Ed Husain

Ed Husain
Ed Husain in 2009
Born Mohamed Mahbub Husain
(1974-12-25) 25 December 1974
Mile End, Tower Hamlets, London, England
Residence New York City,
United States
Nationality British
Education MA Middle Eastern Studies
Alma mater Tower Hamlets College, Newham College,
SOAS, University of London,
University of Damascus
Occupation Writer, Senior Fellow
Known for Author of The Islamist
Spouse(s) Fateha Husain
Website Council on Foreign Relations – Bio Page

Mohamed "Ed" Husain[1] (born 25 December 1974) is a writer, former adjunct senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York,[2] and a former senior advisor at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.[3] Husain is the author of The Islamist, a book about political Islamism and an account of his five years as an Islamist activist. Husain cofounded, with Maajid Nawaz, the counter-extremism organization the Quilliam Foundation.

He has also worked for HSBC Private Bank and the British Council. In 2014, he was appointed to the Freedom of Religion or Belief Advisory Group of the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He is also a member of the Independent Review Panel for the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund (GCERF).

Early life

Husain was born and brought up in the East End of London, in a Bangladeshi Muslim family. Husain's father was born in British India and his mother in East Pakistan,[4] from the region of Sylhet.[5] His father arrived in the United Kingdom in 1961, and started a small Indian takeaway business in Limehouse.[6]

Husain's parents followed a spiritual form of Islam based on Sufi traditions,[7] led by Saheb Qibla Fultali.[8][9]

In his early years, Husain was brought up in Limehouse and attended a local primary school called the Sir William Borough School, and he attended a predominantly Bangladeshi and Muslim secondary school called Stepney Green School.[10] During his years in secondary school Husain was an outsider. He rejected the Bengali gang culture present in the school, and was sometimes oppressed by other students.[11]

Husain attended the Brick Lane Mosque in his early years (the mosque follows a movement belonging to a Sufi order). He later drifted away from his parents' teachings, and, at the age of sixteen, was encouraged by a student to attend classes at the East London Mosque, and later joined the Young Muslim Organisation (YMO), part of the Islamic Forum Europe.

Islamism and Sufism

A few months later he was influenced to join a circle of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist group which called for a Caliphate, in whose activities he participated for around five years.[12] Husain attended Tower Hamlets College in Poplar, and was president of the college's popular student Islamic society. It was during his studies at Newham College in 1995 that he decided to leave the group.[12] Later he joined the Islamic Society of Britain and attended a family camp in Worcester in 1996. It was there that he was influenced by the spiritual side of Islam and later by scholars who helped convince him to leave the Islamist groups.

He was further influenced by Sufism while visiting mosques in Turkey and meeting Sufis of the Naqshbandi order in Istanbul. After returning to London, he spent much of his time learning and memorizing the Qur'an.[13]

Husain now strongly criticizes these groups, although Hizb ut-Tahrir categorically denied that he was ever given membership in the party.[14] A few years later, he created an organisation together with Maajid Nawaz and Rashad Ali called the Quilliam Foundation, the first counter-extremism organisation to be formed by former radical Islamists. The aim of this organisation is to confront groups which promote what is alleged to be dangerous and extremist interpretations of Islam, and in particular to confront Hizb ut-Tahrir.[15] The Quilliam Foundation describes itself as "the world's first counter-extremism think tank set up to address the unique challenges of citizenship, identity, and belonging in a globalised world. Quilliam stands for religious freedom, equality, human rights, and democracy."[16] He was also a visiting fellow at the think-tank Civitas.[17] A policy memo Husain wrote on creating a global fund to counter violent extremism led to the creation of GCERF, an initiative led by the governments of Turkey and the United States at its formative phases.

Personal life

Husain studied at the SOAS, University of London, where he completed an MA in Middle Eastern Studies. He later joined the Labour Party. He has been married to a British Bangladeshi woman, named Fateha, since August 2000. Both moved to Syria to study Arabic at the University of Damascus. They later they moved to Saudi Arabia, where he worked for the British Council.[18]

Prior to that, he worked for HSBC Private Bank in London. During his studies he was nicknamed 'Ed' because students preferred this to Mohamed or Mahbub. He eventually returned to the UK and moved outside Tower Hamlets, living in Redbridge,[12] and then in Essex. He now lives in New York City.

The Islamist

In The Islamist, Husain describes how he became an Islamic fundamentalist at the age of 16. He explains that,

Five years later, after much emotional turmoil, I rejected fundamentalist teachings and returned to normal life and my family.

Husain says that his book explains

the appeal of extremist thought, how fanatics penetrate Muslim communities and the truth behind their agenda of subverting the West and moderate Islam.

The book was shortlisted for the 2008 Orwell Prize for political writing.[19]

Husain's book has been called "highly acclaimed" and received positive reviews from The Guardian,[20][21] The Times[8]—which found it worth to run extracts from it for two weeks[22]—and the International Herald Tribune.[23] The Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips has described Husain as a "brave Muslim".[24] and the former Labour minister Denis MacShane wrote in The Guardian that Husain and the Quilliam Foundation is "precisely the kind of witness to truth about evil that the left should embrace, not reject".[25] The text has also been supported by former Islamists such as Maajid Nawaz and others.

Other groups such as the Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir,[26] the Salafimanhaj.com website,[27] and the Muslim Council of Britain[28] have made strong criticism, alleging inaccuracy and flawed analysis by Husain. In his critique, British Muslim intellectual Ziauddin Sardar admitted "It is ... disingenuous to imply that Husain's is not a unique journey, undertaken by someone whose critical faculties are conspicuously absent, but a route that can easily be followed by a vast majority of young Muslims."[29] Husain has also been criticized by the Muslim Council of Britain for saying that "Saddam Hussein effectively invited the US army to invade Iraq by playing cat-and-mouse games with United Nations arms inspectors."[30]


Husain's 2008 book, The Islamist was a finalist for the George Orwell prize for political writing. In 2015, Husain was shortlisted for the Contrarian Prize.[31]


While at the Council on Foreign Relations, Husain commented on U.S. policy on issues ranging from the 2011 U.S. congressional hearings on radicalization spearheaded by Rep. Peter King (R-NY) to the events of the Arab Spring and the death of Osama bin Laden.[18] He has appeared on CNN, Fox, NPR, BBC, Al-Jazeera, and has been published in the New York Times, Financial Times, Guardian, National Review, and Jewish Chronicle, among other media outlets.

Islam and society

Husain supports a liberal interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence, telling a journalist:

In traditional circles, Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men...But in a pluralistic world in 2007, where non-Muslim men and Muslim women are marrying, you can't say, 'You can’t do that.'[32]

Husain also questions teachings relating to an Islamic state or Caliphate, arguing

... a dawlah ([a state] not 'the' state) can and should preserve and protect the religion. But 'the state' is not a rukn [pillar] of the deen (religion i.e. Islam) and without it the deen is not lost. And individual can remain a firm believer, a mutadayyin, without the imam and the jama'ah.[33]

Husain has also explained that he believes Muslim society is in need of change. In an interview with Time Out, he said:

As I left extremism I realised that if you are born here and grow up here, then you belong here. The Islam that was preached 2,000 years ago isn’t going to work here in modern London. Muslims need to alter their lifestyles to a Western lifestyle. To criticise is not Islamaphobic. It's about opposing certain ideas.[34]

Israel and Palestine

Husain supports a two-state solution to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He has condemned the suicide bombing of Israeli civilians as well as the "killing of Palestinian civilians by the Hamas-led Gazan government".[35]

He is opposed to the international boycott of Israel by activists, stating in The New York Times that:

Many people condemn Israeli settlements and call for an economic boycott of their produce, but I saw that it was Arab builders, plumbers, taxi drivers and other workers who maintained Israeli lifestyles. Separatism in the Holy Land has not worked and it is time to end it. How much longer will we punish Palestinians to create a free Palestine?[36]

U.S. response to the Arab Spring

On the Arab Spring, he has said:

The Arab world is no longer across the oceans. It is also on our streets here. Millions of American citizens are of Arab descent. Millions more are here as workers and students. What happens over there matters here. Can America make these people proud and empower them against Muslim extremists by changing the American story and making us all safer? Yes, it can. It must.[37]

Husain advocates American soft power and leadership in modelling democracy. Countering the US response to the Egyptian military's raiding of NGO offices in 2012, he said:

The U.S. government should ask its military allies to return to their barracks and cease killing protesters—and that it should tie these demands to U.S. aid. ... The Arab revolutionaries did not look to China or Russia for a model of government. They looked to four-year presidential terms, inspired directly by American democracy. Islamist leaders such as Tunisia's Mohamed Ghannouchi condemn French secularism but highlight American accommodation of religion as a model of a secular state that is less hostile to religion.[38]

However, Husain argued against U.S. military intervention in Syria, stating:

What happens in Syria does not stay in Syria. ... U.S. military intervention in Syria would likely see traditional state actors backing rival groups (Sunnis and Muslim Brotherhood by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, for example, Shia and Alawites by Iran, Druze and Christians by France, a former colonial master, or even indirectly Israel). Worse, there is a real possibility of the emergence of an al-Qaeda-inspired organization inside Syria to fight "Western imperialism," much like al-Qaeda or the "Sunni insurgency" in Iraq.[39]


In a May 2011 op-ed in The Times, Husain warned against al-Qaeda's success as a brand:

Without doubt, the US was right to remove bin Laden, but it is wrong to think that his death will weaken al-Qaeda. Yes, a colossal psychological blow has been dealt, but al-Qaeda is no longer a mere organisation, but a global brand, an idea, a philosophy that now has its first Saudi martyr from the holy lands of Islam.[40]

However, Husain criticized the September 2011 extrajudicial killing of American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, explaining that it is "counterproductive to defeating terrorism in the long term because it demolishes the very values that America stands for: the rule of law and trial by jury." Furthermore, "An easier, cheaper and more effective way of discrediting al-Awlaki and countering his message would have been to disclose his three arrests for the solicitation of prostitutes ..."[41]

Syrian Civil War

Husain has warned of the involvement of Al-Qaeda and like minded groups in the Syrian Civil War:

Whether Assad stays or goes, jihadism now has a strong foothold in Syria. The Free Syrian Army may wish to dismiss its al-Qaeda allies as irrelevant in order to reassure the West and continue receiving Western support, but the jihadi websites and footage of al-Qaeda fighting in Damascus and Aleppo tell a different story.[42]

See also


  1. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 25 April 2009. Retrieved 28 April 2009.
  2. http://www.cfr.org/experts/religion-religion-and-politics-syria/ed-husain/b15381
  3. "Tony Blair Faith Foundation, Contributor Ed Husain". Tony Blair Faith Foundation. 19 July 2014. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  4. Stories of Identity: Religion, Migration, and Belonging in a Changing World. Facing History and Ourselves. 1988. p. 65. ISBN 978-0-9798440-3-4.
  5. Irfan Yusuf (27 July 2007) The Islamist On Line Opinion (Australia). Retrieved on 16 February 2009.
  6. Ann McFerran (10 August 2008) Best of Times, Worst of Times: Ed Husain Times Online. Retrieved on 15 February 2009.
  7. Dominic Casciani (24 May 2007) Inside the jihadi worldview BBC News (BBC). Retrieved on 15 February 2009.
  8. 1 2 Rediscovering a kinder, gentler Islam Times Online. 21 April 2007. Retrieved on 2008-03-21.
  9. Piers Paul Read (7 April 2008) How I Found Allah and Quit the Jihad The American Conservative. Retrieved on 15 February 2009.
  10. The Islamist. By Ed Husain. pp. 288. London, Penguin Books, 2007.
  11. Madeleine Bunting (12 May 2007) We were the brothers Guardian. Retrieved on 15 February 2009.
  12. 1 2 3 Rebecca Taylor (1 May 2007) Islamic extremists in the East End Time Out London. Retrieved on 15 February 2009.
  13. Ed Husain (2007). The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, what I Saw Inside and why I Left. Penguin. pp. 185–213. ISBN 978-0-14-103043-2.
  14. Interview broadcast by CNN on 3 May 2007
  15. Mark White (22 April 2008) New Islamic Group To Combat Extremism Sky News (BSkyB). Retrieved on 15 February 2009.
  16. Quilliam Foundation, About Us Archived 17 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. Westminster Journal Archived 25 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. 1 2
  19. "Shortlist 2008" Archived 21 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine., The Orwell Prize
  20. We were the brothers, Saturday 12 May 2007
  21. Why should we have to justify ourselves to the people who want to bomb us? Thursday 3 May 2007
  22. Review of "The Islamist" : Ust. Andrew Booso (complete) 21 May 2007
  23. Ex-radical turns to Islam of tolerance By Jane Perlez, International Herald Tribune, The New York Times, Published: 1 June 2007
  24. Melanie Phillips "When will we British learn to stop appeasing terror?" Daily Mail, 1 May 2007
  25. Denis MacShane "Not always right", The Guardian, 21 April 2008
  26. "The 'Islamist' bogeyman" by Taji Mustafa, executive committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain
  27. The Charade of Ed Husain, Necon, Blairite author of the Islamist
  28. Review of the Islamist by Inayat Bunglawala, The Muslim Council of Britain Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  29. Ziauddin Sardar "The How and Why of Jehadi Politics", The Tribune, 10 June 2007
  30. Muslim Council of Britain, The Islamist, by Ed Husain, Penguin, 2007, pp 288 Archived 27 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  31. "Meet the short list for this year's Contrarian Prize" by Ali Miraj
  32. _r=1&pagewanted=2&ei=5087%0A&em&en=ef59bd95605c9bd4&ex=1180929600&oref=slogin A Journey to, and From, the Heart of Radical Islam in Britain
  33. t=16081&sid=cc0c39864624f4449f8bbce6b817570f Ed Husain Questions (online Q&A)
  34. Time Out London: 'Islamic extremists in the East End' Archived 26 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine.
  35. Husain, Ed (27 June 2007). "With God on their side?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  36. Husain, Ed (6 March 2013). "Op-Ed: End the Arab Boycott of Israel". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
  37. dyn/content/article/2011/01/28/AR2011012805611.html?hpid=opinionsbox "How Should the U.S. Respond to the Protests in the Middle East?", Ed Husain, Washington Post
  38. "Egypt's Revolt and the American Model", The Wall Street Journal
  39. "We Intervene in Syria at Our Peril", The Atlantic
  40. , The Times, "Bin Laden is More Dangerous Dead than Alive"]
  41. killing/index.html, CNN, "U.S. Shouldn't Have Killed al-Awlaki"
  42. National Review "Syria: Why al-Qaeda is Winning"
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