The Muslim Institute, a registered charity, is a Fellowship society of intellectuals, thinkers, academics, artists, and professionals. It aims to promote and support the growth of thought, knowledge, research, creativity and open debate within the Muslim community and wider society. The Institute emphasises the diversity and plurality of Islam and Muslims to promote dialogue, cooperation and collaboration between Muslims and other cultures and within Muslim communities. Through its Winter Gatherings, Ibn Rushd Annual Lectures, meetings, quarterly Critical Muslim, and energetic website it seeks to provide a forum for critical thought, sharing of ideas, expertise and interests among its Fellows and the wider community. (Charity Reg. No. 1137088)
The Muslim Institute has a history going back to 1974. Its original title was the Muslim Institute for Research and Planning and its aim was to promote thought and long-range planning on the problems of the Muslim societies.
A Preparatory Committee issued a Draft Prospectus in 1974 arguing that ‘there is an urgent need to revive a tradition of Muslim scholarship to produce a philosophical framework which is at least as articulate and rationally satisfying as all the other traditions of knowledge that are current today’. The Prospectus also argued that ‘a prior commitment to the epistemology of Islam (or framework of knowledge) is a necessary starting point in the search for alternative social, economic and political systems for Muslim societies’.
During this early phase the Muslim Institute published ground breaking work on science policy, economic development, social change, Islamic movements, and the future of Muslim civilisation.
However, things changed dramatically after the Iranian revolution. The then Director, Dr Kalim Siddiqui, became a strong supporter of the Iranian revolution, leading to a spilt in the Institute. Many founding members left the Institute. The Institute became a front for the Iranian Embassy in London.
During this period, the Institute established a number of important organisations that have played a significant part in shaping the British Muslim community – such as the Muslim Parliament, The Halal Food Authority, and Bait al-Mal al-Islami, which raised funds and supported young Muslim scholars and students. The Institute also worked to highlight problems within the Muslim community such as forced marriages, domestic violence, and honour killings, and produced a Model Muslim Marriage Contract that gave equal rights to both partners. It even organised guided tours to ‘Islamic Britain’ with visits to London’s Guildhall, Leighton’s Arab Hall, Burton’s Mausoleum, Shah Jehan Mosque, Abdullah Quilliam Mosque and other sites.
After the death of Dr Kalim Siddiqui in 1996, Dr Ghyasuddin Siddiqui, who was involved with the Institute from its early days, became the Director. But the Institute became entangled in a bitter dispute, over its independence and direction, between some of the trustees and the family of Kalim Siddiqui – a dispute that involved court cases and lasted almost a decade. The dispute was finally settled in 2008.
The New Muslim Institute
Shortly afterwards, Dr Ghyasuddin Siddiqui invited some of the old founding members as well as others who had been involved with the Institute to a Planning Conference to debate how the Institute should move forward. It was held in December 2009 at Sarum College in Salisbury. In his opening speech, Dr Ghyasuddin Siddiqui emphasised that we should look towards the future but learn, and re-learn, some of the lessons of the Institute’s history.
After three days of debate and discussion, it was determined that the new Institute would be a network devoted to pluralistic thought, creativity, excellence and high achievement; and a community of Fellows dedicated to ideas and debate that places pluralistic, argued and considered positions in the public space.
The new Muslim Institute came into existence in January 2010, with the registration of the Muslim Institute Trust at the Charities Commission (Charity Reg. No. 1137088) and a new Board of Trustees. The assets accumulated since the initial establishment of the Muslim Institute for Research and Planning in 1974, consisting of a building in Fulham Palace Road, London, were transferred to the new Institute. The original Institute has ceased to exist.
The Muslim Institute is an independent organisation, funded by the small income generated from its assets and the fees paid by its Fellows.