||This biographical article needs additional citations for verification. (September 2007)|
|Born||Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, England|
|Education||A Levels at Westcliff High School for Boys, BA in Law and Arabic School of Oriental and African Studies, and MSc in Political Theory London School of Economics|
|Alma mater||School of Oriental and African Studies, and London University, London School of Economics|
|Known for||Activism against Islamic extremism|
|Notable work(s)||Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism|
Maajid Nawaz (Urdu: ماجد نواز, born 1978), a British Pakistani, is Executive Director of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank. Himself a former member of the Islamist revolutionary group Hizb ut-Tahrir, he was arrested in December 2001 in Egypt and was imprisoned there until 2006. He resigned from Hizb-ut-Tahrir in 2007, and co-founded Quilliam with former activists from radical Islamist organisations, including Ed Husain. He is also co-founder of Khudi Pakistan, a counter-extremism social movement working towards the promotion of social democratic change in Pakistan.
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 subsequently studied law at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.
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 (Egypt's State Security). 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 with 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 specialised 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.
Reasons for Nawaz’s departure from Hizb ut-Tahrir were 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."
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.
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 US Senate Homeland Security and Government and 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 also started 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.
Liberal Democrat candidate
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.
At the age of 21, he married Rabia, then a fellow activist within the Hizb-ut-Tahrir community and a biology student. Together they have one child, Ammaar. On Maajid's decision to leave Hizb-ut-Tahrir, they separated and are now divorced. In 2013 Nawaz announced his engagement to his American fiancée Rachel, who has now joined him in London.
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