Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Maajid Nawaz and Quilliam

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th September, 2010

This week’s guest at an event organised by the UK Section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) in the London offices of the European Parliament, was Maajid Nawaz from the Quilliam Foundation, an organization designed to challenge extremism, promote pluralism and inspire change. Like another of Quilliam’s leading figures, the author of  ‘The Islamist’ (and my near neighbour in Tower Hamlets) Ed Hussain, Maajid is a former extremist now dedicated to dissuading other Muslims from adopting militant and especially violent interpretations of Islam. 

Maajid was born in Essex and became radicalised as a young man, joining Hizb ut-Tahrir (which calls for the re-establishment of the Caliphate in the Islamic world) and then acting as a propagandist, recruiter and trainer for that organisation in Denmark and Pakistan. He was imprisoned for four years in Egypt, where he was tortured, and while there he was adopted as a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. That experience, as well as further contact with NGOs on his return to the UK, helped lead him away from  extremism (while retaining his religious faith) and to denouce Hizb ut-Tahrir and some of his former Islamist colleagues. The Quilliam Foundation (which is named after the Liverpudlian William Henry [Abdullah] Quilliam [1856-1932], who embraced Islam and established Britain’s first mosque in his native city) is regularly consulted by the British Government (from which it receives some of its funding), as well as working with other think-tanks, media outlets etc. Maajid Nawaz believes that although legislation does have some role to play in containing extremist activity, it is nonetheless important for civil society to engage with the Muslim community in Britain, for example in a debate about the relative values of tradition and modernity. It is essential that counter-terrorism and counter-extremism are seen as separate activities, he argued; the former most appropriately dealt with by the Home Office, the latter by the Department for Local Government and Communities.


One Response to “Maajid Nawaz and Quilliam”

  1. I had the good fortune to hear Ed Hussain talk at the Cambridge Union along with Irshad Manji a while ago. They both had some interesting insights; I remember in particular how Mr Hussain talked about the way that extremists often started to get the sympathy of young Muslim men by providing them with Islamic arguments against patriarchalism in the family (in particular over their right to choose who to marry).

    Mr Nawaz’s points are also very sensible, in particular that there should be a clear distinction between police action against criminals (like terrorists) and government and civil society efforts to foster dialogue and debate. I wish them the best of luck.

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