Saturday, November 3

City Circle: In and Out of Islamism with Maajid Nawaz Click for more info

Security was the order of the day for today's talk with Maajid Nawaz, yet another ex-Hizb ut-Tahrir member currently doing the rounds: will there be any left I wonder? Being ex-Hizb is clearly this year's emancipated Asian woman.

But despite my obvious cynicism, today's talk was one of the better City Circles that I've been to. Maajid Nawas certainly articulate (perhaps due to his HT training? Okay, okay, that's the last one, promise) and a joy to listen to.

He started by talking about how he originally got involved with the party - it was the usual stuff of an eager youth, brutalised by the racism of the day, searching for an identity that wasn't the British or Pakistani ones that had already rejected him. His deliberate first person argument for joining HT was pretty compelling, but then any of you who've ever been approached by a member would have known this already. For those who haven't, the colonial West, with their manipulation of history and puppet leaders were all Very Bad Things and it was the religious duty of all Muslims to oppose them.

A four year prison sentence in Egypt had changed Maajid. He had the opportunity to contemplate and critically think about his beliefs, and came to the conclusion that, no, what the HT were promoting was not what he was into - what exactly caused this change of heart was not made clear (as far as I could tell, prison just gave him some alone time).

Moving on from his personal experiences, Maajid then went on to talk about what he did believe. The main crux of his argument was the rejection of the idea that sovereignty (of the political kind) belongs only to God. Effectively this meant that Islam was a religion just like Christianity and the like and not an ideology at all, and so where personal practise should be derived from scripture, wider political decisions should not.

Pretty controversial stuff, eh? Well maybe, but only because it was coming from an ex-HT member. This was pretty much the common secularist's view; that the religion and the state should be strictly separate and in that sense was nothing particularly new. Still, the discourse was still handy and a few interesting details did come up.

He compared an Islamic state to that of an Islamic car, or hospital - a nonsensical entity that wasn't really of any practical use. Personally, I think that a state is more abstract than a car or hospital, but even so it's easy to create an Islamically valid entity, so I wasn't quite sure where he was going with this analogy.

He also claimed that leaving HT hadn't changed some of his ideas about justice or truth, but acknowledged that they may now have been based on different foundations. He also criticised the use of minority politics and that politics should be about the single right answers for all of us, and not about giving each group their own solutions. It's a sentiment I agree with and have written about in the past.

The Q&A afterwards was one of the best I've witnessed at a CC, although that possibly might not be saying much. The biggest surprise was how consistent the audience was in their questioning; there were clearly some pretty major flaws in what Maajid was saying tonight and a number of us had picked up on it. The cracks were beginning to show I think.

Although I didn't ask them personally all of my questions were covered, if not adequately answered:

  • What makes something personal or political? The state decides. How? Arbitrarily.
  • What happens if the state restricts Islamic practise as a consequence of reason and logic? There is a difference between "state legality" and whether something is Halal or not, so the two things exist on different planes and so shouldn't affect one another.
  • Is it possible for an Islamist regime to establish a "secular friendly" society, and if so what's wrong with that? This is a question of semantics, and Maajid wouldn't describe such a regime as Islamist.
The Q&A was also interesting in that it sometimes appeared to be a bit of a love-in of ex-HT members, all relating to (if not agreeing with) Maajid (and I guess it wasn't surprising that Ed Husain was in the audience). For some, the reformation they went though gave them each an insight into the matters at hand. Although not a relevant observation, it had amused me anyway.

In conclusion, today's speaker seemed to be promoting nothing more than plain ol' secularism and so nothing particularly new. His background in HT added a slight twist, but only in that at times he seemed to use the same language, style and - dare I say it - extreme view as he might have when he was still a member; it had just been applied to secularism, possibly as a way to compensate for previous sins.

In fact, I actually agreed with a lot of the common sense that he dictated (regarding tolerance of opinion and interpretation for example), but some of his deeper arguments regarding secularism were just way too inconsistent for me to swallow whole. And to make the connection one last time, this is precisely the reaction I had towards those promoting the ideas of the Hizb ut-Tahrir too.


  1. Anonymous00:04

    By the grace of Allah (SWT) Hizb ut Tahrir continues its work for the re-establishment of the Islamic State, which will have one elected khaleef and a consultative assembley which will adopt laws based upon Islamic jurisprudence and interpretation. There is no doubt that there are other structures of governance with Islamic justifications, but just like a company adopts a policy to pursue and ensures all its staff adopt that policy to move forward, Hizb ut tahrir adopts on a structure of governance based upon an Islamic evidence and all its members execute this policy in the Muslim world - to move forward.

    In this country, the hizb is involved in many community initiatives, from helping the youth leave drugs, providing for widows and divorced wives to campaigning against control orders and what most liberterians view as unjust terror laws, helping mosques tackle the pressure of media scrutiny and building Islamic schools... It does not have to propagate these points.. it never has, because people join it due to the actions it takes which benefit local communities.. Most of the time it does not even mention its name in case people become afraid due to the current campaing to discredit its name.
    The hizb is a servant of the ummah, just like a mosque committe is a servant of a mosque... It believes with sincere imam the concept of brotherhood, so in or out of the hizb, British, Pakistani or whatever we are what Allah (SWT) described all people who say La illah ha illah - Muslim - For indeed we in our individual and societal lives have submitted to Allah (SWT), the lord of the all that exists, the only law maker, no doubt soveriegnty in all respects belongs to Allah (SWT). So when a new law is made, the sources of law must be "Islamically acceptable". 10 people voting for and against a law using principles of freedom and secularism as articulated by the renaisance philosophers are not in compliance with the Islamic view of "originating new law".

    So put simply, due to the nature of the hizb's task, it is expected that people will work to subvert it's noble aim of attempting to bring political unity to Muslims by establishing a leader with concepts that reject nationalism and nation state theory, but calls for Islamic Political unity from the ground up.

  2. Anonymous00:07

    "An four year prison sentence in Egypt had changed Maajid.
    He had the opportunity to contemplate and critically think about his beliefs,
    and came to the conclusion that, no, what the HT were promoting was not what he
    was into - what exactly caused this change of heart was not made clear
    (as far as I could tell, prison just gave him some alone time)."

    Maajid very cunningly skirted over this point which brings into question the sincerity of conviction
    to his new found ideas.
    He states that he had time to think about Islam in prison and thus came to different conclusions.
    If Majid was indeed conviced of such ideas and was indeed sincere to those ideas as he makes
    himself out to be, he would have renounced his association with the Hizb at that time,
    as opposed to joining the National Executive and going on bbc hardtalk (both actions done on record after prison),
    arguing the case for the Khilafah infront of millions - a notion that he now claims is not within Islam as "enlightened"
    by "sheiu'kh" in prison.
    One cannot be sincere to contradictory concepts.
    So the question begs: What on earth is his real motive?
    He waited to get into the National Executive of the Hizb and then in a blaze of glory
    (not sure under whose orders) declared his new found ideas which had "obvious"
    contradictions with those ideas he held for most of his life!
    There is definitely something sinister at play here.