New Muslim think-tank aims to challenge extremist ideology

By staff writers
23 Apr 2008

A new Muslim think-tank, which aims to bring together voices who oppose violence and extremism, and who want to explore Islam in a modern European setting, was launched at the British Museum yesterday.

Author Ed Husain, who charted his own journey away from what he calls "a dark place" in his controversial book 'The Islamist' is a prime mover in the venture, along with Essex-born Maajid Nawaz.

The Quilliam Foundation (named after a 19th century British convert) is being pitched as advancing the counter-argument to extremism.

The founders say Islam in its purest universal form, as what Muslims believe is the last global message of God to humankind, sits perfectly well in modern multicultural societies - providing that Muslims find the right way to express their faith.

If British Muslims rediscover the purity of the faith, they argue, they can cast off the political and cultural baggage that would see Islam as the enemy of the West.

The think-tank aims to develop its arguments out of the Islamic theological tradition, rather than simply use Western secular arguments against versions of political Islam which it regards as distorted and damaging.

Its founding statement says: "Western Muslims should be free from the cultural baggage of the Indian subcontinent, or the political burdens of the Arab world. We were born and raised in a milieu that is different from the Muslim East. As such, our future and progeny belong here.

"Just as Muslims across the globe have adopted from and adapted to local cultures and traditions, while remaining true to the essence of their faith, Western Muslims should pioneer new thinking for our new times. Here, Muslim scholastic giants, such as the noble Abdullah bin Bayyah and Shaikh Ali Goma (Mufti of Egypt), have provided ample guidance."

Among those at the launch yesterday were Lord Paddy Ashdown, former Liberal Democrat leader and diplomat, Jemima Khan (a socialite who was married to Pakistani cricketer turned minority politician Imran Khan) and commentator on Western politics Timothy Garton Ash.

Maajid Nawaz has been an influential figures in so-called Islamist politics in the UK in the recent past. He was jailed in Egypt for membership of Hizb ut-Tahrir, witnessing the torture of other prisoners and fearing for his own life.

Before finding himself in a Cairo cell, he personally recruited to the cause the very men and women Quilliam is now wanting to persuade to go in a very different direction.

Maajid Nawaz is well-known in Muslim communities around Britain, delivering talks rooted deep in Qur'anic theology.

Meanwhile, Husain's book has sparked quite a debate, with some accusations of inaccuracy and exaggeration, and about of the author's apparent dalliance with neo-con thinkers - something he denies.

Quilliam aims to have a high media profile. It wishes to argue for and develop a contextualised Western Islam, to challenge hard-line groups, and to offer an alternative vision to Muslims which, it argues, is much more 'traditional' than the hatred falsely being peddled in its name.

Its opponents will seek to smear it as "a poodle of the West", but Quilliam's founders say they are ready to face the challenge head on - and with words rather than weapons.

See: http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/

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