June 2, 2007; New York Times; A Journey to, and From, the Heart of Radical Islam in Britain; by Jane Perlez.
ED HUSAIN remembers the man as a kindly soul, not the sort you would suspect of recruiting for a radical Islamic group. As a teenager already in rebellion against his upstanding middle-class parents, who had raised him as a sort of Muslim choirboy, young Mohamed his original first name was an easy target.
They met in the early 1990s at the elaborate Muslim wedding of a distant relative. "He was a medic at Royal London Hospital, and he invited me to lunch," said Mr. Husain, whose recently published memoir, "The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left," has caused a ruckus in the newspapers, on television, on talks shows and in blogs.
"He was asking me questions and then saying, ''White Muslims are being killed in Bosnia,'' " he recalled in an interview. "What chances do we have as brown people in England?' He was creating doubts." He said his new friend had "black and white" answers to the world's problems, and gave him books by Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, a Palestinian judge who, dissatisfied with the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1950s, set up his own Islamic party, called Hizb ut-Tahrir, or Party of Liberation.
Thus began Mr. Husain's journey into the world of British Islamic radicalism. He joined a university campus branch of Hizb ut-Tahrir. He said he had been hooked on an ideology that calls for a caliphate in Muslim countries and the end of Israel, though in nonviolent ways. Membership made him feel important, even though he was only a cog in a larger movement. "You feel a few cuts above an ordinary Muslim," he said.
He left the group in 1995 after two years, dismayed after a fellow Hizb ut-Tahrir member stabbed a Christian student, killing him.
NOW, with his book, Mr. Husain's personal story has become fodder for the percolating debate in Britain about how to combat terror, and about how to narrow the divide between white non-Muslim Britons and Muslims from South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.
With the zeal of a true believer, Mr. Husain, 32, has denounced Hizb ut-Tahrir, and called for it to be banned. With almost equal fervor he has upbraided the British government for being too soft on issues of Islamic extremism.
Some Muslims have called Mr. Husain, who is of Indian heritage, a traitor. Some non-Muslims on the left have questioned his get-tough approach. Others, mostly on the right, have hailed him as brave. Mr. Husain has also been challenged by some who argue that his experiences do not deal with the most pressing problem, the very small minority of British Muslims who end up being recruited as terrorists.
For its part, Hizb ut-Tahrir, which runs a sophisticated Web site and is no slouch at joining the fray, has assailed Mr. Husain, calling his attacks unfair and outmoded. A spokesman, Taji Mustafa, said that Mr. Husain was never a formal member who took a pledge, but rather attended the group's circles like thousands of others.
On the other side, Mr. Husain says he has been approached by British government officials, asking whether he wants to join their antiextremist efforts, a move that would almost certainly cast him in parts of Britain's diverse Muslim community as a government stooge.
"The Islamist blogs are apologists," Mr. Husain said of his Muslim critics. Of the critics on the left, he said: "The left shouldn't be getting into bed with the Islamists. We've got a political correctness gone mad in Britain that says, How dare we white British tell them what to do?' "
Mr. Husain argues that radical Muslim groups prey on the anger and confusion of young British Muslim men of South Asian heritage, who grow up in segregated neighborhoods and peer from the outside into a society that promises equality but does not deliver.
In his case, he said, feverish internal politicking, religious arguments and leafleting on the streets, in the campus library and around pool halls in East London quickly took the place of what had seemed to be a dead-end life as a Muslim who tried to fit into British society. He had left an all-boys high school of mostly Asians where he started out in a tie, blazer and polished shoes feeling an outsider.
In contrast, being part of Hizb ut-Tahrir was an all-consuming business as he aspired to be one of the intellectual leaders of the new dawn of a Muslim caliphate. "I lost my smile," he said.
But when things got out of hand he said that one of his colleagues, Saeed, murdered a Christian Nigerian Mr. Husain called it quits with Hizb ut-Tahrir. "I was spiritually down in the gutter, remote from the Koran and remote from my parents," he said.
IN his continued quest for religious meaning, Mr. Husain joined several other Islamic groups, left those, and finally settled with the Sufi teachings of Hamza Yusuf Hanson, an American convert to Islam, whom he believes teaches an Islam of moderation that is the true Islam.
He married an Indian British Muslim, Faye Begum, and together they traveled to Syria and then to Saudi Arabia to teach English.
It took him six years, he said, to free his head from the doctrine of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Along the way, he deliberately did two things that the group had forbidden. "I had to make non-Muslim friends, because they said don't do that," he said. He now counts several Jews among his circle, he said. The second forbidden act, he said, was that "I joined the Labor Party, because they say don't vote." He has found religious solace, he says, in the teachings of the California-based Mr. Hanson a popular preacher in Britain because his faith allows Islam to face the contemporary world.
"In traditional circles, Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men," Mr. Husain said. "But in a pluralistic world in 2007, where non-Muslim men and Muslim women are marrying, you can't say, You can't do that.' Hanson says Muslim women should be allowed to marry non-Muslim men as long as she can practice her faith."
Mr. Husain, dressed in jacket, pressed shirt and khakis, took a visitor to the campus of the School of Oriental and Asian Studies, where he is studying for a Ph.D. on Sufism. Students sprawled on the grass between exams. One, a longtime friend and onetime colleague in Hizb ut-Tahrir, Majid Nawaz, came over to chat.
Mr. Nawaz, a Briton, spent nearly four years in jail in Egypt on charges of proselytizing for Hizb ut-Tahrir. After his release last year, he returned to Britain, and last month, quietly left the executive committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Soon, says Mr. Husain, his friend will go public with the reasons for his departure, an explanation he hopes that will cause a stir like his own.
As for that very un-Muslim first name, Ed is an abbreviation of Mohamed. "I found most Muslims didn't address me as Mohamed," he said. "Like Christians don't use Jesus too much." In Syria, some people would call him Mo, but he preferred the last syllable of his name: "In new times, with new problems, I feel like Ed."
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company. Photo of Ed Husain by Hazel Thompson for The New York Times. Ed Husain's memoir chronicles his journey into the world of British Islamic radicalism.