The Making (and Unmaking) of a Jihadist Mind
December 12, 2018
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is a thinker and reformer who was at one time an Islamic extremist. While still in medical school, he was recruited as a member of al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the most violent Jihadi group in Egypt. There he became acquainted with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahri, who later served as second in command to Osama bin Laden. Zawahri is now the leader of Al-Qaeda. After being radicalized Dr. Hamid experienced an awakening of conscience, recognized the threat of Radical Islam, and started to teach modern peaceful interpretations of classical Islamic core texts.
In a seminal article, “The Development of a Jihadist’s Mind,” he described the process of his recruitment and explained how the appeal of jihadi ideas works. In 2015, Dr. Hamid published a book on how to defeat these ideas: Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works; Why It Should Terrify Us; How to Defeat It. Ayaan Hirsi Ali remarked that, “Reformers such as Tawfik Hamid … must be supported and protected. They should be as well known as Solzhenitsyn, Sakharov and Havel were in the 1980s.” (Dr. Hamid’s book will be available for purchase at his talk.)
Dr. Hamid’s Facebook page (in Arabic), Modern Interpretation for the Quran, provides a peace-promoting commentary on and understanding of the Quran. The page has garnered over 2,000,000 “Likes” from an Arabic speaking audience since it began in May, 2013. In addition, Dr. Hamid recently launched a YouTube channel (in Arabic) to Counter Radicalism. His channel has more than a quarter million views and more than 1200 other channels subscribe to it. Furthermore, Akbar Al-Youm, one of the Arab world’s most reputable and widespread newspapers, recently published a major article by Dr. Hamid, in Arabic, wherein he suggests ten major, novel principles for re-understanding the Quran in a peaceful way to counter radicalism.
Dr. Hamid has appeared on shows spanning the spectrum from CNN to Fox News and C-SPAN. He has also appeared on Aljazeera TV Channel (Arabic) more than 60 times in the last couple of years, and his articles and op-ed pieces have appeared in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, the New York Daily News, VOA, France 24, RT (Russia Today), and the Jerusalem Post. Dr. Hamid’s comments have also appeared in the Washington Post, Foreign Policy magazine, USA Today, The Huffington Post, the National Journal, and Wired magazine.
He has spoken and testified before/with: the U.S. Congress (House Armed Service Committee); the Future Summit at the invitation of President Shimon Peres; numerous Department of Defense (DoD) offices at the Pentagon; the Special Operations Command; the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI); the National Security Agency (NSA); the European Parliament; the New York Academy of Science, and many others.
Robert R. Reilly:
Well, it’s a tremendous pleasure to have our long-time friend, Dr. Tawfik Hamid with us this evening and his lovely wife, Maha. Where are you, Maha?
Robert R. Reilly:
Dr. Hamid has spoken at Westminster before but several years ago before we began taping these presentations. I thought it was very important for Westminster to have Tawfik back here so we could record his words of wisdom because they grow even more timely. Now, you’ve all read his introduction, so I’m not going to repeat what you’ve read here but you know that he was a member of al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the most violent Egyptian jihadist group, which he had the wisdom of leaving soon thereafter and it led him at a certain point to write an article or a monograph called, The Development of a Jihadist’s Mind, which I believe the Hudson Institute published at first.
Robert R. Reilly:
I remember when that came out. It had a big impact on me. I thought it was terrific. I didn’t realize at that time that I would later have the pleasure of meeting Tawfik and later having a friendship with him. And it was such good news that he eventually developed what he had in that brilliant monograph into a longer book called “Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works, Why it Should Terrify Us, How to Defeat It.” It’s available on the table outside for sale. I’m sure Tawfik would be happy to sign copies for you after his presentation tonight, which as you know is on The Making and the Unmaking of the Jihadi Mind. Just mention also how popular his online presence is. He’s had more than two million likes on his Arabic-speaking page as well as a huge YouTube channel audience. Please join me in welcoming Dr. Tawfik Hamid.
Thank you. Thank you for being here tonight and thank you so much Bob for this great introduction.I just want to make sure that everybody can hear me clearly in the back. Okay? Yeah.
The title, The Making (and Unmaking) of a Jihadist Mindset, I believe is extremely important simply because if you can’t or we can’t understand the mechanism of any process, we will not be able to solve it. So, I think digging deep in this mindset and understanding what can make someone a radical and why others do not become radical and why some radicals continue, what can bring radicals back to become moderate and reasonable people, how this can happen.
So, let me start with my personal experience with this. I joined the GI. I was brought up in a very secular family. My father was a Marxist and agnostic and my mother was not much into religion. I became interested in religion through the DNA molecule initially. I thought about the creator and I started to think about him and through this enthusiasm – I was young and enthusiastic – it just happened in my life.
In the medical school I was invited by the Gama’a al-Islamiyya. They realized some capabilities. They found me speaking and knowing the Qur’an, other phrases, speaking poetry, so they tried to- They actually invited me to join them.
If I started to recall what happened to me and I’m doing this so that the next generations do not face the same outcome of radicalism because I was lucky that I didn’t continue them. If I continued with them, I would be now in Afghanistan, fighting you instead of being speaking here, believe me.
So, just imagine the difference. So, let me just tell you what happened to me in person and then I will reflect on different aspects in relation to this topic.
What happened to me was simply the first day I met with a leader in the Gama’a al-Islamiyya. His name was Mukhtar Mukhtar. I remember him very well. He was the amir or prince of the Gama’a al-Islamiyya of the fourth year in the medical school.
They really have this classification, amir Gama’a al-Islamiyya. They have this classification. And the first day we went together to pray at the Gama’a al-Islamiyya mosque.
By the way, joining the Gama’a al-Islamiyya is very easy. It’s not sophisticated. You just put your name in a piece of paper – I believe they threw it immediately after – and you are in.
So, it’s just by starting praying with them, just being part of them, learning about the Qur’an more, learning about theology and the books. That’s being part of them. It’s what is needed to make you part of them.
So, I went with him. We met in front of the anatomy department and we started walking together to the first day for me in the Gama’a al-Islamiyya mosque. It was inside the medical school.
Mukhtar was on my right side and he said to me, “Tarek” – my real name is Tarek. Tawfik I use for media and other stuff for security reasons. He said to me, “Look, Tarek. The most important thing that you need to learn when you are with us is the following,” and I listened. He said to me, “Al fikroo Kufr.”
Whomever here knows Arabic will realize what this means. Al Fikr means to think. Kufr means to become an infidel. So, for Mukhtar, the message was clear for me. I should stop thinking. I should follow blindly.
And he felt in my eyes that I’m a bit hesitant because my upbringing was not that kind. We used to have arguments, discussions in the house, so I was not that kind of people who can easily, like, go into this direction.
So, he added some- for me back then it was logical. He said to me, “Look, Tarek or Tawfik, your brain is just like a donkey. A donkey in the Arabic word Humar is a big insult. Ask anyone here. When someone says your brain’s like a donkey, it’s an insult because it represents stupidity in general.
He said to me, “Your brain is just like a donkey that helps you to reach the palace of the king, Allah, almighty, Islam. Once you enter the palace, you are in Islam. Will you take your donkey,” or my brain, “inside the palace? Or leave it outside?”
I said to him, “I will leave it outside” because now it’s with Allah, almighty. I couldn’t take it. And he welcomed me for the first prayer in the Gama’a al-Islamiyya. I will never forget it.
I started waiting for the prayer and it took them twenty minutes to make sure our shoulders were touching one another and our feet were touching one another. You have seen [this].
And I was bit surprised because I used to pray in other places but I never had this persistence and this insistence to make sure that the shoulders were touching one another and the feet also.
I understand the shoulders, yeah, that’s common, but feet also? Why was it not enough to have your feet wide like this with no gap at all? You can’t have this gap. You have- It has to be like this, so you have to have your heel outward and adjust it exactly to the other foot to- standing like this. And they took twenty minutes.
And I had a biochemistry lecture. I was so annoyed because of that delay. Twenty minutes just to make sure that we are standing shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot. This was the first time, really, to see something like that.