Quilliam (think tank)

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Logo of Quilliam think tank.jpg
Founded2008; 12 years ago (2008)
FounderEd Husain, Maajid Nawaz, Rashad Zaman Ali
  • London, United Kingdom
Key people
Maajid Nawaz, Rashad Zaman Ali, Haras Rafiq, David Toube

Quilliam is a London-based think tank co-founded by Maajid Nawaz that focuses on counter-extremism, specifically against Islamism, which it argues represents a desire to impose a given interpretation of Islam on society. Founded as The Quilliam Foundation, it says it lobbies government and public institutions for more nuanced policies regarding Islam and on the need for greater democracy in the Muslim world whilst empowering "moderate Muslim" voices. The organisation opposes any Islamist ideology and champions freedom of expression. The critique of Islamist ideology by its founders, Maajid Nawaz, Rashad Zaman Ali and Ed Husain, is based, in part, on their personal experiences.


Quilliam was established in 2007 by Ed Husain, Maajid Nawaz and Rashad Zaman Ali, three former members of the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Husain left in 2011 to join the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.[1]

The organisation was named after Abdullah Quilliam,[2] a 19th-century British convert to Islam who founded Britain's first mosque. The organisation was originally called The Quilliam Foundation, but later rebranded as simply Quilliam.[3]


Quilliam defines Islamism in the following terms:

It is the belief that Islam is a political ideology, as well as a faith. It is a modernist claim that political sovereignty belongs to God, that the Shari'ah should be used as state law, that Muslims form a political rather than a religious bloc around the world and that it is a religious duty for all Muslims to create a political entity that is governed as such. Islamism is a spectrum, with Islamists disagreeing over how they should bring their ‘Islamic’ state into existence. Some Islamists seek to engage with existing political systems, others reject the existing systems as illegitimate but do so non-violently, and others seek to create an 'Islamic state' through violence. Most Islamists are socially modern but others advocate a more retrograde lifestyle. Islamists often have contempt for Muslim scholars and sages and their traditional institutions; as well as a disdain for non-Islamist Muslims and the West.[4]

Quilliam argues that Islam is a faith, not an ideology,[5] and that "Islam is not Islamism".[6] It also argues that "[Islamists] are extreme because of their rigidity in understanding politics".[7]

To date, the organization's goals have been mainly communicated in three ways: through the publication of reports, through involvement with the media, i.e. by taking part in interviews and discussions across Europe and the Middle East, and through its "Outreach and Training" unit, which delivers a "radicalisation awareness programme".

Condemnation of the 2008 Gaza War[edit]

On 30 December 2008, just days after the outbreak of the Gaza War, Ed Husain condemned the "ruthless air strikes and economic blockade" of Gaza city by Israel.[8][9] He predicted that the result would be "rightful support for the beleaguered Palestinian peoples – and a boost to the popularity of Hamas by default".[8]

Leaked report on the UK government's "Prevent" strategy[edit]

On 14 June 2010, a strategic briefing paper with a covering letter signed by Maajid Nawaz and Ed Hussain was sent to Charles Farr, director of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT). The briefing paper was intended to be a confidential review of the UK government's anti-terrorism "Prevent" strategy following the 7 July 2005 London bombings, and was "particularly critical of the view that government partnerships with non-violent yet otherwise extreme Islamists were the best way to fend off Jihadism".[10] Although sent "by hard copy alone" with no electronic version,[10] both letter and briefing paper were leaked by being scanned and published on the internet,[11] provoking protests from various groups which had been identified in the Quilliam briefing as sympathetic or supportive of Islamist extremism.[12]

According to the briefing document, "The ideology of non-violent Islamists is broadly the same as that of violent Islamists; they disagree only on tactics."[12][13]

Quilliam's report claimed that a unit within Scotland Yard called the Muslim Contact Unit,[12] and a separate independent group called the Muslim Safety Forum,[12] intended to improve the relationship between the police and the Muslim community, were respectively "Islamist-dominated"[14] and "associated with Jamaat e-Islami".[15] Other organisations listed by the Quilliam report included the Muslim Council of Britain[12] and its rival the Muslim Association of Britain,[13] both said to be "associated with the Muslim brotherhood".[16] Also said to have Islamist sympathies or to be associated with Islamist groups were the Islamic Human Rights Commission,[12][13] the Federation of Student Islamic Societies,[13] the Cordoba Foundation,[13] and the Islam Channel.[12]

The report said of these organisations: "These are a selection of the various groups and institutions active in the UK which are broadly sympathetic to Islamism. Whilst only a small proportion will agree with al-Qaida's tactics, many will agree with their overall goal of creating a single 'Islamic state' which would bring together all Muslims around the world under a single government and then impose on them a single interpretation of sharia as state law."[12][13]

Politicians described by the report as "Islamist backed" included Salma Yaqoob, then leader of the Respect Party, and George Galloway, also from Respect.[13]

Inayat Bunglawala, chairman of Muslims4Uk and a former spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, and Fatima Khan, vice-chair of the Muslim Safety Forum, both described Quilliam's list as "McCarthyite".[12][13] Bunglawala added: "In effect, Quilliam – a body funded very generously by the government through Prevent – are attempting to set themselves up as arbiters of who is and is not an acceptable Muslim."[13]

A Home Office spokesman told the press that the report had not been solicited, but added: "We believe the Prevent programme isn't working as effectively as it could and want a strategy that is effective and properly focused – that is why we are reviewing it."[12][13]

Maajid Nawaz told The Daily Telegraph: "Quilliam has a track record of distinguishing between legal tolerance and civil tolerance – we oppose banning non-violent extremists … yet we see no reason why tax payers should subsidise them. It is in this context that we wish to raise awareness around Islamism." [13]

Resignation of English Defence League leadership[edit]

On 8 October 2013, it was announced that the co-founders of the anti-Islamist English Defence League (EDL), Tommy Robinson and Kevin Carroll, had had meetings with Quilliam and intended to leave the EDL. Robinson said that street protests were "no longer effective" and "acknowledged the dangers of far-right extremism". However, he also said that he intended to continue to combat radical Islamism by forming a new party. Both Robinson and Carroll began taking lessons in Islam from Quilliam member Usama Hasan, and stated their intention to train in lobbying institutions.[17] However, in December 2015 Robinson, who founded the anti-Islamic organisation Pegida UK after leading the EDL, claimed that Quilliam had paid him a total of around £8000 over a period of six months so they could take credit for his exit from the EDL, although he said that he had already decided to leave the movement before coming into contact with Quilliam. Quilliam subsequently acknowledged that they had paid Robinson, although they characterised the payments as remuneration "for costs associated with outreach that he & Dr Usama Hassan did to Muslim communities after Tommy’s departure from the EDL".[18]

Quilliam had previously persuaded another member of the EDL, Nick Jode, to leave the EDL. Jode had been persuaded by the writings and on-line videos of Maajid Nawaz speaking on behalf of Quilliam, being particularly impressed by Nawaz's debate with Anjem Choudary of the Islamist group Islam4UK.[9]

Dispute with Southern Poverty Law Center[edit]

In October 2016, the U.S. Southern Poverty Law Center accused Nawaz of being an "anti-Muslim extremist". In June 2018, the SPLC apologized and paid $3.375 million to Nawaz and Quilliam "to fund their work to fight anti-Muslim bigotry and extremism".[19][20]


In January 2009, The Times published an article claiming that Quilliam had received almost £1 million from the British government. The article also said that some "members of the Government and the Opposition" had questioned the wisdom of "relying too heavily on a relatively unknown organisation … to counter extremism".[21]

Since 2011, Quilliam has not received government, i.e. "public", funding.[22] In the BBC programme HARDtalk, Nawaz explained that "the reason it was cut was because we disagreed at the time with the direction the government was headed. Now that the strategy has changed, and the policy of government has changed, what we haven't done is revitalize those funding relationships; but rather now we're 100% privately funded, which I'm happy with because of course it allows me to do the work without having to face the questions about which government is funding you and whether we're pursuing a government line or not."[23]

With the sudden cut in 2011, Quilliam operated at a loss that year.[24]

According to its political liaison officer, Jonathan Russell, the removal of public funding has been to Quilliam's advantage, as "it can remain ideas-focused, non-partisan and continue its own pursuits."[22]

According to a 2015 report by Nafeez Ahmed, Quilliam was in receipt of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation worth over a million dollars from September 2014 to June 2017.[25]


In December 2015, at Medium.com, investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed criticised the UK government's support of Quilliam and the Henry Jackson Society and alleged that Quilliam has close connections with the anti-Islamic conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney and Haras Rafiq, former head of the Sufi Muslim Council. Ahmed claims that the think tank is allied too closely with anti-Islamic conspiracy theorists and hate groups, and links this with the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, and Trump's recent proposals to impose a mandatory ban on all Muslim immigration into the United States.[26]

Sayeeda Warsi, the first female Muslim member of a British Cabinet, described Quilliam in her book The Enemy Within as "a bunch of men whose beards are tame, accents crisp, suits sharp, and who have a message the government wants to hear".[27]

The Quilliam Foundation’s report “Group Based Child Sexual Exploitation – Dissecting Grooming Gangs” has been criticised for its poor methodology by Ella Cockbain and Waqas Tufail, in their paper “Failing victims, fuelling hate: challenging the harms of the 'Muslim grooming gangs' narrative“ which was published in 2020. [28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nawaz (2012): pp. 352–53
  2. ^ Nawaz (2012): p. 327
  3. ^ "Quilliam". Quilliam. Archived from the original on 2008-05-01.
  4. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions – What is Islamism?". Quilliam. Archived from the original on 2013-10-18. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  5. ^ Maajid Nawaz states “Islamists are at odds with Islam as a faith. Islam is a faith not an ideology” How I’ll fight against Islamic extremism Archived 2011-10-17 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Ed Husain: You Ask The Questions". London: Independent. 2008-04-14. Archived from the original on 2018-01-13.
  7. ^ "Pulling together to defeat terror" p. 3" (PDF). Quilliam. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-05-14. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  8. ^ a b Ed Hussain (30 December 2008). "Britain has a duty to Arabs". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2013-11-05. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
  9. ^ a b Katie Engelhart (October 2013). "Revealing Quilliam, the Muslim Destroyers of the English Far-Right". Vice. Archived from the original on 2013-10-17. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
  10. ^ a b Nawaz (2012): p. 348
  11. ^ "Quilliam: Preventing Terrorism: where next for Britain?". Archived from the original on 2015-11-17. Retrieved 2017-09-10.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "List sent to terror chief aligns peaceful Muslim groups with terrorist ideology". The Guardian. 4 August 2010. Archived from the original on 2013-10-20. Retrieved 2 November 2013.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Mainstream Islamic organisations 'share al-Qaeda ideology'". The Daily Telegraph. 5 August 2010. Archived from the original on 2013-11-11. Retrieved 2 November 2013.
  14. ^ Quilliam "Preventing Terrorism: where next for Britain?" Archived 2015-11-17 at the Wayback Machine: p. 4
  15. ^ Quilliam "Preventing Terrorism: where next for Britain?" Archived 2015-11-17 at the Wayback Machine: p. 60
  16. ^ Quilliam "Preventing Terrorism: where next for Britain?" Archived 2015-11-17 at the Wayback Machine: p. 59
  17. ^ Milmo, Cahal (8 October 2013). "EDL leader Tommy Robinson turns his back on his own party over 'dangers of far-right extremism'". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 2013-10-09. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  18. ^ Hopkins, Steven (10 December 2015). "Tommy Robinson, Former EDL Leader, Claims Quilliam Paid Him To Quit Far-Right Group". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on 2016-10-16. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  19. ^ "Statement regarding Maajid Nawaz and Quilliam Foundation". SPLCenter.org. SPLC. Archived from the original on 18 June 2018. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  20. ^ Matt Naham (18 June 2018). "Southern Poverty Law Center Must Pay $3.3 Million After Falsely Naming Anti-Muslim Extremists". Law & Crime. Archived from the original on 19 June 2018. Retrieved 19 June 2018.
  21. ^ Kerbaj, Richard (2009-01-20). "Government gives £1m to anti-extremist think-tank Quilliam Foundation". London: Times. Archived from the original on 2011-08-15.
  22. ^ a b Russell, Jonathan (29 October 2013). "Perspectives: The Quilliam Foundation – fighting extremism". BBC Religion & Ethics. Archived from the original on 2013-10-31. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
  23. ^ BBC Hard Talk, 14 August 2012 Archived 2016-01-28 at the Wayback Machine: video from 21:14.
  24. ^ Ben, Quinn (12 October 2013). "Tommy Robinson link with Quilliam Foundation raises questions". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2013-10-31. Retrieved 3 November 2013.
  25. ^ Ahmed, Nafeez (18 January 2015). "The Quilliam Foundation is financed by Tea-Party conservatives investigated by Sam Harris". Medium. Archived from the original on 2016-10-29. Retrieved 28 October 2016.
  26. ^ Ahmed, Nafeez (17 December 2015). "David Cameron's 'counter extremism' experts work with far-right Donald Trump sympathisers". Medium.com. Archived from the original on 2016-01-16. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  27. ^ Peter Oborne (2017). "Moral of Warsi: Tories can't cope with Muslims". Middle East Eye. Archived from the original on 2017-06-13. Retrieved 2017-06-03.
  28. ^ Cockbain, Ella; Tufail, Waqas (2020). "Failing victims, fuelling hate: challenging the harms of the 'Muslim grooming gangs' narrative". Race & Class. 61 (3): 3–32. doi:10.1177/0306396819895727. ISSN 0306-3968.

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