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Vol. 10, No. 2, 2011
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Robert J. Lewis
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Farzana Hassan
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Marissa Consiglieri de Chackal
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ed husain's

reviewed by


Farzana Hassan is the author of Prophecy and the Fundamentalist Quest. Please visit her website at:

Ed (Mohammed Mahbub) Husain, author of the book The Islamist, recalls how as an Islamist, he “believed that history was a clash between good and evil. We represented the former; the West the latter and we had to prevail.” In his engaging and insightful memoir published by Penguin books, the author appropriately captures the gist of Islamist philosophy by exposing the Islamist agenda of “confronting the West in its own backyard.”

The book chronicles phases of Husain’s life that led to his conversion to a virulent strain of radical Islam and his journey back to the spiritual Islam practiced by his South Asian British family.

From the writings of Maududi, to Syed Qutb, to Nabhani, founder of the militant Hizb ut-Tahrir, Husain describes the rhetoric, propaganda, mind-control tactics as well as the insidious and pervasive networks that sustain and empower radical Islam. The manner and methods the radical leadership employs to incite hatred of everything non-Islamic, particularly Western, are all telling accounts of radical Islam’s ambitions to not only gain visibility, but also exclusive control over public offices, institutions and spaces. As an Islamist, Husain envisioned a new world order where “Muslims would be first-class citizens, the kuffar (the ingrate) would be put in its place and an army would declare war.” The Islamic state would be a theocracy. “In Islam, we don’t rule, Allah rules. Human beings do not have legislative power. The world today suffers from the malignant cancers of freedom and democracy,” declared an Islamist associate of Husain.

Even the “sisters” who many of the “brothers” dated were issued ultimatums to wear the hijab and eventually the niqab. One of the Salaf with whom Husain hobnobbed for a while “fell head over heels in love with one of them simply because she had covered all. “As courting and dating were considered morally degenerate, my members found partners of the opposite gender under the pretext of marriage,” he states. Husain also laments the higher divorce rate among Islamists compared to ordinary Muslims.

The author enjoyed these Islamist activities for a while before realizing there were hierarchies and profound division even among those who wanted to unite the world under the banner of radical Islam. The Hizb shunned the followers of Maududi and the Salaf, who claimed to follow the example of the heroic first Muslims, as simply elitist.

But it was the murder of a fellow student by a Hizb member that finally sowed the seeds of discontent in Husain towards radical Islam. He would from then on try to keep away from the weekly, sometimes daily gatherings. “Britain offered the Hizb the freedom to express its ideas freely and recruit uninhibitedly.” Husain also regrets that as an Islamist, he had lost his “ability to smile.”

Husain realized soon enough that the path of Islamism was at best murky. He decided to abandon it and for a while, even struggled to keep his faith. He concluded that if he were at all able to remain a believer, his God would have to be “beyond gender, limitation and even conceptualization.” Along with this realization, Husain also became a “better Briton”. All this took place before the world changed on 9/11.

Still, even a reformed, de-radicalized Husain felt somewhat “joyful” at the news of the attacks. “Any attack on the bullyboy of the world, ardent supporter of Israel, puppet master of Arab dictators and exporter of McDonald’s style globalization was certainly good news for the rest of us”. The backlash against Muslims and the resultant isolation they had felt in the aftermath proved to be the last hurdle for Husain towards shedding his animosity for all things Western.

Husain’s story is not unique. Radicalized youth in the West often fall prey to Islamist propaganda in similar fashion. In many ways, Husains’ tumultuous spiritual journey represents the ongoing tussle between militant Islam and mystical Islam. After a long stint with radicalism, he comes to the conclusion that it is tolerance, humanity and a very personal devotion to God that constitute Islam’s true essence.

But this begs the question: Why are so many Muslims led astray? Is there something in the sacred texts of Islam that lends itself readily to radical interpretations? Indeed there are such verses, but Husain fervently believes that the real problem lies in the literalist and obscurantist interpretations of these texts.

Towards the end of the book, the author compares Levantine Islam with Syria as an example, to the Wahabi Islam of Saudi Arabia. While the atmosphere in Syria tends to be one of aloof religious liberalism, Saudi Arabia actively engages in propagating its rigidly puritanical Islam.

Husian also draws a distinction between Islamism and Islam. But this purported distinction again raises some questions: Are the differences largely determined by the extent of adherence to Islamic pretext? In other words, are the differences one of ideology or simply religious practice? Are all Muslims ideologically Islamist and simply derelict in religious observance? Is Islamism built on the tenets of Islam and therefore a valid strain among its many expressions? Is Islamism a natural extension of Islam? Is a global political agenda germane to Islam lending validity to the Islamist viewpoint?

Husain does not pose these questions but arrives at the categorical conclusion that
“Religions are not for governments or states; they are for individuals.”

Islamists would readily shun such suggestions. They believe there is only one valid interpretation of Islam – theirs -- - and since they see Islam as a monolith, they also view the Western world as a monolith, thus directing their animosity towards all things Western. In the end, what will win the fight against radicalism is how well these attitudes are recognized and how effectively they are countered. Nonetheless, Husain provides an accurate and timely window into the minds of contemporary Islamists. The Islamist is a must-read for all who wish to understand the causes of radicalization and possible solutions.



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by Farzana Hassan:
The Grand Design (review)
The Jew Is Not My Enemy (review)
To Ban the Hijab?


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