Nawaz delivering the yearly Tans Lecture at Maastricht University in October 2018
|Born||Maajid Usman Nawaz|
2 November 1977
Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England
|Occupation||Author · Founder of Quilliam|
|Education||Law and Arabic (B.A 2007) |
Political Theory (M.Sc. 2008)
|Alma mater||SOAS, University of London|
London School of Economics
|Subject||Islamism · Liberalism|
Islam and the Future of Tolerance
Maajid Usman Nawaz (Urdu: [ˈmaːdʒɪd̪ nəwaːz]; born 2 November 1977) is a British activist and radio presenter. He is the founding chairman of Quilliam, a counter-extremism think tank that seeks to challenge the narratives of Islamist extremists, and the host of a radio show on LBC, every Saturday and Sunday.
Born in Southend-on-Sea, Essex to a British Pakistani family, Nawaz is a former member of the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, an association that led to his December 2001 arrest in Egypt, where he remained imprisoned until 2006. Reading books on human rights and interacting with Amnesty International—who adopted him as a prisoner of conscience—resulted in a change of heart: he left Hizb-ut-Tahrir in 2007, renounced his Islamist past, and called for a "secular Islam." After his turnaround, Nawaz co-founded Quilliam with former Islamists, including Ed Husain. He wrote an autobiography, Radical (2012) and has since become a prominent critic of Islamism in the United Kingdom.
He is a weekly columnist for The Daily Beast, and his writings have been published in various international newspapers; he appears frequently on television; and has delivered lectures including at the UK Defence Academy and Marshall Center for Security Studies. His second book, Islam and the Future of Tolerance (2015), co-authored with atheist author Sam Harris, was published in October 2015. He was the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for London's Hampstead and Kilburn constituency in the 2015 general election.
Nawaz was born in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, to parents of Pakistani origin. His mother, Abi, is described as a literature-loving liberal woman whose family moved to Southend when she was nine. His father, Mo, is an electrical engineer who had worked for the Pakistan Navy but had to leave on medical grounds after he contracted tuberculosis. Mo later worked for the Dewan Group in Islamabad, Pakistan where he won a court case against his employer which had banned trade unions. After moving to the UK, Mo worked for an oil company in Libya, and moved between Libya and the UK until his retirement. Maajid has an elder brother and a younger sister. In his memoir, Radical, he uses the pseudonym Osman to denote his brother.
Nawaz was educated at Westcliff High School for Boys, a grammar school in Westcliff-on-Sea, a suburb of Southend. Later, he studied Law and Arabic at SOAS, University of London and earned his master's degree in Political Theory from London School of Economics. At the age of 21, he married a then fellow Hizb ut-Tahrir activist who was a biology student; they have a son. On Nawaz's decision to leave Hizb ut-Tahrir, they separated and later divorced.
In 2014, he married Rachel Maggart, an artist and writer from the United States who works for an art gallery in London. In February 2017, Nawaz and Maggart had their first child together, a son named Gibreal.
In February 2019, Nawaz was reportedly assaulted in a racially-motivated attack by a white man.
In July 2020, Nawaz began a hunger strike to protest against China's imprisonment and alleged atrocities of its Uyghur population and to promote a parliamentary petition urging the government to impose sanctions on China over its treatment of Uyghur Muslims. Maajid claimed the abuses amounted to genocide and that it "leaves no room for neutrality". Within a week, the petition passed the 100,000 signature threshold, thereby ensuring that a debate on the issue would take place in the UK Parliament.
Association with Hizb ut-Tahrir
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.
His elder brother, pseudonymously named as Osman, was recruited into Hizb ut-Tahrir by Nasim Ghani, who would later become the UK leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Osman subsequently persuaded Nawaz to attend HT meetings held in Southend homes. At those meetings, recruits were shown videos that depicted Bosnian Muslims being massacred. These videos became the catalyst for Nawaz's formal recruitment in the HT.
While a student at Newham College, and then at SOAS, Nawaz quickly rose through the ranks. By the age of 17, he was recruiting students from Cambridge University, and by 19, he was on the national leadership of HT in the United Kingdom. He became a national speaker and an international recruiter for Hizb ut-Tahrir, travelling to Pakistan and Denmark to further the party's ideology and set up organisational cells.
Imprisonment in Egypt
As part of his bachelor's degree in Law and Arabic, Nawaz spent a compulsory year abroad in Egypt, arriving just one day before the 9/11 attacks took place. Since political Islamist organisations like Hizb ut-Tahrir were banned in Egypt, Nawaz was arrested and interrogated in Alexandria by the Egyptian security agency Aman al-Dawlah. Like most foreign prisoners, he was not subjected to torture, but faced the threat of torture during interrogation and witnessed other prisoners being tortured. He was then transferred to Mazrah Tora prison and put on trial. Represented by Sadiq Khan, he was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. During the trial, he was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, who helped to secure his return to London.
Disenchantment and exit from Hizb ut-Tahrir
Among the Jihadists were the members of the terrorist organisation al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, and the assassins of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. He met Islamist Dr Essam el-Erian, the spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood. and Mohammed Badie, who in his youth had smuggled the manuscripts of Syed Qutb's Islamist manual Milestones out of prison, and had it published. Among the Islamic Scholars, 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'anic recitation. He also committed half of the Qur'an to memory. On the liberal end of the spectrum, he befriended author and sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim. He also benefited from the company of imprisoned Egyptian politician Ayman Nour who was the head of the centre-liberal Tomorrow Party and a runner-up to the 2005 Presidential Elections.
By 2007 he had renounced his Islamist past, and called for a "secular Islam". In an interview with American broadcaster National Public Radio, Nawaz explained how, other than the interactions in prison, George Orwell's novel Animal Farm played a major role in his turnaround.
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After completing his prison term in Egypt, Nawaz returned to the UK in 2006. In 2007, he resigned from Hizb-ut-Tahrir and resumed his bachelor's degree at SOAS. He then founded the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank. He addressed the US Senate's Homeland Security Committee on the subject of Islamist extremism. He also spoke at the "Sovereign Challenge" conference organised by United States Special Operations Command where he advocated the need to move beyond hard power, and look at new counter-radicalisation strategies.
Nawaz played a major role in Tommy Robinson's exit from the far-right English Defence League (EDL), of which Robinson was the founder. He met Robinson in 2013 during the filming of a BBC documentary When Tommy met Mo, and subsequently met the EDL's co-leader, Kevin Carroll. Nawaz's personal story of turning back from Islamist extremism, and his counter-extremism work at Quilliam Foundation encouraged Robinson and Carroll to quit the EDL. Later, Robinson also apologised to Muslims for the fear caused by his EDL activism. The move was hailed by Quilliam as "a huge success in community relations in the United Kingdom", and a continuation of combating all kinds of extremism, including Islamism and Neo-Nazism.
In July 2012, he published his autobiography, Radical.
Activities in Pakistan
Nawaz has co-founded an activist group in Pakistan, Khudi, which aims to combat extremism. In 2009, with a BBC Newsnight crew and security team, Nawaz embarked on a counter-extremism tour, speaking at over 22 universities and recruiting students all over Pakistan.
Liberal Democrat candidate
With the delegation of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel he visited both sides of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. In September 2013, Nawaz and his Camden District team was given the Dadabhai Naoroji Award for support and promotion of BAME (Black, Asian Minority Ethnic groups) party members. The award was presented by party MP Tim Farron. In the same year, he was included in The Daily Telegraph's list of 50 most influential Liberal Democrats.
On 2 July 2020, Nawaz announced his resignation from the Liberal Democrats.
Jesus and Mo cartoon
In 2014, Nawaz received death threats after tweeting a Jesus and Mo cartoon alluding to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Nawaz decided to tweet the cartoon after a BBC programme censored two audience member's shirts displaying innocuous cartoons of the prophet Muhammed. Respect Party politician George Galloway called on Muslims, via a tweet, not to vote for the Liberal Democrats while Nawaz is one of their candidates. By 24 January, a petition to the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg demanding that Nawaz should be removed as a parliamentary candidate for the party had received 20,000 signatures. Petition organisers denied a connection to its alleged originator, Liberal Democrat member Mohammed Shafiq, and condemned the incitement to murder. On 26 January, Clegg defended Nawaz's right to free expression and said that the death threats were "unacceptable".
In October 2016, the U.S. Southern Poverty Law Center accused Nawaz of being an "anti-Muslim extremist", a label disputed by various media outlets, and Nawaz himself. The Lantos Foundation for Human Rights & Justice wrote a public letter to the SPLC urging it to retract the listing. Nawaz announced his intention to file a defamation lawsuit against the SPLC on the 23 June 2017 episode of Real Time with Bill Maher. The SPLC deleted the HTML version of its list in April 2018. In June 2018, the SPLC apologised and paid $3.375 million to Nawaz and Quilliam "to fund their work to fight anti-Muslim bigotry and extremism".
"The Southern Poverty Law Center was wrong to include Maajid Nawaz and the Quilliam Foundation in our Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists. Since we published the Field Guide, we have taken the time to do more research and have consulted with human rights advocates we respect. We've found that Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam have made valuable and important contributions to public discourse, including by promoting pluralism and condemning both anti-Muslim bigotry and Islamist extremism. Although we may have our differences with some of the positions that Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam have taken, they are most certainly not anti-Muslim extremists. We would like to extend our sincerest apologies to Mr. Nawaz, Quilliam, and our readers for the error, and we wish Mr. Nawaz and Quilliam all the best."
The agreement stipulated that the SPLC's apology was to be prominently displayed on various pages on their website, as well as distributed to every email address and mailing address on the SPLC mailing list.
Security and human rights
Nawaz has opposed racial profiling of Muslims, extrajudicial detention of terror suspects, torture, targeted killings and drone strikes. Nawaz also opposed the Terrorism Act 2000, under which he was himself once detained, and called for the universal right to legal representation and right to silence in all cases, and for all suspects. In a talk given at George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, he suggested a revisit of the UK Government's historical approach to dealing with terrorism, and called for a more nuanced response to tackling the ideology of Islamism without breaching fundamental liberties of citizens. According to him, security should never debase citizens of their civil liberties. Nawaz was among the 12 advisers to UK Government who, in 2009, wrote an open letter to the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown asking him to hold Israel accountable for its attacks on Gaza. He also opposes Hamas, which he considers a terrorist organisation.
In the aftermath of the 2015 San Bernardino attack, during which a debate about profiling occurred, Nawaz said that racial or religious profiling was a "terrible measure" that "does not prevent terrorism".
Jihadism and the Islamic State
In an essay for The Wall Street Journal, Nawaz stated that Jihadists of all types seek to create discord by "pitting Muslims against non-Muslims in the West and Sunni Muslims against Shiite Muslims in the East". He argues that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is out to provoke a Clash of Civilisations, and we can avoid this clash by calling out the underlying Islamist ideology and isolating Jihadists from ordinary Muslims. He also took exception to Pope Francis's characterisation of Paris attacks as the start of "World War 3", noting that we are not facing another World War but a Global Jihadist insurgency. According to him, an insurgency is different from a conventional war in that insurgents rely on some level of support from the communities they recruit from. And since it is an insurgency, the Counter-insurgency strategy should have messaging and psychological warfare as its critical parts, with the aim of isolating insurgents from their target host communities. On a physical level, he supported the idea of an international coalition against ISIL, fronted by Sunni Arab forces and backed by international special forces.
Maajid Nawaz The Big Questions (BBC show)
Nationalism and far-right movements
In a CNN interview, he condemned Donald Trump's remarks about banning Muslims from entering the United States. Nawaz said that when leaders pump up their followers by promising them utopian visions, and then fail to deliver on those promises, followers take action into their own hands. He expressed his concern that disappointed followers of Trump will "end up joining fascist or far-right groups" and take matters into their own hands against the eight million Muslims in the United States".
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