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Page 52 of 59

The Narcissist

May God preserve us from fame, celebrity and great acclaim. May He protect us from the attention-seeking ego, from the lust for admiration, from inflated self-regard.

If one day we should state our intention to head for the hills and disappear, may our words be true. Let not the lusts of the narcissistic self drive us back to the crowd, reinvented and redefined, to seek out undeserved praise once more. Let us not forever live a life seeking to be known, but grant us instead a hunger and thirst to know You.

May God protect us from leading others astray, and from being led astray, and from misguided followings, fan clubs, groupies and admirers. May He purify our hearts, keeps us straight, grant us humility, make us prayerful and gentle. May He not let us be a trial for others, may our words not be the cause of great harm. May He be the source of all our pleasure, may He tame our hearts and grant us peace. May He decree for us a blessed return.

May God preserve us from fame, celebrity and great acclaim.

Virtuous Reality

Who sits this side of the computer terminal, tapping out words that shoot out across the web? Nobody knows.

Nobody knows if the author is a believer or a doubter, the pious or a sinner, the learned or the ignorant, a guide, the guided, the misguided or a misguider. Nobody knows if the author is who she says she is, if she is a ghost-writer, a fantasist or an imposter. Nobody knows if what he says is honest and true, or if with his typing fingers he proclaims one thing, whilst his heart witnesses to another.

Of course only God and ourselves know what our hearts contain, but in this world of decapitated voices we are more easily led astray. A thousand admirers praised an author for their vast faith, sincerity and piety, whilst the applauded one’s faith withered away, witnessed only by God, close companions and their computer’s pale night-time glow. But how, but why, but please, oh no!

Such pain for one nobody ever even knew, except through their own words, selected and refined for public consumption. Who sits before the whirring box, its disk drives chattering, its fan blowing hard, its display imprinting the retinas with those small white squares that return whenever he looks back at his beloved? Nobody knows, except He who knows what our hearts contain.

May our Lord grant us virtuous non-virtual companions who guide by their actions and character, not merely by the words of their tongues or typing fingers, who emit that great light of faith that alone can carry us home.

Hold fast to the rope of Allah

Hold fast to the rope of Allah and never take your faith for granted. These are not empty words.

I have passed through those phases of great despair — despair at my own propensity to overwhelm myself with the same sins over and over — when a voice from within whispers, “There is no hope for you.”

God is Most Merciful insists optimism in one ear. But my sins are too many, too consistent, too repetitive, too foolish, too inexcusable… too much to bear. The pessimistic soul feels them weighing on him too heavily. It is not long before he is contemplating abandoning his soul to destruction, not because he disbelieves in God, but because he disbelieves in himself.

This blog has documented many such troughs in my own life, but I am not alone. A friend’s words were once littered with sentiments such as these, though few noticed at the time, attributing them to modesty or humility instead. “Be who I am not,” they once said, telling us how far we had misjudged them: “From these depths, I see what goodness is, and this is why I want you to aspire to it.

These were not the words of one who had lost their faith in God, but of one who had lost faith in their own capacity to rise above whatever dragged them down. They saw what faith could do for you, but they had already given up on their own self. Such is the nature of despair.

But who despairs of God’s mercy except one who has gone astray? This verse reverberates in my mind each time I descend into that heavy gloom under the weight of my sins. There remains an intense fear that we take His forgiveness for granted, and that He might withdraw it from us. The fear remains that those sins will come back to haunt us, but hope must prevail for it is the antidote to despair. The ultimate outcome of despair is simply giving up: my sins are too many, too vast, too great, so why bother?

The answer, I have found over recent months, is to make gradual steps towards rectifying one’s condition. For a decade I was unable to read the Qur’an in Arabic, for I told myself that the task of learning it was beyond me, but these past few months I have begun to make progress. For five years my Qur’an teacher instructed us to make a regular habit of reading the Qur’an, but only in the past few months have we begun starting the day with a portion of Ya-Sin and ending it with Surat al-Mulk.

My shortcomings outweigh my progress for sure — and I am not immune to continuing to fail — but it is necessary to put in place an antidote to despair. It is necessary to take small steps now, in order to make greater strides in the future, if the Most Merciful wills. “Certainly,” says our Lord in a Hadith Qudsi reported by al-Tabarani, “I run the affairs of My servants by My knowledge of what is in their hearts.”

In these past few months when our little universe has changed immensely, when great blessings have descended upon us unexpectedly, I have come to appreciate the rope of Allah all the more. In God is the remedy to all of our affairs.

Fitna

Two or three years ago in one very insignificant corner of the internet, a huge argument broke out between proponents of vaguely different interpretations of Islam, between brothers if you will. To the casual observer, such as myself peering in, it seemed like a skirmish on the border. But its effect on others was catastrophic.

Some of our fellow Muslims, many of them converts to the deen, had already lived through the Salafi inquisitions of the late 1990s that had demanded that the enthusiastic new faithful declare exactly which type of Salafi they were. Some Muslims, distraught by the collapse of the structures that had sustained their nascent faith, found their iman shattered and left the fold soon thereafter. Others held on, trusting in the guidance of Allah, recalling that they became Muslim for the sake of God, not for the sake of people, insisting that the schism would not shake them.

For some, salvation came in the form of what would later be called Traditional Islam. Early websites introduced them to material that had largely been unavailable in the English language until then and a new way forward emerged. Their old enthusiasm for their faith returned as they grasped hold of isnads and ijazahs connecting them back to the Prophet, peace be upon him. The sunnah sprang back to life in their lives, revealed in their conduct and words, and in their appeal to the words of the Prophet, peace be upon him, whenever they perceived shortcomings in themselves and those around them.

For a while it seemed that they had found themselves in the midst of a different kind of community, one that would not succumb to the very human failings they had witnessed previously. This community was, it was thought, less self-righteous, gentler, more grounded in the humility that faith promotes.

All of sudden, however, that illusion was blasted to pieces. In the tempest of an argument that came from nowhere, the very voices that had called people to faith now raged with a sectarian intolerance that stunned those who had benefitted from them in the past. It was apparent to me as an outside observer—still just a Muslim lacking investment in any particular group—that many of the participants were oblivious to the impact of their involvement in the new schism. They certainly did not see how their standing fell in the eyes of people who had once respected them immensely, and what that loss of guidance meant for them.

Some, distraught by the apparent disintegration of a firm foundation beneath them, found their iman teetering on the brink and left the fold soon thereafter. Others held on, trusting in the guidance of Allah, recalling that they became Muslim for the sake of God, not for the sake of people, insisting that the schism would not shake them. But just as this was not the first, it would also not be the last, and the aftershocks and convulsions went on, buffeting believers to and fro over the weeks and months that followed.

For some who had invested heavily in their faith, it was a calamity amongst calamities that severely tested them. Alas, for some it was the catalyst for a certainty that none of us would wish for now: that certainty in nothingness, that those of us who have been atheist have had the misfortune to experience in full. It was, if you like, The End.

Yet all of us are tested by degrees. Some of us by the call of our own nafs or childlessness. Some by divorce and in bringing up severely disabled children alone. Some by the destruction of their homeland and being forced to live as a refugee until the end. Some by a great flood, or by the pollution of their livelihood. Some by the death of a loved-one to cancer. Some by their own terminal illness. Some by slaughter and oppression. Some by wealth, and ease, and love and light and happiness. And some by the fitnas that return time after time.

My Qur’an teacher taught his class one day that the word fitna is of the Arabic root alfatn. In days of old there were people who would mix lesser metals with gold for personal gain, but their deception could be detected by tossing coins into the flames of a fire. The process of separating true gold from false in this way is know as alfatn. It is the law of God, our teacher taught us, to put people through tribulation to separate those made from gold from the rest:

2. Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried?

3. But We have certainly tried those before them, and God will surely make evident those who are truthful, and He will surely make evident the liars.

4. Or do those who do evil deeds think they can outrun Us? Evil is what they judge.

5. Whoever should hope for the meeting with God—indeed, the term decreed by God is coming. And He is the Hearing, the Knowing.

6. And whoever strives only strives for the benefit of himself. Indeed, God is Free from need of the worlds.

7. And those who believe and do righteous deeds—We will surely remove from them their misdeeds and will surely reward them according to the best of what they used to do.

8. And We have enjoined upon man goodness to parents. But if they endeavour to make you associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them. To Me is your return, and I will inform you about what you used to do.

9. And those who believe and do righteous deeds—We will surely admit them into Paradise among the righteous. {Surah al-Ankabut}

Nothing that happens in our lives occurs without the will of God. And it has been said that those most loved by God are often tested to ever greater degrees, raising their standing before their Lord beyond our wildest dreams. At times, when the darkest and most difficult moments descend, we may stumble and err, for of course we are but human. But our Lord is known as the Most Merciful, the Compassionate, and He leaves the door to repentance open for us repeatedly.

They said: “We give thee glad tidings in truth: be not then in despair!” He said: “And who despairs of the mercy of his Lord, but such as go astray?”  {Qur’an 15.55}

The door is open for as long as he prolongs our lives.

O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it. {Hadith Qudsi}

Here I am reminded of that old parable of the lost sheep from my childhood. Indeed of the parable of the prodigal son. May God keep us all on the straight path and raise us in a good state on the Day of Judgement. And may He guide those who have lost faith back to His Way, raising them stronger than before.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, was once asked, ‘What actions are most excellent?’ He replied, ‘To gladden the heart of human beings, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted, to lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful and to remove the sufferings of the injured.’

He, peace be upon him, also said, ‘Give glad tidings and do not repel the people. Make things easy for the people and do not make it difficult for them and make them calm with glad tidings and do not repulse them.’

Are any more words required?

Amnesia

During the last football World Cup, my wife and I were invited to attend a small gathering hosted by some friends in their home. Although we knew them to be Shia Muslims (Shi’atu Ali), we quite gladly accepted their invitation so as not to break their hearts. So it was that we found ourselves in their living room, kneeling upon the floor, listening to their imam deliver a speech on a particular aspect of Islam. I have to admit that I found his talk all quite normal and acceptable; there was nothing unorthodox about it at all.

Yet when the talk ended, it was followed by almost half an hour of hysterical tears and sobbing. At this point my wife got up from the back of the room and disappeared into the kitchen to wait for it to end, but as I had taken my place close to the imam I was unable to move without causing disruption. So I just buried my eyes in the carpet and tried to work up some sympathy for their distress, wondering if my more muted reaction to terrible events centuries earlier betrayed my insensitivity to the suffering of mankind.

I began, I regret, to start wondering if the wailing around me would ever end. Grown men on my left and right were choking on their tears, the ladies at the back of the room the same. Of course I began asking myself if there was something wrong with me; if my heart had turned to stone and turned cold. But as it turned out, I needn’t have worried at all. All of a sudden, just as abruptly as the weeping had started, the great lament ceased.

Before me, the recently tearful imam rose to his feet and asked for the massive flat-panel television to be switched on for the match. Within thirty seconds of the sobbing ceasing, their great distress had seemingly been forgotten. As the screen brightened, all of the eyes already glued to the screen, the scene had completely changed. I offered my seat—the best in the house for TV viewing—to the imam, apologising that I wasn’t really into football. I can’t even remember which team we were supporting, only that it was playing Denmark.

I remembered this experience last week when I encountered a young man wailing about the injustices suffered by the people of Gaza at the hands of the Israelis. I don’t think any reasonable person would disagree with him. It was just that I watched as his mourning suddenly gave way to a lengthy discussion about the merits of one football team over an other in the upcoming World Cup. It seemed sort of symptomatic of our state these days.

A kind of amnesia has overcome us, our attention-span severely stunted. One moment we are on a knife-edge, poised in anger and rage. The next moment we have forgotten, wandering on obliviously, until the next crisis strikes.

Women and Children

As sections of the media and governments worldwide congratulate themselves for telling Israel off for shooting civilians on the Mavi Maramara earlier this week, I am struck by the absolute lack of outrage at that hideous by-product of America’s robotic assassinations: the incidental deaths of women and children.

In the course of the war on terror, we have slipped into the alternative fictional world of 2000AD in which Street Judges sentence and execute offenders instantly in their effort to enforce the law. We have lost all sense of moral proportion, shrugging off the actions of the squadron of MQ-9 Reaper “hunter-killer” drones as some kind of norm. Judge Dredd now sits at a computer terminal at a military base in Nevada, sending his robotic army wherever he wills. All the world is Megacity 1: Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq. In this alternative reality—now our tragic actuality—the world is his oyster. And we dumb clones.

How can it be that the deaths of wives, children and grandchildren are all considered an acceptable side effect of a policy of assassination? We no longer even talk of collateral damage: it is only necessary to mention that the target was an Al-Qaeda militant and anyone around him is suddenly non-human, whose death is inconsequential.

Some would point out that this is nothing beside the German blitz of British cities during World War Two, or in light of the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What is the death of a few children to the massacre of 50,000 civilians and the destruction of the entire city of Hamburg during one week in July in 1943? It is the way of war, is it not?

Not last time I checked. While it goes without saying that the targeting of civilians is absolutely prohibited in Islamic Law, with clear conditions laid down to avoid accidental civilian casualties, the Geneva Convention also makes plain the status of combatants and civilians on the battlefield.  Civilians may well have borne the brunt of military action over the past century, but under humanitarian law they are supposed to be protected people.

It is claimed that a man said to be a leading militant in Al-Qaeda—that great spectre of the war on terror—was killed last week by a missile fired from a robotic drone in Pakistan’s North Waziristan, near the town of Miran Shah. Nobody advocates capturing those charged with terrorism or rebellion and bringing them to trial, for this is war; indeed to even make such a suggestion is to admit some sort of sympathy for the worst of the worst.

Dare we speak up for those killed alongside him though? For it is claimed that his wife, three of his daughters, his granddaughter, and other men, women, and children, were also killed in the missile strike. They were collateral damage? They were guilty by association? Or is this a new post-patriarchal age when we dare not speak of women and children for fear of patronising the victims of war? Must we remain silent in reverence to the new wisdom of our age?

If not now, when will we awake? Last July, the US Air Force released a report entitled, “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047,” in which it proposes a drone that could fly over a target and then make the decision whether or not to launch an attack, all without human intervention. The drones are not going away, nor the so-called war on terror.

So I see those crocodile tears for Israel’s actions this week are already dry, for if the nations truly cared then, surely they would condemn these other breaches of international humanitarian law too. Isn’t it this the death of civilisation?

To inquire

In her rage at Tony Blair on Friday as he sat before the Chilcot Inquiry she accidentally dashed over a goblet of red wine. To his crimes of forging war and invading a sovereign state, she added the painful stains on the beautiful wooden floor. Thus acts the modern Muslim, scared to take the self to account, always ready to blame another, to upbraid imperialism and the fanatic. The enlightened Muslim seethes at the woman in hijab, the bearded youth and all who embrace a practical faith and eschew the politics of identity, screaming of the intolerable shame they shower upon her. We shall not speak of our abandonment of prayer, of our poison tongues, our short-selling, our aggressive anger. God will not change the condition of the people — recalls the Muslim so chastised, turning back to their faith ever so slightly — until they change the condition of themselves. But the modern Muslim censures everyone but herself. Today, Tony Blair, white imperialism. Yesterday, white liberals, veiled women, Muslim converts. We learn nothing from the upturned goblet.

As the rot sets in

If you let the rot set in, it will, and it will gradually eat away at all that you have. This is the lesson that keeps on coming back to me. Last night I met a chap whose character shone beauty, as Allah wills. His manners were so appealing that at Isha the only du’a that sprung to mind was, ‘O Allah, give me a character like that.’

For as he sat there — what he did not say ever more telling than what he did — I found myself regretting each cascade of words from my own lips. As he departed, I wondered at my perennial role as court jester. Why could I not just sit in silence, as I once would, and absorb the presence of others? Why now the need to speak so much, and indeed to speak ill, wishing that the vague anonymity might justify such words? The rot has set in, and it is eating away, eating away at my meagre faith.

The more I feed my base desires, I was found reflecting the other day, the more they grow. But this weed doesn’t seem to blossom into its own space, occupying a cavity apart from the rest of one’s life. Instead it seems to thrive like a rampant vine upon one’s core, killing all that falls in its way. And the rot sets in.

Suddenly this ugly vanity. This self-righteousness, despite so much self-wrongness. Suddenly the fault finding. Suddenly the belief that my irksome sins can be ignored. Suddenly this great ignorance, this vast chasm of stupidity. This forgetfulness. This heedlessness.

It takes a character that shines goodness to stir me. All of a sudden I realise how small I am. And how far, far from the nobility I aspired to not all that long ago. A fool sits at his computer, typing.

Lessons from the garden

Often when I get to this point in the year I find myself looking back and reflecting on how quickly the past twelve months have seemed to have passed by. But this year quite the reverse is true: I’m not wondering where all the time went, but pondering how many memories seem to fill the past 300 days. The snow, the passing of a loved one, travels in Arabia, the hard slog in the garden, friends visiting-visiting, the adoption assessments, the family holiday, a month of fasting, visiting friends…  It has been a busy year.

Where the garden is concerned, it appears to be a metaphor for my entire life. Keeping it under control and pulling it into shape requires hard work of the highest order. Whenever I neglect it, it is suddenly sprawling out of control until only another bout of hard slog will suffice. It can be a disheartening affair. In late spring the garden was a picture of beauty—and in some ways my heart was in reasonable shape too—but by the end of summer it was a mess once more, and so too was my soul. It could be that hard work on the land is some kind of treatment for my soul.

Transforming a garden path from this…

to this…

was backbreaking work. But it was worth it. In the solitude of the task, I was found conversing within, carrying me far from the lower calls of my self. And at the end of the day, there was no energy left to sin.

I remember the pride when I conquered the vegetable patch, eradicating every weed in the ground…

but alas, weeding is a constant task and within weeks the weeds were once more dominating the plot, my pride long forgotten, as in my heart.

But perhaps there is reason to be optimistic. We conquered that old, rotting out-house…

though sometimes anger was my fuel, not protein.

And though sometimes it seemed like a mountain too vast to climb…

…in time, with patience and perseverance, and hard work, the unconquerable became but a distant memory…

until at last we achieved our goal.

But more to the point was the realisation that the true beauty of the garden is from Allah.

We don’t make the flowers bloom or call upon the butterflies.

We try our best in life, of course, but true beauty comes from above. With this realisation comes immesaurable ease.

Chasing wild geese

I opened The Independent this morning to find a photograph of someone I once knew staring back at me. An entire decade has passed since we last set eyes on one another, but this article by Johann Hari brought memories flooding back. Not because his article resonated with me, mind you, but because his narrative troubled me. In Renouncing Islamism: To the brink and back again, Hari presents that old acquaintance as an ex-Jihadi—or he presents him as presenting himself that way. But the fellow I knew back then was nothing of the sort.

I cannot say I was ever a close associate of his—and so it is quite possible that I missed the portion of the tale that Hari recounts in his article—but we did encounter one another frequently between 1997 and 1999, as we were both students at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in central London.

I first encountered him in the student common room in the SOAS halls of residence on Pentonville Road, where he would play pool and chain-smoke cigarettes. He wore designer clothes, had a very fashionable hairstyle and was always cleanly shaven. His rhetoric constantly concerned neo-colonialism, but this never had much impact on me as a student of International Development, where the post-colonial discourse was already commonplace. At SOAS, his assault on the mischief of the West was nothing extraordinary, for the socialists’ arguments were the same.

Even as a non-Muslim I found myself socialising with him quite frequently through my Muslim pool-partner, whom I had met going to a bizarre comedy show at the student union earlier in the year. Our gatherings often took place on Friday evenings in the cafes of Edgware Road, where we would drink bitter black tea and smoke fruit-flavoured tobacco. Again, the talk was of neo-imperialism, of western-proxies ruling the Islamic world and the Khilafah, but memorably the sources were Noam Chomsky, Edward Said and John Pilger.

Those social meetings ceased when I became Muslim in 1998, as I considered the smoking and time-wasting un-Islamic, but I continued to encounter him on campus. I largely kept company with a group of apolitical Salafis at the time, who were fiercely critical of HT whom they considered to hold heretical beliefs. The Salafis believed that the Muslim world would only be reformed by individual Muslims reforming themselves and adhering to the sunnah, whereas HT had a Leninist view that change would come about upon the establishment of the State. Thus I frequently stumbled upon arguments between this fellow and my friends, with the latter mocking HT as the Socialist Worker Party for Muslims.

I am puzzled, therefore, when Hari writes that my acquaintance, ‘wanted to be at the heart of the jihad’, for I never heard him talk about this even once, even theoretically. Instead he was perpetually obsessed with the idea that ‘intellectual argument’ would be the driver for change in the Muslim world. He went on about ‘intellectual arguments’ to such an extent that it became something of a joke amongst the other students.

I have no idea whether the tale of a coup plot involving junior Pakistani army officers is in any way true. However, it is the case that he was involved in an attempted coup in 1999 rather closer to home: not in dusty Karachi, but in the tiny second-floor prayer room at SOAS. Here he intended to wrest control of the Islamic Society from the Iqwanis, who had wrested control from the Salafis earlier in the year.

I know this, because he thought this quite amiable, decent chap would help him. His great talent, as I recall, was not so much in being able to convince people and win them over, but in talking them into submission. He would go on and on at you with circular arguments so that in the end you would agree with him just to be able to change the subject.

And so it was one day when he came over to my flat to argue that something had to be done about the Islamic Society, which he claimed was corrupt and unrepresentative of the Muslim students: he talked at my flatmate and me for ages until we finally agreed to put our names to his vote of no-confidence. Unfortunately he did not get the message when I rang him back to tell him I had changed my mind and the next I knew about it was when members of the Islamic Society came for me, demanding to know why my name was listed on a petition pinned to the notice board in the prayer room.

Alas, I never had the privilege of reading the notice, but was in any case called on to attend a special meeting of the Islamic Society to explain what it was all about, for the instigator had disappeared and was unreachable on his mobile phone. As in Hari’s article, he was never drawn on the details of this coup plot either, but it did make my remaining days at SOAS somewhat uncomfortable where the Islamic Society was concerned.

Meanwhile, he continued to organise lectures on campus, inviting academics like Fred Haliday to duels where he would demonstrate the power of his ‘intellectual arguments’. Nobody I knew ever considered him a jihadi, but only something of a friendly bore. Rather than taking him seriously, people dismissed him as a caricature socialist wrapped up in Muslim garb.

Reading Hari’s article, however, he sounds like a great Missionary, steaming off to one Muslim country and then another as if on an adventure inspired by Indiana Jones. Hari writes that he ‘decided to move on to Egypt’. Yet to say that he decided to move on to Egypt is to stretch language a little far. In reality he was undertaking a degree in Arabic at SOAS and was required to spend a year in Alexandria as part of the course, like every other student.

Even there his capacity to talk people into submission was well noted, even by his lecturers, who advised him to reign in his tongue. But he was not one to listen to such advice and was soon arrested for belonging to a banned political party. Upon his release several years later, he appeared on Hard Talk on the BBC News channel, still eloquently and passionately defending HT, once again talking of those ‘intellectual arguments’.

All these memories signal my trouble with Hari’s article. Yes, he was indeed a recruiter for HT and he was dedicated to this cause. But to claim he was a jihadi is to stretch the truth too far. Granted I never attended any of HT’s gatherings to learn what may have lain beyond the mockery of my friends; perhaps, if I had, I might have formed a different picture of him. But in the ordinary interaction between us, and in witnessing his debates with friends and his famous debates with secular academics, I believe I framed a fair picture of the man. He was a passionate and eloquent disputant, absorbed in the kind of post-colonial rhetoric common to many students of the time, like my many socialist acquaintances.

I am not dismissing his devotion to HT or excusing it. I am merely suggesting that the article I read this morning was full of exaggerations. I am not in denial about the threat of extremism within the Muslim community—indeed, I have noted elsewhere the advice I was given to steer clear of known extremists when I first became Muslim. My objection to Hari’s article is that for me it raised more questions than it answered.

Why, I find myself wondering, is it necessary to build oneself up as a great sinner who saw the light—like Paul on the road to Damascus—in order to denounce what is wrong? There are many, many Muslims who have been quietly, modestly, cautiously working on the ground to counter extremism for years and years. Theirs is a thankless task. Condemned by the extremists and ex-extremists alike, their work is ever more difficult. These men and women did not need to venture to the brink and back to realise that it was wrong; they had already delved into their faith and forged a forward path.

Should I be grateful that I saw that face peering back at me from the newspaper this morning, for reminding me of all of this? I’m not sure to be quite honest, but of one thing I’m pretty sure: Johann Hari has just been sent on a wild goose chase. I hope he realises this before he invests too much hope in his new found friends.

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