Nawaz in November 2012
2 November 1978 |
Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, England
|Alma mater||School of Oriental and African Studies
London School of Economics
|Known for||Activism against Islamic extremism|
|Notable work||Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism|
Maajid Nawaz (Urdu: ماجد نواز, born 1978) is a British activist, author and politician. He was the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for London's Hampstead and Kilburn constituency in the 2015 General Election. He is also the co-founder and chairman of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank that seeks to challenge the narratives of Islamist extremists.
Maajid is a former member of the radical Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. This association led to his arrest in Egypt in December 2001, where he remained imprisoned until 2006. Reading books on Human Rights and interacting with Amnesty International - which adopted him as a Prisoner of conscience - resulted in a change of heart; leading Maajid to leave Hizb-ut-Tahrir in 2007, renounce his Islamist past and call for a “Secular Islam”. He co-founded Quilliam with former activists from radical Islamist organizations, including Ed Husain. He documented his life story in his autobiography Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism.
Since founding Quilliam, Maajid has risen to become a prominent critic of Islamism in the United Kingdom. He is a regular op-ed contributor, debater and public commenter, and has spoken from various international platforms including United States Congress and TED. His next book, Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue, is a collaboration with neuroscientist Sam Harris and is due to be published in October 2015.
Nawaz cites racism whilst growing up, whether from classmates, C18 gangs or the police, and feeling divided between his Pakistani and British identities as important factors in his struggle to find his own identity. When Nawaz's brother, Osman, was recruited into Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) by Nasim Ghani (later the UK leader of HT), Osman subsequently persuaded Nawaz to attend HT meetings held in Southend homes. Nawaz cites seeing videos at these meetings, showing how "European Muslims were being massacred" in Bosnia, as being the catalyst which persuaded him to become involved with HT.
Determined to go to London "to be where the action was", Nawaz persuaded his parents to let him attend a design course in Barking College, East London. In London he was put in contact with one of Ghani's protégés, Ed Husain, who persuaded Nawaz to transfer to Newham College of Further Education where there were more Muslim students. He studied law at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. Later, he earned his Masters degree in Political Theory from London School of Economics.
Hizb ut-Tahrir years
While a student at Newham and then at SOAS, Maajid very quickly became a national speaker and international recruiter for Hizb ut-Tahrir, traveling first to Pakistan and then to Denmark to export the party's ideology and set up cells from London. As part of his university degree, Nawaz spent a compulsory year abroad in Egypt. He was arrested and interrogated in Alexandria for belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir, which was banned in Egypt. He was then transferred to al-Gihaz, the Cairo headquarters of Aman al-Dawlah (the Egyptian state security service). Though, like most foreign prisoners, he was not himself tortured, he was interrogated with the threat of torture and witnessed other prisoners being tortured. He was then transferred with fellow foreign prisoners, including Ian Nisbet and Reza Pankhurst, to Mazrah Tora. There he was put on trial. During his trial, Maajid Nawaz was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience. Nisbet, Pankhurst and Nawaz were each sentenced to five years imprisonment.
Disenchantment and leaving Hizb ut-Tahrir
While imprisoned in Mazrah Tora, Nawaz spoke at length with the Muslim Brotherhood leadership such as Mohammed Badie, who in his youth personally smuggled Qutb’s Milestones out from prison, and their spokesman Dr. Essam el-Erian. He also befriended Dr. Sa'ad al-Din Ibrahim and the imprisoned runner-up to Egypt's 2006 presidential elections, liberal head of the Tomorrow Party Ayman Nour. Throughout this time, Nawaz continued his studies, sitting with graduates of Cairo's Al-Azhar University and Dar al-'Ulum. He specialized in the Arabic language whilst studying historical Muslim scholastics, sources of Islamic jurisprudence, Hadith historiography and the art of Qur'an recitation. He also committed half of the Qur'an to memory.
The reason for Nawaz’s departure from Hizb ut-Tahrir was due to profound doubts. As he describes in his own words: "My journey from prison was not an easy one to make. After all, there were many reasons for why I should not leave, and very few for why I should. The one reason that I could not ignore, the one reason that grew deep inside me till it consumed me with guilt was the realisation that I was abusing my faith for a mere political project. After learning through my studies in prison that Islamism was not the religion of Islam, but rather a modern political ideology, I no longer felt guilty simply for criticising a political system inspired by 7th century norms."
Return to UK and founding Quilliam
Since his departure from Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Maajid Nawaz has been active in the Quilliam Foundation. He also writes regularly for UK and international newspapers and speaks at a variety of forums worldwide to spread a more moderate view of Islam and to speak out against the dangers of extremism. On July 11, 2008, he addressed the US Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on the subject of Islamist extremism. In January 2009, he attended the Doha Debates alongside other Muslims to debate the threat of political Islam to the West. He presented the Lent Talks on BBC Radio 4 on 10 March 2010.
Nawaz has met with heads of state including both George W. Bush and Tony Blair. He has co-founded an activist group in Pakistan, Khudi, using his knowledge of recruitment tactics in order to combat extremism. He has said that he wants to persuade Muslims that the "narrative" used to recruit them (that Muslims will only be safe in a Khilafeh, or Caliphate, and the West and non-Muslim states are determined to crush them) is false. However, in January 2014, the Central Executive of Khudi stated that, as Nawaz had decided to stand for election in the UK, "it was mutually agreed that his new role would be incompatible with the vision and objectives of Khudi."
Nawaz's meeting with Tommy Robinson, then leader of the English Defence League, during the filming of a BBC documentary in 2013 led directly to Robinson and the co-leader of EDL, Kevin Carroll, having talks with Quilliam. These resulted in both Robinson and Carroll leaving the EDL on 8 October 2013.
In July 2012, WH Allen published Nawaz's memoir Radical in the UK. The US version, Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism was published by Lyons Press in October 2013 with a preface for U.S. readers and an updated epilogue.
The book recounts Nawaz's life from his teenage years listening to American hip-hop and learning about the radical Islamist movement spreading throughout Europe and Asia in the 1990s through to the founding of Quilliam.
Liberal Democrat candidate
Nawaz was selected in July 2013 to stand as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the marginal north London constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn. Within the party, he is also a member of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel and opposes Hamas.
In January 2014, after an appearance on The Big Questions TV series, Nawaz tweeted about the individual Jesus and Mo cartoon, including a reproduction of the artwork. which was briefly banned by the authorities at the London School of Economics in late 2013. Of the cartoons (Jesus: "Hey"; Muhammad: "How ya doing?") which he reproduced he typed: "This is not offensive & I'm sure God is greater than to feel threatened by it." As a result, Nawaz received death threats from Islamist activists. George Galloway, the Respect MP, called on Muslims, via a tweet, not to vote for the Liberal Democrats while Nawaz is one of their candidates. By 24 January 2014, a petition to Nick Clegg (reportedly organised by the Liberal Democrat activist Mohammed Shafiq) demanding that Nawaz should be removed as the party's parliamentary candidate had received 20,000 signatures. Petition organisers though have denied a connection to Shafiq and have condemned the incitement to murder.
In April 2015, the Daily Mail reported that Nawaz, who has often spoken up for women's rights, had been filmed in a strip club. The club's owner, Abdul Malik, told the Mail that he wanted to publicise the CCTV footage as Nawaz had represented himself as a “spokesman for Islam” yet, he said, visited the club during the month of Ramadan. Nawaz has said that the filmed event took place during his stag night prior to his wedding; he also questioned the timing of the CCTV footage, taken at the Charlie’s Angels strip club in East London in July 2014, being leaked so close to the 2015 election. The publicising of the CCTV footage led to death threats against Nawaz by ISIS extremists. Nawaz apologised for causing offence to fellow Muslims, but defended himself against accusations of hypocrisy: “I never describe myself as a representative of Muslims in media, and speak as a liberal, who happens to be a non-devout Muslim, with a unique experience and insight into Islamist extremism."
At the age of 21, he married Rabia, then a fellow activist within the Hizb-ut-Tahrir community and a biology student; they have a son. On Maajid's decision to leave Hizb-ut-Tahrir, they separated and divorced.
In 2014 he married Rachel Maggart.
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- For the date, see "1:40 PM". Twitter. 19 Oct 2014.
For the name, see "6:26 PM". Twitter. 12 Apr 2015.