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Professor Ataullah Siddiqui, a special being who emulated the gentleness and love of Prophet Muhammad

27th Nov 2020
Professor Ataullah Siddiqui, a special being who emulated the gentleness and love of Prophet Muhammad

Prof Ataullah Siddiqui, January 27, 1954- November 8, 2020 (Credit: MIHE/WikiCommons)

Academic, pioneer and scholar, Professor Ataullah Siddiqui, who has passed away of cancer aged 66, was a deeply admired and well-respected figure amongst faith communities both here in the UK and other parts of the world. He was known to be a quiet, softly spoken and humble person who shied away from the limelight, and instead, spent decades building understanding and respect amongst different communities through academia, interfaith, intrafaith and chaplaincy through his leadership and scholarship.

Born in Kalimpong, Darjeeling, India, in 1954, he arrived in Leicestershire in 1982, from where he spent several decades building a purposeful understanding of faith and belief amongst different communities, particularly amongst Christians and Muslims across the country.

His path to academia and interfaith began during his PhD which was supervised by the Jesuit priest, Christian Troll, at the University of Birmingham, and was cemented through many friendships he built across communities and, together, went on to work together on ground-breaking interfaith programmes. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Gloucestershire.

Dr Siddiqui was a founding member of many interfaith organisations including the Leicester Council of Faiths and the Christian Muslim Forum which was set up under the patronage of former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Throughout his work in the field of interfaith relations, he encouraged both Christian and Muslim communities to develop and further a theology, from within, of interfaith engagement.

Through the Islamic Foundation, he established and led the Markfield Institute of Higher Education, taught pluralism, interfaith relations, found the journal Encounters and pioneered the UK’s first Muslim Chaplaincy certificate which he began by working with Christians for whom the subject is deeply familiar. Today, dozens of Muslim Chaplains work across the fields of education, community, prisons and healthcare.

Whilst giving a lecture in Sheffield, he met his wife to be, Colette Alia Emson, a civil servant, in 1988. The couple married in 1989 and went on to have two twin daughters and four granddaughters. His family always lived in India his mother passed a long time ago, and his father passed a few years ago, which impacted him deeply. His younger sister continues to live in India from where she and her family kept in close contact with him.

Throughout his time, Dr Siddiqui wrote dozens of articles, reports and many books including Jews, Christians and Muslims in Dialogue with Each Other and With Britain (2012) and Islam and Other Faiths (1988), an edited collection of Ismail Raji Al-Faruqi’s works, closely connected with his PhD.

He authored a Government report called Islam at Universities in England: Meeting the Needs and Investing in the Future (2007) for Minister of State for Higher Education, Bill Rammell. In 2013 he was asked to deliver the Cadbury Lectures. His series was entitled ‘Read! In the name of thy Lord!’: Vision and vocation of the Word’ exploring what boundaries does the command ‘to read’ put upon the human quest for understanding, and in particular for Muslims? Does the Qur’anic calling to read ‘in thy name’ envisage a pluralistic vision of society?

Dr Siddiqui was a private man never seeking public recognition, he instead, encouraged others to step forward, particularly women. He was always available to guide, advise and share his wisdom, warmth and humour with those who sought it. Hundreds of people from different generations have, and will continue to, benefit from his gentle, thoughtful and wise counsel.

As friends from near and far learned of his illness earlier this year, hundreds of people from different communities reached out to share that they were holding him in their hearts and praying for him. This is a testament to the man he was and the values he shared throughout his life.

Everyone who knew him or worked with him couldn’t help but feel that they were in the presence of a special being who emulated the gentleness and love of Prophet Muhammad and held fast, with wisdom, to the truth as he understood, always making room for the truth of another.

He is survived by Colette Alia, their children Nadia and Sarah, his sister and four granddaughters.

Sughra Ahmed,
Human Rights and Education Specialist

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