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'Muslims need to move on'
Ghayasuddin Siddiqui is a British Pakistani whose family roots are in Meerut. He was born in Delhi in 1939, before migrating to Pakistan with his parents at the time of Partition. In 1964, he arrived in Britain, where he has settled since. Siddiqui, a chemical engineer, was among a group of activists who, in 1988, reportedly approached Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a death threat, a fatwa against Salman Rushdie for alleged blasphemy against Prophet Mohammad in his novel The Satanic Verses. Today, Siddiqui, who helped establish a Muslim parliament in the United Kingdom - which is now virtually defunct because of internal squabbling - has had a change of heart.
The reason I am speaking to you is because you were among the people who went to Iran to ask for fatwa against Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses. Is that correct?
But is it true that later you felt that this was not necessary?
Well, my position was that, as far as god and his prophets are concerned, their position in history is guaranteed beyond reproach. And I think for the followers, if the prophets are insulted or abused, they should leave this matter to god and his prophets only, rather than keep on protesting. I think they have made their point, that one has to be careful about the audience as well. And that is that.
What do you think of Salman Rushdie as a writer?
Being born a Muslim, he should have known - and he was warned as well - that this is a very difficult, very touchy issue and he should be more careful. I think perhaps his arrogance has brought him the difficulty he faces in India. Obviously, a vast majority of Muslims feel he has insulted the prophet and he should not get the kind of audience and reception which was perhaps likely to happen in Jaipur. But at the same time I think Muslims have to realise, as well, they have to move forward and that it is not the end of the world. They have made their point, and life must go on.
Do you think he should have been allowed to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival?
Well, I think ideally my answer would be that he should have been allowed. But I think in everyone's interest, instead of harping on the issue, which has been divisive in society, there should be a cooling period and a moving on to other issues, other topics. There are hundreds and hundreds of problems people in India face - poverty, lack of education, so on and so forth. This is how I feel.
You were instrumental in forming a "Muslim parliament" in Britain?
Could you tell us a little bit about the history of that?
There was a time in Britain when Muslims felt the government was not taking care of the issues they were facing and the idea was that they should have their own platform to articulate and to dissent on their problems and try to create a situation of understanding between the government and the Muslim communities.
Which period are you referring to?
And is it still active?
It has gone down. It is almost dormant.
What is your view of the situation in Pakistan?
I think things are going from bad to worse.
How do you see this being resolved?
The fact that the Supreme Court has become active, it is possible that, if we were to have genuine elections, then a new leadership will perhaps emerge. And that this will lead to something positive happening in that country.
Do you see Imran Khan emerging as a leader?
Well, at the moment he appears to be. But obviously the election results will show how much he has managed to gain by way of support from ordinary people. It appears, of course, that he has made a dent.
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