The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 September, 2007, 12:00am

The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left

by Ed Hussain

Penguin, HK$148

London's East End was an infamous ghetto, a Dickensian abyss that attracted writers, and criminals, through the ages.

Jack the Ripper once roamed there. Stalin and Trotsky shared rope beds in the notorious 'doss house', Tower House, behind the huge East London Mosque in Whitechapel. And the Kray twins launched their killing sprees against their gangster rivals from their mother's Bethnal Green house during the 1960s.

The East End has also long been associated with immigrants, and their foreign religions. For many years, it was home to Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and eastern Europe. Before that, Irish from the famine, Huguenot refugees from France, and countless seafarers. This story of change and the immigrant's tale is even written through the buildings: mosques that were once synagogues, and synagogues that were once churches.

But now, with new wealth pouring in, the expansion of the city and massive regeneration from the nearby 2012 London Olympics site, the East End seems a far cry from its notorious roots.

Yet away from the tourists on their Ripper tours and city workers relaxing in bohemian bars, this is still an abyss. Where once anarchists and revolutionaries strode, now a new breed of angry young men, preaching hellfire and damnation, are setting alight a new fire of radicalism.

Ed Hussain - real name Mohammed Mahbub Hussain - grew up in a traditional Bangladeshi family not far from Brick Lane. Quiet and well-spoken, Hussain has published a warning and wake-up call for government and religious leaders in his book, The Islamist, the tale of his descent into Islamic extremism on East End streets. After recent bombing attempts in Glasgow, London and the July 7, 2005, attacks, which killed 52, he has stirred up a hornet's nest.

Former comrades have accused him of selling out and falsifying, but many writers and commentators have sided with him.

Muhammad Abdul Bari, chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain and leader of the East London Mosque, has said: 'In Islam we are asked to live peacefully with our neighbours. We're all people of the Book.'

Yet the story Hussain tells, starting with his own parents and their deep spiritual faith, is one of alienation: young men rejecting their parents' secularism, or Sufi-inspired Asian Islam. Instead, they look for jihad and brotherhood as they reject the west around them.

At first, he describes travelling around Britain with his grandfather, a sort of pir or holy man, revered in many Bangladeshi communities. Then, duirng his teenage years, Hussain was recruited into the Young Muslim Organisation (YMO), an Islamist group that wanted to control the mosques and young Muslims in the East End. Although not violent itself, it became a recruiting ground for young men thirsty for change and turning away from the wider society.

Joining the bands of men and 'ninjas' (black-clad young Muslim women) campaigning for jihad in Bosnia and Palestine, Hussain was sucked from the YMO into the clutches of the more radical Hizb


'The Hizb', as it's nicknamed, has come close to being banned by the British government several times. It calls for the establishment of an Islamic khalifya - caliphate - in the Middle East.

Writing in a simple yet engaging style, Hussain chronicles his descent into firebrand, how his groups penetrate other Islamic organisations to subvert and divert school, university and college resources to their needs. Even when his family plead with him to change his ways, he hardens. It's only witnessing a death on his campus, the slaying of a Christian student by a fellow Hizb extremist, that sets Hussain on the slow, arduous road to mainstream and liberal faith.

The Islamist should be required reading for teachers, educationalists and faith workers - anyone curious to learn why the beacon of extremists is so attractive.