The Islamist: A Review

Ed Husain, The Islamist: Why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left. London: Penguin, 2007. Pp. 288. £8.99. Paperback.

As this book was published at the beginning of May 2007, five British-born Muslims were convicted of plotting to blow up targets like a shopping centre and a nightclub using 600 kilogrammes of ammonium nitrate. The persistent question remains: how did we get to a position where MI5 are monitoring 1,600 suspects in 160 cells? Who are these would-be terrorists? Even though Ruth Kelly and John Reid now belatedly acknowledge the aggravating effect of Iraq, foreign policy alone does not provide the whole answer. The impact of radical ideas have mattered too, which this book sets out to explore.

Leaving aside how much weight they would put on radicalisation alongside other causal explanations, British Muslims generally have two views on the role of ideas in the phenomenon. The first pins the blame squarely upon extreme Salafis who developed a doctrine of attacking the West in the wake of the Afghanistan-Soviet war in the 1980s. Some of their propagandists – Abu Qatada, Abu Hamza, Abdullah Faisal and Omar Bakri Mohammed (who became Salafi in his theological outlook sometime after 9/11) — were allowed to spread their ideas in Britain relatively unimpeded by the police and intelligence services throughout the Nineties, in fierce competition with other groups promoting political Islam. Most ordinary Salafis, commited to a puritanical apolitical form of Islam, either ignored this trend or argued against it. Some British Salafis who opposed this trend early on, with no public recognition whatsoever, had to face intimidation and even death threats.

The second position takes a wider view. British Islamists, those who emphasise faith-based political activism, helped to create a receptivity to more radical groups with whom they shared a similar vision of Islamic resurgence in the Muslim world. In this view, the elements of Islamism are likened to the spectrum of communism, i.e. between the Mensheviks, the Bolsheviks and the Trotskyists – more a difference over means than ends — ranging from gradual reform to national or even international revolution. Some Islamists are in favour of democracy and some aren’t. Some are happy to have peaceful co-existence with the “West” and some aren’t. All, to a greater or lesser extent, have been critical of the traditional Islam of the ulema, of what they saw as their intellectual lethargy and quiescence during the period of direct European colonial rule in the Muslim world. They were also critical of Sufism, either rejecting it or seeking to reform it.

Ed Husain, brought up in Tower Hamlets, takes the second view and describes in detail his time with various Islamist groups in London at colleges and university campuses between 1990-1996. Husain, in escalating youthful rebellion, defies his parents, then his traditional upbringing, his college authorities and later society at large. Having been an eyewitness to this scene myself, I can vouch that he accurately describes an historical period of intense competition and one-upmanship for the attention of young minds. However, the main reviews so far, in the Times, the Sunday Times, the Observer and the Guardian, have been quick to draw sweeping and general conclusions about today’s situation, even though the heart of this book is really about the early Nineties.

The most important insights arise from Husain’s period of involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir at a time when it was under the leadership of Omar Bakri Mohammed. Riding on the back of anti-Saudi sentiment during the first Gulf War in 1990, Hizb ut-Tahrir began to have a serious impact. Its confrontational tabloid style excited Muslim students looking for easy answers to Western double standards and the new Salafi missionaries from Saudi Arabia. The control of Islamic student societies would oscillate between Islamists and apolitical Salafis, leaving few alternatives to a crude, despiritualised, angry and self-righteous take on Islam. Husain’s judgement that Hizb ut-Tahrir, under Bakri’s inspiration (who was later to found the splinter al-Muhajiroun), did more to inculcate the spirit of jihad, anti-West sentiment, anti-democractic politics, and passionate support for the cause of the umma, the Muslim supernation, than anyone else is essentially correct.

While this personal memoir is a must-read, offering with authority and nuance an insider’s view of the context that shaped the period, it is not a definitive analysis. Husain doesn’t reflect enough on the serious debates on basic beliefs and practices that the Salafis provoked at the time and says little about the emergence of “the jihadi scene” in Britain during the late Nineties, during a time when the enemy (in Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo) was politically halal. But then none of this is central to his personal journey.

Husain is unequivocal about calling for the banning of Hizb ut-Tahrir, yet I remain unconvinced. For while Hizb ut-Tahrir is subversive of democratic participation and integration, and should be challenged, they have not directly recruited for jihad abroad or terrorism at home. Undoubtedly, a few have left Hizb ut-Tahrir’s talk of jihad for the real thing, and the leadership has always denied the violence that hovers around some of the young men they have influenced. For instance, Hizb ut-Tahrir’s stoking of inter-communal tensions in Newham College in 1994 led indirectly to the murder of a Nigerian Christian by a Muslim, in which the leadership denied all involvement, a tragedy that leads to Husain’s pathway out of Islamism. Husain also reports of “off-duty” excursions to help out Muslim gangs in their turf wars with Sikh gangs in Slough and West London.

I also got first-hand reports of the disruption of Labour and Respect Party election campaigns as late as 2005 by Hizb ut-Tahrir activists in Tooting, Bethnal Green and Bow, and Sparkbrook and Smallheath, something that Husain reports, too. This is contested by Hizb ut-Tahrir’s leadership, who argue that they never endorsed any such activity, and other community activists have reported that al-Muhajiroun members were the real culprits in operating these spoiler campaigns. Given these conflicting reports, I do wonder if Husain has done enough to sift fact from allegation.

The government was far from agreed on the case for banning, first mooted by the Prime Minister in 2005. Charles Clarke, the former Home Secretary, Home Office lawyers, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the intelligence services and the Association of Chief Police Officers argued against the banning. Hizb ut-Tahrir have not been seen as part of the terrorist problem, even if they are seen as subversive of democratic politics. The point though is that postwar Britain didn’t seek to ban political subversion. For example, neither the Communist Party of Great Britain was banned, even though it was funded by the Soviets during the Cold War, nor was Sinn Fein, despite its being the political wing of the Irish Republican Army during the Troubles. The British Nationalist Party is not banned either. Other methods have been used to marginalise or moderate such movements in Britain.

This is unlike postwar Germany, where the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz), or FOPC, seeks to “safeguard the protection of the free and democratic fundamental order and the continued existence and security of the state”. This covers political subversion, originally designed to tackle any re-emergence of Nazi ideology in postwar (then West) Germany, as well as terrorism. The 2004 FOPC Report gives the following reasons for the German ban of Hizb ut-Tahrir:

The Federal Minister of the Interior banned Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami in Germany with effect from 15 January 2003, among other things because it opposed the principle of international understanding and because the organisation approved of violence as a means for achieving its political aims. (p. 204)

Is Britain moving towards the German view that subversion should be banned? Al-Muhajiroun and its successors could only be legally banned after extending the grounds for the proscription of terrorist groups in the Terrorism Act 2000, by passing an additional clause banning the glorification of terrorism in the Terrorism Act 2006. Section 21 of the Terrorism Act 2006 proscribes groups that promote or encourage “the unlawful glorification of the commission or preparation (whether in the past, in the future, or generally) of acts of terrorism”. Glorification is understood as encouraging the “emulation of terrorism”.

This is a delicate and difficult debate. Husain makes the case for banning Hizb ut-Tahrir on the basis of his personal journey rather than considering the political implications as carefully as he should have done. There is no doubt that Hizb ut-Tahrir should be pressurised in all sorts of ways short of banning, but let us not lose sight of the fact that criminalising its membership might end up alienating Muslim communities up and down the country and scotching any effective “hearts and minds” strategy. Academic estimates of the Party’s size in the UK, including members and sympathisers, hover at around 8,500. Given its size, the ripple effect would be immense, a consideration that no doubt bore upon the decision to not, as yet, ban the Party. The other effect would be the chilling of the dissident political voice of young Muslims, who would no doubt draw their own conclusions. Would this be preferable to taking ideas on while preserving the democratic right to speak out? One worries that the litmus test of being a good liberal, especially of the Muslim variety, might have come to rely on a preference for security over liberty on issues like this. A common argument one will hear is that Hizb ut-Tahrir has opened up somewhat since 2005, and Husain characterises this as a divergence between a comparatively more moderate leadership seeking political survival while trying to keep a more unreconstructed membership on board. This judgement is sound, and he is also right to remind us of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Leninist orientation. It has not given up on the idea of a totalitarian expansionist state or the coup d’etat as a means of establishing it.

The other serious point that Husain raises is about responsibility for rhetoric. To put it simply, the angry anti-West rhetoric of the period of colonial struggle (Mawdudi) or of postcolonial resistance (Qutb and Nabhani), without a controlling contextualisation, cannot be idly placed in the hands of young British Muslims. Years ago, back in the Eighties, some young members of the Islamic movement went to the elders to ask why the movement in the UK was not more radical. Why did they not adhere closely to the revolutionary ways of Mawdudi and Qutb? The elders replied that their ideas were for purposes of self-rectification only, and had no practical place in the work of the Islamic movement in Britain. Now this is genuinely mysterious. If the founding fathers of modern Islamism are basically irrelevant, which is what the first and second generation leaders tell me when I’ve pressed this point on them in private, then what’s the reason for not going out in public with a clear post-Islamist position? Tribalism? Loyalty to the movement? Inertia? Pride? Who knows?

Husain’s point here is that during the early Nineties, broad ideological affinity among Islamists meant that the moderates got involved in a game of one-upmanship with the radicals even as they competed fiercely for recruits. Husain gives an example that occurred at the East London Mosque when Hizbi activists attempted to take on the Islamic Forum Europe and the Young Muslims Organisation on their own turf. They were eventually forcibly removed, but not before an elder is seen to fail to respond to Hizbi polemics against democracy, and chooses to remain silent instead. The moderate Islamists could only argue within an overall framework that merely set their differences out in methodological terms (gradualism verses revolution), rather than on more substantive bases. Even now, some, especially those associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK, will mount a sophisticated apologetic on behalf of Qutb. People just keep misreading Milestones and his tafsir, they say, and have done so consistently since the 1970s. If only people had listened a bit more to Hassan al-Hudaybi, the second Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood between 1951-1976, then the violent splinter groups would not have emerged. This is rather wishful thinking that misconstrues the power of Qutb’s ideas. The argument about responsibility over rhetoric also has implications for whether a prominent institution like the East London Mosque should be happy to invite intolerant, communalist preachers (Delwar Hossain Sayeedi or Abdul Rahman al-Sudays), or to allow the stocking of Qutb’s Milestones in the bookshop that pays rent to the mosque and is incorporated as part of the building.

However, this tribal loyalty to the ideologues of Islamism is only part of the story. You would be hard pressed to find a more dynamic mosque than the East London Mosque. It houses a school, a major charity, countless educational and welfare projects and extensive sporting facilities. It employs non-Muslim staff. It has a high rate of active participation from young men and women. It has incorporated newer communities — Somalis and Maghribis — within the governance structure of the mosque, rather than remaining an ethnic redoubt. It has worked very closely with the local authority on some substantive issues. For instance, the mosque worked with the local council to bring down absentee rates among Bangladeshi pupils, with the imams directly challenging the cultural practice of pulling kids out of school during term-time for extended trips abroad. There was no doubt that many at the mosque put their weight behind the Respect Party protest vote in 2005 that saw George Galloway to victory at Bethnal Green and Bow. Husain mentions that the link between Respect and former YMO/IFE activists exists, but, arguably, their links with local Labour are much stronger. Privately, it was accepted that Galloway would not be a good constituency MP, and that this was effectively a short-term protest over Iraq. It was assumed that politics as usual would resume with Labour, which is likely to be the case with an excellent candidate in Rushanara Ali (ex-Home Office, Young Foundation and political aide to Oona King, the former MP). None of this gets consideration in Husain’s account of the ELM today.

Husain also provides a short pen-portrait of the Islamic Society of Britain (ISB) in 1996, a year before a faction split off to help form the Muslim Brotherhood’s main organisation in the UK, the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). He captures the inside debate at the time between those who wanted a post-Islamist, integrationist British Islam, those who were responding to Hizbi criticisms, and those who took more seriously the Muslim Brotherhood’s rather unreconstructed tarbiya, laced with lashings of pro-Hamas rhetoric and anti-Semitic diatribes, according to Husain who attended some of these sessions. Husain, then still detoxing himself from the Hizb, doesn’t always distinguish more laughable elements from more serious ones. A two-hour ISB presentation Husain attended on an entryist methodology into key sectors of British society should rightly be laughed off as pie-in-the-sky thinking rather than some kind of insidious Islamist version of SPECTRE.

Husain’s intelligence and sensitivity eventually leads him to go full circle, back from Islamist alienation to his family and the tolerant mystical Islam – Sufism – that they espouse. He becomes part of the counter-extremist movement, led by Hamza Yusuf and Tariq Ramadan, that gained ground in Britain from the mid-Nineties onwards, defined by a convergence between a more relevant traditional Islam and post-Islamism, emphasising core Islamic values and active citizenship. Husain, scarred by the cultish manipulations of Islamist groups, particularly Hizb ut-Tahrir’s, underestimates the positive impact this has had on both British Islamists and Salafis, and, in my view, mistakenly judges this transition as more tactical than genuine. He is sometimes unwilling to see that just as he has been on a journey, others have been too. The contours of the middle ground have been drawn and partly defined by many of the moderate Islamist groups, of which he has remained suspicious. Muslim student politics, with all its passions and immaturities of the early Nineties, has improved and matured. The students I regularly meet nowadays are considerably more sophisticated than the Neanderthal variety that roved the campuses in the period of the early Nineties that Husain describes. They embody this new middle ground: a place for personal spiritual piety combined with a commitment to social and political activism within democratic norms, or somewhere in the ground chalked out by Hamza Yusuf and Tariq Ramadan ten years ago and elaborated since then. Even now, in a new publication, Turning the Tide, Qutb and Mawdudi are being improbably represented as part of the Sufi tradition. Sarah Joseph edits the most integrationist, aspirational glossy Muslim magazine, Emel, on the market. The centre ground has shifted. Formerly hardline Salafis are happy to go by the name of “Sidi” and to emphasise the traditionalist aspects of the Hanbali madhhab. Mawlid, dhikr, rihla, ijaza — all terms and practices with cache and endorsement; Sufism is no longer the despised, disreputable cult of uneducated parents, as it was once characterised not too long ago. And how many in traditionalist circles now follow the lead of the moderate Islamist movements into interfaith, civic participation, charitable, social and welfare projects? How many Muslims now seek to define Muslim public identity, even as “British Muslims for Secular Democracy”? How many raise the same arguments about foreign policy, whether as Sufis, Shias or Islamists, as British citizens making their concerns heard?

This shift towards a relevant British Islam, having acquired official encouragement since 7/7, has become politically contested among British Muslims. Naysayers may now play the “sell-out” card more assiduously, and government has been none-too-subtle at times in its public interventions, stoking fears of re-engineering a churchless religious tradition proud of its independence and diversity. Presently, at national level, Sufis are being pitted against Islamists in representational terms, while the government is endorsing a British Islam that is the product of both, i.e. the championing of both Tariq Ramadan and Hamza Yusuf, the two figureheads of the new convergence. No wonder many Muslims are disenchanted and confused by these mixed messages. The moderate Islamists have pioneered interfaith, democratic political engagement, women’s participation and serious youth work and they look increasingly likely to leave aside their ideological roots for civic participation and integration. The neo-traditionalists have restated core Islamic values and respect for learning in a manner relevant to diaspora life in twenty-first century Britain.

Husain, however, ends on a more ambiguous note: the future direction of British Islam remains, for him, uncertain. His own trajectory shows, however, that mainstream Islam can renew itself in the context of twenty-first century multicultural Britain, even with the challenge of an extremist fringe, which — while small in absolute terms — constitutes the largest political challenge for British Muslims and society at large. He has not recognised sufficiently that he didn’t travel alone in his voyage of maturation and self-discovery: many of his generation have travelled with him, and the younger generation has absorbed the lessons of the excesses of the early Nineties in order to avoid them.

A short version of this review will appear in the New Statesman.



Filed under Ghuluw, Islamism, Religion, Terrorism, UK Muslim Politics, UK Politics

25 responses to “The Islamist: A Review

  1. An excellent book review – insightful and balanced! A refreshing change from all the hot headed rhetoric emanating those who are totally opposed to Ed Husain’s views and those who view his book as a convenient opportunity to score points against Islamic groups.

  2. Shabana Kareem

    While this book review is excellent and as the brother above says, very balanced, it would be very helpful to hear from some of the people involved in the orgs covered in this book. Are things still the way they were?

    Perhaps some of them could come forward and elaborate, so we get a clearer picture of what’s going on in those circles/groups now.

    Wasalams, Shabana

  3. Dear Shabana,

    As-salamu alaykum,

    That’s an excellent suggestion. I’ve asked both someone from the Islamic Forum Europe as well as Ed Husain to respond to my review with the intention of starting up a debate. We will have to see if they decide to do so or not. In the long run, the benefit of the book lies in how far it sparks off a serious and controlled debate about some of the wider issues Ed Husain raises. The main ones for me would be “taking responsibility for rhetoric” among moderate Islamists, how to challenge Hizb ut-Tahrir effectively without banning them and strengthening the middle ground of opinion of the community against violence and extremism. However, if the book merely increases generalised prejudice about swathes of the Muslim community, it will not have succeeded in rebalancing the debate on terrorism and extremism. In this debate, one has to leave space too for corrections, clarifications and of course rebuttals on the part of individuals or organisations who feel they have not been fairly represented in the book.

    Kind regards, salams, Yahya

  4. Sid

    Fascinating review which has compelled me to read Ed Husain’s book for myself.

  5. My one question is whether he still considers himself a Muslim?

    I ask this as most that write these books seem to be apostates seeking to make a profit off the back of prejudices and fear towards \”Islamism\”.

    If he is a Muslim I\’ll read it, if he’s not I\’m not interested, as I said here;

    [Comment from Yahya Birt — yes, the author does not only consider himself to be a Muslim, but a faithful one who has written this book as a matter of religious conviction, and who has explained in several places his religious ideals and motivations in the book. The book can be read as a search for religious truth too. The easy assumption of apostasy is in and of itself highly out of place in Islamic tradition.]

  6. ali hussian

    Dear Yahya,

    You are indeed endorsing Labour’s Rushanara Ali but assuming she will be an excellent MP. That shows your hatred towards Galloway and the Respect.
    But please leave your comfy office and get to talk to the youth in tower hamlets to know why george galloway is their favourite politician? I can tell you today your endorsement will get a beating, come generak elections!



    [ Dear Ali, as-salamu alaykum, before writing the review I did leave my not-so-comfy office and went down to East London mosque to talk to people there about the book and the issues raised by it. The comments about Mr Galloway came from a senior community source there. I can’t name names as it was a private conversation. No doubt Respect came into the seat on the back of a protest vote on Iraq, but, in the long run, will the seat not swing back to Labour? There were only about 800 votes in it last time. It’s not a matter of political preference on my part, but more an observation. The way the voting system works, the main parties have historically dominated the political scene. To declare a candidate “excellent” doesn’t indicate a hatred for someone else. Wa s-salam, Yahya]

  7. Saira Yusuf

    I agree with Shabana who suggests that it would be helpful to hear from some of the people involved in the organisations mentioned in the book.

    Brother Yahya, I note that you have mentioned that you have asked someone from IFE to respond to your review – why not ask someone from Hizb ut-Tahrir to respond also as I have certainly senses changes in their approach over the last five years or so?

    [As-salamu alaykum, Dear Sister Saira, that’s an excellent suggesetion, which I will consider. Kind regards, Yahya.]

  8. Thanks for clarifying this. However, if you would not want to do anything that would be out of place in Islamic tradition, lets not jump to conclusions and be clear in that a question was asked, an assumption was not made.

    Such a question is valid in light of the many writing in the mainstream on this issue following their apostasy and/or with with an agenda to slander.

    Due to this I recommended that all ensure the literature they is from a credible source before they buy/read. This would be very important particularly in this case as you are promoting “the book because you believe it can be read as a search for religious truth”.

    [As-salamu alaykum, with respect, Jamal, the question seemed to contain that assumption, which I am glad you have clarified. Secondly, to determine an intent to slander is a separate question/assumption altogether. Finally I am not “promoting” the book, I am reviewing it. There’s quite a difference there I think. Kind regards, Yahya]

  9. Salaams

    This is a book written with a distinct motive and an agenda. Things have changed a lot since the mid 1990\’s and drawing conclusions from then to now is bound to fail.

    Even if a Muslim decides against political Islam after working for it i find it shocking that a tell-all book, attacking all-and-sundry, and calling for the bans of those work for the deen can be justified by a Muslim, any Muslim.

    Your book review fails to expose the underlying bias. I disagree with OBM but I would not attack him. There is an etiquette of difference and this book betrays it.

    [As-salamu alaykum, if I recall I argued against banning Hizb ut-Tahrir in my review at some length. I also argued that the heart of the book was about the early 1990s, and that one could not make public policy recommendations merely on the basis of a personal experience. So no disagreement there. The point of disagreement appears to be about \”telling all in public\”, or the \”dirty linen\” argument. I suppose from my point of view, this is rather an academic point given that the book has already come out. And we should expect more memoirs and books to come out in future too. We have to accept it inasmuch it is now part of our reality — like bad British weather. We have to assess the book and respond to it — and see whether it stands up or not. We have to assess the overall impact of the book too. I fear that overall it may be taken too seriously and without caveats and thereby public and policy understanding of how some of the \”Islamist\” groups have developed and changed in the last fifteen years will be ignored on the \”authority\” of one personal experience, and the reception of the book thereby risks undermining a lot of good work, done at the East London Mosque for instance. Generally speaking no-one is going to take an argument seriously that relies on impugning the author\’s motives and even his faith. Personal or ad hominem attacks aren\’t terribly convincing — if you are concerned to shift public debate on these issues — a vital goal for the Muslim communities at this juncture. A better approach is to assess the facticity of the book and its overall framework of analysis. Husain has made a few important points that I mentioned in my review, but these may well be lost because of other failings in the book which are largely to do with overstatement and an over-reliance on the \”sovereignty of personal experience\”. I felt that he was not open enough to seeing how other people had changed and moved on from what was a rather dismal and immature period of Muslim student activism.

    The OBM that I recall, before he was granted leave by the British authorities to look after his elderly mother in Lebanon, was someone who was perfectly prepared to dish out major public criticism of other Muslim organisations and individuals. He never cared for consequences, or for fact-checking and so on: it was all grist to his lethal propaganda mill. If anyone helped to lower the public tone of debate and criticism within the Muslim community, it was him (and sadly he was not alone). It is perfectly within Islamic etiquette (adab) to respond publicly and furthermore if you believe someone is misguided and wrong you have the duty to expose him to defend the honour and reputation of the entire Muslim community and of the name of Islam, which through his assiduous courting of the tabloid and right-wing press, he helped to besmirch and defame. None of this means necessarily that Husain has got everything right in his public criticism either.

    wa s-salam, Yahya Birt]

  10. Yahya Birt

    Dear All, thanks for your visits and comments. Comments on this post are now closed.

    Kind regards, Yahya Birt

  11. Pnina Werbner

    I’d say that Hussain underestimates the utopianist, millenarian dimensions of HT and others’ rhetoric, grounded in a deep sense of the ‘failure of Islam’ (not its superiority as Hussain argues), as I argue elsewhere. This rhetoric could/can be found in Barelvi circles as well. As long as it was merely a rhetoric, no-one in Britain really cared. The real question is, what can be done now when the connection to jihadi camps in Pakistan has been uncovered (and is public knowledge) and when all these plots, some of them apparently grounded in reality, keep surfacing?

  12. Kaashif Nawaz

    Assalamu alaykum,

    I would advise that everybody read Andrew Booso’s review of his book:

    Although I generally agree with your review, I, as an ex-member of Hizb ut-Tahrir now a Sufi, brother of Maajid Nawaz (ex-prisoner in Egypt and leading ex-member of HT that Mahbub talks of in his book), and someone who knew “Ed” or Mahbub in the 90’s can say that Mahbub’s book and consequent interviews, and articles are not entirely accurate or helpful. The murder at East-Ham college was not of a man who was a Christian, but of a man who was high on drugs, and carrying 2 knives with intent on attacking one of the students on campus, he was intercepted by a gang of Muslims, who intercepted him – nothing to do with Islamism or HT, but more to do with gang wars which Muslims got involved in and some HT members tried to resolve.
    I know that the reasons why Mahbub left involvement in HT are less to do with his stated reasons and are of a more embarrassing nature which made his position as an “Islamic” activist untenable. Muhbub is lucky that many of the people who knew him at that time have not revealed these issues, as they legitimately could to defend against his public misrepresentations or exaggeration. To argue that our brothers in HT be banned based on what he said is like arguing that the conservative party should be banned because many years ago conservative party rhetoric would be almost indistinguishable from current BNP rhetoric. Edward Mosely was a conservative MP at one time. I personally believe that Ed witnessed a period in HT which was hijacked by Omar Bakri and immature zealots who ‘wahabised’ the rank and file. Ed has little knowledge of HT after Omar Bakri was expelled from their ranks, and as Ed, and many of us who were in HT after Omar Bakri underwent a positive change which was slow but effective and I sense is still progressing. I would be very surprised if HT made public stands against voting in the next general elections. HT have openly condemned 9/11 and 7/7, and even before they were under risk of getting banned, they condemned jihadi tactics in Algeria etc – they have never been jihadi as is implied by the lack of criticism of the German ruling in this review. We mustn’t forget that the founder of HT, unlike Syed Qutb or Maududi, Taqiudeen al-Nabhani was an ‘Alim qualified from al-Azhar and Dar al-Uloom, and a professor of Islamic law the Kulliyat-as-Shariah in Amman for a while. He also had a Sufi background, taught by his grandfather the great Sufi Sheikh Yusuf al-Nabhani. Taqiudeen in his books has openly criticised wahabis, and always recognised Mawlid, dhikr, rihla, Ijaza, and Sufism. I think the members later just severely neglected it, and now at least they are attempting to reform back to their Sunni roots. Recently 22 HT members were arrested by the current military government in Bangladesh making preparations to organise Mawlid celebrations. I also have an issue with the definition of the term “Islamist”. The standard definition is that an Islamist is anyone who believes that Shariah should be part of the law implemented, or belief in a Caliphate, which would mean all Sunni Muslims by definition of whatever school of thought, regardless of where, by whom, and when you believe this should happen. People learn, evolve, and change, and to suffocate them or entrench them into constant self-defense only hinders this progress. Ed is guilty of this, and should heal his bitterness of being in the intellectual straight jacket of omar-bakri plagued HT of the early 90s, not with resentment, but with love and brotherly advice.

  13. kaashif Nawaz

    Assalamu alaykum,

    I would like to clarify that when I said that Ed’s reasons from departing from HT had little to do with the so called murder of what he wrongly claimed was an innocent christian “made his position as an ”Islamic” activist untenable”, I am not claiming that he was doing anything which was categorically forbidden in Islam. Please forgive me if people have read it in any other way. I hope this clarification will avert any speculation.

  14. Yahya Birt

    [Ed Husain has posted a response to some of the criticisms made by Muslims, particularly by members of Hizb ut-Tahrir:]


    Posted: 21/06/07

    The Islamist was an attempt to explain complex issues of immigration, multiculturalism, belonging, identity, spirituality, religion, radicalism, politics, and extremism-inspired terrorism to the wider British public, including the vast majority of Muslims who simply do not engage with Islamism or Wahhabism. As a writer for a mass audience, there is only so much I can elucidate in the way of intricate details. The deliberate withholding of detail has rendered me liable to criticism in certain quarters. More importantly, many of the questions raised by Muslim readers of The Islamist has been of a fiqhi nature, i.e. areas of valid disagreement among generations of Muslim scholars.

    I am fundamentally opposed to a polarised ‘them-and-us’ view of the modern world. It troubles me, therefore, that I feel the need to address fellow Muslims separately from wider society. This, for me, is indicative of the mental separatism that haunts our communities across Britain and often manifests in various unhealthy ways. The tenor and subtext to many (but not all) of the questions posed to me is also troubling, influenced by the type of thinking that is so harmful to Muslim communal discourse. Nevertheless, I respond in order to honour the advice of several leading British Muslim thinkers whom I hold in high esteem, who think it better to answer the points raised rather than allow these baseless allegations to spread.

    You have worked for the British Council in Syria and Saudi Arabia. Also, in your interviews with Sky News and Newsweek you did not deny meeting government representatives. Are you a government agent?

    No. I was an ordinary English teacher with the British Council, a means of supporting my study of Arabic and getting to know young, educated Arabs. Working for the British Council does not render me a government agent. As a teacher in Jeddah, I learnt that members of Hizb ut-Tahrir were employed by the British Council in Pakistan and Bangladesh, not least Nasim Ghani to whom I wrote e-mails. Does that make these individuals government agents?

    Since publication of The Islamist, I have met informally with government representatives – and I have been transparent about that in media interviews, as I believe there is nothing to hide. I hasten to add that many of the civil servants that I have met are Muslims working to improve Muslim representation in government, a positive development, I would have thought.

    As Western Muslims we need to recognise that our governments are our servants. In a democracy we appoint, pay, and bring to account our political representatives. They are our agents.

    Why do Melanie Philips, David Aaronovitch, and Michael Gove support your book? Doesn’t that give rise to suspicion about your work?

    I recall the words of one of the world’s leading Muslim scholars, Shaikh Abdallah bin Bayyah, who taught us that when there is a wild fire and people bring water to put it out, you don’t ask who is helping. All efforts must concentrate on extinguishing the fire of extremism that spreads in our midst.

    That said, if only right-wing intellectuals and politicians supported The Islamist then I would have had cause for concern. Any objective assessment of the reception of the book in Britain indicates that free-thinkers such as the heavyweight intellectual John Gray, Muslim sociolologist Tahir Abbas, the eminent Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, literary giant Martin Amis, and critical journalist Simon Jenkins among others have also praised The Islamist. (Please see reviews below for more details)

    Islamism and Wahhabism undermine the very fabric of Islam; combined, these ideologies are a subversive influence on Muslim communities across the globe and a security threat to the West. I believe this issue transcends the right-left division of conventional politics and requires us to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with all right-thinking citizens, irrespective of party politics.

    If you’re not a government agent, do you work for the secret services? How else do you know about the moderate-extremist factions within Hizb ut-Tahrir?

    No, I do not work for the secret services. It is regrettable that this is the level of discussion within many sections of Islamist activism.

    After my return home from living in the Middle East, I commenced post-graduate studies at the University of London. There, I noticed the activism of the shabab of Hizb ut-Tahrir. As I discuss in the last chapter of The Islamist, my dear friend Maajid Nawaz was among these activists, having recently returned from imprisonment in Egypt. (Soon, by the grace of God, Maajid resigned from Hizb ut-Tahrir’s leadership in Britain. In time, he will explain his reasons why.)

    I listened attentively to what Maajid had to say about the new, non-violent Hizb ut-Tahrir. Much of what Maajid said was borne out by the conduct and commentary of other Hizb ut-Tahrir leaders, not least Dr Abdul Wahid. Regretfully, I discovered another discourse within the Hizb when I, quite accidentally, attended Friday sermons delivered by Hasan al-Hasan, Arab media spokesman of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain. His extremist, violence-filled stance on current affairs did not sit with what Dr Wahid or Maajid were stating on BBC Newsnight and other public platforms.

    Moreover, many of the briefings against the comparatively moderate wing of the Hizb, triggered by former leader Jalaluddin Patel, led me to believe there were at least two factions within the Hizb: pragmatists and ideologues, or moderates and extremists.

    As a one-time activist within the Hizb, I remember we all received uniform training and were not allowed to send confusing signals in our public communications. That now seems impossible. For instance, how is it that under Patel’s leadership, the Hizb condemns Britishness and Muslim participation in democratic elections, and under Wahid’s influences both issues are permissible, or at least, muted.

    For those of you who read Arabic, if you peruse the rabble-rousing, Jew-hating, confrontational, utopian and flawed rhetoric of the Jordan-based engineer, Ata Abu Rishta, who now leads Hizb ut-Tahrir globally and you compare this with the statements of Abdul Wahid or Nasim/Patrick Ghani, then the rift between the extremist and relatively ‘moderate’ split within the Hizb becomes apparent. One need not be a secret service agent to decipher such basic divisions.

    I am aware that the current pressure that the Hizb faces will ostensibly unite moderates such as Nasim Ghani, Kamal Abu Zahra, Abdul Wahid, but the intellectual divisions are sufficiently deep to resurface repeatedly and soon.

    The problem lies at the centre of the Hizb in Jordan with ‘the engineer’, Abu Rishta, himself. Hizb insiders, particularly wilayah members, will know to what I refer.

    Why did you inform to the kufr authorities about the presence of Hiz Hizb ut-Tahrir on university campuses in Syria? And then allow brothers to be tortured?

    I disagree with the premise of the question. I follow the opinion of the vast majority of the ‘ulama who do not regard the governments in Muslim lands to be kufr.

    Syria is a land filled with Muslim scholars, many of whom are closely aligned with the government. I love the people of Syria and consider the country to be my second home — if I see trouble and dissension being sown, it is my religious duty to prevent it. I go by the Koranic maxim, al-fitnatu ashaddu minal qatl. Moreover, to make khurooj on the rulers of the Muslim world is not the methodology of the vast majority of Muslims of our scholars, who consider such actions as distinctly haram. The Ibn Taymiyan, and later Abd al-Wahhabian Najdite, school of dissent and takfir on governments is not one to which I adhere.

    For me, the presence of Hizb ut-Tahrir is a prelude to the growth of jihadi movements, inevitable offshoots of a movement that advocates the perpetual jihad thesis under an Islamist state. After all, where did al-Muhajiroun come from? Or the assassins of Anwar al-Sadat, influenced by Samir al-Rahhal, a Hizb member? The trajectory of almost every jihadist is one of frustrated Islamism, activism, and then full-blown terrorism.

    Hizb ut-Tahrir members in Syria that I met were not Syrian, but British-based troublemakers registering on courses and then seeking to spread their deadly ideology of separatism, dissension, confrontation, destruction, and overthrow of governments. They were not tortured or killed, but simply returned home to London. As far as I am concerned, I did my religious obligation of forbidding the munkar and human duty in preventing extremism and its ugly consequences.

    Similarly, one does not endorse the brutal dictatorships that dominate the Arab political landscape. Just as the Ahl al-Sunnah persevered through the tyranny of Hajjaj bin Yusuf, we should counsel Muslim rulers, exercise sabr, be abundant in dua, and work for political change with and not against the hukkam. In this pursuit, we should seek guidance from that centuries-old repository of cumulative knowledge: the traditional Muslim ulama.

    Why do you pit ‘moderate’ against ‘extremist’?

    I wish I didn’t have to, but religious extremism is a reality. Those divisions are palpable and reflected in the actions of believers. However, the psychology of extremism is that the extremist rarely ever confesses, or comprehends, his/her mental state. Our beloved Prophet in a mutawatir hadith warned against extremism, ‘wa iyyakum bi alghuluww fi al-deen’. Ghuluww, tatarruf and other Arabic expressions indicate the existence of extremism in religious discourse.

    Conversely, the Prophet spoke about ‘a middle way’, or moderation in adherence to faith. For a full exposition on the deeper meanings of moderation or wasatiyyah, please see the commentary of the noble grandson of the Prophet, al-Habib Ali Zain al-Din al-Jifri, in Kensington Town Hall:

    Don’t you realise that the British are using you?

    I am British. I was born and raised in these isles; this is my country. I don’t believe in some sinister conspiracy concocted in Whitehall to subvert Muslim communities. Frankly, this mode of thought gives Whitehall too much credit.

    Why do you name and shame prominent Muslims and national Muslim organisations in your book?

    My basic principle from the moment I started to write the book: I would only name active Islamists and Islamist organisations. To that end, I changed names of many individuals in the book to conceal the identity of those who are no longer Islamist or, in several cases, those who had shed the ideological influences of Islamism and now worked in powerful positions. I do not name Muslim organisations, but criticise and challenge Islamist organisations. There is a fundamental difference.

    You refer to the murder of an African student in Newham College in 1995 as Britain’s first Islamist murder — but Hizb ut-Tahrir members claim it was to do with gangs and drugs. What is your evidence?

    I was rather hoping that Hizb ut-Tahrir would confess to their arrogance of the Nineties and apologise to Muslims for dragging the good name of Islam and Muslims through the gutter. Sadly, that apology and confession does not seem to be forthcoming. They continue to be in denial of the role they played in bringing about terrorism on Britain’s streets. Worse, Hizb ut-Tahrir still insist on establishing a totalitarian, expansionist state in Muslim countries dedicated to relentless jihad and killing of Muslims who oppose their state. If the founder of the Hizb had been around today, he probably would have disbanded Hizb ut-Tahrir for their reduction of Islam to an empty, bankrupt faithless ideology.

    After all, it was Shaikh Taqiuddin al-Nabhani (r.h.) who repeatedly chastised the Hizb in the 1970s for their distance from God and hence failure to reach their goals. What would he say if he heard their lies and denial today?

    I detail the background to Ayotunde Obunabi’s murder in The Islamist (pp149-153). It was not about drugs and gangs, it was about Muslim supremacist tendencies over the meagre kuffar. Islamism-influenced Muslims also physically attacked the Sikh students on campus. Maajid and I did not get directly involved in any of this, but we raised the ante and turned a blind eye when it happened. Before publication, I discussed with my friend and brother-in-faith Maajid the passages in the book that detail the murder in Newham to ensure I had accurately recalled the events of 1995. We agreed that the Hizb had created an atmosphere that led to the murder. More than anybody else, Maajid and I were closely involved with developments on campus during those months.

    Finally, in the immediate aftermath of the murder, the college management expelled several Islamist activists, not drug addicts or gang members. Why? The police interrogated Maajid and me, among others, not drug addicts. Why? And convicted and jailed a jihadist that had asked for Hizb ut-Tahrir on his visits to campus. Why?

    The Hizb must accept their part in radicalising young Muslims in Britain, starting with the murder in Newham to the carnage of 7/7 and the 2,000 cases that the secret services are monitoring now. What started as rhetoric from Hizb ut-Tahrir, ended as action in the hands of al-Muhajiroun.

    A better understanding of this mindset can be attained by reading Hizb ut-Tahrir member Showkat Ali’s death threats against me at:

    Did you leave Hizb ut-Tahrir because Omar Bakri left?

    Another fabrication doctored by Hizb ut-Tahrir. I left the Hizb several months before Omar Bakri. Long-standing members of the Hizb, such a Nasim Ghani, can verify this fact. When will the Hizb learn to accept that it is legitimate to leave Hizb ut-Tahrir and then criticise it?

    I am not the only one to be character assassinated by the Hizb. In 2005, Shiraz Maher, a member and leader of the Hizb for northern England left the Hizb after deep intellectual disagreements, and subsequently faced public discrediting of his involvement with the group. It seems to be a tactic to ensure that the current batch of disaffected and disillusioned members within the Hizb should continue serving a lost cause, rather than abandon the cult. I can only remain hopeful that more members will follow their hearts and leave, rather than risk being expelled, and thus discredited, by the manipulative wilayah. True liberation comes after abandoning Hizb ut-Tahrir and embracing the ‘ulama, the inheritors of the anbiya.

    Do you believe that Islam has a role in politics?

    Yes, but based on the maslaha or interest of the people and this varies from time and place. I believe in Muslim politics, i.e. the civic engagement of Western Muslims in the political structures that we find around us. This is not about converting or Islamising, but advancing social justice, security and serving God’s creation. My problem is with Islamist politics that seeks to overthrow the status quo, enforce a warped reading of scripture, and initiate some sort of Year Zero world. Politics is about serving people, not advancing ideology at any cost.


    Finally, the fullest smiles and the most contented hearts that I have encountered in recent weeks are of those brave men who have abandoned extremism and embraced the merciful ways of al-Habib al-Mustafa, the Prophet. Let us join hands, and reclaim our faith from political ideologues and religious zealots. As the great Mevlana Rumi calls: ‘Come, come, and come again. Even if you have broken your vows a thousand times, come.’ For this is the caravan of al-Mustafa. Halawath al iman, the sweetness of faith, resides outside activist Islamism or excessively ritualistic Wahhabism.

    Ed Husain

    June 2007

  15. H Ahmed

    I actually find it quite amazing that these people keep on popping up to tell stories of how demonic HT is. But I think that people have cottoned on as the Newsnight report was dismissed after it was aired and so will this.
    HT have been quite prominent in East London for about two decades now and they have always held public debates on local and international politics being clear on every single issue.
    Furthermore why do my knowledgeable friends keep saying that HT wants to establish Shariah law in Britain, because they don’t.
    Also, the fact that Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, the founder of HT, told HT that we needed to go back to basics and do more dhikr etc was right, but it was not in the context that Ed Husain is talking about. He said it because he felt that was in line with what HT were doing, so they needed to also ask for the help of Allah, make more Dua etc.

  16. kaashif nawaz

    So by Ed’s logic just because the Ulema in Syria don’t openly call for rebellion in Syria (for reasons I was told while in damascuss are not the same as Ed’s attribution to them), it makes the syrian regime a legitimate Islamic government? A valid Islamic government headed and run by Kafir (by consensus) Alawis/nusayris who deify Ali (ra) and slughtered 30,000 Muslims in Homs and Hama in the 80s??? If you advise patience, fair enough I may agree, but that is different from labeling Syria an Islamic regime headed by a born and bred Alawi, and claim this Alawi ruler is implementing Islam?

  17. Konrad Pedziwiatr

    Dear Yahya,
    I would like to touch upon just one crucial issue that You have mentioned in your review of the Islamist, the one of ‘tribal loyalty’ to the ideologues of Islamism. I discussed this issue a few year ago with Dilwar Hussain on the occasion of the publication of the book ‘Islam: The Way of Revival’ (Mohammed and Hussain 2003) in which one may find inter alia an excerpt from the Qutb’s ‘Milestones’. In this excerpt one may read for example that ‘… we must move ourselves from all the influences of the jahiliyah in which we live and from which we derive benefits. We must return to that pure source from which the first generation derived its guidance, free from any mixing or pollution. Only from it can we reliably derive our concepts of the nature of the universe, the nature of human existence, and the relationship of these two with the perfect, the Real Being, Allah the Most High. From the Qur’an we must also derive our concepts of life, and out principles of government, politics, economics and all other aspects of life.’ (ibid 107-108). What is the relevance of this and other similar in character excerpts for the British Muslims? – I asked Dilwar. His answer was similar to the one that you suggested in your article. ‘I don’t agree with 90 per cent of what they said (the ‘founding fathers’ of the Islamism- KP) but I still want to know it. To preserve the legacy.’ – said Dilwar. Then, he went on saying that Muslims have to learn to contextualize this legacy. But are they taught to do so? Do they have the tools to do so? Shouldn’t they first be taught to contextualize these kind of discourses before the Islamic Foundation will publish another book promoting them? Who should teach young Muslims to contextualize the Islamist discourses? What makes up the 10 per cent (or more?) of the relevant things in the Islamist legacy?
    I wonder what are your answers to these questions.
    With the very best wishes,

  18. Dear Konrad, hope you are well.

    My personal answer would be that the Islamic Foundation or any other institution tasked with the reproduction of Islamic learning should be firstly concerned with putting it into the context of multicultural, liberal democratic Britain, and giving young people the tools to integrate their religious values with their context, not setting them anti-colonial conundrums to unpack from seventy years ago. I can’t see any real virtue in the reproduction of translated, canonical Islamic movement texts with laudatory introductions and that don’t even attempt to set out an historical context for them.

    Of course such texts “live” within sectarian contexts that give them a controlling set of interpretations, and a tight framework in which they are mediated and contested. I’m less privy to such debates, but let me say that my very strong impression is that Mawdudi and Qutb are now more invoked than followed on any practical level. And if we are talking about “post-Islamism” which, in Asef Bayat’s formulation, is about “rights and religiosity”, then the only reason why there hasn’t been an explicit shift is “tribalism” without content, a necessary fiction of continuity to keep the elders off the backs of the new middle-aged generation that is now setting the agenda and taking over the main institutions.

    My guess is that the ten per cent of Islamism translated into the “post-Islamist” context is “public religion” within the context of modern British secularism, “active citizenship”, “interfaith” and other such good works alongside the more obvious bourgeois manifestations. Part of the ten per cent might also be a moderate salafi piety, focusing on the five pillars and casting religion in terms of personal ethics rather than law. I know what this sounds like…it sounds like Tariq Ramadan! Allegedly another “dangerous Islamist”.

    But these are my best “guesses” based on various conversations and observations, but admittedly you would be best placed to go back to the main interlocutors for clearer answers!

    Take care, all the best, Yahya

  19. Salahudin Ayubi

    In the Name of Allah the Most Beneficent the Most Merciful

    Respected Brothers & Sisters in Islam,

    Assallamu’Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wabarakatu

    During the late 1990’s when large swathes of Muslim youth where rediscovering their faith and shedding the notion of complete subservience to material, personal and worldly propensities, there were several well-intended groups who had a weak , defective or non-existent understanding of the fundamentals of this faith such as Tawhid (Pure Monotheism), Ibadat (Acts of worship), Uloom ul Deen (Study of Islam), Islamic Tarbiyah (Islamic education), Tazkiyah (Self-purification) , Khuluqul Muslim (Muslim character building), etc. One such grouping, though fairly active in Dawah, prematurely introduced, over zealously force-fed and indoctrinated young, excitable and emotional minds with issues of a global nature for which they where not prepared. Many discerning, moderate and committed brothers and sisters who had been working for the cause of Islam since when these people where yet twinkles in their fathers eyes, persistently advised and admonished them against this intolerant methodology of stirring hatred, dissention and fitna in their respective communities. Due to a lack of and under-developed Islamic character the usual reaction from them was demeaning sneers and disrespectful verbal and physical assaults, some of which were even caught on camera. They knew it all, they were the ones who carried the ‘truth’…as predicted all this emotional attachment, hype and confusion led to many from amongst them discarding the faith completely once the group disintegrated into splinters and opposing factions.

    Astonishingly today, we are seeing the re-emergence of ex-members of this very group, who have left the organisation, after spending many years propagating and dispensing its radical, obtuse, one-topic message, which has no doubt contributed to our current state of insecurity and national scrutiny, only to now renege and vault across the ideological expanse to the opposite mystical, folk, superstitous, pacifist, culturally convoluted and appeasement extreme, which is today in favour. They are found challenging and disputing the Divinely and Prophetically endorsed vision of just and equitable forms of Islamic governance, as practiced by the rightly guided caliphs and their successors. A 1400 year caliphate, which in its dynamic period was at the heart of a great civilisation, leading the world in science, philosophy, law, maths and astronomy.

    “Then We revealed the Book to you, (O Muhammed), with Truth, confirming whatever of the Book was revealed before, and protecting and guarding over it. Judge then, in the affairs of man in accordance with the Law that Allah has revealed, and do not follow their desires in disregard of the Truth which has come to you. For each of you We have appointed a Law and a way of life.” (Al Ma’idah 5:48)

    Under the patronage and praise of known Islamaphobes and right-wing policy think tanks, these individuals today question the authority of Allah, they engender the campaign to malign and undermine Islam by precipitating manipulative and fallacious misnomer terminologies such as Islamo-Fascism and Islamism, they now have the audacity to preach to people of the middle-path, those who have always worked inclusively and systematically for the betterment of their communities in all spheres, understanding that this holistic faith is one which persists from cradle to grave, for the sake and pleasure of the Almighty, to serve humankind.

    “Believers! If any of you should ever turn away from your faith, remember that Allah will raise up a people whom He loves and who love Him; a people humble towards the believers, and firm towards the unbelievers; who will strive hard in the way of Allah and will not fear the reproach of the reproacher. This is the favour of Allah which He grants to whom He wills. Allah is All Resourceful, All Knowing.” (Al Ma’idah 5:54)

    On Friday evening gone, Mr Majid Nawaz a former senior member of the religiously impoverished national executive of Hizbut Tahrir, unashamedly delivered his nefariously skewed and disjointed new methodology and turncoat credentials. With his consorts and partners in desertion and secularism, Ed Hussain, Gayasudeen Siddiqui and Mr Rashad in attendance, he implicitly denounced the concept of the Sovereignty of the Majestic over his creation, with his pathetic, lamentable and sometimes comical analogies and now freethinking narratives. What was most difficult to bear, was that his former masters and co-conspirators in prejudice and the dogmatically flawed approach he pursed for so many years, did not even have the decency, the courage or the sense of duty, to send any strong representatives to denounce or confront his views, something in which they used to revel in the past, when shouting down humble, moderate yet principally and scholarly far superior brothers and sisters, whose designs have been proven to bear much sweeter fruits, by the grace of Allah (swt).

    I can reliably state that their members were encouraged to attend and challenge this charlatan, they however declined. This in itself is a clear testament of their true communal sentiments, duplicity and failure as an organisation, which has been the cause of leading people like Mr Rashad, Mr Shiraz, Mr Hussain, Mr Nawaz and who knows how many others astray. A Hizb (party, sect or cult) which has ultimately done more harm to this community than good, a community whose tolerance towards them will no doubt wane. Now that their true colours have been exposed, God-willing they will soon be the recipients of righteous hecklers and leaflet distributors, at future events they organise, no doubt concerning the one and only topic they think they are qualified to speak about, ‘Khilafa’. I would recommend brothers to visit their exhibition stand at the upcoming GPU event, to question their 12 year stand and the damage they have done to sections of our second generation. The independant organisers of Firday’s event, City Circles, should also contemplate their decision to give such individuals an open platform to spew their inconsistent claptrap, with minimum scrutiny and inquest. In pursuit of dialogue, debate and discussion, one can not allow injury to Allah (swt)’s cause, through the indirect advocation of deviant ideas, which attempt to subvert the enduring message of the Qur’an & Sunnah. May Allah (swt) guide and aid them in selecting their speakers more diligently.

    We pray that Allah (swt) strengthens and blesses the true callers, thinkers, scholars and activists of Islam, whose consistent contribution to the establishment of institutions, schools, national organisations, Mosques, youth groups and publications here and across the Muslim world, stems from the notion that Islam is comprehensive for all areas of life and that we must incorporate a bottom-up as well as top-down approach in systems concerning the development, progression, benevolence, peace, harmony and establishment of a God-conscious society, Insha’Allah. I pray that Allah (swt) protects, preserves and elevates our Deen and its devoted, patient and sincere adherents.

    Wasalamu’ Alaikum,

    Your Brother in Islam,

    Salahudin Ahmed Ayubi, Croydon

  20. Yahya Birt

    As-salamu alaykum,

    Dear Salahuddin,

    I was also present at the same event and my feeling was that the audience provided an effective foil to the speaker, bringing up many of the points that you have raised in your post. An important function of an open forum is to provide an opportunity for cross-examination from the community itself, which was achieved on Friday night. There were many Islamic activist notables in the audience: a daughter of Rashid al-Ghannoushi, representatives from Hizb ut-Tahrir (at least four members, although none asked questions), prominent figures from the MCB and the Islamic Forum Europe, some people from Brixton Mosque to name but few. There were also many ex-members of HT there too. City Circle has in the past given the sole platform to people before: one example would be Moazzam Begg for instance. I would agree that the reaction of the audience seemed to be that there was interest in the speaker’s experience coming in and out of HT but less so on his general reflections around Islam and politics.

    My personal view, not that of a scholar of course, is that a lot of debate around Islam and politics is rather abstract and scripturalised. So for instance what would be the answer to the question, how do we live as faithful Muslims in Britain who want to establish justice and fairness for everyone? How do we strengthen and empower our Muslim communities? We also live in a world in conflict, where the fear is that the “clash of civilisations” is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. How do we avert that? How do we stand up for the rights of the downtrodden and oppressed around the world? How do we deal with environmental degradation and a myriad of other issues that confront humanity as a whole? These are daunting challenges.

    In the face of all of this, it seems to me that juristic discussions of the scope and nature of the caliphate or of the Islamic state have very little purchase on our current situation here in Britain. Our engagement needs to be less theoretical and more grounded. On the speaker’s comments on multiculturalism, identity politics and patriotism, I was not very convinced by them. I felt they lacked due consideration and depth.

    Islamism as a term is not an Orientalist neologism. In fact it was first used in North Africa in the 1970s to distinguish the Islamiyyun, those who work actively to uplift the cause of Islam, from the Muslimun, the Istarakiyyun (socialists) and the Marksiyyun (Marxists), who did not. There are also other circumlocutions like “the Islamic movement” that were used in a similar register. However I do not agree with a polemical definition of the term that is now popular. For me Islamism is simply the engagement of Muslims with modern politics, mobilising Islamic discourses, symbols and practices which may manifest themselves in many forms. In this sense Iqbal or Jinnah were Islamists, as one might call Erdogan an Islamist, committed as they were or are to Muslim empowerment in what might be recognized as Muslim social democracy. They would fall within the spectrum of political possibilities that one might call Islamist, as would Khomeini’s Iran or Mullah Omar’s Afghanistan. This dignifies the term with analytical rather than polemical potential and affords us the opportunity to understand rather better the political possibilities that have emerged during the phase of Islamic revival over the last half century or so in the Muslim world. All are engaged in a novel endeavour to apply their understanding of Islam to modern politics whether it is a law-based or values-based approach, a democratic or anti-democratic approach, integrationist or separatist, patriotic or ummatic, the theocratic verses the theocentric state and so on and so forth. No-one, in that sense, should be chucked off the table of tolerated discussion as all are approaching the subject of politics as believers.

    On a pesonal note, I don’t know if the speaker said very much in terms of practical politics that most British Muslim activists haven’t either enacted and developed, let alone debate the merits and demerits of, quite some time ago. His point about the scope of religion got mixed up in my mind about the debate on the purpose of religion, two separate but allied issues.

    A fundamental issue is spelt out in the constructive criticisms by Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi in “Appreciation and Interpretation of Religion in the Modern Age” (Lucknow: Academy of Research and Publications, 1982), trans. Syed Athar Husain. Nadawi originally wrote the book in Urdu in 1978, and as you will know, he worked closely with Mawdudi and translated many of his key works into Arabic. Later on, however, he remained apart from JI, acting as a “friendly critic”. Nadwi was widely seen to be one of the leading scholars of his generation. I was privileged to meet him in 1991 in his natal village in UP.

    Mawdudi in his four concepts of the Qur’an understands the terms rabb and ilah, and their analogues in terms of human conduct, power and authority, in such a way as to argue that considering any orders binding from a legislative authority other than God is an act of shirk. These ideas influenced Qutb. Hudaybi argued against them, saying that outside the lawful and forbidden lay a whole host of human acts that a legislative authority had to used legal reasoning to determine them in the light of the sources.

    Mawdudi also primarily characterises the relationship between Allah and insan as between Lord and servant, king and subject, commander and commanded. But Nadwi remarks the relationshp is “far greater, wider, and deeper and far subtler and delicate” than just that. Unlike Mawdudi, even Ibn Taymiya did not consider “obedience and humility enough for servitude (ubudiyat) but included love and adoration for the divine. The definition of “ilah” is not confined to sovereignty or power but in the words of IT, “that towards whom the heart turns in utmost love, greatest veneration, respect and esteem and in hope and fear and similar feelings”. There is also a similar conflation of sovereignty and rububiyat in Mawdudi’s thought. Seeing God only as a Sovereign and Ultimate Authority would psychologically lend the worship a “limited, dry, souless and ,,, formal character”. Mawdudi describes the four pillars and the function of prophethood in and of itself as ends to the attainment of power. For instance, some quotes from Mawdudi that Nadwi cites:

    “The ultimate aim of all the prophets’ mission in the world has been to establish the Kingdom of God on earth and enforce the system of life received from Him.” (p. 80)

    “With this object before them did all the Prophets endeavour to bring about political revolutions in their respective ages. Some of them were only able to prepare the ground, as Prophet Abraham; others suceeded in practically starting the revolutionary movement but their mission was terminated before they could establish the rule of God, as Prophet Jesus. But there were others who led their movement to its natural goal, the establishment of the Kingdom of God on the earth. In this later category are included the Prophet Joseph, Prophet Moses and our Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon all of them).”

    On the contrary the purpose of the five pillars, of the mission of the prophets is primary salvific that humankind should know God; the establishment of religion in society is a secondary aim. The aim of religion in not to establish the state; rather the aim of the state is to help establish religion. Such is the import of 22:39-41:

    “Permission is given (to fight) those who have taken up arms against you wrongfully. And verily God is well able to give you succor, to those who have been driven forth from their homes for no reason other than this that they say, ‘Our Lord is God’. Had not God repelled some men by others, cloisters and churches and synagogues and msoques, wherein the name of God is ever mentioned, would assuredly have been pulled down. Verily, him who helps God will God surely help: for God is indeed Right, Powerfully Mighty. These are they, who, if We establish them in the land, will observe prayers and pay the poor-due, and enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong. The final issue of all things rests with God.”

    In other words, Nadwi remarks that jihad and government are the means and prop for the establishment of prayers.

    By Mawdudi’s reading therefore many prophets only had partially successful missions and the much of the catalogue of Islamic revival and reform through history are summarily dismissed in his writings, with the exception of a few favoured personalities. E.g. in his Short History of the Revivalist Movement in Islam, Mawdudi writes “History reveals that the ideal Mujaddid is yet to be born. Caliph Umar ibn Abdul Aziz might have attained this position but he did not get a chance to achieve it.” They all fall short in establishing the kingdom of God on earth to a greater or lesser extent. Little of value exists after the first third of Islamic history for Mawdudi.

    This is not the “Lord of Medina’s” vision. Various ahadith recored that “A group in my community will always be actively engaged in matters of religion and circulation of the orders of God and their opponents can in no way thwart them.”

    The debate over “din”, the life-transaction between insan and Allah, the debt that insan owes Allah, was less about its scope than about its purpose. The thrust of the traditional ulema’s criticism of Mawdudi was that he shifted the primary purpose of din from knowing God. Wa ma khalaqta l-jinna wa’l-insa illa li’ya`budun; I have only created jinn and humanity to worship me. As Ibn Abbas says ya`budun means here ya`rifun, as worshipping God means to know Him. Din serves this purpose. Mawdudi’s political sovereignty, the rule of God, impacts upon his understanding of the nature of worship (as a means to a political end, not as a means to know God), as it does the nature of the prophets’ mission (a failure he judges politically, whereas for the ulema, they discharged their duty of inviting people to din, wa ma `alayna illa’l-balaghu’l-mubin, as guidance after all is only from God), and indeed the nature therefore of the relationship between insan and Allah. Obeying political authorities that do not rule in God’s name is an act of shirk (taghut is given a modern political register); whereas for the ulema it is contingent on circumstances and contract, and all authorities employ legal reasoning to frame the law. The ulema left the notion of jahiliyya to the pre-Islamic period, whereas in Mawdudi and more so in Qutb it is brought into present-day Muslim societies.

    More could be said. And Allah knows best the truth of all matters.

    wa s-salam, Yahya

  21. Jamaludeen

    I have just started reading this book and intend to complete it, however the relentless use of the word “Islamist” throughout and constant pre-fixing of Islam with the word “moderate” does very little justice to practising Muslims. Our faith does not need to be re-defined in this way and it is only contributing to a divide in the Muslim community. What’s wrong with just referring to oneself as a Muslim these days? What is a moderate Muslim? if he/she sports a full length beard or Hijaab does that render them extreme? Is being an Islamist truly such a wrong thing? Wasn’t our beloved prophet Muhammad an Islamist? I am slightly concerned that a fellow Muslim is willingly endorsing these concepts of divide and also brutishly exposing the failures/ hypocrisies/ weaknesses of other Muslims for all and sundry to see. This approach is distasteful and lacks tact, although I truly believe the author has a deliberate motive for doing so. I have not read far into the book just yet but already hate and vengeance surface on many occasions as well as a personal vendetta. Is this truly a solid enough basis on which to write an informative discourse on the threat “Islamist” groups pose to Britain? There are many people out there who absolutely hate Islam and all Muslims, is it wrong to struggle against such individuals through legitimate means? A question I would like to put to Ed is how he feels his book has contributed to a positive portrayal of Islam or benefited the well-being of Muslims as a whole?

    Jamaludeen, UK

  22. Jamaludeen

    Another brief point I would like to add is where Hussain touches on the strict segregation of sexes as the major contributing factor toward the sexual frustration in the arab world. Islam advises against the intermingling of sexes for valid and sincere reasons. Could it not be that they are frustrated out of a lack of means to get married? It is getting considerably harder to marry in the arab world, as man needs to be in receipt of a thousand and one material posessions, a house being number one on the list. The youth have fallen into utter despair as marriage stretches further out into the distance beyond their grasp. Its not fair to blame this frustrated phenomena purely on the segregation of sexes, which Islam advises for the welfare of us as individuals and society as a whole.

    Jamaludeen, UK

  23. Interloping into what – and this is part of the problem – has been to date a totally-Muslim discussion: Mr Husain, whose parents were born I think in India and what became Bangladesh, now says of himself: ‘I am British. I was born and raised in these isles: this is my country. I don’t believe in some sinister conspiracy concocted in Whitehall to subvert Muslim communities’. Well, that’s good to hear: and while it is not quite that easy to ‘become British’, it’s a good start. How many of your correspondents would/could say the same about themselves? The prime locus of political loyalty in ‘these isles’ is to the (this) nation state, no other . . . and such loyalty is no easy option.

    Jon Gower Davies

  24. You may allow me another comment: a couple of times, Mr Husain is asked ‘are you a spy’: If he were (which he says he is not), would that be altogether surprising and/or a bad thing? Time after time, opinion polls show that very large numbers of Muslims would NOT tell the Police if they knew that one of their friends or acquaintances was planning a terrorist attack. A spy here and there might be a Good Thing. ( and NO I am not a Spy!! )

    John Gower Davies

  25. Dear Yahya
    I hope you will be able to add this – my third – comment on the discussion arising out of your Review of The Islamist, by Ed Husain. I have read, the several pages of comment; and have come away quite profoundly depressed and worried at what I read.
    My major concern is at what is obviously the overriding concern of your correpondents, that is to ‘protect’ Islam, by denying the message by shooting the messenger: “Does he (EH) still consider himself a Muslim? Most that write these books seem to be apostates seeking to make aprofit off the back of prejudices and fear towards ‘Islamism'” (jamal); ‘This is book written with a distinct morive and an agenda . . Even if a Muslim decides against political Islam after working for it I find it shocking that a tell-all book, attacking all and sundry, abd calling for the bans of those work for the deen can be justified by a Muslim, any Muslim’ (Hassan Choudhury): ‘Are you a government agent? (?) ‘Do you work for the secret services?’ (?): why did you inform to the kufr authorities (in Syria)?’ (?): why do you name and shame prominent Muslims and national Muslim organisations in your book?’ (?); ‘Don’t you realise that the British are using you?’ (?).

    I am a kaffir – a white, British born and British ‘in the bone’, as we say, middle class professional meriticratic moderate Christian male. This ‘blogversation’ is more than a little worrying: it indicates the existence of a community which, which, while ‘British’, is that primarily, and conditionally, by the accident of residence, rather than by any serious ascription of loyalty to the nation into which I was born. Persistently, in these letters and comments, the fact of prime loyalty to other Muslims, or to ‘the Muslim community’ is revealed; as if you were surrounded by a hostile State and a hostile populace. Do you really belive that the institutions of the State are somehow out to ‘get’ Islam? Crucially, when, amongst you, you meet someone urging violence upon us kaffirs, or actually planning to carry it out, should you not forthwith tell the Police rather than, as is evident from this correspondence, somehow cover it all up so as not to call Islam into disrepute – see the quote from Mr Choudhury. This has, I have to say, all been most revealing: the delimitation of your loyalties separate you out from mine; and while I am as moderate as the next person (we kaffirs are not, you know, all queuing up to join the BNP), my moderateness is clearly not respected by you, or seen by you to be moderate; How very sad.

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