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Finding Islam in a radical group, then leaving an ideology

LONDON — For four years, Maajid Nawaz, a British Pakistani university student, was imprisoned in Egypt, enduring months of solitary confinement and the screams of those being tortured. 

(New York Times News Service) LONDON — For four years, Maajid Nawaz, a British Pakistani university student, was imprisoned in Egypt, enduring months of solitary confinement and the screams of those being tortured.{mxc}

Nawaz left Britain on his fateful trip to Egypt on Sept. 10, 2001, for a year abroad to study Arabic. In April 2002, he was charged and sentenced by the Egyptians for spreading the beliefs of Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamic group that is legal in Britain but banned in Egypt and other countries because it calls for the overthrow of governments in the Muslim world.

Now, more than a year after his return to Britain, Nawaz, 29, has defected from Hizb ut-Tahrir, saying that he learned from scholars he met in jail that the ideology he so fervently espoused runs counter to the true meaning of his religion.

Hizb ut-Tahrir, or Party of Liberation, also calls for the end of Israel and the withdrawal of Western interests from the Middle East, though it says it wants to achieve those goals through nonviolent means. There have been calls in Britain to ban the group, but the government has always stopped short of doing so.

Nawaz’s departure from the group, which he announced on his personal blog several days ago and in an interview shown on BBC television Tuesday night, is considered significant because he was such a highly valued member of Hizb ut-Tahrir — one of a handful of men on its executive committee in Britain.

Before being imprisoned in Egypt, Nawaz played a central role in recruiting new members for Hizb ut-Tahrir at home and abroad. Over and over again, he said, he spread the belief that the dictatorships of the Muslim world must be replaced by a caliphate similar to that which held sway after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

But for the past year, he has felt nothing but regret, he said in an interview with The New York Times in a Bayswater Road coffee shop on Tuesday before his BBC appearance.

"I gave talks in Pakistan, Britain and Denmark," he said. "Wherever I’ve been I’ve left people who joined Hizb ut-Tahrir. I have to make amends. What I did was damaging to British society and the world at large."

Calls in Britain for the banning of Hizb ut-Tahrir usually stress that the group serves as a gateway for some Muslims to turn to terrorism. Nawaz puts it this way: "Hizb ut-Tahrir spearheaded the radicalization of the 1990s and cultivated an atmosphere of anger."

 

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