I've almost finished reading The Islamist by Ed Hussain and strongly recommend it. For me, at least, it was an eye-opener.
The author, a child of Indian Muslim immigrant parents, grew up in the East End of London in the late 70s and 80s when the NF/BNP were becoming strong in the area. His parents were very religious but respectful of British culture and they were horrified when their son became heavily involved in 'Islamism' (aka 'political Islam') in his teens. His father's insistence that Islam was a faith, not a political system, and that if he was interested in politics he should join the Labour Party, fell on deaf ears as Hussain moved from one Islamist group to another, ending up in the fanatical Hizb_ut-Tahrir
. (Anyone who, while at uni was either involved in or was bewildered by the 'People's Front of Judea syndrome' because of the plethora of tiny ultra-left wing groups competing for members will get a sense of deja vu when reading about the similar competition between Islamist groups.) Hussain writes convincingly of the psychological damage being visited on a generation of young Muslims in Britain and everywhere else by groups like Hizb which, according to Wiki, boasts a million members worldwide and he is clearly dismayed at the gutlessness of the British government in failing to do as most Muslim countries have already done i.e. ban it.
Interestingly, he describes how many of his fellow Islamists in Hizb were not nearly as well-versed in the Muslim faith as he, were not particularly observant, did not know how to pray and would ask him for a suitable verse from the Qu'ran to round off a political speech they were planning to deliver at one college campus or another. His gradual realisation that his original aim of becoming more immersed in his faith had backfired and actually made him more distanced from it was one of the things that started his process of moving away from the Islamism that had dominated his life for five years; falling in love with the woman who was to become his wife and who was devoutly Muslim but who refused to be drawn into political Islam was another. Then there was 9/11 and how his instinctive reaction was to celebrate it but how he was made to feel thoroughly ashamed of himself by the gentle, spiritual Muslims with whom he'd begun to associate....
It was in Syria and Saudi Arabia where he finally shed the all remnants of the Islamist mindset and, it seems, discovered a latent pride in the country he was born and raised in for its tolerance and liberalism. By this time he was drawn to Sufism and was horrified by the racism, sexism and homophobia of the Wahhabis he met in the Gulf. In fact, a chapter devoted to Saudi Arabia reveals it to be a far more brutal and barbaric place than we are inclined to think. (An extract from the chapter can be found here
.) Referring to African Muslim immigrants to Saudi who are condemned to a life of misery, squalor, prostitution and disease, he writes that Muslims live better in non-Muslim Britain than they do in that oil-rich country.
He writes despairingly of how the monstrosity being spawned by the marriage between political Islam and the ultra-literalist Islam that is Wahhabism is being exported to the West: countless young Muslims - many of them converts - visit the Gulf to become immersed in Islam and that is what they take home with them. Make no mistake: according to the islamist way of thinking democracy and humanistic values count for less than nothing (you probably already knew that, of course).
Hussain writes a bit about his life as an Islamist here
A recent interview with him the Times can be read here
This book has convinced me that Islamism has much greater stranglehold on the Muslim youth of Britain than I previously realised. I also feel far less repulsed by Islam as a faith - in fact, I feel a strange sense of warmth towards that generation of older Muslims who see their faith as nothing more nor less than what it is - a faith, not a 'way' nor a political system. I'd be interested to know if anyone else reading this book emerges feeling the same.