Sunday, April 4, 2010

On "The Islamist: Why I Became an Islamic Fundamentalist, What I Saw Inside, and Why I Left" by Ed Husain

So I'm reading this book called The Islamist: Why I Became an Islamic Fundamentalist, What I Saw Inside, and Why I Left by Ed Husain, and OH MY GOD! It's a must read for all humans, both Muslims and non-Muslims, both moderates and extremists. It is the story of one Muslim who was an extremist/fundamentalist Muslim during his late teens and early 20s. He explains very thoroughly and powerfully why extremism appealed to him and then, later on, why he left it.

I say it's forall humans and not just Muslims because the book proves that not all Muslims are alike, not all are extremists, not all are moderates/normal. Readers of all faiths will understand and be aware of extremist norms and, hopefully, avoid adhering to them. Muslims will learn that Islam is NOT an extremist religion (unless we make it as such, of course) and that there's not just one way of practicing Islam but at least a million. Non-Muslims will learn that Islamic extremism is dangerous not just for the Muslim world but for the non-Muslim world as well, since Ed Husain's extremism was nurtured *inside Great Britain*.

Interestingly, we learn that these fundamentalists don't see themselves as extremists! In fact, Husain describes niqabi women (who cover their faces) as "ninja sisters" who, according to him and his "brothers" of the movement, are extremist Muslim females who think that they will be raped if they talked to the Muslim males or showed them their faces. (The girls talk to non-Muslim males but not to the Muslim ones, Husain writes, and that angers him.) He didn't realize he was being just as extremist in his thoughts, though not yet so in his appearance-- he didn't have the beard fundies usually have, and only later on was he told by a member of another extremist group that men are obligated to have beards because it's the Way of the Prophet. So, even though both sides were extremists in their thinking and actions, neither could see themselves as such, both thought they were the "true Muslims," and both thought the other was crossing boundaries.

Husain also gives some attention to the hypocrisy of the Islamist leaders. They were hypocrites in that, while they disseminated their anti-western ideas and infiltrated the minds of *young Muslim males*, they were unwilling to do the same to their own sons! Not only this, but their sons were actually being educated in top universities *in the west*-- and yet, they hated the West and anything related to it. Promoting "Islamic ideas," including the niqab and hijab, was their way of not being Islamic but of being anti-west; this was their resilience to western values . . . even though they loved the west, lived there, and go educated there. And the west even allowed them to practice their religion in this extreme a form.

Husain writes that his father told him of the hypocrisy of these people, but he would say, "I'm not following their sons; I'm following these 'true Muslims'! Importantly, all of these Islamist leaders were inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt (who were, after the death of their founder, Hasan al-Banna, led by Syed Qutb) and Maududi's Jamat-e-Islami.

By narrating his experience with these people, Ed Husain proves to Muslims why Islam cannot and should not be politicized; it should not be mixed with politics, it should not be used by anyone to pursue their own personal, political, social interests. If we don't realize this soon, the future of Islam is endangered, and it will be no one's but our own fault, us over a billion Muslims, with millions of religious and political factions, assuming superiority over all other religions, cultures, peoples, AND the Muslim factions we don't associate ourselves with.

It all started for Husein once he began reading a book on Islam at his school. It was the main (or only?) book that was used by his school in British to teach people what Islam taught. The book is called Islam: Beliefs and Teachings by Ghulam Sarwar, who was an ardent follower of Maududi and his Jamat-e-Islami movement/sect. What Husain says he did not know was that Ghulam Sarwar was not a scholar of Islam; he had no deep knowledge of Islam in order for him to be a legitimate speak of Islam, let alone writing major books that were to become the prominent sources on Islam in any school! No wonder my professors make me write a brief biography and educational/scholarly expertise of the authors whose book I read on Islam (for my research on progressive interpretations of Islam)! It is indeed crucial!

One thing that really attracted me in the book was his observation and conclusion that divorce rate tends to be much higher among extremist Muslim circles than ordinary ones. This, he explains, is because the extremist males judge women by how much they cover, just as the extremist females judge men by their outer appearance (beard, long clothing, praying 5 times a day, using Arabic terminology to praise God, etc.). Only after marriage do these lost souls realize that "Oh God! You covered your face and prayed 5 times a day and I thought you were the best Muslim possible! Never mind!" They may pray 5 times a day but most likely don't know what they heck respect and responsibility mean. As Husain says, then, the couples realize that "simply having a religion in common [does] not necessarily make for compatibility" (p. 70, top of page).

Gosh, I wholeheartedly concur!

I haven't finished the book; still reading it. But I'll be sure to tell you why he left fundamentalism. All Muslims need to make themselves cognizant of the inexplicable significance of extremism/wahabism/fundamentalism/salafism/Maududi-ism/etc.

Oh, wait, though! I have to quote the author in one extremely important instance, okay? Here.

He writes this after telling us how the hijab and niqab became prevalent in the college he was attending in Britain and how so many people were telling him that the hijab is ver attractive to men and became more of a fashion article than a symbol of modesty.


"If the hijab was supposed to make a woman less attractive, then it clearly had not worked. Several society members commented to me that the women looked extraordinarily feminine and more desirable in the scarf [hijab] than without. I shared that sentiment, but dared not express it" (p. 61, middle of page).

Yep, I completely agree.

k, more another time, ka khair wee.


  1. Dear Miz. Qrratugai,

    Sincerely I`ve gone through your thoughtful writing on Mr. Ed Hussen`s Book. You are a very emotional and a positive minded, as I have already experienced some of Pashtu people (only by online/mail etc.) are very postive in nature, but a bit overwhelmed by the ethnic emotions. I am a writer (please visit, Indian, writing a vast novel based on Afghanistan, pakistan, and India on the backdrop of ColdWar.

    If you give me a permission, then I will ask you some questions regarding your land, nation, and country, which will help me to do that heavy task.

    Waiting for your reply.
    Thanking You.



  2. Greetings / namaste, Shuvadeep Jee!

    Thank you for your visit; I appreciate it and hope you'll come by more often!

    Well, I'm not sure if I'd be the perfectly right person for you to interrogate about our land. Do ask anything you want, of course, and if I can't answer them myself or don't think my answers will be the greatest, I'll share them with other Pukhtuns and paste their answers here.

    Looking forward to the questions.

  3. You've made me want to read the book x

  4. islam is inherently violent.the sad thing is anyone whose in the cult cannot understand this.I will recommend site which will tell why afghanistan was literally in middle ages for the past 10 centuries.

  5. hahahaha, glad I did, Hina :D:D

  6. Hi there, Afghani Bandit! Thank you for dropping by!

    As for your comment that Islam is inherently a violent religion, I strongly disagree. is obviously an anti-Islam website, so of course it'll take Quranic verses out of context and "prove" through them that Islam is "violent."

    If you want, we can talk about this. Give me their arguments, and I'll respond to you. I don't like claims like "such and such is bad/violent"; I want proof -- and I'd suggest you make up your own mind instead of having someone else (including me) make that up for you. So ... start from the beginning. What makes you think *Islam* is "inherently" violent?

  7. Hi Qrratugai,

    Is it possible to discuss and debate the 'first principles' such as questioning the existence of a personal God assumed by all monotheistic religions? Or that kind of metatheoretical assumptions are not be touched in your discussions? I am saying this because if someone questions the existence of a 'personal' God intervening human affairs by sending revelations and prophets,then arguing about Islam etc being a 'true' religion does not make sense, right?

    O. Yousafzai

  8. Pa khair, O. Yousazai!
    Welcome to my blog.

    I'm not sure I understand you correctly. So, you want to have a discussion with me on the existence of God (as in, God in general) or on the existence of a personal God?

    I'd love to, actually. However, I'll first need a definition of God -- YOUR definition of God, I mean. Be it a "personal" God (what's a personal God, by the way?) or otherwise.


Dare to opine :)

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