorial Islamic state” in Britain.

Admittedly, many of the objectives the Parliament had set itself were not met by the time of Dr Kalim Siddiqui’s premature death in 1996. Its new leader Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui (no relation, but a close associate) began to introduce reforms into how the Muslim Parliament was to operate and engage with its social and political environment. Out went the ideologically-driven thinking and in came a more consensual, pragmatic modus operandi. Predictably this led to disaffection in the ranks of Dr Kalim Siddiqui’s more ideological followers, some of whom seceded to form separate groups. The Muslim Parliament held the view that Muslim’s grievances were best met by building alliances with other Muslim organisations, grass-root and national, and – a radical move at the time – with non-Muslim groups entertaining similar welfare and civil rights objectives. A broader pro-justice movement was articulated, and Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui was one of the first Muslim leaders to work with and urge cooperation with dissident political parties, with groups concerned with justice, civil liberties and respect for the environment. This approach paid off in the aftermath of 9/11, when harassment of the Muslim individuals and groups created a wave of sympathy for what was widely perceived as a persecuted minority. Dr Siddiqui was closely involved in the formative stages of the Stop the War Coalition, which brought together Muslims and opponents of the war from different parts of the British political spectrum.