I first saw Majid Nawaz on the Intelligence Squared show. He was debating on the topic, ‘Is Islam a Religion of Peace?’ His story and his wonderful points during the debate compelled me to read more about him. Quite frankly, I was inspired by him. So who is Majid Nawaz?
Born to a British Pakistani family, Majid Usman Nawaz was born 2nd November 1978. He is a British activist, columnist, author and politician. Nawaz studied Law and Arabic at the SOAS, University of London and earned a master’s degree in Political Theory from London School of Economics. At 21, he married Rabia Ahmed, then a fellow Hizb-ut-Tahrir and biology student. They are divorced with a son. Nawaz remarried in 2014 to Rachel Maggart, an artist and writer.
He was a former member of the radical Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir which led to his arrest in Egypt in December 2001. During his trial, he was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment and was adopted by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience. During his time in prison, Nawaz interacted with different groups of Muslims; Jihadists (Dr. Essam el-Erian, spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood), Islamists, Islamic Scholars (graduates of Cairo’s Al Azhar University and Dar al-‘Ulum) and Liberal Muslims. He continued his studies in Islamic jurisprudence, Hadith historiography and art of Quranic recitation. He also memorized half the Holy Quran, and made friends with author and sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim (Liberal Muslim). His time away from Hizb-ut-Tahrir made him see things more clearly and to realize that he was abusing Islam. He understood the fundamentals and that changed his heart.
Upon his release from prison in 2006, Nawaz co-founded Quilliam with other ex-radical Islamists including Ed Husain. He wrote an autobiography in the Amazon bestselling book Radical in 2012. Since then, he has become a very prominent Muslim figure; speaking against radical Islamism, debater, and public commenter. In addition, he has presented his views on radicalization and on one such occasions, in front of US Senate Committee and UK Home Affairs Committee. Nawaz also co-founded an activist group in Pakistan, Khudi, with the aim of fighting extremism.
Nawaz is fluent in three languages: English, Urdu and Arabic. His second book Islam and the Future of Tolerance was co-authored with American neuroscientist Sam Harris and was published in 2015. He is opposed to racial profiling of Muslims, extrajudicial detention of terror suspects, torture, targeted killings and drone strikes. He believes that the historical approach to terrorism should be changed and UK government should revisit how they deal with radicalization. In fact, Nawaz wrote an open letter to then Prime Minister Gordon Brown asking him to hold Israel accountable for its attacks on Gaza.
Although there are critics who claim that Nawaz is not honest and does not represent Islam, who are we to judge. All I know is that he is a Muslim who saw the error in his ways and changed from radicalization to secularization. If only we had more terrorists doing this, the world would probably be a better place, free of Islamism and islamophobia.