The Islamist (2007)
Penguin Books, 286pp
Part memoir and part debate on the causes and rise of radical Islam in Great Britain, Ed Husain’s The Islamist is revealed to be essential reading. His erudition and honesty form the backbone to this compelling and stimulating story of his involvement with Islamic fundamentalists in London mosques as a teenager to his complete indoctrination until one moment of violence leads to the unravelling of everything he thought he held dear. Had this just been the narrative of those events I doubt this book would hold such potent power, but because Ed Husain is knowledgeable about both the true nature of Islam and how different Islamic groups seek to co-opt the faith for their ideological ends, he is able to engage with the deeper political, religious and social questions in a persuasive manner.
The tectonic shifts that occurred within the Muslim world following the September 11 attacks overshadow much debate about radicalised Islam, but Ed Husain’s focus is British Islam and his discussion of the 7/7 attacks and the role fundamentalist groups operating without impunity in British city centres and their connections to Saudi Wahhabi sects makes for some of the most stimulating political debate on the issue that I have read in a long time. He presents his information at a personal level, and though much of what he states might be unproven (the way the Hizb ut-Tahrir operates conceals member affiliations easily), his arguments make sense; and besides, much of what Husain has to say appears to be common sense.
For those readers with little understanding of the Muslim faith, and especially for those who understand Islam only through the actions of a radicalised few, The Islamist will prove especially provocative. We hear only of these radicals wishing to establish a Muslim state – a caliphate – and the implication of this is that all Muslims must therefore be alike in their faith. Ed Husain skilfully deconstructs this, by highlighting numerous different Islamic sects – radicalised, sufi, moderate – and the ways in which the observance of their faith alters drastically, even within the Arab world (Syria is vastly different to Saudi Arabia), and through these discussions is able to reveal how the extremism of Saudi Wahhabism is insidiously infiltrating Britain. He ends with a challenge to British leaders to excise this cancerous form of Islam from British society, for the danger it poses is extreme: we are breeding the next generation of disillusioned but dedicated extremists.
The Islamist should be required reading for everyone, and especially for those engaged in Islamic education and British politics. It is an important book for it is the beginning of a debate that cannot be ignored and that, with the rise of fundamentalism across the globe, will be important and relevant for the next decade or two.