My interview: Adam Deen Joins Quilliam Foundation


Adam Deen has joined the Quilliam Foundation. I sat down with him at the Quilliam offices to discuss why he had joined and what he was hoping to achieve.

The narrative of changing your mind is not one with a single eureka style moment he tells me. About ten years ago Adam was a member of an Islamist extremist group Al-Muhajirou, a now illegal group that once had the infamous Anjem Choudhary heading it. Such a mindset takes time to shake off, even when you leave an extremist group. If there was an idea which never sat comfortably for Deen, even during his extremism years ago, it was death for apostasy. One reason he set up the Deen Institute was to have the debate and inquiry into what Islam is. As he mentions in his reasons for joining Quilliam:

“For me, the last few years in particular have brought to light a ‘religious’ minority of Muslims whose interpretation of Islam is anti-rationalistic and at odds with basic ethical principles. These protagonists have a disproportionate stronghold on the religious community and merely provide lip service to a rational Islam.”

He goes on to mention “a forgotten rationalist heritage of the Islamic tradition” and mentioned to me how he hopes to push this issue in debates with Islamists, but also in reaching out about Islam. To pin down where Islamism is going against the Koranic teaching, thus exposing the extremism which is often “hiding behind a dogma of unity” then trying to prevent discussion and critical inquiry by holding on to a victimhood mentality. One that seeks to pass the total blame on western foreign policy rather than an irrational view of Islamic theology.

The decision to join Quilliam followed months of discussions with Haras Rafiq, who is the Managing Director of the foundation. It seems atheists like myself tweeting Deen over the years really did not help in this move from extremism to a human rights model calling for “Islam’s own enlightenment” in countering extremism. I asked how his critics might have helped at the time. He replied asking him to examine, within Islam, counter-views to his own positions would have.

In making now the counter-extremist argument, Deen emphasised universities rather than Mosques as key. With Islamic Societies on campus, often having new staff members at least every three years, the main speakers on the circuit to invite are those that promote an Islamist view. Students lacking a theological understanding of Islam makes countering it from such seasoned speakers that much more challenging. They need the tools to do so.

There needs to be Muslims not just questioning such things as apostasy killings, but pinning down other Muslims who use a “rational double-talk” in debates to obfuscate what they would admit privately as their position. Rather than this being seen as “isalmophobic” or being a “house Muslim” this is about tackling the toxic theocratic ideology that underpins extremism.

Not everyone welcomes that. But Deen feels that is what Islam needs right now, and in countering extremism joining the Quilliam Foundation for him is part of that vital work.

Talking this all over with Deen, I could sense here was a man hungry to stop the extremist manipulation of a faith he cares passionately for. Someone who wants to bring heat and light to the discussion. I look forward to seeing him in action.

Article written by John Sargeant on Homo economicus’ Weblog

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Filed under British Society, Religion, Secularism

10 responses to “My interview: Adam Deen Joins Quilliam Foundation

  1. Chris Moos

    Hi John,

    I think it is worthwhile emphasising that while Deen has certainly come from a very extreme position, and has gone a long way towards the middle, his positions as they stand are not by any means acceptable. There are four main points:

    1) His constant promotion of sharia law.

    2) His loathing of ex-Muslims, which he describes as “ex-Muslim extremists” and has even coined the no less ridiculous term “ex-Muslimists” for. It’s all nice and fine that he thinks ex-Muslims shouldn’t be killed, but his attitude to them is clearly still very bigoted. He has even drawn a cartoon where he suggests that ex-Muslims say that ex-Muslims would say that “Muslims eat apostate flesh”. A vicious slander that quite clearly shows how his attitude towards ex-Muslims.

    3) His attitudes towards women, for example when he suggested that “wearing heels is worse than genital mutilation”. This is the classic Islamist ‘modesty’ narrative used to shame female victims of violence and harassment.

    4) His portrayal as secularism as “aggresive” and “militant”. Again, the classic narrative of the religious far-right.

    This is Deen long after his Al-Muhajiroun days. In addition to that he does not even appear to have shed all his ideas about political Islam either. In his article he says that “Islam has a political dimension, and to claim it doesn’t, means distorting Islam by ignoring something that is inherently part of it.” So all those Muslim secularists who think Islam is and should indeed be a private matter just like any other belief are wrong and “distorting” an “inherent part of Islam”? This appears to be a clear rejection of the secular principal of religion as private affair, and a qualification to what he is saying about Islam not having a ‘divinely ordained system of governance’. In effect, it is a somewhat softer version of the usual claims that Islamists making about Islam being ‘inherently’ political and hence inseparable from politics.

    If really he wants to challenge extremists, why is he not clearly and publicly distancing himself from these extreme, anti-ex-Muslim, misogynistic and anti-secularist views?


    • Watch this space, as they say. But you are correct his shift has been gradual and we will see how his thinking has changed from this point on if not clear yet.

      • Chris Moos

        What do you mean watch this space? If his thinking has changed, then why hasn’t he said so publicly? Do you not seen any problem with this guy being presented as the next anti-extremism expert, while clearly he has never denounced many of his extremists views? Read his stance on Sharia courts for example

      • My point is he will distance himself from his past views in 2015 – give him the chance to do so by linking your comment on here to him. That’s my point. If he does not, then yes problematic as you point out.

      • Chris Moos

        I can’t reply to the comment below so doing it here. My point is: Should someone who has never distanced himself from his extreme views work for an anti-extremist organisation?

      • Sorry was at an event. He now holds and advocates a human rights view as I mention in piece. He is distancing himself from his pay extremist views, but it is fair enough asking him specifics given what he may have said in the past.

    • You linked to an article Deen wrote a HALF A DECADE AGO. I’m delighted to see you “muscular liberals” giving this guy a hard time. The message is very clear: Whatever you do, it’s NEVER enough to appease us.

      You have to be a total supine sell out who is not a Muslim in any meaningful way or you don’t get a place at the table. The result should be that no self respecting Muslims WANTS a seat at the table.

      Four years ago, I met the crew over at Harry’s Place. For various reasons, I have shifted from classical liberal secuarlist to…well, not that anymore. Although “muscular liberals” were NOT the sole reason for this shift, they were part of the reason. Their heavy-handed tactics and unwillingness to compromise on any level–their ideological tyranny–turned me against them. And with that shift, a total re-evaluation led me to views EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what they’re supposedly trying to promote.

      I don’tk now if Deen has it in him to be a Maajid. Maybe he has really turned atheist or suffers from antisocial personality disorder. Maybe he’s just greedy for money. I don’t know, but it will be interesting to see. As for whether or not he will lead meaningful “reform,” the notion is laughable. No one from Quilliam is going to influence mainstream Muslim opinion–at least not in the way you and your ilk want.

  2. I agree with focusing on university Islamic societies, but I don’t agree with “rather than mosques.” It’s the same argument of “nothing to see here” with mosques, because it’s (radicalisation) all on the internet.
    A seed has to be sown somewhere, even if for some, the tipping point has come at university.
    Is it something like 1500+ mosques in the UK? Who can possibly know what is going on in each and every one? Some imams claim that no extremism is happening, but it’s impossible to know. The same goes for madrassas. Two undercover Dispatches programs showed what was happening, therefore can still happen.

    (From the article)
    “There needs to be Muslims not just questioning such things as apostasy killings, but pinning down other Muslims who use a “rational double-talk” in debates to obfuscate what they would admit privately as their position. Rather than this being seen as “isalmophobic” (sic) or being a “house Muslim” this is about tackling the toxic theocratic ideology that underpins extremism.”

    I feel vindicated! As so should anyone who has been questioning this for years and ran the risk of having all sorts of names thrown at us.
    So obviously Adam will feel the wrath (or the shunning) of certain characters who were previously friends.
    Cerie Bullivant from CAGE was in an interview the other week regarding the government extremism measures. He frowned and said something like, “Even Sheikh Haitham is considered extreme.” He was genuinely bemused and concerned. I’d say this was a reference to Haitham al Haddad who is not shy at all from declaring the deaths of gays, adulterers and apostates.
    That interview was hosted by Dilly Hussein and included Hamza Tzortis. Neither challenged his bemusement.

  3. Another point directly about Adam Deen, because I see Chris Moos’ replies…..

    It seems to me that almost everyone who gets involved from whichever direction, has some sort of skeleton in their closet that they have to defend or deny from time to time. That goes for Mehdi Hasan, Douglas Murray, Tommy Robinson, Francois-Cerrah, Ansar, Ajmal Masroor, etc, etc. It might be one thing said years ago, or multiple things. That’s not a concrete defence at this point though – just an observation.

    With Deen, and his appearances on The Big Questions, I could be throwing things at the tele. This year, he started denouncing “puritanical Islam,” and an appearance on Panorama had him seemingly realising what others had already realised. I remember thinking, “What’s happened to him?” Had the penny finally dropped? Did it take his appearance in the “Happy Muslims” video and the backlash that followed to make him realise?

    There will most certainly be things to answer/clarify etc and it will be interesting to see who he supports and who either supports him, or goes against him now. But I fully understand the cynicism at this point. The ball is in court as they say.

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