FORBIDDEN ZONE: Letter from a former Islamic extremist

July 25, 2013

In Blog

Dear Norman,


I’m the former islamist extremist leader, residing in Scandinavia, who wrote to you earlier this year. I just saw your excellent debate with Hamza Tzortzis [], and I noticed you at one point said that you found the debate (or it’s direction) somewhat disheartening because people from “our side” is using the Israeli logic of ignoring international law. 


I can relate to that. But you were 100% right in your argumentation and conclusions and more importantly it seems inevitable that at some point “our side” will get it. The question, unfortunately, is just how much bloodshed and poverty, etc has to occur before we get it. The argument – from a purely intellectual/political point of view – is bullitproof. 


The reason, though, you shouldn’t be too disheartened about the debate, is because Hamza happens to have belonged to the same extremist group (Hizb ut-Tahrir, originally established in Jerusalem of all places) as I. And – to be fair- even though he’s since left the group, some of it’s concepts – such as no comprimising on the Palestine issue and international law being worthless and  UN’s human rights being incompatible with Islam (utter non-sense) – he seems to hold on to till this day, unfortunately.


So please remember that he’s not a moderate, which I think most of us muslims are. He’s – in some issues – an extremist for now, and so he speaks as extremists would. I should be able to meet him at some point, and will probably be able to convince him about the issues you spoke of, because I have much more insight into the Hizb-litterature and it’s weaknesses than he seems to. He thinks his stance is theologically valid, whereas it is not. Without delving too much into it here, there is a difference in islamic theology between what a person shouldn’t do and what HAS to be adopted as state law. So just because it may be sinful in the eyes of God not to fast (for muslims) during ramadhan, that doesn’t mean that the ruler needs to enforce that law. It’s “mubah”, meaning up to him or whatever political and legislative body that the people entrusts (hopefully a democratic parliament and government). So if we now, as modern educated and humanist people want to make Islam compatible with human rights, it’s easy on a political level because the government – contrary to popular thinking – doesn’t need to enforce the theological do’s and dont’s and indeed for many centuries never did. So yes it’s a religious obligation to fast, but people should be allowed polically – of course – not to fast because that’s their (human) right. The state has frankly nothing to do with that.


Hamza – like all islamists – can’t differentiate the theology from the pragmatic nature of politics. Even Ibn Taymiyyah – the grandfather of salafism – makes a clear distinction in volume 30 of his “Majmu’ al-fatawa”. This discussion will probably seem mysterious to a secular atheist as you, but please keep in mind that many muslims are struggling with these issues, i.e. how to make modernity comply with their muslim identity, daily. And there are plenty of solutions, with or without theology.


Hamza is a nice person and has done a lot for the service of Islam, which means much to me as a practising muslim. But he’s doing the palestinian cause a great disservice in that debate by being as selective about human rights and international law as the israelis.


Anyway, thank you for a brilliant debate and excellent points, fx on the importance of being a realistic in trying to convey a powerful message to mainstream society, instead of being cultish.


Unfortunately islamists have made it harder for the left and mainstream society to support palestinans. If was easier back when most palestinians were secular in political outlook. I feel your pain, but we are quite a few activists who feel you’ve spoken the truth and who are determined to break the cycle of non-peace. “Our side” has to win. 


Kind regards,


Asjid AK (pen name)