Sophie Gilliat-Ray – In Memoriam: Ataullah Siddiqui – A Personal Reflection9 November 2020
On 8 November 2020, the world of British Muslim Studies lost one of its most thoughtful founding scholars. Ataullah Siddiqui worked at the Islamic Foundation in Leicester and its sister institution, Markfield Institute of Higher Education, for some 40 years. He touched the lives of thousands. He was highly regarded in many spheres of academic life, but particularly for his work in inter-faith relations, Muslim education, and the field of Muslim chaplaincy. In keeping with his quiet, gentle, unassuming, and humble personality, he endured his illness from cancer with absolute bravery, patience, and dignity.
As an academic, he didn’t seek distinction or accolades, and one would struggle to describe him as ambitious. Instead, he selflessly and reliably supported the work of others, quietly encouraging and guiding their aspirations and plans. He had a vision for the flourishing of British Muslim communities and enjoyed conversations about how that could be brought about, often punctuated by his dry sense of humour. Service was perhaps the hallmark of his professional life, and I never heard anyone say a bad word about him.
I first met Dr Ataullah at the Islamic Foundation as a Master’s student in 1992 during a two-week placement. Over several cups of tea, he answered my naïve questions about Islam and Muslims in Britain, and so began a collegial friendship spanning nearly 30 years. He unequivocally and reliably supported many of the projects and events associated with the Islam-UK Centre, including our research on the work of Muslim chaplains (2008-2011), and a current project on Imams in Britain (2019-2022). He was a regular visitor at conferences and meetings held in Cardiff, and every one of those occasions was an opportunity to benefit from his wisdom and insight.
Those of us who are reeling from the loss to our academic community owe Dr Ataullah an enormous debt of gratitude for the constancy of his support. Our future work will be the poorer for his passing. But we can keep his legacy alive by trying to emulate the spirit of self-sacrificial and humble service that Ataullah reflected, as we encourage and nurture future generations in our field. There will today be many people in the UK and around the globe who will feel they have lost not only a colleague but also a friend whose virtuous qualities were an example to us all. Ataullah did not seek public praise or recognition during his lifetime, and nor would he have wished it on his passing. However, the significance of his life and work means that people from many different faiths, academic fields and institutions, will want to pay tribute to him and will recognise that his passing warrants full acknowledgement and appreciation of his professional contributions.