William Henry Quilliam was born on 10th April 1856 to a wealthy family in Liverpool. He was brought up as a Methodist and converted to Islam in 1887 after visiting Morocco. Quilliam opened Britain’s first mosque, on Christmas Day 1889, with funding he received from Nasrullah Khan, Crown Prince of Afghanistan.
He changed his name from William to Abdullah after converting to Islam, and he argued for a global caliphate and swore allegiance to the Ottoman Empire. Nice guy, clearly.
In 2007, three former members of Hizb-ut Tahrir established a “think tank” called The Quilliam Foundation. For those who don’t know, Hizb-ut Tahrir is an Islamic supremacist group operating in dozens of countries around the world, and banned in some. They employ subversive tactics to infiltrate governments and military institutions in order to bring about an Islamic revolution, with the express ambition of turning the entire globe into a totalitarian Islamic caliphate, ruled under Sharia law. Presumably, this is something that Mr Quilliam would have approved of.
One has to ask exactly what “thinking” was going on, if any, when the founders of The Quilliam Foundation stumbled upon the idea of naming their think tank after a man who wanted a global caliphate. Was it in homage to what Mr Quilliam advocated? Or did the founders merely like the name?
I first heard about The Quilliam Foundation through one of its founders, the former Muslim extremist Maajid Nawaz, who I followed on Twitter. I purchased his book Radical, as I was interested in reading about the experience of other Pakistanis who had grown up in Britain.
Although our upbringings were different, I learnt that we had both experienced racism from white people. Nawaz was lucky that he did not receive any racism from Pakistani people, whereas I did, simply for being the white woman’s daughter.
I was inspired by Nawaz and believed that he could help bring about change. Like many others who placed their hopes in him and his foundation, though, I have been sorely disappointed. I have even come to dislike them and — worse still — distrust them.
It is not Nawaz’s fault that he is hated and loathed by his fellow Muslims, and so I don’t dislike or distrust him for that reason; if anything, I have sympathy with him on that front. It shows how difficult and futile his task is. No, I have come to question the priorities and even the motives of Nawaz and Quilliam.
To learn something of his background, let’s refer to a speech he gave on stage at Ted Talks.
“At the age of 16 I joined Hizb ut-Tahrir. At 17 I was recruiting people from Cambridge University to this organisation. At 19 I was on the national leadership of this organisation in the UK. At 21 I was co-founding this organisation in Pakistan. At 22 I was co-founding this organisation in Denmark. By the age of 24 I found myself convicted in prison in Egypt, being backlisted from three countries in the world for attempting to overthrow their governments, being subjected to torture in Egyptian jails and sentenced to five years as a prisoner of conscience.”
Prisoner of conscience?! What a pleasant, human rights-laden description of someone who sought to overthrow governments through coercion and espionage and usher in a global caliphate. How conscientious indeed. Describing his behaviour as a matter of conscience should tell you something of his character. How is that any different from terrorists sitting in prison cells right now? Perhaps we should sympathise with their predicament too?
His talk goes on:
“If we look at Islamists, if we look at the phenomenon of far right fascists, one thing they’ve been very good at is communicating across borders, using technologies to organise themselves, to propagate their message and to create a truly global phenomena.”
Although Quilliam’s focus is on “counter-extremism against Islamism”, strangely enough, their most well-known and tangible “achievement” to date concerns Tommy Robinson, the founder and former leader of the English Defence League. Robinson established the English Defence League in response to the alarming Muslim extremism he witnessed in his hometown of Luton, England and many other areas.
Following a series of discussions with Robinson, in October of 2013 The Quilliam Foundation proudly boasted of its success in “decapitating” the English Defence League of its leader – which is a conspicuous choice of words considering only a few years previously, Nawaz was devoted to implementing sharia, which includes actual beheadings, and considering also that this “achievement” of Quilliam’s came shortly after the grisly, medieval butchering of the soldier Lee Rigby on the streets of London. Robinson’s head is metaphorically sitting in Nawaz’s trophy cabinet.
A think tank tackling “Islamism”, yet they tackle the “far right”? Makes sense, I guess, when you see the number of far right churches and organisations calling for the death of Muslims. I mean they are opening up all over the UK.
When they’re not “decapitating” the most vocal anti-Islam group the West has seen to date, in their spare time I am told Quilliam are also looking to “reform” Islam. A think tank named after a convert who wanted a caliphate are hoping to reform Islam?
Consider this during the four years he spent in an Egyptian prison, Nawaz committed half the Koran to memory. Imagine the devotion necessary to memorise 40,000 words! Following his release he was quoted as saying, “I can now say that the more I learn about Islam, the more tolerant I become.”
Does that sound like someone who believes Islam is in need of urgent reformation? Does that sound like someone who can say clearly, unapologetically and unequivocally that the problem we face today is Islam?
Quilliam ask us to accept their preordained language, consisting of a never-ending list of definitions, -isms and –isations, and replete with euphemism and vague platitudes about the “need to reform,” labelling anyone who strays outside of these definitions or dares to question the feasibility of reformation as bigots, racists, populists, white supremacists, fascists, xenophobes and far right extremists – which coincidentally is the very thing they accuse the so-called “regressive left” of doing to stifle debate. These labels marginalise and discredit anyone with the audacity to hold Muslims accountable for their beliefs and who wish to point the finger directly at Islam, and indeed these labels also marginalise and discredit anyone with the audacity to ask Quilliam questions beyond kindergarten levels of difficulty.
As a matter of fact, Nawaz applied this very tactic while a member of Hizb-ut Tahrir at university in Britain, as the following quote from his book Radical verifies:
“We knowingly presented political demands disguised as religion and multiculturalism, and deliberately labelled any objections to our demands as racism and bigotry.”
Ask Nawaz or Quilliam the mildest probing questions, or politely query whether a 1,400 year old religion of war and conquest can indeed “reform”, or at least reform in a reasonable timeframe, and you will be treated by Nawaz to a masterclass in aggressive, petulant, narcissistic behaviour. You will be guilt-tripped into a reminder that Nawaz and Quilliam staff face physical risks in what they do (as though they are the only ones – just ask Tommy Robinson, Anne Marie Waters, or Robert Spencer), and they will conveniently lump you into the same category as the “Far Right” and Muslim extremists. It’s safe to say that Nawaz and Quilliam don’t take very kindly to criticism, no matter how delicately or constructively it is put to them. It doesn’t take much to stoke them into playing their Muslim Victim Card.
Non-Muslims look at Nawaz and see a smartly dressed, well-spoken man, not displaying any overt signs of his Muslim faith. They see him rubbing shoulders with the likes of Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Douglas Murray and a host of other notable and respected public figures. They hear him speaking out against the myriad of Islamic terrorist groups and simply assume that he must be a trusted voice in the fight against Islamic extremism. What’s concerning to me is that they also see him as the unquestionable reference point of acceptability in this debate: “Saint Maajid said X, so X must be the reasonable position”; “Saint Maajid approves/disapproves of person X and so I will approve/disapprove of person X, too”.
When exactly did everyone start thinking it was a good idea to let former Muslim extremists set the terms of debate for combatting Muslim extremism or speaking about Islam? Shall we also let former rapists set the rules for discussing the problems of rape?
Like the spoilt kid in the playground who shouts “My ball, my rules”, with the threat of taking it away and sulking in the corner, Nawaz has set a rigid and uncompromising strategy which is entirely reliant on decoupling Islam from its evil “political” twin “Islamism”. Whether intentional on his part or not, this exploits Western liberals’ desperation, ignorance and gullibility to believe that Islam is inherently good and is being “misinterpreted” or at the very least is benign and merely in need of some nips and tucks by way of “reformation”, and that instead all the nasty things are attributable to “Islamism”. The general public comes away a bit bamboozled and punch-drunk from definitions and post-modern language games, with some Z-list celebrity stardust sprinkled upon them, with a warm glow in their stomach that Nawaz and Quilliam have set western civilisation on the right path to save itself, and that “Islam good/ok, Islamism bad”. Again, whatever Nawaz’s intentions, this hapless army of anaesthetised, clueless and desperate non-Muslims then go on to misinform more non-Muslims. And all this is supposed to be a good thing?
There are many Muslims and non-Muslims who publicly speak out against ISIS, but who profess that ISIS and similar groups have “nothing to do with Islam”. Nawaz’s rhetoric is different, and better (which isn’t exactly difficult). In fairness to him, he does acknowledge the link between the holy texts and the actions of terrorists groups. However, he immediately rows back and then attempts to balance with one toe on a pinhead: Muslim terrorism isn’t “nothing” to do with Islam; nor is it “everything” to do with Islam, he will plead. No, it’s merely “something” to do with Islam, according to Nawaz. His explanation is that extremism is simply one of an infinite number of possible “interpretations” of Islam, and that Islam is a bit like a slinky spring or jelly: you can play around with it and come up with whatever “interpretation” you want. If you want to use Islam as the basis to cut off heads, or gang-rape girls, or give gay people flying lessons from rooftops, then sure, you can do that – it’s a “plausible” interpretation of the texts. But if you want to interpret Islam in such a way as to be totally compatible with the 21st century liberal secular democracy, then hey, you can do that, too, so stop being a racist and get out of my lane while I do this reform thing.
On Quilliam’s website they ask the question, “What is Islamism?” and provide the following answer: “It is the belief that Islam is a political ideology, as well as faith. It is a modernist claim that political sovereignty belongs to God, that Shari’ah should be used as state law, that Muslims form a political rather than religious bloc around the world and that it is a religious duty for all Muslims to create a political entity that is governed as such.”
This isn’t an off the cuff remark. This is their official position. The premise of this definition is categorically false and misleading.
Everything about the words contained in the Koran and the example of Islam’s prophet Mohammed is the antithesis of free will, autonomy, freedom and democracy. If you sat down at a desk today to design an ideology with the express intention of being as hostile towards and incompatible with Western civilisation as possible, you would produce Islam. The literal translation of the word Islam is “submission”.
Islam is a highly structured system of governance with roughly 6,000 sharia laws that dictate the actions and behaviours of its followers, both in public and private life. It’s a holistic system that commands Muslims to obey the will of Allah and follow the example of Mohammed as the path to eternal salvation.
Secularism is a betrayal of Islamic teachings, those teachings being unambiguously detailed in the Koran, Sura and Hadiths. Those instructions make clear that each and every Muslim should strive to live in accordance with Islamic law. To reject, criticise, or attempt to undo codified Islamic jurisprudence is considered highly blasphemous – a crime carrying the death penalty. This is the main reason the majority of Muslims are so hostile to any talk of reformation.
In essence, Islamic “reformers” such as Nawaz are asking Muslims to denounce the life and teachings of the prophet of Islam and the words of the creator of the universe.
The Koran is believed to be the literal and perfect word of Allah. The text is said to be immutable (unchangeable), timeless.
Said to be God’s final messenger, Mohammed is revered by Muslims, and hailed as the exemplar for human behaviour. A man who coordinated 67 armed battles, beheaded 600 Jews in a single afternoon, raided towns and looted travelling caravans, raped the widows of his victims, had 15 wives in total, the youngest being six years old, sanctioned spousal necrophilia, and ordered the stoning to death of adulterers, apostates, homosexuals and blasphemers. This is the man Muslims are supposedly meant to emulate? This is the highest standard of human behaviour?
Mohammed is said to be an example for ALL times, not merely the pre-modern era. If his teachings aren’t fit for the 21st century and beyond, did Allah choose the wrong person?
This debate is far too important to concern ourselves with sparing Nawaz’s feelings. His proposals are counter productive and extremely dangerous. In effect we are being asked to place a huge bet: we are expected to bet Western civilisation on the likelihood that a totalitarian ideology which has wreaked havoc for 1,400 years wherever it has gone and which has now positioned itself perfectly to conquer the West will choose this moment in human history to “reform”. Nawaz in his narcissism believes he can bring this reformation about, and dumb desperate liberals are soothed into thinking that his plan will work because, well, Nawaz says so. These smug, dumb liberals will lecture you on the supposed differences between Islam and “Islamism” like a parrot sitting on Nawaz’s shoulder, while wearing Quilliam’s latest #solidarity t-shirt merchandise.
While Nawaz’s plans continue to fail spectacularly, thousand of sharia-compliant Muslims flood into the West each week. Nawaz and Quilliam remain silent about and even hostile towards any de-Islamization policies, which might help stop the rot, such as restricting or stopping Muslim immigration to the West, or having a moratorium on the building of new mosques.
Using Nawaz’s definition “An Islamist is someone wanting to impose a version of Islam over society” would encompass anyone in favour of Sharia law. Polling data indicates two-thirds of Muslims globally want to live under Sharia law. This means there are roughly 1.1 billion Muslims who fall under Nawaz’s definition of an “Islamist”.
This idea that Muslims will quickly and en masse adopt Nawaz’s new age, spliff-smoking, liberal version of Islam is absurd – and dangerous. Considering the widespread hate and mistrust Muslims have for him and his organisation and the zero credibility he and Quilliam have amongst Muslims, unfortunately I have to reluctantly ask: who is his target audience?
Exactly what, or who, are you actually trying to reform, Mr Nawaz?