Jackie Kabir
As the name suggests, it is a book about the Islamic community in Britain. The West has long been intrigued by the Islamists of Asia and the Middle East. Set in the 1980s, the book will definitely quench the desire of those who wish to be enlightened about the radical Islamists of Asian origin. It is about a young Muslim of Bangladeshi origin, a British boy brought up in the UK. It aptly deals with his dilemma of being a Bangladeshi as well as a Briton at the same time. We have seen writers like Monica Ali, Zadie Smith and Manzu Islam dealing with Bangladeshi second generation immigrants being torn apart by their need to hold on to the traditional values and the need to be assimilated in their new-found home. A very few writers have shed light on the history of young Muslims turning into radical Islamists.
Ed Husain has written an autobiography describing the plight of a young Muslim boy who gets into the whirlpool of one Islamist organization or another. He unveils the way these groups manipulate the hearts and minds of young Muslims living in the West. He also shows that all such groups mainly sprout from the same origin. Or that they are the wings of main Islamist groups who have nothing Islamic about them. They rather use Islam as their political tool to gain supremacy or power.
Ed Hussain was born in the UK to Bangladeshi parents. He was just like any other Asian child brought up in the suburbs of South London. His birthday was on Christmas day and his mother would take him to see Santa Claus. The children would make a snowman in winter and would borrow their mother’s scarf. In his book he declares:
“The mixed heritage of British by birth, Asian by descent and Muslim by conviction was set to tear me apart in later life.”
Teachers like Mrs. Powlesland and Cherie, who loved him and made him have faith in a secular Britain, also inspired him to stand before National Front bullies. At the same time, there was a Mr. Coppin who taunted him for forgetting his spoons and forks by saying: “So where is your Allah then now, eh? Can He help?”
That is when Ed found that he had more differences with his white peers than just skin colour. As he grew older his father announced, “Coeducation is not a conducive environment for education”. So he was put in a school “where there were all Muslims students, all male and from Bangladesh.”
Ed did not find anything in common with those who came from Bangladesh, who could not stop talking about home and some famous Hindi film stars which they had watched at home. Ed’s parents were news-watching people who had but little connection with Bangladesh. So he was left to his own devices. In his younger days his faith in Islam was shaped by the Shaik from Fultholy, whom the author addressed as grand pa. His ideology was: “God is as his servant perceives him to be. If a servant perceives God to be close, then God is so; if God is seen as remote then God is so.”
During his adolescent and teenage years, he however learnt about a different form of religion — strict, unforgiving, radical and ready to change the world. At school he came across an organisation called MET, Muslim Educational Trust, which would separate the Muslim students during the assembly and have Islamic lessons. A Pakistani Islamist leader, Abul Ala Mawdudi, whose book The Islamist Movement was the guideline for young Muslim organisations in the UK, comes into the picture. The Jamaat-e- Islami is a sinister political organisation that, says the writer, uses Islam as a political tool and demeans the Prophet’s original teaching.
Ed Husain gives a vivid description of how young people get caught up in the whirlpool of moving from one Islamic organisation to another. The protagonist gets dismayed by the ideologies of the Jamaat-e-Islami and joins Hizb ut-Tahrir. Hizb ut-Tahrir is another worldwide radical Islamic group believing in a Khalifah (caliphate) system. The idea of Hibz spread like wild fire. This group also denied the role of the Prophet in the 1990s. Their ideology has been, as Ed says: “Never defend always offend.”
We also get a picture of how this Muslim organisation gets people mesmerised by their doctrine. In east London, young Muslim girls and boys give up the moderate Islam to become extremists. It happens within weeks when girls start wearing the hijab and simply ignore boys who previously had been their friends.
“Hijab became a symbol of defiance of western values and return of Islam.” (65)
The YMO or the Young Muslim Organisation arranged a ‘taleemi jalsha’ every week where the difference between ‘partial Muslims’ and ‘true Muslims’ was described. They impressed upon the young the young that being Muslim meant being in conflict with non-Muslims, thus ignoring the teaching of the Koran which says, “To you your religion, to me mine.”
Along with Hizb there was another organisation called the ISB, which had close links with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian Hamas. These were all global organisations. In the process of trying to find the true meaning of being a Muslim, Ed got in and out of all of them but none could quench his thirst for true knowledge.
The role of Saudi Arabia in the Islamic world, notes the writer, is as the satellite state of the US. The Arab world thinks of Britain as a colonial power and enemy of Islam that is plotting against the Arab world; and 9/11 was not perpetrated by Arabs.
As the writer travells to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, to his dismay he finds that Wahabbis predominate in the region. They believe that the Prophet ought not to be venerated, that Sufis are too close to the Prophet, that celebrating his birthday is an imitation of Kuffur Christian practices and that visiting tombs of saints is tantamount to idolatry. According to the Wahhabis, selective Muslim sources are to be accepted as literal truth. Emphasis must be on the oneness of God, Tawheed.
The Wahhabis slaughter or kill other sects, he narrates. Wahhabis came from place called Najd in Arab. Ibn- Abd-al-Wahhab, a puritanical eighteenth century Muslim leader for whom worship meant obedience to a great god in the skies. There was no need for intermediaries, devotion, training and scholarly guidance. His followers spread till Karbala by 1801. They destroyed the shrines, they even killed those who had a bloodline that went back to the Prophet; locally known as Sayyids and Ashrafs.
Husain is appalled by the fact young children in Saudi Arabia want to bomb London, wage jihad without knowing the meaning of the word. For them life in Jeddah is in following 70 per cent Islam; and life in Afghanistan under the Taliban followed 100 per cent Islam, according to one of his students.
The book is an eye-opener for all who are intrigued by the division of the world into an Islamic world and a western world. Its easy flow makes it a book difficult to put down once begun. Even though The Islamist is an autobiography, it has all the elements of a good story told by an expert storyteller. Strongly recommended reading for anyone and everyone to read.

Actually, I wanted to review this book; but then, Jackie’s enthusiasm surpassed mine, and she wrote it. – Ekram Kabir

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