In the midst of the debate raging regarding Islam, Islamic conservatism, and Islamic extremism in both counter-extremism and policy circles, what we lack is a dose of unbridled honesty. The discussion is dogged by accusations of ‘Islamophobia’, anti-Muslim bigotry, and xenophobia.
In this context, I have decided to surmise the worst of what I believed in as a proponent of Salafist Islam, a particular Saudi-influenced strand of Islamist thinking:
I believed that I should have hatred in my heart for every infidel, that I should be nice to them, but only outwardly so, so that they might feel attracted to Islam and thereby convert. As a child this belief always felt wrong to me. I had non-Muslim friends – even though I wasn’t supposed to – and I knew they liked me as a person, and that they were good people. So the question of having hatred for someone who harboured none for me in turn struck me as unjust.
I believed that the concept of paedophilia was a western invention and thereby invalid. Sexual relations were permissible with anyone who had reached puberty, no matter what their age. This was because of ahadith (prophetic narrations) narrated in Islam’s most authentic collection, Sahih Al-Bukhari, relaying that the prophet married Aisha when she was a mere six years old, and consummated the marriage when she was only nine. This also felt somewhat awry to me, but I pushed my doubts back to the dark recesses of my conflicted mind.
I believed that offensive jihad was an Islamic principle whose aim was to invade non-Muslim lands in order to assimilate them into the ‘land of Islam’, or the Islamic Khilafah, or Caliphate: in essence, I believed in Islamic imperialism. I categorically believed that physical jihad, or violent jihad, was not only relegated to the arena of defending oneself, or the Islamic polity. This belligerent concept struck me as deeply unfair. Why should it be justified to declare war on a state that had peaceful or even friendly relations with the Islamic state? I rationalised away these doubts, and explained it in my own mind as being necessary to spread the word of Islam, with the end goal being to increase the number of Muslim converts.
At one point I even believed terrorism was justified. This was during the period where I almost did go through with the plans for violence forming then in my mind. Thankfully I never did, and I decided not to go through with them.
I believed that I could attack others’ beliefs but that they couldn’t attack mine. I would throw accusations of Islamophobia and racism around all the time. In fact, bizarrely, I sincerely believed that most people really were anti-Muslim bigots. Perhaps this was simply me projecting my own hatred for non-Muslims onto others.
I believed that I was not British, and that there was a never ending war between Muslims and infidels, going back to the time of the prophet. It was within this context that hatred for non-Muslims and offensive violent jihad was explained as being justified.
I also believed in a number of conspiracy theories, including the idea that Jews ran the world, that Jews wanted to destroy Islam, I believed in the illuminati, freemasons, I even took HIV-denialism at its word… in fact my father and I used to listen to the firebrand conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
There is much else I could write about besides. Understandably, writing this article has been a deeply disconcerting and embarrassing experience for me, but I only do so with the aim of being open and honest, for we can only deal with the complex issues we face regarding Islamism if we are first honest about them.