The email dropped innocuously into the Muslim Institute’s info account. Hopeful for an exciting event invitation or notification of a fascinating new publication just out, I opened it. But quickly realised this was not some generic semi-spam, but an incendiary provocation by a right-wing journalist with Islamophobic form. If mishandled, it could really blow up in our faces: ‘We are aware that a journalist has said that she interviewed Ghayasuddin Siddiqui and Kalim Siddiqui many years ago and says that she discovered that they went to Tehran and asked Ayatollah Khomeini to pass the fatwa. She believes that, if Ghayasuddin Siddiqui and Kalim Siddiqui had not made that trip, the fatwa would not have been issued.’
It was 2019 and media outlets were trawling over events 30 years ago exactly, that culminated in the Rushdie Affair; the outcry over the publication of The Satanic Verses that would impact the British Muslim community for many years to come. A couple of weeks before the email materialised, Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai Brown, a long-standing friend of Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, had made the astonishing claim in a Radio 4 interview that was referenced by the author of the email. It shouldn’t have been much of a surprise therefore that a vulture would swoop down and fly off with such intoxicating prey.
Ziba Mir-Hosseini, Journeys Toward Gender Equality in Islam, Oneworld Academic, London, 2022
If I remember correctly, it’s true to say that the day after the Radio 4 interview, there had been low-level disquiet in the Muslim Institute camp. After all, this was a serious allegation being made against the founders of what had been the original incarnation of the Muslim Institute, even though it bears little resemblance to the Fellowship society we run today. There was some fleeting talk of issuing a clarification, but we all agreed that any engagement with hearsay would only fuel the non-story and prove counter-productive, particularly as the Muslim Institute had not actually been referenced. So upon receiving the email, and after some renewed consultation, I avoided any ‘unknown number’ phone calls, which is fairly healthy practice anyway in my opinion, and prepared a two-sentence shut-down that I wrote on a piece of paper and carried around in my coat pocket for the next few weeks, glancing at it every time I thought I might forget what I needed to say in case I should be door-stepped like the Z-list celebrity I always dreamed I would grow up to one day be.