Ed Husain's book THE ISLAMIST

Ed Husain was born, raised, and educated in London. He has lived and travelled extensively in the Middle East and worked for the British Council in Damascus and Jeddah.

He is conducting doctoral research on Arab experiences of secularism. His first book, The Islamist, published by Penguin, has sparked much debate and discussion around issues of religion, identity, and politics.

This site will catalogue reviews and articles relating to Ed Husain's book.
Thu Jun 21

ED HUSAIN’S RESPONSE TO MUSLIM CONCERNS

 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, with the extremist wing of the Hizb 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 the kufr authorities about the presence of 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 or 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:  http://www.radicalmiddleway.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=57&Itemid=45

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: http://www.newstatesman.com/200706180016 

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/leaders of the Hizb, such as 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.

Invitation:

Finally, the fullest smiles and the most content 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

E-mail: 167751@soas.ac.uk