Maajid Nawaz

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Maajid Nawaz
Maajid Nawaz.jpg
Nawaz in November 2012
Born (1978-11-02) 2 November 1978 (age 36)
Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, England
Nationality British
Alma mater School of Oriental and African Studies
London School of Economics
Occupation Political activist
Organization Quilliam Foundation
Known for Activism against Islamic extremism
Notable work Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism
Political party
Liberal Democrats[1]
Religion Islam

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.[2] He is also the co-founder and chairman of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank that seeks to challenge the narratives of Islamist extremists.[3]

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”.[4] He co-founded Quilliam with former activists from radical Islamist organizations, including Ed Husain.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]


Early years

Nawaz cites racism whilst growing up, whether from classmates,[8] C18 gangs[9] or the police,[10][11] and feeling divided between his Pakistani and British identities as important factors in his struggle to find his own identity.[12] 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.[13] 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.[11][14]

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.[15] 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.[16][17] 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.[6]

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.[11] As part of his university degree, Nawaz spent a compulsory year abroad in Egypt.[18] He was arrested and interrogated in Alexandria for belonging to Hizb ut-Tahrir, which was banned in Egypt.[11] He was then transferred to al-Gihaz, the Cairo headquarters of Aman al-Dawlah (the Egyptian state security service).[19] Though, like most foreign prisoners, he was not himself tortured,[20] he was interrogated with the threat of torture and witnessed other prisoners being tortured.[11] He was then transferred with fellow foreign prisoners, including Ian Nisbet and Reza Pankhurst,[18][20] to Mazrah Tora.[11] There he was put on trial.[21] During his trial, Maajid Nawaz was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience.[11][22] Nisbet, Pankhurst and Nawaz were each sentenced to five years imprisonment.[23]

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,[24] 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.[25] Throughout this time, Nawaz continued his studies, sitting with graduates of Cairo's Al-Azhar University and Dar al-'Ulum.[26] 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.[27]

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."[28]

Return to UK and founding Quilliam

Nawaz left HT in 2007 and completed his studies at SOAS, graduating with a B.A. (Hons).[29] He later obtained a M.Sc. in Political Theory from the London School of Economics.[30]

Since his departure from Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Maajid Nawaz has been active in the Quilliam Foundation.[31] 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.[32] 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,[33] 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."[34]

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.[35][36] These resulted in both Robinson and Carroll leaving the EDL on 8 October 2013.[37][38]

Autobiography Radical

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.[39] Within the party, he is also a member of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel and opposes Hamas.[40][41]

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?")[42] 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.[43] 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.[43][44] 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.[42] Petition organisers though have denied a connection to Shafiq and have condemned the incitement to murder.[45]

On 26 January, Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, defended Nawaz's right to free expression and said that the death threats are "unacceptable".[45]

In June, Nawaz's stance on this issue led to the National Secular Society accepting him as an honorary associate.[46]

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.[47][48][49] Nawaz has said that the filmed event took place during his stag night prior to his wedding;[49][50] 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.[51] The publicising of the CCTV footage led to death threats against Nawaz by ISIS extremists.[51] 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."[52][51]

Personal life

At the age of 21, he married Rabia, then a fellow activist within the Hizb-ut-Tahrir community and a biology student;[11] they have a son.[53] On Maajid's decision to leave Hizb-ut-Tahrir, they separated and divorced.[54][55]

In 2014 he married Rachel Maggart.[56]



  1. ^
  2. ^ UK vote could create cross-border dynasty, "Al Jazeera", 15 January 2014,
  3. ^ Maajid Nawaz (Quilliam)
  4. ^ "Former Islamist Maajid Nawaz to fight marginal parliamentary seat for Lib Dems in 2015 election". 
  5. ^ Maajid Nawaz: I was radicalised. So I understand how extremists exploit grievances, The Guardian newspaper, 6 February 2015 "my subsequent actions, about which I remain repentant"
  6. ^ a b "Lib Dem Profile of Maajid Nawaz". 
  7. ^ "Islam and the Future of Tolerance". 
  8. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 34-36.
  9. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 3-4, 56-59.
  10. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 59-65.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h "Women-Without-Borders - News". Women-Without-Borders. 2008-04-12. Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  12. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 30-52.
  13. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 80-91.
  14. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 96-101.
  15. ^ Nawaz (2012): p. 107.
  16. ^ Nawaz (2012): p. 109.
  17. ^ Extremist calls time. "London - TV - Extremist calls time". BBC. Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  18. ^ a b Casciani, Dominic (2006-03-03). "UK | Freed Britons attack government". BBC News. Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  19. ^ Nawaz (2012): p. 224.
  20. ^ a b Nawaz (2012): p. 241.
  21. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 250-57.
  22. ^ "Amnesty International - Library - Egypt: Opening of trial of three Britons and 23 Egyptians raises unfair trial and torture concerns". Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  23. ^ Nawaz (2012): p. 257.
  24. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 262-63.
  25. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 266-67; 284-85
  26. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 285-86.
  27. ^ Nawaz (2012): p. 287.
  28. ^ "Why Leave the Radicals?". Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  29. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 323-5.
  30. ^ Nawaz (2012): p. 331.
  31. ^
  32. ^ "Events". Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  33. ^ Charlotte Higgins (12 August 2012). "Reformed Islamist extremist spreads virtues of democracy through Pakistan". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 November 2013. 
  34. ^ "Central Executive Committee Update". Khudi Pakistan. Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  35. ^ Malik, Shiv (11 October 2013). "Ex-EDL leader Tommy Robinson says sorry for causing fear to Muslims". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  36. ^ Rowland Hill, Matt (18 October 2013). "Who is the real Tommy Robinson?". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  37. ^ "EDL leader Tommy Robinson quits group". BBC News. 8 October 2013. Retrieved 8 October 2013. 
  38. ^ Siddique, Haroon (8 October 2013). "Tommy Robinson quits EDL saying it has become 'too extreme'". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 October 2013. 
  39. ^ Osley, Richard (25 July 2013). "Lib Dems hope Maajid Nawaz can boost their election hopes in Hampstead and Kilburn". Camden New Journal. 
  40. ^ Ex-radical speaks with suicide bomb victim's father,
  41. ^ OPINION: Palestine must be free… from Hamas,
  42. ^ a b Nick Cohen "The Liberal Democrats face a true test of liberty", The Observer, 25 January 2014
  43. ^ a b Keith Perry "Lib Dem candidate receives death threats for tweeting Prophet Mohammed cartoon" Daily Telegraph 21 January 2014
  44. ^ Jessica Elgot "George Galloway And Muslim Activists Round On Lib Dem Candidate Maajid Nawaz", The Huffington Post, 21 January 2014
  45. ^ a b Jonathan Brown and Ian Johnston "Nick Clegg attacks death threats against Maajid Nawaz - Lib Dem candidate who tweeted a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed and Jesus greeting each other", The Independent, 26 January 2014
  46. ^ National Secular Society "New Honorary Associates", National Secular Society Bulletin Summer 2014, June 2014
  47. ^ PAUL BENTLEY; LUCY OSBORNE (11 April 2015). "Caught on camera: Married Lib Dem 'feminist' who is running for Parliament is filmed with stripper in drunken night of temptation". THE DAILY MAIL. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  48. ^ Tim Lamden (11 April 2015). "VIDEO: Hampstead and Kilburn Lib Dem Maajid Nawaz filmed having private lap dance". Ham&High. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  49. ^ a b Peter Carty (11 April 2015). "Election 2015: Married Lib Dem candidate caught on camera with stripper during drunken night out". IBTimes. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  50. ^ Matthew Holehouse (15 Apr 2015). "Nick Clegg: I won't stop would-be MPs from going to strip clubs". The Telegraph. Retrieved 16 April 2015. 
  51. ^ a b c Anna Dubuis; Sebastian Mann (15 April 2015). "Maajid Nawaz sent death threats by ISIS and installs panic alarm at home because of lap dance CCTV". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 16 April 2015. 
  52. ^ RICHARD OSLEY (14 April 2015). "Lib Dem candidate Maajid Nawaz breaks silence over strip club visit: 'Moral uproar should be for stoning deaths, not lap-dancing'". Camden New Journal. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 
  53. ^ Charles Moore (journalist) (30 Jul 2012). "An insider’s exposé of Islamist extremism". The Telegraph. 
  54. ^ "How Orwell's 'Animal Farm' Led A Radical Muslim To Moderation". NPR. 15 Jan 2015. 
  55. ^ Cosmo Landesman (1 September 2013). "Maajid Nawaz: a tortured jihadist blossoms into Clegg’s darling". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  56. ^ For the date, see "1:40 PM". Twitter. 19 Oct 2014. 
    For the name, see "6:26 PM". Twitter. 12 Apr 2015. 

See also

External links