Home- grown hard core

The Is­lamist: Why I Joined Rad­i­cal Is­lam in Bri­tain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Ir­fan Yusuf

By Ed Hu­sain Pen­guin, 288pp, $ 24.95

JOHN Howard was in Wash­ing­ton in 2001 when the World Trade Cen­tre twin tow­ers col­lapsed and took with them more than 3000 lives, and the Pen­tagon was at­tacked. He wit­nessed the spon­ta­neous out­pour­ing of emo­tion, then anger, then the fun­da­men­tal changes in se­cu­rity and for­eign pol­icy. But even the PM agrees no event changed ter­ror­ism pol­icy like the Lon­don bomb­ings on July 7, 2005, which killed more than 50 peo­ple.

What made that event sem­i­nal wasn’t the na­ture or scale of the at­tacks. Ur­ban trans­port com­muters were at­tacked in Madrid the year be­fore. Sui­cide ter­ror­ism has a long and bloody his­tory. What made Lon­don dif­fer­ent were the per­pe­tra­tors. All ev­i­dence points to the at­tack be­ing the work of frus­trated chil­dren of nom­i­nally Mus­lim mi­grants. Th­ese young men found them­selves in what Peter Costello once de­scribed as a twi­light zone where the val­ues of their par­ents’ old coun­try have been lost but the val­ues of the new coun­try not fully em­braced.

Ed Hu­sain’s au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal ac­count, The Is­lamist: Why I Joined Rad­i­cal Is­lam in Bri­tain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left, pro­vides an in­sider view of the typ­i­cal pro­cesses by which a small mi­nor­ity of the chil­dren of nom­i­nally Mus­lim Bri­tons are rad­i­calised.

Yet Hu­sain’s anal­y­sis also il­lus­trates the lim­i­ta­tions of the sim­plis­tic anal­y­sis of cul­tural war­riors who pre­sume what hap­pens in Bri­tain is ex­actly mir­rored in other parts of the world. He shows the enor­mous im­pact of unique lin­guis­tic and cul­tural fac­tors af­fect­ing dif­fer­ent eth­nic sec­tors of mi­grant Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties.

Like more than three- quar­ters of Bri­tish Mus­lims, Hu­sain is of South Asian back­ground. His par­ents are from the Syl­het re­gion that forms part of the border of Bangladesh and In­dia. His fa­ther fol­lows a mys­ti­cal Sufi or­der of one Pir Ab­dul Latif Ful­tali, with whom the au­thor spent much of his child­hood.

How­ever, un­like many South Asian Mus­lim mi­grants ( in­clud­ing my own par­ents), for whom lan­guage and cul­ture are more em­pha­sised than re­li­gion, Hu­sain re­ceived a much more solid ground­ing in tra­di­tional Is­lam. Un­like his peers, Hu­sain is able to re­cite the Ko­ran with proper pro­nun­ci­a­tion and in ac­cor­dance with the for­mal rules of recita­tion gen­er­ally taught only in spe­cial­ist schools in Egypt or Turkey.

His fam­ily’s tra­di­tional Is­lam viewed it­self as just re­li­gion, a private mat­ter whose only pub­lic role was to make bet­ter cit­i­zens. It was only in high school re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tion classes that Hu­sain dis­cov­ered an­other less familiar form of Is­lam in a widely used text­book writ­ten by the leader of a large Bri­tish Mus­lim or­gan­i­sa­tion.

This less familiar form of Is­lam treated the faith as a com­pre­hen­sive way of life, an ide­ol­ogy that formed the ba­sis of a move­ment for so­cial and po­lit­i­cal change. This ide­o­log­i­cal Is­lam was as­so­ci­ated with the Ja­maat- i- Is­lami, a po­lit­i­cal party founded in In­dia in 1941 by jour­nal­ist and Is­lamist ide­o­logue Abul Ala Maududi. Af­ter par­ti­tion, the JI ( not to be con­fused with the In­done­sian Je­maah Is­lamiah) be­came an in­flu­en­tial po­lit­i­cal party in Pak­istan and wanted to trans­form the coun­try into an Is­lamic state.

JI ac­tivism spread to the large South Asian di­as­pora in Bri­tain, largely funded by Saudi petro dol­lars. Key JI in­sti­tu­tions were built dur­ing the 1980s when JI- style Is­lam was deemed prefer­able to Ira­nian revo­lu­tion­ary Shi­ism and when the West and Saudi- funded Is­lamists were on the same side fight­ing the Sovi­ets in Afghanistan.

JI ac­tivists may have con­trolled big Lon­don mosques, but could make lit­tle in­roads on the views of mi­grant adults, many of whom re­garded JI- style ide­o­log­i­cal Is­lamism as het­ero­dox and fringe and also recog­nised its po­lit­i­cal agenda.

It was a dif­fer­ent mat­ter for the chil­dren of th­ese mi­grants, how­ever. Hav­ing been brought up in Eng­land away from a cul­tur­ally Mus­lim en­vi­ron­ment and with­out the ground­ing in main­stream Is­lamic the­ol­ogy, th­ese chil­dren saw JI- style Is­lamism as main­stream Is­lam.

Hu­sain’s book is about his nav­i­ga­tion into var­i­ous forms of Is­lamism, be­gin­ning with JIstyle ide­ol­ogy and then mov­ing on to the even more fringe Hizb ut- Tahrir ( lit­er­ally Party of Lib­er­a­tion and gen­er­ally known in Mus­lim cir­cles as HT). His re­jec­tion of his par­ents’ main­stream Is­lam was caused less by any re­bel­lious streak than his own naivety and in­abil­ity to recog­nise the fringe na­ture of Is­lamist ide­ol­ogy.

The book con­tains some in­ac­cu­ra­cies. Hu­sain er­ro­neously claims HT was the ide­o­log­i­cal fore­bear of al- Qa’ida, a claim ex­perts on po­lit­i­cal Is­lamism would dis­miss. How­ever, it is an el­e­gantly writ­ten and hon­est ac­count of one young Bri­tish Mus­lim’s jour­ney into and out of dif­fer­ent forms of po­lit­i­cal Is­lam. Cul­tural war­riors will be dis­ap­pointed by Hu­sain’s cen­tral the­sis: that greater ex­po­sure of Mus­lim youth to main­stream Is­lamic the­ol­ogy pro­vides an ef­fec­tive an­ti­dote to Is­lamism. Ir­fan Yusuf is a Syd­ney lawyer and as­so­ci­ate ed­i­tor of Alt­Mus­lim. com.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Sturt Krygs­man

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