Maajid Nawaz

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Maajid Nawaz
Maajid Nawaz.jpg
Nawaz in November 2012
Personal details
Born (1978-11-02) November 2, 1978 (age 36)
Essex, England
Nationality British
Political party Liberal Democrats[1]
Spouse(s) Rabia Ahmed (m. 1999–2008)
Rachel Maggart (m. 2014)
Children 1
Education Law (B.A.)
Political Theory (M.S.)
Alma mater University of London
London School of Economics
Occupation Author
Profession Political activist
Religion Islam

Maajid Nawaz (Urdu: ماجد نواز‎, [ˈmaːdʒɪd̪ naːwa:z], born 2 November 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. This led 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 organisations, including Ed Husain.[5] He documented his life story in his Amazon bestselling autobiography Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism.[6][7] 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 the TED conference.[8] He presented his story and experiences in front of US Senate Committee and UK Home Affairs Committee in their respective inquiries on the roots of radical extremism.[9][10][11]

His writings have been published in various newspapers including New York Times, The Guardian, Financial Times, Daily Mail and Wall Street Journal. He has made appearances on programmes including, but not limited to, Larry King Live, BBC Hard Talk, Charlie Rose, 60 Minutes, Newsnight, Daily Politics and Real Time with Bill Maher. He also delivered a lecture titled Security and Conflict at the University of Liverpool, and has delivered successive talks at Marshall Center for Security Studies over the years.[12][13][14] In June 2014, Nawaz became an honorary associate of the National Secular Society which was founded in 1866.[15]

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 November 2015.[16]

Early years

Personal life

Maajid Nawaz was born in Essex, England to parents of Pakistani origin. 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.[8] At the age of 21, he married Rabia, then a fellow activist within the Hizb ut-Tahrir community and a biology student;[18] they have a son.[19] On Maajid's decision to leave Hizb ut-Tahrir, they separated and divorced.[20][21]

In 2014 he married Rachel Maggart.[22]

Islamist activism

Association with Hizb ut-Tahrir

Nawaz cites racism whilst growing up, whether from classmates,[23] C18 gangs[24] or the police,[18][25] and feeling divided between his Pakistani and British identities as important factors in his struggle to find his own identity.[18][26] When his brother, Osman, was recruited into Hizb ut-Tahrir by Nasim Ghani (later, the UK leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir), Osman subsequently persuaded Nawaz to attend HT meetings held in Southend homes.[27] At those meetings, recruits were shown videos showing how "European Muslims were being massacred" in Bosnia, and this became the catalyst which persuaded him to become directly involved with HT.[18][28]

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.[29] 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.[30][31]

While a student at Newham and then at SOAS, Maajid very quickly became a national speaker and international recruiter for Hizb ut-Tahrir, travelling first to Pakistan and then to Denmark to export the party's ideology and set up cells from London.[18] As part of his university degree, Nawaz spent a compulsory year abroad in Egypt.[32]

Imprisonment in Egypt

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. Later, he was transferred to the al-Gihaz, the Cairo headquarters of the agency.[18][33] Like most foreign prisoners, he was not subjected to torture, but faced the threat of torture while interrogation and witnessed other prisoners being tortured.[18][34] He was then transferred with fellow foreign prisoners, including Ian Nisbet and Reza Pankhurst, to Mazrah Tora.[18][32][34] There, he was put on trial and was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience during his trial.[18][35][36] Maajid, Nisbet and Pankhurst were each sentenced to five years imprisonment.[37]

Disenchantment and exit from 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 had smuggled the manuscripts of Syed Qutb's famous Islamist manual book Milestones out of prison (ensuring that it got published), and Dr. Essam el-Erian - the spokesman of Muslim Brotherhood.[38] He also befriended author and sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, and the imprisoned runner-up to Egypt's 2006 presidential elections Ayman Nour, the liberal head of the Tomorrow Party .[39] Throughout this time, Nawaz continued his studies, sitting with graduates of Cairo's Al-Azhar University and Dar al-'Ulum.[40] 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.[41] In an interview to American state 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.[42]

Departure from Hizb ut-Tahrir's world view came slowly and gradually. One of the reasons, as he describes in his own words "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."[43]

Counter-extremist activism

On returning to UK, Nawaz left Hizb-ut-Tahrir in 2007 and completed his studies at SOAS, graduating with a B.A. (Hons).[44] He later obtained a M.Sc. in Political Theory from the London School of Economics.[45]

Quilliam Foundation

After leaving Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Nawaz founded and has remained involved with the Quilliam Foundation, the world's first counter-terrorism foundation.[46] 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 Islamist extremism. On July 11, 2008, he addressed the United States Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs on the subject of Islamist extremism.[47] 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 held meetings with various heads of state including George W. Bush, and advised successive United Kingdom Prime Ministers from Tony Blair onwards.

In 2008, Nawaz published a video blog response to Syed Qutb's article Amrika allati Ra'aytu (The America That I Have Seen).[48]

Khudi foundation for Pakistan

He has co-founded an activist group in Pakistan, Khudi, using his knowledge of recruitment tactics in order to combat extremism.[49] In his own words, through Khudi he wants to persuade Muslims that the "narrative" Islamists use for recruitment, that Muslims will only be safe in a caliphate, and the West and non-Muslim states are determined to crush them, is false. In January 2014, he stepped down from Khudi because his candidacy for UK Parliament was "incompatible with vision and objectives of Khudi".[50]

In 2009, with BBC Newsnight crew and security team, Nawaz embarked on a counter-extremism journey speaking at over 22 universities all over Pakistan.[51][52] In 2010, he wrote a series of articles for Pakistani English daily The Express Tribune.[53]


In 2011, Nawaz was spotted by the publishing director of Ebury Publishing at the TED stage during his talk A Global Culture to Fight Extremism who became enthused about getting his story out.[54] This resulted in the publication in July 2012 of his autobiography Radical by Ebury's imprint W.H. Allen. 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.

Role in Tommy Robinson's exit from EDL

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.[55][56][57] Later, Robinson also apologised to Muslims for the fear caused by his EDL activism.[58] 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: Islamism and Neo-Nazism[59]


Anti-Terrorism Measures

Nawaz has opposed racial profiling of muslims, extrajudicial detention of terror suspects, torture, targeted killings and drone strikes.[60][61] In a talk given at Marshall European Center for Security Studies, he suggested a revisit of UK Government's historical approach to deal with terrorism, and called for a more nuanced response to tackling the ideology of Islamism without breaching fundamental liberties of citizens.[62]

Nawaz also opposed the Terrorism Act 2000, under which he was himself once detained, and called for universal Right to Legal Representation and Right to Silence in all cases, and for all suspects.[63] According to him, security should never debase citizens of their civil liberties.[63]

Free Speech and Blasphemy

In his essay On Blasphemy, Nawaz notes that all prophets and reformers blasphemed against the existing orders of their time, and that heresy is the only guarantee of progress.[64] He lamented the revival of the atmosphere of blasphemy law, and the neo-orientalist unwillingness to defend the ideals of free speech. He also criticized the term Islamophobia which, according to him, is a muzzle on free speech and deployed as a shield against genuine criticism.[64]

Nawaz criticized Ed Miliband's UK elections campaign promise of "banning Islamophobia".[65] At the Liberal Democrats Conference in Liverpool in 2015, he moved a motion in favour of free expression which was accepted by the house.[66]

Cultural Relativism

In the same essay which he wrote for CentreForum, Nawaz criticized cultural relativism for entrenching unhealthy taboos in U.K. just to appease the community heads. He cites the 1993 attempt by London Borough of Brent to make Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) legal among African communities, just because it was "their tradition".[64] Although a local councillor, Ann John, was able to oppose this motion, but the subsequent torrent of abuse and threats she received created an atmosphere of fear. In that atmosphere, victims of FGM are reluctant to come out and, as a result, Britain is yet to witness a single conviction for this crime.[64]

He also blamed misguided multicultural policies of the 90s for creating "monocultural ghettos". According to him, those policies allowed unelected community leaders to speak for the rest of the community, and shut out the voices of minorities-within-minorities. Liberalism, he wrote, should seek out the individual, not the stereotype of the community he belongs to.[64]

Critique of the Far-Left's support for Islamism

Ok far-lefty fellow-travellers of Islamism, I’m a state-school, brown, stabbed-at-by-neo-Nazis, falsely arrested at gunpoint by Essex police, Muslim, divorced, estranged from his child, ex-Islamist, tortured ex-prisoner who’s been mandatorily profiled & DNA’d under schedule 7 at Heathrow airport & blacklisted from countries. I am every grievance you harp on about. And yet your first-world bourgeois brains malfunction because I’m not spewing hate & fitting in your little angry Muslim box. Are you feeling slightly privileged yet?

Maajid Nawaz, as quoted by columnist Nick Cohen[67]


Political career

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.[68]

With the delegation of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (of which Maajid is not a member) he visited both sides of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. He also opposes Hamas.[69][70] 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.[71] The award was presented by party MP Tim Farron. In July 2015, Nawaz moderated the LibDem hustings between contenders Tim Farron and Norman Lamb on the topic "Liberalism, Free speech and Extremism".[72]


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?")[73] 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.[74] 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.[74][75] By 24 January 2014, a petition to the Liberal Democrat leader 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.[73] Petition organisers though have denied a connection to Shafiq and have condemned the incitement to murder.[76]

On 26 January, Nick Clegg defended Nawaz's right to free expression and said that the death threats are "unacceptable".[76]

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.[77][78][79] Nawaz has said that the filmed event took place during his stag night prior to his wedding;[79][80] 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.[81] The publicising of the CCTV footage led to death threats against Nawaz by ISIS extremists.[81] 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."[81][82]


See also

External links


  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"
  7. ^ "Twitter announcement". 
  8. ^ a b "Lib Dem Profile of Maajid Nawaz". 
  9. ^ "UK Home Affairs Select Committee". 
  10. ^ "US Senate Testimony". 
  11. ^ "The Roots of Violent Extremism - Maajid Nawaz (US Senate Committe)". 
  12. ^ "Maajid Nawaz at University of Liverpool". 
  13. ^ "Quilliam on Marshall Center". 
  14. ^ "Marshall Center [PDF]" (PDF). 
  15. ^ National Secular Society "New Honorary Associates", National Secular Society Bulletin Summer 2014, June 2014
  16. ^ "Islam and the Future of Tolerance". 
  17. ^ "Maajid Nawaz: Why Not Calling ISIS "Islamic" Hurts Muslim Reformers". 
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Women-Without-Borders - News". Women-Without-Borders. 2008-04-12. Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  19. ^ Charles Moore (journalist) (30 Jul 2012). "An insider’s exposé of Islamist extremism". The Telegraph. 
  20. ^ "How Orwell's 'Animal Farm' Led A Radical Muslim To Moderation". NPR. 15 Jan 2015. 
  21. ^ Cosmo Landesman (1 September 2013). "Maajid Nawaz: a tortured jihadist blossoms into Clegg’s darling". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  22. ^ For the date, see "1:40 PM". Twitter. 19 Oct 2014. 
    For the name, see "6:26 PM". Twitter. 12 Apr 2015. 
  23. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 34-36.
  24. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 3-4, 56-59.
  25. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 59-65.
  26. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 30-52.
  27. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 80-91.
  28. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 96-101.
  29. ^ Nawaz (2012): p. 107.
  30. ^ Nawaz (2012): p. 109.
  31. ^ Extremist calls time. "London - TV - Extremist calls time". BBC. Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  32. ^ a b Casciani, Dominic (2006-03-03). "UK | Freed Britons attack government". BBC News. Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  33. ^ Nawaz (2012): p. 224.
  34. ^ a b Nawaz (2012): p. 241.
  35. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 250-57.
  36. ^ "Amnesty International - Library - Egypt: Opening of trial of three Britons and 23 Egyptians raises unfair trial and torture concerns". Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  37. ^ Nawaz (2012): p. 257.
  38. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 262-63.
  39. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 266-67; 284-85
  40. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 285-86.
  41. ^ Nawaz (2012): p. 287.
  42. ^ "How Orwell's 'Animal Farm' Led A Radical Muslim To Moderation". 
  43. ^ "Why Leave the Radicals?". Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  44. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 323-5.
  45. ^ Nawaz (2012): p. 331.
  46. ^
  47. ^ "Events". Retrieved 2012-03-18. 
  48. ^ "The America That I Have Seen". 
  49. ^ Charlotte Higgins (12 August 2012). "Reformed Islamist extremist spreads virtues of democracy through Pakistan". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 November 2013. 
  50. ^ "Central Executive Committee Update". Khudi Pakistan. Retrieved 15 February 2014. 
  51. ^ "Former Islamist takes on Pakistan extremism". 
  52. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 239.
  53. ^ "Maajid Nawaz Express Tribune". 
  54. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 257.
  55. ^ Malik, Shiv (11 October 2013). "Ex-EDL leader Tommy Robinson says sorry for causing fear to Muslims". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 October 2013. 
  56. ^ Rowland Hill, Matt (18 October 2013). "Who is the real Tommy Robinson?". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  57. ^ "EDL leader Tommy Robinson quits group". BBC News. 8 October 2013. Retrieved 8 October 2013. 
  58. ^ Siddique, Haroon (8 October 2013). "Tommy Robinson quits EDL saying it has become 'too extreme'". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 October 2013. 
  59. ^ "EDL: Tommy Robinson and deputy Kevin Carroll quit far right group". 
  60. ^ "US drone killing of Anwar al-Awlaki reinforces terrorists". 
  61. ^ "Racial Profiling: Maajid Nawaz debates MP Khalid Mehmood". 
  62. ^ "Maajid Nawaz moderates discussion on Violent Extremism in Europe". 
  63. ^ a b "Maajid Nawaz speaks out against Schedule 7 terror laws at Liberal Democrats Conference". 
  64. ^ a b c d e "On Blasphemy". 
  65. ^ "Anti-Extremist Leader Attacks Labour Plans To Criminalize Islamophobia". 
  66. ^ "Liberal Democrat Conference 2015". 
  67. ^ Nawaz, Maajid. "The Reality of Radicalization". 
  68. ^ Osley, Richard (25 July 2013). "Lib Dems hope Maajid Nawaz can boost their election hopes in Hampstead and Kilburn". Camden New Journal. 
  69. ^ Ex-radical speaks with suicide bomb victim's father,
  70. ^ OPINION: Palestine must be free… from Hamas,
  71. ^ "LibDem Party Awards 2013: The Winners". 
  72. ^ "Liberalism, free speech and extremism – Tim and Norman at the National Liberal Club". 
  73. ^ a b Nick Cohen "The Liberal Democrats face a true test of liberty", The Observer, 25 January 2014
  74. ^ a b Keith Perry "Lib Dem candidate receives death threats for tweeting Prophet Mohammed cartoon" Daily Telegraph 21 January 2014
  75. ^ Jessica Elgot "George Galloway And Muslim Activists Round On Lib Dem Candidate Maajid Nawaz", The Huffington Post, 21 January 2014
  76. ^ 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
  77. ^ 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. 
  78. ^ Tim Lamden (11 April 2015). "VIDEO: Hampstead and Kilburn Lib Dem Maajid Nawaz filmed having private lap dance". Ham&High. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  79. ^ 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. 
  80. ^ 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. 
  81. ^ 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. 
  82. ^ 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.