Meet the British Muslim who wants to lead an Islamic reformation

When Adam Deen agreed to join the Quilliam Foundation in November 2015 it caused a stir among politically engaged British Muslims. By becoming Quilliam’s head of outreach, Deen is now a key member of staff at the world’s first self-styled counter-extremism think tank. And in the same vein as Quilliam’s founder Maajid Nawaz, Deen’s personal journey as a Muslim is seen as one of extremist activist turned counter-extremist campaigner.

Deen joined al-Muhajiroun while studying at Westminster University in 1995 and would stand on street corners denouncing non-Muslims to hell and accusing fellow Muslims of being sell-outs. He supported the group’s call to establish a global Islamic state but he left al-Muhajiroun in 2003 – two years before the group was banned for links to violence – after a former member encouraged him to seek out a different understanding of Islam.

Nearly a decade later in 2012, he established the Deen Institute, a Muslim debating forum named after the Arabic word for religion, which aimed to promote critical thinking among British Muslims that would reflect his own journey away from extremism.

In joining Quilliam Deen has moved on to work at an organisation which has sought to place itself at the forefront of the debate around Islamic extremism since its founding in 2008, during which time it has often courted criticism for its perceived closeness to British government counter-terrorism policy.

Deen, who is from London and has Turkish parents, joined Quilliam after months of negotiations with its leadership, and despite holding reservations about the organisation’s past actions, he concluded that it has an “honourable premise” which is to challenge ideas he believes have hijacked Islam.

Nearly six months on from joining Quilliam, Deen sat down with Middle East Eye at a coffee shop in Russell Square, to discuss his opinions on problems impacting British Muslims and to outline his vision for a reformed understanding of Islam. Throughout the 90 minute discussion Deen passionately warned of grave problems facing British Muslims, most of which are rooted in what he views as a puritanical understanding of Islam. He believes the religion has become “divorced from ethics” and while he is proud of being a Muslim he feels disconnected from his community.

“Confucius said he loves humanity but hates people. If I could borrow from his sentiments I love Islam, but I have a big problem with Muslims,” he said. “Most Muslims are good people, most Muslims are helping their neighbour. I’m talking about those voices – the self-proclaimed vanguards of our faith – as being the ones with a problem.”

Deen’s strident belief that ideology is the root cause of extremism led him back to an argument about what he views as a problem within Islamic theology and its relationship with ethics.

“There’s a major crisis in our theology that supports the view that our ethics are only derived from the Quran and Hadith. That’s a major problem because what that means is Muslims in society operate outside of the ethical sphere.”

Ramadan 2015 Debate: How long should Muslims fast?

As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan approaches, and British Muslims prepare for four weeks of fasting during day

Muslims at the East London Mosque break their fast after a long day of no food or water.
Muslims at the East London Mosque break their fast after a long day of no food or water.

light hours, a perennial debate on changing the Ramadan observance times in northern regions has sprung up again.

Dr Usama Haswan, an Islamic researcher from anti-extremism group Quilliam, has said that it would make more sense for Muslims in the UK to follow Mecca timings, as daylight lasts much longer this far north than it does in the Middle East

Dr Hasan said that Islamic law is about balance, and reducing the fasting hours to something more reasonable is more sensible. However, things get worse the further north you go. In Aberdeen, more than 500 miles north of London, daylight will last for around 18 hours during Ramadan. But even with a lengthy fast for British Muslims, the vast majority are adamant that they will observe it, no matter how difficult it is.

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, claims jihadists are ‘sexually frustrated losers’

Mayor of London Boris Johnson says that jihadis are "sexually frustrated losers."
Mayor of London Boris Johnson says that jihadists are “sexually frustrated losers.”

London’s mayor had some choice words Friday for Muslims who turn to radicalism, calling them sexually frustrated losers who turn to terrorism out of a deep-seated lack of self-confidence. Johnson further contended that turning to radical Islam was a form of compensation for men with deflated egos and a lack of purpose: “They are just young men in desperate need of self-esteem who do not have a particular mission in life, who feel that they are losers and this thing makes them feel strong — like winners.”

The 50-year-old politician, who reportedly has his eyes on the premiership, went on to criticize elements of the Islamic community for not doing enough to convince young men to turn away from extremism: “I often hear voices from the Muslim intelligentsia who are very quick to accuse people of Islamophobia… But they are not explaining how it can be that this one religion seems to be leading people astray in so many cases.”

“Somebody in a position of responsibility should be making responsible comments,” Mohammed Khaliel, director of the community cohesion organisation Islamix, told the Guardian on Friday. “For somebody allegedly aspiring to be prime minister of the country, is this really the style and level of comments that he should be making?

Charlie Winter from the Quilliam Foundation, an organization set up by ex-Islamists to challenge and counter extremism, called the mayor’s analysis “ludicrous,” stating that many defy the caricature painted by Johnson.

Former Islamist Maajid Nawaz to fight marginal parliamentary seat for Lib Dems in 2015 election

A former activist in the radical Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir has been chosen to fight a marginal parliamentary seat for the Liberal Democrats. Maajid Nawaz renounced his past and called for a “secular Islam” six years ago, helping to set up the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think-tank. He was selected to contest the north London constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn, a three-way marginal currently held by Labour’s Glenda Jackson with a majority of just 42. Mr Nawaz, who is 35, said: I am looking forward to running for public office. Quilliam will remain a priority for me because its values shape my beliefs and outlook.”

Muslims Students angry over the closure of the prayer room at City University

22 February 2013

City University has recently announced its decision to shut down the Muslim prayer room at the campus. The decision followed a statement from the university saying it needed to be sure of the “appropriateness” of what was being discussed in sermons as authorized university events. It said it also needed to be assured that all “students eligible to deliver” prayers and sermons “are considered equally and given the opportunity to do so”.

 

“The university could not continue to condone an activity taking place on its premises where it cannot exercise reasonable supervision,” the statement added.

Suspicions surrounding the content of the sermons followed a report released three years ago by Quilliam Foundation. The report claimed that hard line views and a confrontational atmosphere were being encouraged.

 

However, Muslim students argued the report was baseless and there was no evidence that hard line views were being spread. In order to campaign against the decision, Muslim students formed a group called Muslim Voices on Campus, calling on the university to reverse its decision.

 

“All of our sermons are open, we welcome all students and all staff… But when you start submitting your sermons to be monitored and scrutinized then there’s a chance for it to be dictated what’s allowed and what’s not allowed.”

 

There are 400,000 Muslim students in British schools, according to the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). There are nearly 90,000 Muslim students studying in higher education institutions in European countries.

Former Hizb ut-Tahrir member urges engagement with ‘Muslim grievances’ in Ireland

Maajid Nawaz, former member of Hizb ut-Tahrir and executive director of the Quilliam Foundation, urges a more pro-active stance of the state in integrating Muslims in the Republic of Ireland. Speaking at the World Summit Against Extremism in Dublin, he emphasises the question of identity as crucial to the integration of Muslims. The state and the public need to engage in a debate on national identity in order to avoid the mistakes of other European countries where there are often tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims and a lacking sense of belonging felt among Muslims to a particular society. Therefore, Irish society needs to engage with the grievances of Muslim, ‘real or perceived’. Of particular importance, according to Nawaz, is the promotion of ‘counter-narratives’ against extremism and radicalism by charismatic Muslim leaders who stir young Muslims away from violence.

VIDEO: Discussion between Islam4UK spokesman Anjem Choudary and Maajid Nawaz from counter-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation

Islam4UK spokesman Anjem Choudary and Maajid Nawaz, from the counter-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation, join Newsnight’s Jeremy Paxman to debate the implications of a government ban on the radical Islamist group Islam4UK.

British Islam on anti-extremism tour in Pakistan [3:13]

Maajid Nawaz, a British citizen and former member of the Islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, is now being funded by the British government to promote ideas on Islam. During his membership to Hisb ut-Tahrir, he was imprisoned in Egypt for belonging to a banned political party. After Nawaz resigned from Islamism he became active in the Muslim anti-extremism think tank The Quilliam Foundation, of which he is the director today. After publicly renouncing the cause he served all his adult life, he is now in Pakistan sharing the idea that moderation and democracy go hand-in-hand with Islam.

Ex-extremists call for ‘Western Islam’

BBC News Discussing hardline Islamist ideologies and violent extremism isn’t exactly the stuff of fashionable London parties. But the British Museum is on Tuesday the surprising venue for theologians, thinkers and socialite Jemima Khan, all coming together to support the launch of a new think tank to counter Al Qaeda’s world-view. And this seemingly bizarre gathering exposes the question at the heart of the whirlwind romance between the Quilliam Foundation and policymakers. Is the launch of this campaigning organisation a step forward in the battle of ideas – or just another group with some kind of official pat on the head – but no credibility on the street? Since the London bombings of July 2005 a whole string of Muslim organisations have come forward, claiming to have the answers to violent extremism. Dominic Casciani reports.

Ex-radicals challenge UK Muslims to shun Islamism

Former Islamist radicals in Britain launched a “counter-extremism think-tank” on Tuesday, saying they wanted to reclaim Islam from the violent ideology of al Qaeda. The Quilliam Foundation, named after a 19th century English convert to Islam who established Britain’s first mosque, says it aims to expose Islamism as a false ideology and help Muslims develop a tolerant modern brand of Western Islam. Its director Maajid Nawaz is a former international recruiter for Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir who spent four years in an Egyptian prison for membership of that organisation. “We need to criticise the Islamist ideology and demonstrate how it’s inconsistent with traditional pluralistic and tolerant Islam,” he told Reuters. “For the first time we have former Islamists, who trained people in the Islamist ideology, who are at the forefront of this movement to say: ‘We can critique this ideology, we understand it and can refute it.'” Ed Husain, Quilliam co-director and a former student radical Islamist, said people tempted by militant ideology could be pulled back from the brink by family and peer pressure and by exposure to new ideas. Mark Trevelyan reports.