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Non Fiction, Reflection

The Islamist by Ed Husain

My religion is love’s religion: Where’er turn her camels, that religion my religion is, my faith. – Ibn Arabi, 13th century Muslim Theologian

During the course of our lives we all change our views and directions; some of us do so more radically than others. For me, the alteration of my worldview is a troubling tale. The person I now am finds it difficult to recognise the person I once was. Yet, with time and experience, I evolved. As John Maynard Keynes famously quipped, ‘When the facts change, I change my mind.’

At times we are victims of our own milieu. Pope Benedict XVI, found himself a member of the Hitler Youth. St Paul, a Pharisaic persecutor of Christians, became a believer in Christ and spread the faith into Rome and beyond. Tony Blair, once an ardent activist for Nuclear Disarmament, ended up with his finger on Britain’s trigger. – Preface

At the age of 16, Mohammed (Ed) Husain became an Islamic Fundamentalist. Far from being a follower, Ed is instrumental in leading troupes of “Soldiers of Islam” into his radical brand of thinking. 5 years later, after much emotional turmoil, he rejected fundamentalist teachings and returned to normal life. As the Koran commands Muslim to ‘speak the truth, even if it be against your own selves’, he explain the appeal of extremist thought, how fanatics penetrate Muslim communities and the truth behind their agenda of subverting the West and moderate Islam.

Ed Husain was an ordinary British Muslim with a loving and supportive family who started life a poster-boy for integration as a colour and faith-blind student at a multi-ethnic primary school. Without personal tragedy or disaster, without any poor experiences at the hands of the authority, this happy schoolboy found himself recruiting “soldiers of Islam” to destroy his country, and toppled on the brink of taking that route himself. So complete was his indoctrination that even years after his epiphany he found himself experiencing a uniquely Islamic doublethink when it came to the traditions and institutions of his country. Ed Husain wasn’t an angry youth or grew up in a binge drinking family. He was just an ordinary youth and joined the “wrong” company.

Wahhabis, Tablighi, Jamat-e-Islami, Dawatul Islam, Hizb ut-Tahrir,  Youth Movement organisation (YMO), Islamic Society of Britain (ISB), Arab Muslim Brotherhood, Muslim Association Board (MAB) are just some of the plethora of Islamic movements and Muslim Organisations in the UK. Husain painstakingly explains the origins of the organisation, and what ideology and belief system they adopted. The line between spiritual and political teaching became vague (not because of Husain’s introduction but by nature of such organisations), and in my opinion is the cause of the misunderstanding of non-muslims around the world to muddle the belief system of the extremism with those of Islam religious teaching.

The Islamist teaching a shallow, anger-drived, aggression-fuelled form of political belief, based on exploiting Islam’s adherents but remote from Islam’s teachings.

I like the way the book progress as Husain and his wife, Faye, spent their lives overseas and looking at their world and their religion in two comparative nations, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

My time in Damascus changed my perception of the Christian faith forever. Arab Christians of all denominations freely and with no qualms used the word Allah for God. Everywhere in Damascus, Muslims and Christians used phrases that I thought only Muslims used: Inshallah (God willing), Mashallah( as God willed it), Alhamdulillah (praise be to God). There was no sense of religious zealotry or grandstanding in the name of God. Even Britain’s Rudyard Kipling expressed ‘thanks to Allah, who gave me two, separate sides to my head’. Muslims did not have a copy right on the term.

And as both of them lived in Saudi Arabia, they have seen corruptions, racism, religious extremism of the most highest order. Racism and intolerance is an integral part of life in Saudi Arabia.

The problem we call ‘al-Qaeda’ is a bastard child of modernist Islamism and reactionary Wahhabism.

I recalled a passage in the book that describes the divide between two personalities of the British Muslim that makes it difficult to integrate into the Western country that they are born to.

When I was in Middle East, I often missed many aspects of life in Britain and yearned to be home. Now I’m in Britain, I miss the warmth of Arabs, the joys of ubiquitous Arabic and the landscape of ancient cities. Just as my Britishness had come to the fore while living the Muslim world, Muslimness now seeks expression. I feel as though I belong to both the East and the West, and sometimes find it difficult to reconcile the two sides of my personality. Than I remind myself that, before I am anything, I am human and in this I am at one with the world.

I am a follower of the second largest religion in the UK, and the behaviour of my co-religionists is of great significance to both me and my country.

I grew up in a Muslim country, experienced a certain degree of extremism and spent many years looking at the Muslim faith with coloured eyes. I spent a long time pondering over the significance of what I read in this book and the questions that are raised seems to be of my own. There is pressure to get this review right because I am afraid to write a review that wouldn’t do this book justice.

But I hope that you will read and leave this book with a new respect for the type of Islam that Husain eventually came to and a respect for the picture of The Prophet that he paints. Stripped of the political maneuverings he shows Islam as compassionate and caring faith and one that has so much good in it that make the recent behaviours done in it’s name all the more distasteful.

Husain was bright enough to see the cracks in Islamism – the lack of genuine Koranic scholarship, the transmutation of religion into politics, the racism at the heart of Saudi Arabia, and the exploitation of ignorance and disillusionment among young men. It is clear from his experience that most are not so well equipped. It is in the hope his book will provide reader with the discernment that they need to see the difference.

Ed Husain is probably the most religiously sincere man I have ever come across, and his current faith reminded me that there is a dire need to remove our blinkers and see the Muslim faith in a new eyes, and differentiate between which are spiritual and religious thinking and which are political indoctrination and which are culture and tradition imposition, and the difference between Islam and Islamism.

Rating: 5/5

For those that categorise ALL Muslims as Islamists this book will show you the difference between faith and politics. This is for me a required reading for those who need to understand the difference between the Muslim faith and the atrocious acts that are committed by the group of extremists around the world who called themselves “Muslim”.

Two weeks before we left Syria, Faye and I decide to shed our spectacles. We underwent laser surgery on our eyes and saw the world anew. Syria had both corrected my vision and removed the Islamist blinkers forever.

I hope by picking up this book and reading it, your blinkers will be removed forever .

Beware of extremism in religion; for it was extremism in religion that destroyed those who went before you. – The Prophet Mohammed (570 – 632)

I am reading this for the World Religion Challenge.

Paperback. Publisher: Penguin Books 2007; Length: 288 pages; Setting: Contemporary Britain, Syria, Saudi Arabia. Source: Library Loot. Finished reading at: 27 March 2010

About the Writer:

Ed Husain received wide and various acclaim for The Islamist, which was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for politcal writing and hte PEN/Ackerle Prize for literary autobiography, amongst others. HE is a co-founder of the Quillium Foundation, BRitain’s first Muslim counter-extermism think tank. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.

About JoV

A bookaholic that went out of control.... I eat, sleep and breathe books. Well, lately I do other stuff.


4 thoughts on “The Islamist by Ed Husain

  1. This sounds good but I am intrigued that you grew up in a Muslim country. Please write a post and tell us about it!

    Posted by rhapsodyinbooks | April 5, 2010, 1:42 pm
  2. Sounds like a real-life version of White Teeth by Zadie Smith. Great for the World Religion Challenge!

    Posted by J.T. Oldfield | April 9, 2010, 11:07 pm
    • Thanks for dropping by JT.

      I haven’t had the chance to read Zadie Smith’s. Will do one day!
      I think this should be the World Religion Challenge required text for Islam. What do you think? 🙂

      Posted by JoV | April 9, 2010, 11:24 pm


  1. Pingback: Library Loot: April 7-13, 2010 « Bibliojunkie - April 7, 2010

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Ratings Defined

0 = Abandon the book after first chapter

1 = Waste of paper, we will see what the environmentalist say about this!

2 = Skip it, read the book if you have got nothing better to do

2.5 = An average book, easily forgettable.

3 = A good read.

3.5 = A good entertaining read, a page-turner

4 = So glad that I read the book, a book with substance and invaluable for future reference

4.5 = So glad that I read the book, would pester everyone to read it, invaluable, I would want to own it and wouldn't mind a second read (something that I seldom do)

5 = The book is so good that I feel like I am on scale 4 and 4.5, and more, it blew me away and lingers on my head for weeks!

Books Read

JoV's bookshelf: read
Hold Tight
The Fault in Our Stars
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Thief
Catching Fire
A Tale for the Time Being
Into the Darkest Corner
The Liars' Gospel
Goat Mountain
Strange Weather In Tokyo
Strange Shores
And the Mountains Echoed
Ten White Geese
One Step Too Far
The Innocents
The General: The ordinary man who became one of the bravest prisoners in Guantanamo
White Dog Fell from the Sky
A Virtual Love
The Fall of the Stone City

JoV's favorite books »
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Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking. - Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

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