Ed Husain

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Ed Husain
Ed Husain.jpg
Ed Husain in 2009
Mohamed Mahbub Husain

(1974-12-25) 25 December 1974 (age 45)
EducationMA Middle Eastern Studies
Alma materTower Hamlets College, Newham College,
SOAS, University of London,
University of Damascus
University of Buckingham
OccupationWriter, Senior Fellow, Senior Advisor
Known forAuthor of The Islamist and The House of Islam: A Global History
WebsiteCouncil on Foreign Relations – Bio Page
Wilson Center Bio Page

Mohamed "Ed" Husain (born 25 December 1974) is a British writer, senior fellow at the British think tank Civitas, and a global fellow of the Wilson Center's Middle East program. He is the author of The Islamist, an account of his five years as an Islamist activist in Britain, and The House of Islam: A Global History, which discusses the classical tenets of Islam and the ways in which they have been distorted by political Islamists. He regularly advises governments on national security and combatting extremist ideology.[1]

Husain is a former senior advisor to Tony Blair and a former senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.[2] Husain is a cofounder of the counter-extremism organization Quilliam. In 2014, he was appointed to the Freedom of Religion or Belief Advisory Group of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.[3] He has also worked for HSBC Private Bank and the British Council. In 2019, Husain was listed as one of London's most influential figures in The Progress 1000 by the Evening Standard for his role in countering Islamist extremism and advocating for a pluralist Islam.[4]

Early life[edit]

Husain was born and brought up in the East End of London, in a Muslim family. Husain's father was born in British India and his mother in East Pakistan.[5] His mother has Saudi Arabian heritage, specifically in the Hejaz region. His father arrived in the United Kingdom in 1961, and started a small Indian takeaway business in Limehouse.[6]

In his early years, Husain was brought up in Limehouse and attended a local primary school called the Sir William Burrough School, and he attended a predominantly Bangladeshi and Muslim secondary school called Stepney Green School.[7]

Husain attended the Brick Lane Mosque in his early years with his parents, who followed a spiritual form of Islam based on Sufi traditions.[8]


Husain later drifted away from his parents' teachings, and, at the age of sixteen, was encouraged by a friend to attend classes at the East London Mosque, and later joined the Young Muslim Organisation (YMO), part of the Islamic Forum Europe. This organisation was highly influenced by the writings of Syed Qutb, a radical member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

At Tower Hamlets College in Poplar, he was heavily involved in YMO activism. He was elected president of the college's Islamic Society, and staged protests against the secular nature of the college as well as inviting Islamist speakers onto campus.[9]

Unconvinced by the YMO response to the Bosnian genocide, Husain joined the British faction of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group which called for a Caliphate, in whose activities he participated for around five years.[10]

It was during his studies at Newham College in 1995 that he decided to leave the group, after witnessing the stabbing of a Christian student. Later he joined the Islamic Society of Britain and was influenced by the spiritual side of Islam and later by scholars who helped convince him to leave the Islamist groups.

He was further influenced by Sufism while visiting mosques in Turkey and meeting Sufis of the Naqshbandi order in Istanbul. After returning to London, he spent much of his time learning and memorizing the Qur'an.[11]

Husain now strongly criticizes these groups and their politicisation and fundamentalist interpretations of Islam.


Husain has a BA in history from the University of North London, and later studied at SOAS, University of London, where he completed an MA in Middle Eastern Studies.

His doctoral research was under the supervision of Sir Roger Scruton at The University of Buckingham.


After completing his undergraduate degree, Husain worked for HSBC in London for several years. He then moved to Damascus with his wife in 2002, where he worked for the British Council teaching English whilst studying Arabic at the University of Damascus.[12] After two years in Syria, Husain and his wife moved to Jeddah to be closer to the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina while continuing to work for the British Council.[13]

Upon his return to Britain, Husain worked as a senior advisor to former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. In 2008, he cofounded the think tank Quilliam, which "aims to challenge extremist narratives while advocating pluralistic, democratic alternatives that are consistent with universal human rights standards" and "stands for religious freedom, equality, human rights and democracy".[14]

Husain later joined the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, where he was Senior Fellow in Middle Eastern Studies. He focused on trends within Arab Islamism, perceptions of the West in the Arab world, and US policy toward the Middle East, writing broadly on the Arab Spring and its implications for the region and foreign involvement.[15]

He was appointed to the Freedom of Religion or Belief Advisory Group of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2014.

In 2017, Husain joined the Wilson Center as a Global Fellow in its Middle East Program. He is currently a Senior Fellow at Civitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society in London, where he runs the 'Islam, the West, and Geopolitics' research project.[16]


While at the Council on Foreign Relations, Husain commented on U.S. policy on issues ranging from the 2011 U.S. congressional hearings on radicalization spearheaded by Rep. Peter King (R-NY) to the events of the Arab Spring and the death of Osama bin Laden.[2] Since joining Civitas, Husain has commented on Islam and society, the British political system, the prospect of a Middle East Federation, and the role of Saudi Arabia in the geopolitics of Islam.

In an article in the Spectator at the end of 2019, Husain highlighted shifting alliances in the Middle East and the possibility of a new Arab-Israeli alliance.[17] It was discussed widely in the region.[18]

He has appeared on CNN, Fox, NPR, BBC, Al-Jazeera, and has been published in the New York Times, Financial Times, Guardian, National Review, Spectator, Telegraph and Jewish Chronicle, among other media outlets.

Islam and society[edit]

Husain supports a liberal interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence, telling a journalist:

In traditional circles, Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men...But in a pluralistic world in 2007, where non-Muslim men and Muslim women are marrying, you can't say, 'You can’t do that.'[19]

Husain also questions teachings relating to an Islamic state or Caliphate, arguing

... a dawlah ([a state] not 'the' state) can and should preserve and protect the religion. But 'the state' is not a rukn [pillar] of the deen (religion i.e. Islam) and without it the deen is not lost. And individual can remain a firm believer, a mutadayyin, without the imam and the jama'ah.[20]

He believes that is Islam is fully compatible with Western democratic society, stating that the Quran does not teach a compulsion to faith or the murder of unbelievers.[21] Husain has espoused this view in numerous commentaries, articles, and books, stating:

… the lived reality of Islam as a religion of compassion, pluralism, coexistence, and peace is a far cry from how it is perceived by many in the West.[22]

The raison d’être of Islamic civilisations and the shariah for a thousand years was to provide five things: security, worship, preservation of the family, nourishment of the intellect and protection of property. These are called maqasid, or the higher objectives of the shariah. Britain provides these in multitudes for every Muslim today.[23]

Husain has also urged Muslims in the West to respond to the challenge of Islamic extremism. In an article in the Evening Standard, he stated that:

Too often in Britain, in the name of freedom we provide protection for this murderous mindset. This mix of political ideology and puritan theology leads to the global curse of Salafi-Jihadism. We must stop protecting it...Most victims of Salafi-Jihadism are ordinary Muslims. In Britain, teachers, imams, politicians, social workers and families must not protect intolerance, but reject it.[24]

Middle East Federation[edit]

Husain has called for a federal union of Middle Eastern states along the lines of the European Union in order to defeat religious sectarianism in the region and promote economic and political cooperation.

He writes:

After all, most of its problems – terrorism, poverty, unemployment, sectarianism, refugee crises, water shortages – require regional answers. No country can solve its problems on its own.[25]

Saudi Arabia[edit]

Husain is a noted critic of Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses and role in promoting Islamist extremism worldwide.[26]

He has, however, spoken against isolating Saudi Arabia politically, arguing that the rise of Iranian theocracy in the Middle East requires ever closer alliances between the west and its Arab allies. Though critical of Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Husain has written in favour of western, and specifically British, support for his early steps towards reform in order to 'shape the future of a global shift towards peace and co-existence' between the Middle East and the west.[27]

Jeremy Corbyn[edit]

Husain has accused British MP and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of 'pitting Britain's Muslims against its Jews' in his struggle for political power against the Conservatives. Not only has Corbyn launched a calculated attack on the Conservatives in the name of Islam to secure the 'Muslim' vote, Husain argues, his proclamations of friendship with Hamas and Hezbollah 'combined with the hard-Left's hatred for America and capitalism made Islamists and Leftists a coalition against the Conservatives'.  

Husain has called for the removal of this 'racism of low expectations and collectivism' within the Labour leadership, which he argues views the diversity of British Muslims as a single bloc of votes.[28]


In an op-ed for the New York Times in 2012, Husain analysed the political unrest in Bahrain in the wake of the Arab Spring after a visit to the reforming Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. Noting the strong influence of the pro-Iran, anti-democracy cleric Ayatollah Issa Qasim on the Shiite opposition party Al Wefaq (which blocked bills for women's rights and equality that were supported by both the monarchy and Sunni parties), Husain urged the West not to "not provide diplomatic cover for rioters and clerics in the name of human rights and democracy".[29]  

He called Bahrain a 'focal point of what is happening in the Middle East today – the battle to find a balance between preserving the best values of the Islamic tradition while the region eases its way into the modern world.'

Israel and Palestine[edit]

Husain supports a two-state solution to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He has condemned the suicide bombing of Israeli civilians as well as the "killing of Palestinian civilians by the Hamas-led Gazan government".[30]

He is opposed to the international boycott of Israel by activists, stating in The New York Times that:

Many people condemn Israeli settlements and call for an economic boycott of their produce, but I saw that it was Arab builders, plumbers, taxi drivers and other workers who maintained Israeli lifestyles. Separatism in the Holy Land has not worked and it is time to end it. How much longer will we punish Palestinians to create a free Palestine?[31]


Husain has sought to explain the theological pull of ISIL in the West through analyses of its fundamentalist-literalist interpretations of Islam. He has urged western governments to take on a deeper understanding of its extremist worldview, arguing:

Unless we decimate the theological and ideological appeal of Isis, we will see the rise of an even more radicalised and violent force. Isis offers a caliphate and death. Our message needs to be of life, an Islam of the Muslim majority supported by 1,400 years of history. We must help Arab allies to reform, to create a regional Middle East union that transcends artificial borders, creates economic prosperity and reinstates Arab dignity. Terrorists cannot compete on this stage.[32]

U.S. response to the Arab Spring[edit]

On the Arab Spring, he has said:

The Arab world is no longer across the oceans. It is also on our streets here. Millions of American citizens are of Arab descent. Millions more are here as workers and students. What happens over there matters here. Can America make these people proud and empower them against Muslim extremists by changing the American story and making us all safer? Yes, it can. It must.[33]

Husain advocates American soft power and leadership in modelling democracy. Countering the US response to the Egyptian military's raiding of NGO offices in 2012, he said:

The U.S. government should ask its military allies to return to their barracks and cease killing protesters—and that it should tie these demands to U.S. aid. ... The Arab revolutionaries did not look to China or Russia for a model of government. They looked to four-year presidential terms, inspired directly by American democracy. Islamist leaders such as Tunisia's Mohamed Ghannouchi condemn French secularism but highlight American accommodation of religion as a model of a secular state that is less hostile to religion.[34]

However, Husain argued against U.S. military intervention in Syria, stating:

What happens in Syria does not stay in Syria. ... U.S. military intervention in Syria would likely see traditional state actors backing rival groups (Sunnis and Muslim Brotherhood by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, for example, Shia and Alawites by Iran, Druze and Christians by France, a former colonial master, or even indirectly Israel). Worse, there is a real possibility of the emergence of an al-Qaeda-inspired organization inside Syria to fight "Western imperialism," much like al-Qaeda or the "Sunni insurgency" in Iraq.[35]


In a May 2011 op-ed in The Times, Husain warned against al-Qaeda's success as a brand:

Without doubt, the US was right to remove bin Laden, but it is wrong to think that his death will weaken al-Qaeda. Yes, a colossal psychological blow has been dealt, but al-Qaeda is no longer a mere organisation, but a global brand, an idea, a philosophy that now has its first Saudi martyr from the holy lands of Islam.[36]

However, Husain criticized the September 2011 extrajudicial killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, explaining that it is "counterproductive to defeating terrorism in the long term because it demolishes the very values that America stands for: the rule of law and trial by jury." Furthermore, "An easier, cheaper and more effective way of discrediting al-Awlaki and countering his message would have been to disclose his three arrests for the solicitation of prostitutes ..."[37]

Syrian Civil War[edit]

Husain has warned of the involvement of Al-Qaeda and like minded groups in the Syrian Civil War:

Whether Assad stays or goes, jihadism now has a strong foothold in Syria. The Free Syrian Army may wish to dismiss its al-Qaeda allies as irrelevant in order to reassure the West and continue receiving Western support, but the jihadi websites and footage of al-Qaeda fighting in Damascus and Aleppo tell a different story.[38]


Husain is the author of two books: The Islamist, which was a finalist for the George Orwell prize for political writing, and The House of Islam: A Global History, published in 2018.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Iqbal, Nosheen. "Ed Husain: from Islamist radical … to champion of liberal Muslims". The Observer. Retrieved 25 July 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Council on Foreign Relations". Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  3. ^ "Foreign Office Advisory Group on freedom of religion or belief". GOV.UK. Retrieved 15 January 2019.
  4. ^ "London's most influential people 2019 – Activists: Faith". Evening Standard. 3 October 2019. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  5. ^ Stories of Identity: Religion, Migration, and Belonging in a Changing World. Facing History and Ourselves. 1988. pp. 65. ISBN 978-0-9798440-3-4.
  6. ^ Ann McFerran (10 August 2008) Best of Times, Worst of Times: Ed Husain Times Online. Retrieved on 15 February 2009.
  7. ^ The Islamist. By Ed Husain. pp. 288. London, Penguin Books, 2007.
  8. ^ Dominic Casciani (24 May 2007) Inside the jihadi worldview BBC News (BBC). Retrieved on 15 February 2009.
  9. ^ Husain, Ed (2007). The Islamist. Penguin. pp. 47. ISBN 9780141030432.
  10. ^ Rebecca Taylor (1 May 2007) Islamic extremists in the East End Archived 18 March 2009 at the Wayback Machine Time Out London. Retrieved on 15 February 2009.
  11. ^ Ed Husain (2007). The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, what I Saw Inside and why I Left. Penguin. pp. 185–213. ISBN 978-0-14-103043-2.
  12. ^ Husain, Ed (2007). The Islamist. Penguin Books. pp. 214. ISBN 9780141030432.
  13. ^ Husain, Ed (2007). The Islamist. Penguin Books. pp. 232. ISBN 9780141030432.
  14. ^ "Quilliam - FAQ". Quilliam. 2018.
  15. ^ Husain, Ed (2014). "Arab Spring nations don't yet grasp freedom of dissent".
  16. ^ "Islam and the West".
  17. ^ Husain, Ed (21 December 2019). "Islam's reformation: an Arab-Israeli alliance is taking shape in the Middle East". Spectator. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  18. ^ Frantzman, Seth J. (22 December 2019). "UAE foreign minister tweets article about Israel, Arab alliance". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 14 April 2020.
  19. ^ Perlez, Jane (2 June 2007). "A Journey to, and From, the Heart of Radical Islam in Britain". Retrieved 15 February 2019 – via NYTimes.com.
  20. ^ t=16081&sid=cc0c39864624f4449f8bbce6b817570f Ed Husain Questions [permanent dead link] (online Q&A)
  21. ^ Husain, Ed. "How Islamist terror can be defeated". CNN. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  22. ^ "Religion, Conflict, and Geopolitics in 2017". Institute for Global Change. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  23. ^ "Britain and Islam – the real special relationship". The Spectator. 26 May 2018. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  24. ^ "Ed Husain: British Muslims must reject intolerance to defy extremists". Evening Standard. 24 May 2017. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  25. ^ Husain, Ed (2014). "The EU offers a model for unifying the Middle East". FT.
  26. ^ Husain, Ed. "Saudis must stop exporting extremism". NYT.
  27. ^ Husain, Ed (2018). "Britain should not turn its back on MBS and the Saudis". The Spectator.
  28. ^ Husain, Ed (2018). "Jeremy Corbyn is pitting Britain's Muslims against Jews". The Telegraph.
  29. ^ Husain, Ed. "The Prince and the Ayatollah". NYT.
  30. ^ Husain, Ed (27 June 2007). "With God on their side?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  31. ^ Husain, Ed (6 March 2013). "Op-Ed: End the Arab Boycott of Israel". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
  32. ^ Husain, Ed (30 October 2014). "Until we understand Isis, we cannot hope to defeat it". Financial Times.
  33. ^ dyn/content/article/2011/01/28/AR2011012805611.html "How Should the U.S. Respond to the Protests in the Middle East?", Ed Husain, Washington Post
  34. ^ "Egypt's Revolt and the American Model", The Wall Street Journal
  35. ^ "We Intervene in Syria at Our Peril", The Atlantic
  36. ^ "The Times, "Bin Laden is More Dangerous Dead than Alive"". cfr.org. Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  37. ^ killing/index.html, CNN, "U.S. Shouldn't Have Killed al-Awlaki"
  38. ^ [1] National Review "Syria: Why al-Qaeda is Winning"

External links[edit]