Mohammed ‘Ed’ Husain was raised in England by Pakistani parents who demonstrated a sincere if quiet faith in Islam. As a boy, Ed had the rare opportunity to study with Sheikh Abd al-Latif, a master of several Muslim mystical traditions and a spiritual leader who taught Ed “a certain way of being gentle and God-revering.”
Despite this early training by an Islamic scholar with a depth of understanding few could hope to achieve, teenage Ed found himself drawn to a radical, politically motivated organization that based its philosophy on the works of Abul A'ala Maududi, founder of Jamat-e-Islami and an aggressive proponent of an Islamic state. Essentially a political movement rather than a spiritual doctrine, Jamat-e-Islami and Maududi have nevertheless found tremendous support among Muslims.
Recruited by a classmate, Ed becomes a member of the innocuously named Young Muslim Organization (YMO), expecting to be part of a grand effort to spread the teachings of the Prophet and improve conditions for Muslims worldwide. Like all cults, the YMO employs methods that, while obvious to outsiders, appear reasonable and desirable to the vulnerable who are drawn into their ranks. While there is much talk about the heart of Islam, in practice the YMO is a public relations machine fueled by young people with little training in or understanding of Islam, the Koran, or the Sharia.
The sole focus is on gaining worldly power even if that requires violence against other Muslims. This difference is not immediately evident to Ed; no doubt the opportunity to be part of a group, to rise through the ranks, and to hold a certain amount of power was a greater lure for all of them, including Ed, than any expectation of spiritual development. Looking back, Ed Husain realizes that by joining the YMO, he had indeed changed, if not in the way he might have wanted. “Now I was not a mere Muslim like all the others I knew; I was better, superior.”
For five years Ed Husain was an active member of such organizations as the YMO and the more aggressive Jamat-e-Islami. “We continued to disrupt meetings of other Muslim groups, to plaster the walls of inner-city London with our posters,” he recalls. [We would] “come home in the early hours of the morning, and go to bed without saying our prayers. We were too tired to pray; establishing the Islamic state was more important than minor matters such as praying, reciting the Koran, giving to charity, or being kind to our parents and fellow Muslims.”
While the rhetoric spouted by these young anarchists bears a striking resemblance to countless other political machines, Ed Husain looks back on this portion of his life with horror and shame. He recognizes that “[a]s an Islamist I had dismissed the expertise of scholars on Muslim affairs and taken my religion from amateurs.” This understanding of his behavior and the consequences is worthwhile, but he is certainly too hard on his own youthful self, and it’s likely that any honest reader will recall his or her own rebellious phase filled with naïve and perhaps ludicrous doctrines.
Indeed, the behavior of Ed Husain and his buddies is foolish enough to merit contemptuous laughter until one of the ‘superior’ Islamists commits an unthinkable act. For Ed, this is the finger-snap that awakens him from his trance. Now far removed from his experiment in fundamentalist religion, Ed Husain is co-founder of the Quillium Foundation, a British-based counter-extremism organization. His loathing for violence is evident in the painfully honest record of his own divergence from the path of the Prophet:
“I had advocated the ideas of Muslim domination, confrontation, and jihad, never for one moment thinking that their catastrophic consequences would arrive on my own doorstep.”
The Islamist is a compelling story for the insight it provides into the methods and mindset of cults and extremist groups of all kinds. In addition, non-Muslims will certainly find the dizzying array of sects within Islam eye-opening as well as disconcerting. This is a valuable resource for anyone who seeks a better understanding of true Islam and the dynamics at play in the Muslim world today.