Page last updated at 00:47 GMT, Thursday, 4 February 2010

Muslim women 'radicalised' in UK

By Rahila Bano
BBC Asian Network

On Monday a female suicide bomber killed 54 people in north-east Baghdad.

Dr Nazreen Nawaz, spokeswoman for Hizb ut-Tahrir
We don't advocate that British Muslims go over and fight
Dr Nazreen Nawaz, Hizb ut-Tahrir

The attack may have happened on another continent, but there are increasing concerns that violent extremism among women may now also be increasing in the UK.

It is believed that the process of radicalisation often takes place at universities.

One Islamist group linked with this practice is Hizb ut-Tahrir.

While not itself connected to any terrorist acts, Hizb ut-Tahrir has courted controversy and politicians have seized on some of its more inflammatory views.

The Conservative Party has said it would ban the organisation altogether.

Nazreen Nawaz is a spokeswoman for the group. She became a member while studying medicine at King's College London.

Today, sitting at her dining table in south London, she teaches her four-year-old daughter how to spell and explains her decision to join.

"The philosophy of Hizb ut-Tahrir offered me a view of Islam that could solve many of the problems in the Muslim world," Dr Nawaz says.

"We don't advocate that British Muslims go over and fight in Palestine and occupied countries.

"What we say is that people in lands such as Afghanistan, Iraq and occupied countries have the right to defend themselves."


There are concerns that hundreds of British Muslim women have been radicalised, many while being students.

Former Hizb-ut Tahrir member Hadiya Masieh on why she joined and later left

Recent intelligence reports about terror plots involving women, and the growing trend of al-Qaeda's use of female suicide bombers, have ignited concerns that some may turn to violent extremism in Britain.

"I think it would be naive to think that Britain could not see its first female suicide bomber," says Sabira Lakha, an adviser to the Muslim Women's Advisory Group.

The group was set up in 2008 by Hazel Blears, the then communities and local government minister, partly to tackle extremism.

Her view is shared by the Centre for Social Cohesion, an independent think tank.

"You do see women being radicalised in the UK," says researcher Houriya Ahmed.

"You also have terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda which state that it is an obligation for women to take part in jihad.

"For example, the wife of al-Qaeda's second-in-command issued a letter to Muslim women worldwide.

"You have also seen suicide bomb attacks by women in Iraq supported by the al-Qaeda narrative, so there is a strong possibility that this could occur in Britain and this needs to be taken seriously."

In 2009, a British Muslim woman - 28-year-old Shella Roma from Oldham - became the first person in the country to be convicted of distributing a terrorist publication.

Study circles

At the east London-based Minhaj-ul-Quran, a broad-based organisation with Sufi traditions, extremism is something that they are working to eradicate.

Educate a woman and educate an entire generation
Philosophy of Minhaj-ul-Quran, Muslim group working to eradicate extremism in east London

To do this, they target universities with large British Asian intakes.

At a mosque in a converted cinema in Forest Gate, east London, they hold regular Sunday female-only study circles.

This week, about a dozen teenage girls kneel on the floor in a draughty room in front of wooden benches on which rest their copies of the Koran.

The teacher addresses the class on the subject of peace and equality in Islam, answering questions from her students about forced marriages.

Tayba is a student who regularly attends these Islamic classes for girls aged 11 and over.

Their philosophy is simple - educate a woman and educate an entire generation.

"I think extremism you get in every kind of society, every kind of culture, every kind of religion," Tayba says.

"I think it's those people who turn away from the true belief."

"To be honest I think it's a lack of education," says Tanzila, who studies at Queen Mary college in east London.

"Some organisations do not portray Islam as it truly is.

"Thank God I come to an organisation where it is portrayed correctly."

Nasra Raza, a teaching co-ordinator at Minhaj-ul-Quran, says she struggles to believe that women are becoming suicide bombers.

"There's a saying in Islam that paradise lies at the feet of the mother," she adds.

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