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The United Kingdom is a European hub for numerous forms of Islamist activity, ranging from violent jihadist terrorist cells to “soft power” Islamists.1 The threat from jihadist terrorists is widely recognized and accepted by both government and civil society in Britain; however, there remains relatively little interest in non-violent Islamists, who hold significant power and influence. While politicians from across the mainstream political spectrum are largely in agreement about the threat faced by terrorism, there is little consensus on how to deal with political Islamism and what role, if any, it should play in countering extremism and terrorism.

Level of Islamist Activity: 
Islamist Activity: 

British Islamists fall into four fluid and often overlapping categories. The groups from these different categories agree on many issues, particularly on the need to withdraw foreign troops from what they describe as Muslim lands, and the central role that sharia law should play in the lives of all Muslims. The major differences often surround issues such as participation in the democratic process and the legitimacy and necessity of violent jihad.

The Muslim Brotherhood/Jamaat-e-Islami nexus

Although these movements originate from different countries, British manifestations of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and South Asia’s Jamaat-e-Islami are closely aligned in ideological and strategic terms. While they represent only a small minority of British Muslims, groups aligned with these movements are among the best organized and funded of any British Islamic groups. 

French Muslim Brotherhood specialist Brigitte Marechal has described how the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe continues to promote Islam as an all-encompassing framework that: "suggests that Islam should be understood as a complete system that concerns state and nation, beliefs and legislation, cult and behavior, and the social, political and historical."2 This all-encompassing ideology, which Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna referred to as shumuliyyat al-Islam, is one of the driving forces for jihadist terrorists who are currently trying to enforce their interpretation of sharia in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and numerous other fronts. 

The intention of the Muslim Brotherhood in Britain is to peacefully promote the shumuliyyat al-Islam in the hope that it will gradually initiate a reform of society along Islamist lines. Using front groups such as those described below, the organization disseminates its ideology among British Muslims by organizing events and lectures. It has subsequently seen some success in creating culturally and nationally transcendent, “ummah-centric” mindsets, whereby young Muslims feel a greater affinity with fellow Muslims around the globe than with their non-Muslim fellow citizens. 

Similarly, the British Jamaat (established in the UK before the Muslim Brotherhood), are followers of the group’s founder, Sayyid Abul A’ala Maududi, and propagate a form of comprehensive Islamic identity through their own set of organizations. Due to their close ideological affinity, the two have effectively formed a partnership: the Jamaat, with its roots in Pakistan and Bangladesh, has more appeal to British South Asian Muslims, while the Arab origins of the Muslim Brotherhood give it more traction with British Arabs and North Africans. The main method through which the soft Islamist mission is carried out in Europe is da’wah (proselytizing), whereby Islamist objectives are pursued through missionary and ideological programs. 

The main British Muslim Brotherhood institutions and organizations include:

  • The Muslim Welfare House (MWH). Founded as a charity in 1970 with the original aim of assisting foreign Muslim students in Britain, the MWH gradually became one of the central Muslim Brotherhood bodies in the country. It now acts as both a mosque and a community center, and despite its relatively low public profile wields significant influence over the national direction of the movement. The Muslim Brotherhood’s connections with the MWH are extensive: until 2007, of the five registered owners and trustees of the MWH, three were also directors of the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), the Brotherhood's other, more publicly active, representative in the United Kingdom.3 Among the owners were Mohammed Sawalha, (see below), and Abdel Shaheed el-Ashaal, referred to by the Muslim Brotherhood magazine Islamism Digest as a “senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood.”4 Until 2000, el-Ashaal was the company secretary for the Hassan al-Banna Foundation, one of the stated aims of which was "to give a correct image of the thoughts, ideology and life of Imam Shaheed Hassan el-Banna."5 In 2007, all five trustees were replaced, and at least two of their successors—Wanis al-Mabrouk6 and Hany Eldeeb7—also hold positions within the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE) or one of its affiliates. The FIOE is the Muslim Brotherhood’s European umbrella organization that loosely connects all the group’s European front organizations.8 
  • The Muslim Association of Britain (MAB). The MAB is the main British representative of the Muslim Brotherhood global network. It was set up in 19979 by Kemal el-Helbawy, then the Muslim Brotherhood’s official spokesman in Europe.10 It has been described by scholars Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank as “a Muslim Brotherhood group”11 and is also the official British representative of the FIOE.12 The MAB is primarily a political activist organization, which promotes Islamist political thought among British Muslims. Per its website, the MAB “attempts to fill in the gap in terms of Islamic dawah work in Britain where the call for a comprehensive Islam that encompasses all aspects of life is lacking.”13 This comprehensive Islam is precisely the vision set out in the abovementioned shumuliyyat al-Islam as envisioned by Hassan al-Banna.
  • The Cordoba Foundation (TCF). TCF was founded as a limited company in 2005 by Anas al-Tikriti, who is also the group’s CEO.14 In 2008, the then-head of the Conservative Party (and former British Prime Minister) David Cameron, identified TCF as a “front for the Muslim Brotherhood” and claimed that “even the most basic research would reveal that the Cordoba Foundation has close connections to people with extremist views, including Azzam Tamimi, the UK representative of Hamas.”15 The role of TCF differs slightly from that of other British Muslim Brotherhood groups in that it describes itself as an “independent research and Public Relations organization.”16 Although it also takes part in political Islamist activism, TCF styles itself as an Islamist think tank that, among other things, publishes a quarterly journal, Arches Quarterly, featuring a mix of prominent Islamist thinkers and non-Muslim academics sympathetic to their cause. The foundation remains active as of 2017, despite facing a financial setback in 2014 when HSBC formally closed its longstanding bank accounts.17 
  • The North London Central Mosque (NLCM). Also known as the Finsbury Park Mosque, the NLCM was founded in 1988 as a charity. In the 1990s, it developed a reputation for acting as a center for terrorism recruitment and facilitation under the leadership of the now-convicted extremist imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, whose followers included “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, the suspected twentieth 9/11 hijacker. In early 2005, Abu Hamza was removed from the NLCM, and it was taken over by a new management committee made up of senior members of the British Muslim Brotherhood.18 One of the mosque’s trustees, Mohamed Sawalha, is an appointed member of the political bureau of Hamas.19 Sawalha and its four other trustees—Mohamed Kozbar, Ahmed Sheikh Mohammed (Treasurer), Abdel Shaheed El-Ashaal (Chairman) and Hafez al-Karmi20—were, until 2007, the registered owners of the aforementioned MWH. In addition, all the NLCM trustees, apart from al-Karmi, were also former directors of the MAB. After the takeover, MAB founder Kemal el-Helbawy acted as the mosque’s spokesman for a brief period.21 

The main Jamaat-e-Islami organizations and institutes in Britain include:

  • The UK Islamic Mission (UKIM). The UKIM was established in 1962 as an official offshoot of the Jamaat-e-Islami, with the express goal of establishing the party and its ideology as a major political and social force.22 With around forty branches, over thirty-five mosques and numerous Islamic schools around the country, it is the single biggest Islamist organization in Britain.23 Since its inception, the UKIM has used its considerable financial resources to promote Islam in Britain as “a comprehensive way of life which must be translated into action in all spheres of human life” with the eventual aim of “moulding the entire human life in accordance with Allah’s will” and creating an “Islamic social order in the United Kingdom in order to seek the pleasure of Allah.”24 The UKIM continues to disseminate the works of Maududi as well as those of senior Muslim Brotherhood figures such as Jamal Badawi.25 
  • The Islamic Foundation (IF). Founded in 1973, the Islamic Foundation (IF) was set up as the official research institute of the burgeoning Jamaat network in Britain and is the main publisher and translator of Maududi’s works in the country.26 It is based on a ten-acre campus in Leicester and runs classes and research projects focused on spreading Islamist ideology. In 2000, the IF established the Markfield Institute of Higher Education, which offers postgraduate degrees in Islamic studies and is a crucial center through which the IF develops the Jamaat’s political ideas.27 Islam scholar Gilles Kepel has referred to the IF as “one of the most important centres for the propagation of militant Sunni Islamist thinking in the world,” also noting that much of its work is in English, which reflects their attempts to “challenge Western cultural hegemony (whether ‘secular’ or ‘Christian’) on its own linguistic territory.”28 The IF is also known to be a key facilitator of the close relationship between the British Jamaat and Muslim Brotherhood.
  • The East London Mosque (ELM). Founded in 1985, the ELM, together with the London Muslim Center, serves the community of Tower Hamlets, one of the largest Muslim populations in the United Kingdom29 and home to a large British Bangladeshi community.30 The Mosque is believed to be Jamaat affiliated due to its active promotion of the writings and ideological thought of Maududi.31 The ELM has been the subject of considerable controversy because, in 200332 and again in 2009,33 it provided a platform to American-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, one of al-Qaeda’s chief ideologues (who was subsequently killed in a U.S. drone strike in September 2011). In the first instance, a third-party group renting the mosque’s space hosted al-Awlaki via a videochat, without consulting the mosque. In the second instance, the same third-party group scheduled al-Awlaki for a videotaped lecture;34 when the mosque discovered it had done so, its officials claimed to have discussed the matter with the police, who did not raise objections about the event. While al-Awlaki’s visit and activities raised questions about the ELM’s Islamist connections, the mosque publicly distanced itself from the third-party group. It changed its speaker booking policy after the al-Awlaki controversy in order to thoroughly review and approve both speakers and subject matter before any event is held there.35
  • The Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE). The IFE is a subsidiary organization of the ELM, based within the Mosque’s complex. In keeping with the Jamaat’s mission of promoting an all-encompassing Islamist identity, its mission statement proclaims that “Islam offers a comprehensive system and the challenge to us all is to learn and embody the teachings of Islam and convey them to others in a wise, sensible and beautiful manner,” and that the group “helps to enable individuals to learn and apply the basic tools required to achieve this within a collective framework helping to develop the Muslim community and benefit the wider society.”36 The primary mission of the IFE is to train young Muslims in dawah, so that future generations can continue to propagate the movement’s message. A six-month investigation by Channel 4 and the Daily Telegraph into the IFE and ELM, which culminated in a 2010 documentary, uncovered a detailed Islamist indoctrination program based on the teachings of Maududi. Among the discoveries was the transcript of 2009 IFE recruit training course which told new members that its goal was “to create the True Believer, to then mobilise those believers into an organised force for change who will carry out dawah, hisbah [enforcement of Islamic law] and jihad. This will lead to social change and iqamatud-Deen [Islamic social, economic and political order].”37 

Muslim political organizations
Campaigning and lobbying is an important tool employed by British Islamists. Presenting themselves as representatives of the rights of persecuted Muslims, Islamist activists have acquired significant support and large media profiles, often appearing as the voice of British Muslims on television and in newspapers. 

  • The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). In the years following the Satanic Verses affair,38 the British government saw the need for a single umbrella body that could represent the political and social views of British Muslims. This led to the creation of the MCB in 1997, headed by Iqbal Sacranie, one of the most vocal critics of the novelist Salman Rushdie and his controversial book.39 The MCB expanded rapidly, and eventually claimed to have around 400 Muslim and community groups under its aegis, including the MAB, IFE and ELM. Despite a seemingly wide range of voices within the MCB, the leadership was, and remains, almost exclusively Islamist, taking its ideological cue from Maududi’s teachings in particular.40 After the 7/7 London bombings, the MCB took center stage as the government’s main advisors on extremism and radicalization, and used this influential position as an opportunity to attempt to effect real change in the government’s foreign policy. Following the attacks, the MCB issued an open letter to then Prime Minister Tony Blair imploring him to change government policy to prevent any future attacks.41 Its approach to domestic policy is centered on the belief that soft Islamists are the strongest bulwark against al-Qaeda as they can use their supposed credibility among vulnerable British Muslims to prevent them from turning to violence. As part of this approach, the MCB were defenders and supporters of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and a global advocate of this bulwark theory. In 2008, when Qaradawi was denied a visa to enter Britain on national security grounds, the MCB, along with the BMI, were openly critical of the government’s decision.42
  • The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS). Based in North London, FOSIS was established in 1962 to represent Muslim students in Islamic university societies. A 2009 government report on influential Islamic organizations notes that “the Jamaat-e Islami (JI) along with the Muslim Brotherhood were pioneers in developing student activism through the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS).”43 To this day, FOSIS remains a vehicle for Islamist activism, and coordinates the ideological direction of dozens of British university Islamic societies. It claims to represent over 90,000 students and its events have featured leading British as well as international Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami figures including Anas al-Tikriti,44 Rashid El Ghannouchi,46 Azzam Tamimi,46 Dr. Muhammed Abdul Bari,47 and Jamal Badawi.48 
  • Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPACUK). MPACUK was founded in 2001, in the aftermath of Israel’s invasion of the West Bank. As a political lobbyist group with a strongly anti-Zionist outlook, it urges Muslims to become politically active along purely sectarian, Islamist lines, and organizes campaigns against what they perceive as pro-Israel politicians. Referring to themselves as mujahideen (holy warriors), MPACUK members see their actions as a form of jihad against the marginalization and disenfranchisement of Muslims.50 During the 2010 British General Election, the group organized the “Operation Muslim Vote” campaign, which involved MPACUK activists mobilizing Muslims to vote against “several pro-Zionist war mongering MPs.”51
  • CAGE. Previously known as Cageprisoners, the group was founded in October 2003 to campaign on behalf of Muslims captured and imprisoned as part of the War on Terror, framing this work on behalf of Muslim prisoners as a religious duty instructed by Muhammed.52 Initially the group had a particular focus on Guantanamo Bay inmates, however, the organisation rebranded to become CAGE in February 2014, shifting to advocacy work focussed on opposing counter-terrorism legislation and counter-extremism efforts in the UK. As well as publishing research, the organisation also advances its message through public events, some of which have been held at schools and universities, as well as in collaboration with non-Muslim campaign groups, particularly the far left Stand Up To Racism. CAGE’s outreach director is the former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, while its director of research is Asim Qureshi, who described the Islamic State executioner Mohammed Emwazi as a “beautiful young man” and has advocated supporting Jihad against the West in overseas conflicts.53 CAGE’s support for Islamist ideologues has included inviting the al-Qaeda cleric Anwar al-Awlaki to its public events and publishing a sympathetic interview with the preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri on its website.54 In September 2017, Max Hill, Britain’s independent reviewer of terror legislation, caused significant controversy when he met with Cage.55    

  • Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND). An advocacy group that states its objectives as being to increase Muslim political engagement and raise awareness of Islamophobia, MEND campaigns against counter-extremism efforts, promotes and partners with other Islamist groups, and regularly hosts extremist preachers at its events. As well as a London based head office, Mend has expanded to include around 26 local working groups.56 The organisation’s National Community Head and former director, Azad Ali, was previously part of the Islamic Forum of Europe and was judged in court to be a “hardline Islamic extremist”. Established in September 2008 as iEngage, in the early years the organisation was particularly focussed on campaigning on the depiction of Islam in the media, as well as well as promoting anti-Israel news stories. iEngage also opposed government moves to prevent extremist preachers from visiting Britain and was critical of the banning of the al-Muhajiroun front group Islam4UK.57 In 2014, the organisation rebranded as MEND and focussed its attention on Muslim activism in electoral politics, as well as opposing counter-terrorism legislation, which it has framed as targeting Muslims and traditional Islamic practices. Mend was particularly active in efforts to mobilise Muslim voters in the run up to the 2015 elections, with the organisation’s founding CEO Sufyan Ismail outlining a strategy for making the Muslim vote the “kingmaker” in determining which party would be able to govern.58 This is despite MEND’s Azad Ali having previously expressed his opposition to democracy if it meant not implementing Sharia law. Nevertheless, a Mend video encouraging Muslims to vote featured the cleric Haitham al-Haddad, who has said that it is permissible for Muslims to vote if in the future it leads to an Islamic government.59 More recently MEND has intensified its focus on Islamophobia and this work has increasingly brought it into partnership with police forces, local councils, teachers unions, schools, and Members of Parliament. 

Democratic Rejectionists

Unlike the groups profiled above, which have developed a utilitarian approach to democracy, this category of British Islamists rejects any form of participation in the political process. While they acknowledge that other Islamists are gaining influence through their successful manipulation of the system, democracy is still seen as an unacceptable concession. For these organizations, taking part in the current secular democratic system is a form of shirk (polytheism) that recognizes national laws as being above those proscribed by God. Although they differ from Salafi jihadists on issues such as when and where violence is legitimate in order to establish an Islamic state, their stance on secular democracy is almost indistinguishable from that of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

  • Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT). HuT is a global revolutionary Islamist political party with a political interpretation of Islam inspired by the Muslim Brotherhood that works toward the re-creation of the caliphate in the Middle East as an aggressive, expansionist entity with the goal of encompassing the entire globe, thus uniting the global umma (community of Muslim faithful).60 The fundamental differences between the British wings of HuT and the Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat are tactical, not strategic—they share the same goal of creating an Islamic caliphate, but disagree on the most effective way to do so. HuT also claims to be non-violent, and the party currently pursues a grassroots strategy which recruits a core of loyal members who work to cultivate Islamist ideology among British Muslims, preparing them for the country’s eventual annexation by the caliphate after they have succeeded in its re-establishment in the Middle East.61 HuT’s recruitment and indoctrination program is often pursued through numerous front organizations based in the heart of major British Muslim communities as well as universities, which organize discussions and other events featuring leading members of the group presenting their ideology as the only true form of Islam. HuT’s support for overseas terrorism in the “defensive jihads” in Iraq, Israel and Afghanistan and their views on Jews and gays have led them to be banned from appearing on British campuses by the National Union of Students.62 In addition, senior politicians from both major British political parties, including former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and David Cameron, pledged to ban the group under anti-terrorism legislation – a legislative effort that was subsequently launched in October 2015. As part of that effort, the British government announced a wide variety of tactics that it hoped would limit radicalization, including bans on online material from radical preachers, the ability to close mosques that support extremism, more limits on extremist radio and television shows, and the ability to pressure internet service providers to remove extremist material.63 
  • Al-Muhajiroun (ALM). ALM was founded in 1996 as a direct offshoot of HuT by the former leader of HuT in Britain, Omar Bakri Mohammed.64 Mohammed split from HuT due to a dispute with the movement’s hierarchy: Bakri wanted it to change tactics and concentrate on establishing an Islamic state in Britain, rather than re-creating the caliphate in the Middle East. He therefore formed ALM with the aim of creating a cadre of activist Muslims who campaigned for the immediate creation of an Islamic state in Britain. Since its establishment, ALM has also supported “defensive jihad” in Israel, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Iraq.65 The group has campaigned and organized marches on various issues, including a few anti-voting initiatives, and was one of the main driving forces behind the mass protests in London against the Danish Mohammed cartoons in 2004.66 The group was officially disbanded in 2004 to avoid proscription, though it continued to hold meetings in Islamic centers around the country. After the 7/7 London bombings, Bakri fled the country, handing over the leadership to his deputy, Anjem Choudhary. In 2005, ALM regrouped under the banner of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah, and later formed two more offshoots, al-Ghuraaba and Saved Sect, both of which were banned in 2006 for glorifying acts of terrorism.67 Despite the bans, Choudhary and his followers were still able to operate as Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah, which was never banned, and in 2008 they began working under the name of Islam4UK. A year later, they announced the re-launch of al-Muhajiroun.68 The entire movement was ultimately banned by the government in January 2010.69 However, this has not stopped the group continuing to organize public meetings under a variety of pseudonyms, leading to a 2014 ban of three additional organizations: Need4Khilafah, the Shariah Project and the Islamic Dawah Association.70 In September 2016 Anjem Choudary was sentenced to five and a half years in prison when he was found guilty of terrorism offences regarding his calls for Muslims to support the Islamic State.71 The remnants of Al-Muhajiroun came under renewed public attention in June 2017 when it was revealed that the ringleader of the London Bridge attack was Khuram Butt, a member of the street movement made up of former members of Al-Muhajiroun and its front groups.72 In the absence of Choudary the street preacher Mohammed Shamsuddin has assumed the role of the circle’s acting leader,73 while Abu Haleema, known for his preaching on YouTube, is another prominent figure in the group.74  

“Homegrown” jihadist terrorists
Since the 7/7 attacks, the specter of British “homegrown” terrorism has remained a central concern for the country’s security services. The majority of those convicted of Islamist terrorism charges in the UK have been British citizens, with offenders tending to come from neighborhoods with both a higher than average Muslim population and higher than average levels of deprivation.75 The largest number of terror offenders have come from London, with half of those residing in East London. The second largest concentration has been in Birmingham, where three quarters of offenders came from just two areas of the city.76 Of those convicted of terrorism related offenses between 1998 and 2015, 44 percent had links to proscribed organizations, 22 percent had attended terrorist training camps and in 35 percent of cases the internet was cited as a significant source of the offenders’ engagement with extremism.77

Numerous plots, including many in the final stages of planning, have either failed or been prevented from occurring since 9/11. Since the emergence of Islamic State and the threat of returning fighters, the number of plots has grown significantly, with security services having foiled 13 plots between June 2013 and March 2017, and then a further six plots were foiled between March and September of that year.78 

Despite this success rate, a number of attacks have succeeded. In May 2013, Britain suffered its first domestic fatality to Islamist terrorism since 7/7. Drummer Lee Rigby was murdered in the streets of London by two British extremists, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale. Adebolajo had unsuccessfully attempted to join up with al-Shabaab, the Somali terrorist group, in 2010, and was also known to have spent time within the ALM network in the UK. Subsequently, in December 2015, a man was arrested at a Tube station in Leytonstone after stabbing one person, threatening to stab others, and saying “this is for Syria.” The stabbing victim survived that attack. 

In 2017 Britain, and London in particular, was hit by a wave of Islamist terror attacks. The first came in March when Khalid Masood, a 52-year-old British convert to Islam intentionally drove a van into pedestrians on London’s Westminster Bridge, killing 4 and injuring 50. Masood then attempted to force his way into Parliament, fatally stabbing a police officer before being shot and killed.79 Later that month, a music concert at the Manchester Arena suffered a suicide bombing in which 22 were killed and 500 injured. The attack was carried out by Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old student of Libyan ethnicity. As well as being linked to Islamic State, Abedi had also travelled to Libya with his father to join the Libyan Islamic Fighting group in 2011 at the time of the outbreak of the civil war there.80 At the beginning of June, three men carried out an attack on London Bridge and in the Borough Market area, killing eight and injuring 48 others. Replicating the Westminster attack, the attackers drove a van into pedestrians on the bridge before then carrying out knife attacks on those outside nearby bars and restaurants. The attackers were led by Khuram Butt, a 27-year-old British man of Pakistani heritage who had previously been part of an al-Muhajiroun offshoot.81 The other men in the cell of attackers were Rachid Redouane, a failed Moroccan-Libyan asylum seeker, and Youssef Zaghba, a Moroccan-Italian who had previously been prevented from travelling to join Islamic State in Syria.82 All three men were shot and killed.

London also suffered several smaller and foiled Islamist attacks in 2017. In April 27-year-old Mohammed Khalid Omar Ali was apprehended by police on Whitehall armed with three large knives. In addition to being charged with preparing an act of terrorism, Ali was also charged with offenses relating to terrorist activity in Afghanistan in 2012.83 In August Mohiussunnath Chowdhury, a 26-year-old British born man of Bangladeshi ancestry, attempted to attack police outside Buckingham palace with a sword.84 In September, an explosive device partially detonated on the London Underground at Parson’s Green station. Thirty people were injured as a result of the attack. The homemade device had been placed on the train by 18-year-old Ahmed Hassan, an Iraqi who had come to the UK as a refugee.85  

According to an October 2016 study conducted by the BBC, more than 850 Britons had travelled to Syria or Iraq in support of ISIS since 2014, and more than 600 others attempting to make the journey had been stopped by authorities. The investigation also uncovered that nearly half of those who went abroad in search of ISIS have returned to the United Kingdom, adding to the threat of a potential domestic attack.86 Another source of concern for UK politicians and citizens is the surge of immigration, particularly from the Syria and Iraq, that has taken place in recent years. Indeed, mounting concern for the security of the UK’s borders and its immigration policies in general were a principal issue in the country’s June 2016 referendum, commonly known as Brexit, in which UK citizens voted to leave the European Union. Many of the arguments in favor of leaving the EU centered on the need to create stronger border controls in order to inhibit the spread of ISIS fighters, and limit their potential entry into the UK.87

Islamism and Society: 

According to the last official estimates, taken from the country’s 2011 Census, Britain has a Muslim population of 2.7 million (4.8 percent of the overall population), making Muslims the second largest religious group in the country, after Christians.88 

Regarding British Muslims’ views about certain aspects of Islamism, a 2016 survey administered by ICM found that in most cases, the British Muslim population does not vary greatly from the wider population. The poll suggests that 86 percent of Muslims feel a strong sense of belonging in Britain, and 88 percent said that Britain was a good place for Muslims to live. Four percent of the population said that felt sympathy for suicide bombers, and four percent said they sympathized with people who committed terrorist acts as a form of protest in general.89 

British Islamist groups are regularly discussed in the mainstream media, often in controversial circumstances. For example, when the deputy secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, Daud Abdullah, signed a statement in support of violent jihad against Israel (see section below for more), it prompted coverage across a range of different newspapers and media outlets.90 In addition, Member of Parliament Hazel Blears, the government secretary who liaised with the Council, and Daud Abdullah both published articles stating their respective positions.91 

There is a significant element of Islamist influence in important areas of civic life. The head of the Muslim Council of Britain and Chairman of the East London Mosque, Dr. Muhammed Abdul Bari, sat on a panel for a University College London inquiry into the radicalization of one of its students, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab,92 who on Christmas Day 2009 attempted to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear on a plane over Detroit. Considering that Anwar al-Awlaki is widely regarded as a major inspiration for Abdulmutallab’s actions, Dr. Bari’s involvement in the inquiry was seen by some as inappropriate due to the controversy over the ELM hosting al-Awlaki to speak twice before he became a public figure promoting extremism.93 

Islamism and the State: 

Since the July 2005 London terror attacks, the relationship between the British state and national Islamist groups has been characterized by inconsistency. The government’s counterterrorism strategy, dubbed CONTEST, is split into four parts: Pursue, Protect, Prepare and Prevent. The first three of these priorities are straightforward, hard power methods to be implemented by the security services. The fourth—Prevent, also known as Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE)—was a new and unique approach, which is implemented through the Home Office.94 Designed with the intention of applying measures which could mitigate the influence and effect of “violent extremists,” its primary function was to act as a fund for local community organizations that pledged to tackle radicalization on a grassroots level. 

Between 2006 and 2009, the Prevent fund distributed around £12 million to hundreds of organizations around the country, and quickly began to court controversy.95 Soon after the fund was launched, there were revelations that a number of Islamist organizations were in receipt of Prevent funds despite their involvement in extremist activity. For example, in 2008 it was reported that the aforementioned Cordoba Foundation, while in receipt of Prevent funds, organized an event entitled “Has Political Participation Failed British Muslims?” which included on its panel Abdul Wahid, the Chairman of the British wing of Hizb ut-Tahrir.96

The issue of the Labour government’s dealings with Islamist groups came to a head in early 2009, when the Deputy Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Daud Abdullah, served as a signatory (along with Mohammed Sawalha of the Muslim Association of Britain) to what became known as the “Istanbul Statement,” a conference document calling on the Palestinian authority to “carry on with the jihad and resistance against the occupier until the liberation of all Palestine."97 At the time, the MCB was a governmental partner on Prevent, and the then-Secretary for the Communities and Local Government, Hazel Blears, warned the MCB that Abdullah must either resign or the government would sever all ties with them. The MCB responded by portraying Blears’ request as an attempt to exercise control over an independent Muslim body, refusing to back down. Blears subsequently cut ties with the MCB. Months later, however, Blears was replaced by John Denham, a minister with a more sympathetic view toward the MCB, and they were brought back into the fold shortly thereafter.98 

Since the Labour party lost power to a Liberal Democrat/Conservative Party coalition in May 2010, the government’s stance on the ideology of political Islamist groups such as the MCB shifted and a thorough review into the Prevent strategy led to it being recalibrated the following year. Describing the Prevent program run by the Labour government as “flawed”, the Conservative/Liberal coalition government outlined its intent to confront extremist ideology, not just its violent manifestations. Under the new approach, organizations that did not adhere to a belief in equality before the law, democracy and human rights would not be engaged with by the government, and nor would they be funded.99

However, implementation of this policy faced challenges from within reluctant elements of the civil service. For example, in June 2010, former Home Secretary and current Prime Minister Teresa May banned Zakir Naik—an Indian cleric who had praised Osama bin Laden and said that “every Muslim should be a terrorist”—from entering the UK because his presence would not be conducive to the public good. However, Charles Farr, the Director of the Office of Security and Counter Terrorism, attempted to undermine this policy and (ultimately unsuccessfully) facilitate Naik’s entrance into the country.100 

In 2011, the coalition government undertook a review of the Prevent duty in which it was acknowledged that, initially, Prevent delivery had conflated the promotion of integration with the needs of counter-terrorism.101 The revised Prevent duty put a renewed focus on combatting extremist ideology and identified working with public sector institutions where there was a risk of radicalisation as a key area of focus. Subsequently, in 2015, Prevent was made a statutory duty requiring schools, universities, police, prisons, hospitals and local government to take measures to guard against extremism in their institutions. The duty also included a counter-radicalisation component by which those displaying signs of being drawn into extremism could be referred to officials in their local area for voluntary mentorship and support.

From the outset, the statutory duty was subjected to intense opposition from certain sectors, particularly from Islamist linked groups. In 2016-17, Prevent became subject to a legal challenge when Dr. Salman Butt, editor of the Islamist website Islam21c, brought a case against the Home Secretary in the High Court. Dr. Butt’s side had claimed that the Prevent duty guidance for higher education broke the law by restricting free speech. However, the court found in favor of the government, confirming that Prevent does not limit free speech, and contrary to other claims, does not infringe on normative Islamic practice.102

In addition to putting Prevent on a statutory footing, 2015 saw David Cameron’s government take several further steps on combatting extremism. The Extremism Analysis Unit was established within the Home Office to provide government departments and the wider public sector with information and resources on extremism. The government also released a wider Counter-Extremism strategy, expanding and building on work being done as part of Prevent. That year the government also made public plans for a Counter-Extremism Bill, however, under scrutiny from parliamentary committees this legislation was never put before parliament. In 2016 amended proposals for a Counter-Extremism Bill were announced, but this too received considerable criticism and never progressed further in the legislative process. Instead, following the Islamist terror attacks of 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that the government would be establishing a commission for countering extremism. Specifically, the commission would be tasked with reducing tolerance for extremism throughout British society. 

Debates about the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood have also continued to go unresolved. In 2014, then-Prime Minister David Cameron ordered an in-depth investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood and a review and of government policy towards the organization. The review, concluded in December 2015, led Cameron to the following observation of the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United Kingdom: 

Parts of the Muslim Brotherhood have a highly ambiguous relationship with violent extremism. Both as an ideology and as a network it has been a rite of passage for some individuals and groups who have gone on to engage in violence and terrorism. The main findings of the review support the conclusion that membership of, association with, or influence by the Muslim Brotherhood should be considered as a possible indicator of extremism.108

However, the results of the review were not unanimously agreed upon by all MPs, specifically the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee (FCO), which commissioned a second report investigating the Muslim Brotherhood and its political influence on the United Kingdom. The results, released in November 2016, criticized and refuted much of the first report (also known as the Jenkins Report, for former UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir John Jenkins). 

For example, the FCO criticized the Jenkins report for neglecting much of the happenings within the Muslim Brotherhood since its ouster from power in Egypt in 2013, a time the FCO deemed critical for understanding the status and standing of the group in more recent years. It also took aim at the conflict of interest for Jenkins, who was UK ambassador while leading the original review.109 Opinions about the Muslim Brotherhood, and political Islam in general, in the United Kingdom continue to be a hot button issue for politicians, and the June 2016 referendum to leave the European Union has unknown implications for policy towards Islam in the United Kingdom for years to come.

In March 2016, the Foreign Affairs Committee launched a parliamentary inquiry into political Islam which also encompassed elements relating to the Muslim Brotherhood. The findings, published in November 2016, took a more nuanced attitude toward non-violent Islamists, promoting a policy of greater pragmatism; encouraging British efforts to engage with and influence certain Islamist parties.110 The focus of the report was primarily concerned with defining political Islam and providing guidance on policy towards Islamist groups in the Middle East and North Africa. While the report primarily concerned groups based outside of the UK, the inquiry has contributed to greater government understanding of domestic Islamist movements as well. 


[1] The term “soft Islamist” will be used throughout this entry to refer to Islamist groups that use “soft power” in pursuit of their goals, in particular the two main revivalist organizations: the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jamaat-e-Islami.
[2] Brigitte Maréchal, “Universal Aspirations: The Muslim Brotherhood In Europe,” International Institute for the Study of the Muslim World ISIM Review no.22, Autumn 2008, 36-37.
[3] UK Land Registry, Title Number: NGL700045.
[4] “Six Decades of Repression: An Interview With Adbel Shaheed al-Ashaal,” St. Andrews University Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence Islamism Digest, February 2007.
[5] Hassan al-Banna Foundation Certificate of Incorporation as a Limited Company, Companies House, February 11, 1997.
[6] Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe, “President Of The Federation And Head Of The Assembly Of Islamic Imams Meet President Of The Commission And European Parliament President,” n.d.,
[7] “EU Muslim Converts Sharing Experiences,” IslamOnline, April 12, 2009,
[8] Maréchal, “Universal Aspirations.”
[9] It is unclear if it was originally set up as a limited company. Official company records for the MAB only date back to 1999.
[10] “Kemal El-Helbawy CV,” n.d.,
[11] Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, “The Unraveling: The Jihadist Revolt Against Al-Qaeda,” The New Republic, June 11, 2008.
[12] Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe, “FIOE Organisations,” n.d.,
[13] Cited on the official website of the MAB,
[14] 2008 Appointments Report for The Cordoba Foundation LTD, Companies House.
[15] David Cameron, speech at the Community Security Trust, London, March 4, 2008.
[16] The Cordoba Foundation, “About us,” n.d.,
[17] Samuel Westrop, “UK: HSBC Shuts Down Islamist Bank Accounts,” Gatestone Institute, August 2, 2014, 
[18] “The Battle For The Mosque,” BBC News, February 7, 2006.
[19] ‘Finsbury mosque leader Mohammed Sawalha part of Hamas politburo’, The Times, 7 November 2017,
[20] NLCM press release, “New Era For North London Central Mosque,” February 5, 2005.
[21] Bergen and Cruickshank, “The Unraveling.”
[22] Michael Whine, “The Penetration of Islamist Ideology in Britain,” Hudson Institute Current Trends in Islamist Ideology 1, May 2005.
[23] According to the official website of UKIM,
[24] UKIM, “Introduction,” n.d., as cited in Giles Kepel, Allah in the West: Islamic Movements in America and Europe (Oxford: Polity Press, 1997).
[25] UKIM, “UK Islamic Mission Dawah: Resource To Online Islamic Books & Articles,” n.d.,
[26] Innes Bowen, Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent: Inside British Islam (Oxford University Press, 2014).
[27] Sayyed Vali Resa Nasr, The Vanguard Of The Islamic Revolution: Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).
[28] Kepel, Allah in the West.
[29] “East London Mosque: Vision and Mission,” n.d., [30]“Ethnicity in Tower Hamlets Analysis of 2011 Census data,” 2013, 
[31] Samuel Westrop, “Britain Legitimizes, Funds Terrorist Movement,” Gatestone Institute, March 3, 2013, 
[32] Audio of Awlaki’s speech at the ELM is available at
[33] Gordon Rayner, “Muslim Groups ‘Linked To September 11 Hijackers Spark Fury Over Conference,’” Daily Telegraph (London), December 27, 2008,; “Councillor Slams Muslim Lecture ‘New York In flames’ Poster,” East London Advertiser, December 31, 2008.
[34] Gordon Rayner, “Muslim groups ‘linked to September 11 hijackers spark fury over conference,” The Telegraph, December 27, 2008,
[35] “East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre Statement on Anwar Awlaki,” East London Mosque Trust Management, November 6, 2010, 
[36] IFE, “Islamic Forum Of Europe: Responding To The Call,” n.d.,
[37] Andrew Gilligan, “IFE: Not Harmless Democrats,” Guardian (London), March 4, 2010.
[38] After novelist Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses in 1988, there were widespread protests and riots by Muslims in Europe, the Middle East and South Asia who considered the content of the book blasphemous and insulting to the Prophet Mohammed. This culminated in the issuing of a fatwa by the Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, in February 1989, which called on Muslims to kill the author in the name of Islam and Mohammed. This saga is widely seen as a watershed moment in the political “awakening” of Western Muslims, and is probably best recounted by Kenan Malik in From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Legacy (London: Atlantic Books, 2009).
[39] Sacranie famously said of the novelist: “death, perhaps, is a bit too easy for him? His mind must be tormented for the rest of his life unless he asks for forgiveness to Almighty Allah.” See “Rushdie In Hiding After Ayatollah's Death Threat,” Guardian (London), February 18, 1989.
[40] Martin Bright, When Progressives Treat With Reactionaries: The British State’s Flirtation With Radical Islamism (London: Policy Exchange, 2006).
[41] “Full Text: Muslim Groups' Letter,” BBC, August 12, 2005,
[42] “Muslim Outrage As Yusuf al-Qaradawi Refused UK Visa,” Times of London, February 7, 2008,
[43] Department for Communities and Local Government, “The Pakistani Muslim Community In England,” March 2009.
[44] “FOSIS Annual Conference 2005,”
[45] “FOSIS Annual Conference 2007,”
[46] “FOSIS Annual Conference 2003,”
[47] “FOSIS Annual Conference 2003.”
[48] FOSIS, “Muslim Contribution To Civilisation, Dr. Jamal Badawi, February 2010,” n.d.,
[49] MPACUK, “About Us.’ 
[50] MPACUK, “Watford Campaign Starts With A Bang!,” April 18, 2010,
[51] MPACUK, “Operation Muslim Vote,” May 5, 2010,
[52] Understanding CAGE: A Public Information Dossier, The Henry Jackson Society, April 10 2015, 
[53] Understanding CAGE: A Public Information Dossier. 
[54] Understanding CAGE: A Public Information Dossier. 
[55] ‘Anti-terror chief Max Hill accused of “schoolboy error”’, The Times, September 3 2017, 
[56] ‘Mend: “Islamists Masquerading As Civil Libertarians”’, The Henry Jackson Society, October 31 2017,
[57] ‘The baroness, Islamic extremists and a question of free speech,’ the Telegraph, March 22 2015,
[58] ‘The baroness, Islamic extremists and a question of free speech.'
[59] ‘The baroness, Islamic extremists and a question of free speech.’
[60] Hizb ut-Tahrir, Hizb ut-Tahrir (London: Al-Khilafah Publications, 2000).
[61] For more on HT in Britain, see Houriya Ahmed and Hannah Stuart, Hizb ut-Tahrir: Ideology and Strategy (London: Centre for Social Cohesion, 2009).
[62] “‘Stealth’ Islamists Recruit Students,” Times of London, October 16, 2005.
[63] Lisa Miller, “David Cameron unveils new anti-terrorism measures allowing parents to block children’s passports,” ABC News, October 19, 2015,
[64] “Jews Fear Rise Of The Muslim ‘Underground,’” Guardian (London), February 18, 1996.
[65] Suha Taji-Farouki, “Islamists And The Threat Of Jihad: Hizb al-Tahrir And al-Muhajiroun On Israel And The Jews,” Middle Eastern Studies 36, no. 4, October 2000, 21-46.
[66] “Reaction Around The World To Cartoon Row,” BBC, February 4, 2006,
[67] “Reid Bans Two Radical Muslim Groups,” Guardian (London), July 7, 2006.
[68] “Islamist Al-Muhajiroun Relaunch Ends In Chaos Over Segregation Attempt,” Guardian (London), June 18, 2009.
[69] “Islam4UK To Be Banned, Says Alan Johnson,” Guardian (London), January 12, 2010.
[70] “Ministers ban suspected aliases of banned extremist group,” BBC, June 26, 2014,  
[71] ‘Anjem Choudary jailed for five-and-a-half years for urging support of Isis, the Guardian, September 6 2016, 
[72] ‘The Jihadis Next Door - read our original review’, the Telegraph, June 5 2017,
[73] ‘Mohammed Shamsuddin’, Counter Extremism Project,
[74] ‘Abu Haleema’, Counter Extremism Project,
[75] “Islamist Terrorism Analysis of Offences and Attacks in the UK (1998-2015),” Henry Jackson Society, 2017,
[76] “Islamist Terrorism Analysis of Offences and Attacks in the UK (1998-2015).”
[77] “Islamist Terrorism Analysis of Offences and Attacks in the UK (1998-2015).”
[78] ‘Seven terror plots foiled in six months, Sadiq Khan reveals’, The Telegraph, September 25 2017,
[79] ‘London attack: Khalid Masood identified as killer’, BBC News, 23 March 2017,
[80] ‘Salman Abedi: from hot-headed party lover to suicide bomber’, the Guardian, May 26 2017, 
[81] ‘London Bridge attacker named as Khuram Butt’, the Guardian, 5 June 2017, 
[82] ‘London Bridge: third attacker named as Youssef Zaghba’, the Guardian, June 6 2017 
[83] ‘Whitehall terror suspect Khalid Mohammed Omar Ali charged with preparing acts of terrorism’ , the Evening Standard, 9 May 2017
[84] ‘Palace terror suspect was Uber driver who had tried to get to Windsor Castle’, the Guardian, September 1 2017 
[85] ‘Iraqi teenager appears in court accused of Parsons Green bombing’, the Guardian, 22 September 2017 
[86] “Who are Britian’s jihadis?” BBC, October 10, 2016,
[87] Clark Mindock, “What The Brexit Means For ISIS: US, EU Terrorism Battle Against Islamic State After UK Vote Could Be Strained,” International Business Times, June 24, 2016,
[88] Office for National Statistics, Census 2011, September 2012,
[89] Frances Perraudin, “Half of all British Muslims think homosexuality should be illegal, poll finds,” The Guardian, April 11, 2016,
[90] “British Muslim Leader Urged To Quit Over Gaza,” Guardian (London), March 8, 2009; “Hazel Blears' Standoff With Muslim Council Overshadows New Anti-Terror Launch,” Guardian (London), March 25, 2009; “Government Ties With MCB Restored But Not For Deputy,” Daily Telegraph (London), January 15, 2010.
[91] Daud Abdullah, “My Reply To Hazel Blears,” Guardian (London), March 26, 2009; Hazel Blears, “Our Shunning Of The MCB Is Not Grandstanding,” Guardian (London), March 26, 2009.
[92] Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab: Report to UCL Council of independent inquiry panel, University College London, September 2010.
[93] For example, see Paul Goodman, “Why The Conservative Party Should Have Nothing To Do With The East London Mosque,” Conservative Home, October 12, 2010. Until May 2010, Mr. Goodman was a Member of Parliament and Shadow Communities Secretary for the Conservative Party.
[94] HM Government, Counter-terrorism strategy (CONTEST), n.d.,
[95] For a comprehensive breakdown of all Prevent funded groups, see Tax Payers’ Alliance, “Council Spending Uncovered II, No.5: The Prevent Strategy,” September 8, 2009.
[96] “Muslim Pressure Group Wins Anti-Democracy Debate,” East London Advertiser, February 27, 2008.
[97] “British Muslim Leader Urged To Quit Over Gaza,” Guardian (London), March 8, 2009.
[98] “Government Seeks To Recast Relations With British Muslims,” Guardian (London), August 10, 2009.
[99] HM Government, Prevent Strategy, June 2011,
[100] “Theresa May under pressure to sack top adviser in row over ban on Muslim preacher”, Telegraph (London), October 19, 2010,
[101] Prevent Strategy, HM Government, July 2011.
[102] ‘High Court rejects legal challenge against counter-radicalisation strategy at UK universities’, Policy Exchange, 30 July 2017 
[103] ‘PM's Extremism Taskforce: tackling extremism in universities and colleges top of the agenda’, GOV.UK, September 17 2015 
[104] ‘Counter-Extremism Strategy’, GOV.UK, October 19 2015, 
[105] Understanding CONTEST: The Foundation and The Future, The Henry Jackson Society, 11 July 2017 
[106] Understanding CONTEST: The Foundation and The Future.
[107] ‘Paralysis at the heart of UK counter-extremism policy’, the Guardian, 17 September 2017
[108] “UK Split over Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia,” Eurasia Review, November 28, 2016,
[109] "Political Islam," and the Muslim Brotherhood Review Sixth Report of Session 2016–17, House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, November 2016,
[110] ”Political Islam," and the Muslim Brotherhood Review’,  House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, 7 November 2016