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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 November 2005, 10:28 GMT
How Islam got political: Iran
The growth of political Islam is one of the most important ideological events of the past century.
In these features, BBC Radio Four's Analysis programme charts the growth of this ideology - and its stunning effects around the world, including Britain.
Islam is a faith and code of conduct for over a billion people worldwide. But for some, Islam is also a political project. On these pages, you can read and hear the history of political Islam's development.

Frank Gardner presents Koran and Country: How Islam got Political on BBC Radio Four, Thursday 10 November at 8pm.

Fore more details on the programme click here

The news that British Muslims could have bombed their fellow citizens came as a shock to many people - but not one East End Muslim.

Ayatollah Khomeini: Supporters in the UK

Aminul Hoque, a 28-year old journalist and PhD student, says that although support for violence is low, alienation has grown steadily in his Muslim neighbourhood in London's East End.

"This resentment, this level of anger aimed towards anybody who is a non-Muslim has been there for a long time," he says.

Lots of factors have been playing into this and it's been simmering for a good twenty-odd years now
Aminul Hoque

Islam, like all major faiths, is primarily spiritual and is a code of conduct for over a billion people. But today, a more political set of Islamic ideas has gained ground in Britain's Muslim community.

The reason for the popularity of "political Islam" is unclear - and many Muslims don't accept the term "political Islam" at all.

Others say politicisation is a reaction to poverty and racism here and Western foreign policy abroad.

What is clear is that "political Islam" is new in Britain. The faith that South Asian Muslim immigrants brought with them in the 50s and 60s was traditional, a spiritual tonic to difficult lives.

Perhaps surprisingly, given that Britain's Muslim community is mostly from Islam's majority Sunni sect and South Asian, much of the early inspiration for people to follow a more political Islam came from the Shia revolution in Iran.

The Ayatollah's British 'Revolution'

The Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 turned political Islam from a dream into a reality.

Kalim Siddiqui: Supported Iran

One of the most powerful and populous countries in the Middle East overthrew its pro-western monarch, the Shah, and replaced him with a theocracy. Iran's new leader was Ayatollah Khomeini, a devout cleric who'd been living in exile in France.

But not many people realise that the Ayatollah had strong British connections.

In London, a small group of British Muslims had created a think tank, The Muslim Institute. It aimed to assert the political identity of the Islamic faith. Its leader was the charismatic Dr Kalim Siddidqui.

The group regarded the Iranian revolution as something genuinely Islamic, not caring whether it was Shias or Sunnis who led it.

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, one of those involved in the group, felt it represented "anti-imperialist, genuine independence."

"They were going to take decisions on their own," he says. "Even their mistakes would be their own, rather than imposed from outside. This was very, very attractive to us and we were the first people in the whole Sunni world who came out to support the revolution."

In Britain, the public had hardly heard of this group. It was almost a decade later when Dr Kalim Siddiqui used a turn of events to seek the leadership of British Islam.

Rushdie affair

"Burn, Rushdie, Burn!" was one of the cries heard from some British Muslims in 1988 as they protested against Salman Rushdie's novel, The Satanic Verses. The book had infuriated Muslims by apparently ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad.

Satanic Verses: Burnings in Bradford

Rushdie did not of course burn; he went into hiding, after being accused of blasphemy.

While many Muslims felt anger and frustration, Kalim Siddiqui saw a political opportunity.

He and his associates in the Muslim Institute visited Iran in February 1989. On the day of their return, the Ayatollah issued a legal edict, or fatwa, saying Rushdie should be killed.

Dr Siddiqui now took on a leading role, publicly supporting the fatwa. With him at the helm, it was almost as if the Rushdie affair gave British Muslims their own 'Islamic revolution'.

Muslim Parliament

The Rushdie Affair, complete with its book-burnings on the streests, turned into a public relations disaster.

But for Dr Kalim Siddiqui, the fatwa against Rushdie was an essential vehicle for launching his political vision of a "Muslim Parliament" in 1992.

"The Muslim Parliament was a political institution which would govern Muslims for themselves on the understanding that the rest of society doesn't want to know them - and if that's the case, then that's how they should live," recalls Ehsan Masood, a journalist at the time for the Muslim magazine, Q News.

While the concept of the body effectively died with Kalim Siddiqui in 1996, it had put the idea of political Islam on the map.

While the Parliament withered, another group representing a different strand of ideology sought political leadership of the Muslim community. The UK Action Committee on Islamic Affairs rose to prominence and many of its former members are now involved in today's leading Muslim body, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB).

Some of these people had been, in turn, influenced by a South Asian writer, Syed Abul Ala Mawdudi.

Mawdudi, along with Egyptian Sayyid Qutb, was almost a godfather to the Islamist movement. May of his ideas provided the seeds for future political movements. While he himself opposed violence, some of those who took on his ideas believed they provided a justification for confrontation.



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