The media, politicians and neoconservative thinktanks have a new darling - Maajid Nawaz - who announced his departure from Hizb ut-Tahrir in an interview with BBC's Newsnight. The interview was publicised in the Observer and the Sunday Telegraph and by Ed Husain on the Guardian CiF website. Readers of this blog will recall that in a previous article I raised the possibility that Nawaz was working with Ed Husain. I actually wrote that "...if Nawaz does come out with his own "kiss and tell" story about his time with Hizb ut-Tahreer, seeks to exacerbate divisions within the Muslim community or if Nawaz is closely associated with Husain, then this would place huge question marks in my mind over Nawaz."
On the eve of Nawaz's "coming out", Ed Husain was keen to give Nawaz publicity (he had previously claimed that Nawaz had left the group under his influence) and flatteringly and somewhat dishonestly described Nawaz as "the highest ranking Hizb ut-Tahrir member to leave the group as a matter of conscience". Nawaz used his interview with Newsnight to make equally sensational claims and the BBC focused on these, even issuing a press release to preview the interview. In the interview Nawaz alleged that Hizb ut-Tahrir advocate the killing of "millions of people" to unite and expand an "Islamic superstate". He said "They are prepared to, once they've established the state, to fight other countries and to kill people in the pursuit of unifying this state into one state...Hizb-ut-Tahrir privately and publicly condemn terrorism but the point I'm making is that's not the danger I'm concerned about...The danger I'm concerned about is creating a mentality, a psyche that can allow a state and it deems it acceptable for a state en masse to kill people in the cause of an ideology."
Nawaz also made rather grandiose claims that the global leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir approached him personally (he was barely 20 at the time) to establish a chapter of the group in Pakistan, which had shortly beforehand acquired nuclear weapons. It was also claimed in the Sunday Telegraph that Nawaz had alleged that Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain had been recruiting British Muslims to go abroad and fight British troops. Interestingly, Nawaz chose not to repeat this allegation on Newsnight.
Nawaz also describes, in almost identical fashion to Husain, the murder of an African student at Newham College in 1994. Nawaz claims, as does Husain, that their activities on the college campus led to the murder. This is not surprising given that the two of them agreed the text of Husain's version of events in The Islamist. However, Maajid Nawaz's brother, the Islam Channel presenter, Kaashif Nawaz, disputes the account, writing that "The murder at East Ham college was not of a man who was Christian, but of a man who was high on drugs, and carrying 2 knives with intent on attacking one of the students on campus, he was intercepted by a gang of Muslims, who intercepted him - nothing to do with Islamism or HT, but more do with gang wars which Muslims got involved in and HT members tried to resolve." Other primary sources have also cast doubts over Husain's account of events at the college.
Interestingly, Nawaz says that his time spent in an Egyptian prison meant that he started questioning if there was a better way "than just meeting oppression and anger with more anger and more oppression". He says that he developed serious doubts, leading to a decision to leave the organisation.
His close confidante, Husain, also writes that Nawaz developed doubts whilst in prison, "In Sayyid Qutb's prison, Maajid studied with traditional Muslim scholars who had abandoned the jihadist cause. His own intelligence, combined with greater study of Islam, led Maajid to question the intellectual and scriptural premise on which the entire Islamist project is based."
On the DeenPort discussion forum, Husain praises Nawaz, writing, "Maajid Nawaz studied traditional Islam while in prison in Egypt with Azhari mashaikh who were once Islamists and/or Jihadists. Their influences and his independent thinking after returning to Britain in 2005 led Maajid to resign from Hizb ut-Tahrir. Please keep him in your prayers. May Allah strengthen Maajid and preserve this servant of God and lover of al-Habib."
In an article with the sensationalist title "Why I joined the British jihad - and why I rejected it" in the Sunday Times, Nawaz again writes that his conversion took place in prison, "It was during this time in prison that I began to utilise my time by studying as much as I could about the ideology that I professed to be working for...As I studied various branches of traditional Islamic sciences, however, I grew more and more surprised. The sheer breadth of scholastic disagreement that I found, on issues I had believed were so definitive in Islam, surprised me. Where we had been willing to challenge, even overthrow, regimes on certain issues, traditional jurists of Islam had treated these as academic disagreements to be debated through books. It slowly dawned on me that what I had been propagating was far from true Islam. I began to realise that what I had subscribed to was actually Islamism sold to me in the name of Islam." In an interview with Jane Perlez of the New York Times, Nawaz again said, that his "doubts about Hizb ut-Tahrir crystallized" during his time in prison.
This is where I have a big problem - while it is now clear from Nawaz himself that he had serious doubts about Hizb ut-Tahrir in prison, he continued and indeed increased the intensity of his political activities on his return to the UK.
Brother Salman, who knows Maajid, writes that, "Since his return from Egypt, he has been an even bigger supporter of the Hizb and the rule of Islam in Muslim countries. It was as if the suffering and torture he endured in Mubarak's torture chambers "recharged his batteries" and made him a better Muslim. At least that was the impression I got when I spoke to him on numerous occasions at SOAS where he was finishing his interrupted degree studies. Also, the TV interviews he participated in since his return from Egypt show no sign of any ideological retreat. He was still calling for the rule of Islam in Muslim countries."
This exact point is also raised by readers of this blog who commented on an earlier thread. Brother Muhammed writes, "Back in january 2007 he was giving speeches outside the usa embassy (see utube) as one of the leaders of the hizb calling for khilafah. when he was released from prison he went on the bbc hard talk programme representing the hizb and on islam channel he regularly gave his opinions on political affairs on behalf of the hizb. he states in his article that whilst in prison he had serious misgivings of the method employed by the hizb for establishing khilafah. hence should one not ask why appear on many different platforms on the media, at demos etc calling for khilafah when he knew he would be jumping ship and go down the dark path of ed hussain et al. maybe he did this to gain respectability and leadership amongst the muslims, only allah knows." Brother Ismaeel-Haneef Hijazi of the Muslim Action Committee, who spoke at the US embassy demonstration with Nawaz, responds by saying, "Thanks Muhammad for reminding me of that demo back in Jan. I spoke at that demo too and briefly met Maajid who seemed at the time to be close with Aki Nawaz who at the time had just started making media appearances defending Muslims politically. Also Maajid left the Hizb only 2 months ago, so the question is very pertinent- if he came to all these conclusions whilst in prison why wait until now to declare them?" As photographs show, Nawaz was clearly at the front of the demonstration (second from the right) to the US embassy despite harbouring severe doubts.
On his return from captivity, Nawaz appeared on BBC's Hardtalk - given what we know now about his serious doubts about 'Islamism' in prison, one would have expected that he mention that his confidence had been shaken and that he was now questioning his conscience. However, on the contrary, in a confident performance, Nawaz assertively claimed that Hizb ut-Tahrir's ideas were peaceful and that they prevented him from becoming violent or aggressive despite the oppression he had faced. In fact he argues that his time in prison has "convinced me even more...that there is a need to establish this Caliphate as soon as possible". In the interview, Nawaz also claims that the regimes in the Muslim world are "propped up" by the West and that he would sue the Egyptian regime for the ordeal he and his compatriots underwent.
In addition, in a press conference upon his return to the UK, there was again no hint whatsoever of the serious doubts going through Nawaz's mind. Amazingly, Nawaz said, "I have become more convinced of the ideas that I went into prison with." Shortly thereafter, Nawaz also appeared with fellow former detainee Reza Pankhurst on the Ummah Talk programme on the Islam Channel where he again mentioned that his stint in prison had motivated him to work harder for the return of caliphate. Further to that, Nawaz made regular appearances on the Islam Channel and at talks across the Muslim community, yet he made no reference to his change of heart.
So how could it be that Nawaz was released in March 2006 with serious doubts about Hizb ut-Tahrir and having realised that what he had been propagating was "far from true Islam", yet he intensified his activities, defended Hizb ut-Tahrir before millions of viewers on Hardtalk, took up a position on Hizb ut-Tahrir's UK Executive Committee, gave talks across the country and spoke at rallies?
The worst scenario here is that Nawaz was being double-faced. This scenario would have it that he had already decided that he was going to jump ship but he decided to increase his profile so that when he finally left the organisation it would garner greater publicity. If this indeed was the case, then he should be reminded of the Hadith of al-Habib (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) who said, "One of the worst people is a double-faced man, who come to one group with one face and to another group with a totally different face." (Related by Al-Bukhari and Ibn Hibban). A similar Hadith is reported by Ammar ibn Yasir, an early companion of the Prophet, who quotes him as saying: "Whoever is double-faced in this life will have two tongues of fire in the hereafter." A big man then passed by and the Prophet said: "This is one of them." (Related by Al-Bukhari in Al-Adab Al-Mufrad, Abu Dawood, Al-Darimi and others).
Only Nawaz himself can explain why he chose to intensify his activities despite these doubts. He may argue that he could not leave the organisation immediately, but that is not the issue here. No one was demanding that he should have left the organisation immediately upon his return even if he had serious doubts - rather the one with serious doubts would have discussed these doubts with people of knowledge and his compatriots in the organisation, rather than intensifying one's activities and then announcing one's departure on primetime television.
In this article, I did not set out to address Nawaz's documented reasons for his departure, and I am sure others more qualified than me will do so if necessary. Rather, I have sought to examine the inconsistencies in Nawaz's account of his conversion to Ed Husain's depoliticised version of Islam and all that brings with it.
As a final point, although Nawaz has warned that his narrative should not be "exploited to support the call for proscribing Hizb ut-Tahrir", this seems a little naive to say the least. The language he is using to describe his former compatriots is music to the ears of the powers that be. It is no surprise that Nawaz is now flavour of the month for Douglas Murray's band of neocons at the Centre for Social Cohesion and the likes of the right wing Zionist commentator Melanie Phillips. Nawaz will get lots of publicity and exposure via the right wing blogs and media, since it reassures them that nothing is wrong with their behaviour and helps deflect attention back to those "dirty terrorists" who "hate us for our way of life".
Brothers and Sisters!
Beware of those Muslims who wish to sell their Deen for a small price and remember that Al-Habib Rasoolallah (sallallahu alaihi wa sallam) said, "Indeed a servant speaks a word (which is pleasing to Allah) to which he pays no attention and for which Allah elevates him many grades. And indeed the servant speaks a word (which is displeasing to Allah) to which he pays no attention and for which he shall fall in Jahannam." (Bukhari)
"Among the words people received from early prophets are: if you feel no shame, then do as you wish." (Related by Al-Bukhari, Abu Dawood, Ibn Majah, Ahmad and others).