Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Ed Husein : A British Neo-Conservative in Sufi Clothing

Taken from Noman Hanif's article, 'Ex-Islamist Inc: Fabricating a Link Between Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Terrorism

Ed Husein dramatically rose to prominence as a result of his book ‘The Islamist’ (Penguin;London, 2007), which charts his journey from radical Islam to Sufi Islam and forms with the backdrop of being an ex-HT member, a blueprint for action against radical Islam. However, the book not only propounds gross factual inaccuracies but as I will demonstrate later, many allegations which lack evidentiary proof. The behaviour and writings of Ed Husein post ‘The Islamist’ are also strongly suggestive that the book was formulated as a blueprint for a more specific onslaught against the core tenets of political Islam including some which command universal support amongst the majority of the Islamic schools of thought. His close relationship with UK Home Office officials and the security agencies raises credible doubt as to the origin of ‘The Islamist’. In his quest against Islamism, Husein claims support by shadowy Sufi figures who lurk in the background and who are unwilling to come forward in person or provide an intellectual reposte to radical Islam and more specifically HT. Who are these figures and why do they need Husein to do their bidding? Are the shadowy figure’s Sufi’s or the Home Office? It is not coincidental that the timing of ‘The Islamist’ coincided with the Home Office’s major push against radicalisation one of which is the backing of Sufism and the set up of the Sufi Muslim Council. This connection is lucidly brought out by Madeleine Bunting in her interview with Ed Hussein when she revealed that his conversion to “secularism” coupled with his Sufi inclination seems to fit quite neatly with this equation.

“There has never been much love lost between Sufism and Islamism - the former criticised as politically quiescent - and one way to read Husain is that Sufi Islam now has a sympathetic hearing in Whitehall and the media, and has the confidence to challenge Islamist domination of the UK Muslim community”(Guardian, 12th May, 2007).
In fact I argue that even Sufism masks Husein’s real political agenda. Ziauddin Sardar in his review of The Islamist is struck by Husein’s atomisation of the Islamist phenomena to HT. The fixation with HT is somewhat understandable considering the history of Husein. However, the obsession to blame it for the environment of terrorism is taking reductionism to its extreme. As Sardar is correct pint out;

“The suggestion that the radicalisation of Muslim youth can be laid firmly on the door of Hizb is also hard to swallow. The anger of young Muslims against the West has a much broader context. There was a great deal going on during the 1990s that agitated young Muslims and brought anti-Western sentiment to the fore - from the first Gulf War to the genocide of Muslims in Chechnya. But Husain sees the world in reductive, one- dimensional terms” (The Independent, 1 June 2007)

On closer inspection however, Husein’s agenda seems more to be borne out of an obsessional hatred for HT, its members and its message, including the core tenets of classical Islam such as the supremacy of sharia, the role of the Caliphate in Islamic governance and jihad as a legal form of resistance and ideological expansion. In pursuing his agenda Husein seems to have adopted the maxim ‘the ends justify the means’ in that even the proclaimed Sufi conversion seems to conceal an underlying real-politik applied though a Darwinian logic in attempting to manufacture a missing link between HT and terrorism. However, even more fundamental than this is the use of HT, radicalism and terrorism to disguise an attack on the very essence of political and classical Islam itself. Husein’s esoteric agenda magnifies the confusion as to his real aim. Hence Sardar points out;

“Hizb ut-Tahir should be banned so that they can take their nefarious activities underground and become even more difficult to tackle. Muslim organisations are secret terrorist sympathisers. Husain doesn't tell us what we should do with them. But I suspect he wants everyone locked up, leaving the terrain open for his brand of neocons to run amok.” (The Independent, 1 June 2007)

Husein’s lack of concern to correct himself even at the advice of his fellow Sufi comrades is the strongest indication of Sufism being a mere cloak. The myriad of distortions and misquotations of the Sufi and other classical texts by Husein has been comprehensively exposed by another Sufi Ust. Andrew Booso in his review of Husein’s book ‘The Islamist’. Booso says,

“Husain’s name-dropping of Hanson and Keller, in particular, seems to be opportunism based on assumptions that are false. Firstly, his definition and rejection of ‘political Islam’ does not hold up to analysis from Nuh Keller’s compendium Reliance of the Traveller, which received a confirmatory certificate from al-Azhar University, whom Husain calls ‘arguably the highest authority on Muslim scripture’. Nuh Keller adds a section entitled ‘The Caliphate [al-khilafah]’ to the original legal manual that he t ranslated (which is called ‘Umdat as-salik).” of-%e2%80%9cth islamist%e2%80%9d-ust-andrew-booso-complete/

Husein provides no articulated response to Booso’s elucidation choosing to ignore the corrections and continue with his set agenda. Husein in The Islamist champions Sufi personalities such as Nuh Keller and Hamza Yusuf as charting the correct path for the Muslim’s. Hence it is important to note Booso’s quotes from Nuh Keller in his appendix to Husein’s quoted book Reliance of the Traveller;

It being ‘obligatory for Muslims to rise against’ a leader of the government if he ‘becomes a non-Muslim, alters the Sacred Law – (…imposing rules that contravene the provisions of the religion while believing in the validity of the rules he has imposed, this being unbelief (kufr)) – or imposes reprehensible innovations while in office’, ‘if possible’, and ‘install an upright leader in his place’(see o25.3(a) for a full explanation).

It being ‘obligatory to obey the commands and interdictions of the caliph…in everything that is lawful…even if he is unjust’ (o25.5).
Offensive jihad (see o9.1), with the objective being to fight ‘Jews, Christians, and Zoroastrians…until they become Muslim or else pay the non-Muslim poll tax’ (o9.8); and ‘the Caliph fights all other peoples until they become Muslim’ (o9.9).

‘Non-Muslim subjects of the Islamic State…are distinguished from Muslims in dress, wearing a wide cloth belt (zunnar)…[and] must keep to the side of the street’ (o11.5).

The Islamic state not retaliating against a Muslim for killing a non-Muslim (o1.2).
Hence, if Husein was ignorant of his own ideational sources then clearly he was made aware of them by Booso. Yet Husein chose to disregard them and maintain the same line of attack in the media.

Moreover, HTB spokesman Taji Mustafa also had to correct Husein regarding his incorrect assertion over the position of the Caliphate in the texts of classical Islam in general.

“he (Husein) argues that key orthodox political ideas such as the caliphate are alien to "traditional" Islam.., one of the scholars who Husain cites as a new found reference point is the respected Sufi Shaykh Nuh Keller. In his translation of the classical jurisprudential work Reliance of the Traveller he states that the caliphate is "obligatory in itself" and an integral part of orthodox Islamic thinking. There are many examples of Muslim scholars and thinkers more famed for their spiritualism who endorse the ideas of Shariah and caliphate as inherently part of Islam. Husain has chosen to ignore the opinions of these Sufis who agree with those he labels Islamists” (The Islamist Bogeyman, Guardian 14th May 2007)

Bearing the above points by Nuh Keller in mind Husein’s article on the commentisfree blog of the UK Guardian outrightly confirms his position of belligerence towards classical Islam. What is more revealing is that Ziauddin Sardar was not wrong in his labelling of Husein as a ‘neocon’ for he categorically adopted the neoconservative line of attack on the Caliphate and Islamic universalism as comparable to Nazism. In the title he uses the German vocabulary describing the goal of One Nation as (Ein Volke), One State as (Ein Reich) and One Caliph as (Ein Fuhrer). Husein writes,

“Sound familiar? Hizb ut-Tahrir's slogans, reiterated by members during the 1990s - and continued today throughout the Middle East - bear a chilling resemblance to that of t he German Nazi party. The similarities don't end there: ideological totalitarianism, expansionist foreign policy, the designation of women to the private realm, the rejection of democracy, concepts of relationship between party and state, notions of the master race, education system as indoctrination and anti-semitism are all features they both share.”
( html)

In fact what does sound familiar is Husein’s adoption of the neo-conservative language and strategy towards the concept of Islamic governance, universalism and the attempted link with terrorism. This is why the logic of neoconservative Zeyno Baran resonates in Husein’s caricature of HT, the insinuation of terrorism and that of the neoconservative elements of the Bush administration as regards the assault on political Islam through vocabulary such as “evil ideology” attached to the goal of a world wide Caliphate. Hussein’s association of Nazism with the notion of Islamic governance and the sharia is well established as part of the armoury of neoconservative thinking towards political Islam. Hussein’s adoption of this line of attack is categorical in his article in the UK Guardian. The following quotations below confirm the adoption:

“We can wait for their state to come about and then confront them as we did the Nazis, at a very late stage and at a high human cost, or we can stop appeasing Hizb-ut-Tahrir and its offshoots and demand: either change, or perish. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye.” (Ed Hussein, Chilling Similarities, Commentisfree, Guardian, 10th July, 2007)

Gen Johm Abizaid;

They will try to re-establish a caliphate throughout the entire Muslim world... Just as we had the opportunity to learn what the Nazis were going to do, from Hitler's word in ' Mein Kampf... we need to learn what these people intend to do from their own words.“ (General John Abizaid (11/05)

Other areas where the attack on classical Islam by Husein are inimical to that found in the neo-conservative literature is related to the disputation of non-Muslims especially jews and christians (Kafir) and the distortion that historical figures such as Ibn Rushd, Ibn Sina and Al-Farabi were incorrectly declared non-Muslim. The neo-conservative aim being to promote these outcast figures as credible sources for Muslims and in doing so demonstrate Islam’s compatability with Greek philosophy and Western civilisation. Husein accuses the founder of HT, Taqiudine an Nabahani of deliberately manipulating classical Islam. However as Andrew Booso in his reposte to Husein clinically points out with examples from the classical Muslim jurists that Nabahani was actually in line with the classical scholars including Sufi’s such as Ghazali in declaring non-Muslims including Christian’s and jews as (Kafir) and Al-Farabi etc as having violated the Islamic doctrine and hence become non-Muslim. Booso states:

“Therefore Mawdudi, Qutb and Nabahani cannot be accused in this specific regard of believing and propagating anything but a standard orthodox belief expounded “and endorsed by jurists throughout time” ( of-%e2%80%9cthe- islamist%e2%80%9d-ust-andrew-booso-complete/)

Booso was also referring to Husein’s attack on Nabahani regarding the Caliphate or Islamic state being an orthodox verified obligation. Booso quotes Nuh Keller in respect of his addition to Reliance of the Traveller regarding the Caliphate;

“This section has been added here by the translater because the Caliphate is both obligatory in itself and the necessary precondition for all the rulings established by Allah Most High to govern and guide Islamic community life.“ (Quotation of Nuh Keller by Andrew Booso of-%e2%80%9cthe- islamist%e2%80%9d-ust-andrew-booso-complete/)
The logical conclusion of Husein’s distortion is that the classical jurists including their Sufi followers such as Nuh Keller would under Husein’s construction be labelled as the idea bearers for Islamist’s and extremists and ultimately terrorism.

“Would Husein now recommend that Tony Blair outlaw Nuh Keller or ban him from England and declare extreme those that follow Nuh Keller such as Hamza Yusuf and T.J Winter as well as labelling Keller as such himself? “
Thus it was no wonder that Booso had no alternative to dismiss Husein’s Sufi fa├žade;

“It is fair to conclude that the last development of Husein’s character ie the ‘spiritual’ one, that we are treated to is an illusion, because he has recast the ’masters’ in his own image so to speak” of-%e2%80%9cthe- islamist%e2%80%9d-ust-andrew-booso-complete/)

What becomes clearer upon closer inspection of Husein’ writings is that he is in fact a British neoconservative disguised as a Sufi. Moreover, he explicitly follows the Christian dictum of “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. Hence his underlying position is what he himself declares it to be in ‘The Islamist’ which is secularism in the Western sense;

“Religions are not for governments or states, they are for individuals. The state can assist individuals religious responsibilities, but governments cannot, should not, profess faith” (Hussain, The Islamist)

What is conclusive in the comparative between Hussein and Nuh Keller above is that his position that Sufism undermines HT is a complete fabrication and one which Hussein must be aware of. Hussein has clearly unveiled his position towards the core tenets of Islamic governance along with his neo-conservative secular adoption by openly disregarding the opinions of his own Sufi masters whom he claims represent the true Islam. Instead Husein has clearly chosen to align himself with the historical position of his Home Office allies articulated initially by Lord Curzon in 1924 when he declared;

"the point at issue is that Turkey has been destroyed and shall never rise again, because we have destroyed her spiritual power: the Caliphate and Islam.”
And former British Home Minister Charles Clarke’s position in 2005,

“…there can be no negotiation about the re-creation of the Caliphate; there can be no negotiation about the imposition of Sharia (Islamic) law...”

For this reason the construction of Hussein’s journey from HT to spiritualism and Sufism seems to be a front and one scripted with a clear political agenda. The fingerprints of the UK Home Office are clearly resonant on Husein and his book. ‘The Islamist ’ is in essence a blueprint for action against political and classical Islam and one for which the British political and media establishment have given a blank cheque in terms of support and exposure. Husein’s appearances on the British media with Home Office officials on a first name basis, the books serialisation in the British press and the huge coverage afforded Husein and his book in the Western televised media confirm this analysis. It was no wonder Ziauddin Sardar considered The Islamist as “having been drafted by a Whitehall mandarin as a PR job for the Blair government” (The Independent, 1 June 2007)

Hussein’s mission statement from the Home Office is quite evident. Firstly, to use and promote Sufism in order to neutralise political Islam, to undermine the key tenets of classical Islam and finally, to form a link even fabricate one between non-violent political Islam and terrorism. In executing the mission Husein is afforded prime access to the government and media machinery. The texts of Sufism are to be used if effective, otherwise they are to be abandoned for any argumentation deemed necessary to achieve the mission.

The modus operandi through which Hussein is prepared to execute his mission will be demonstrated later but can be gauged by the example of when in Syria, he alerted the authorities to the activities of HT members from Britain who had enrolled on Arabic courses. In an interview on his website ( he tried to argue that the HT members were there to foment sedition and therefore it was his duty to alert the authorities. Again in direct contravention of Nuh Kellers point 1 above, he argued that;

“vast majority of the ‘ulama do not regard the governments in Muslim lands to be kufr(non Islamic)…Syria is a land filled with Muslim scholars, many of whom are closely aligned with the government. I love the people of Syria and consider the country to be my second home — if I see trouble and dissension being sown, it is my religious duty to prevent it.” (

This is indeed a strange justification considering that the Syrian regime is from the Alawi sect which is considered outside the fold of Islam by the majority of Sunni Muslims. Moreover, the Syrian regime is a dictatorship with a history of brutality against its citizens, especially the Sunni majority. It was Bashar al Asad’s father Hafez al Asad who was responsible for the use of chemical agents against men, women and children in wiping out the village of Hama for Islamic dissent. Hence, the likelihood of the HT members being tortured was extremely high. Being an ex-HT man, surely he must have been familiar with the conduct of the Syrian regime in torturing the movements members.

Husein’s logic however is not erratic. It seems carefully constructed to legitimise the sensitive issue of Muslim’s affiliating themselves with Western and pro-Western regimes against Islamists (those that seek Islam in state and society). The proof of this deliberation rests firstly on his complete silence on what even a sizeable portion of non-Muslim’s have described as Western state terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine etc. Suspiciously, Husein raises no concerns over well documented terrorism charges against and Western complicity in fostering jihadism for policy goals, not only in Afghanistan and Bosnia but on British soil itself. Secondly, his argument on his website, based on an incorrect analogy between the situation of the Muslim’s under the governorship of Hajjaj bin Yusuf (661-714 AD) in Iraq. He advises the Muslim’s to be patient, endure the suffering and not work against the governments in the Islamic world as had been the case under Hajjaj bin Yusuf. Husein states;

“Just as the Ahl al-Sunnah persevered through the tyranny of Hajjaj bin Yusuf, we should counsel Muslim rulers, exercise sabr, be abundant in dua, and work for political change with and not against the hukkam. In this pursuit, we should seek guidance from that centuries-old repository of cumulative knowledge: the traditional Muslim ulama“ (

This analogy does not hold water from two perspectives. Firstly because Hajjaj bin Yusuf was not the Caliph or the head of an Islamic state and secondly the current rulers in the Islamic world do not fall under the rule for Caliph’s, for which the rules for co-operation and revolt are considered different and well defined in Islamic law and pointed out quite categorically by Nuh Keller above. Moreover, in the case of Syria, the regime is not even considered as Muslim by the majority of the Sunni world.

It is unlikely that this is an oversight. Rather it seems part of Husein’s deliberate agenda to confuse, undermine and derail the course of political Islam. As I will demonstrate later, Husein’s wider distortions feed into a specific application in relation to fabricating a link between non-violent political Islam and terrorism. The picture of Husein which emerges is of an opportunistic actor searching for a role. Coincidentally, the Home Office had a script on HT and terrorism that needed an actor. Sufism was the make-up, the title was ‘The Islamist’.


Julian Dobson said...

Interesting piece, but the blogger doth protest too much, methinks. I think if you're going to make the case that Ed Husain is basically a Home Office stooge you need to show evidence rather than simply reading an agenda into the text. As someone who lived in Newham during the events Husain describes, saw the virulently anti-Semitic propaganda that was flyposted around the borough, and was aware of the murder at Newham College, I'm inclined to think Husain didn't need any help from the Home Office in drawing his conclusions.

Julian Dobson

Tarik said...

Sufi Muslim Councils links with the British and American govts are well known.

Ahmed said...

Author neglects a basic paradox of the idea 'non-violent' political Islam. Politics by nature denotes power. How can political Islam, in advocating the rise of an Islamic state, and yet eschewing the process of democracy, ever be non-violent in its intention?

Discovery Journeys India said...

Now it seems I'm addicted to your blog posts :)


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