Fourth in a six-part series.
Sylvia Poggioli, NPR
A woman wearing niqab, the full face veil, walks on Whitechapel Road. Recent polls have shown that as many as four in 10 British Muslims want Sharia, Islamic law, applied in Muslim-populated areas of Britain.
A woman wearing niqab, the full face veil, walks on Whitechapel Road. Recent polls have shown that as many as four in 10 British Muslims want Sharia, Islamic law, applied in Muslim-populated areas of Britain. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR
Twenty-three-year-old Samina Malik was the first woman to be convicted under Britain's new anti-terrorism laws.
Twenty-three-year-old Samina Malik was the first woman to be convicted under Britain's new anti-terrorism laws. MPS/PA Wire/AP
British authorities are warning that a form of militant Islamist feminism is beginning to emerge, and that some Muslim women could begin to pose a security threat.
Officials say the great majority of Muslims, men and women, espouse moderate views.
But there is growing concern over an Islamic reawakening among women that could further widen the divide between large sectors of Muslims and mainstream British society.
'The Lyrical Terrorist'
In October, Britain's Channel 4 TV network broadcast a thriller about a brother and sister, British-born Muslims, pulled in opposite directions.
Unexpectedly, it's the woman in the story who breaks with the system and becomes radicalized by the anti-terrorism laws that many Muslims consider draconian. Nasima, the sister, is a secular political activist, who embraces the cause of jihad and becomes a suicide bomber.
But that was just fiction.
A few days later, this is what Britons heard on the news:
"A former worker at Heathrow airport who called herself the lyrical terrorist has become the first woman in the country to be convicted under new terrorism laws. Twenty-three-year-old Samina Malik was found guilty of possessing records likely to be used in an act of terrorism."
The materials included an al-Qaida manual, a booklet on mujahedeen poisons and bomb-making instructions.
But it was Malik's poems that shocked the British public. For example:
How to Behead
It's not as messy or hard as some may think.
It's all about the flow of the wrist.
Sharpen the knife to its maximum.
And before you begin to cut the flesh.
Tilt the fool's head to its left.
Saw the knife back and forth.
No doubt the punk will twitch and scream.
But ignore the donkey's ass.
And continue to slice back and forth.
As a shop assistant at Heathrow airport, Malik was familiar with sensitive security procedures. She spent much of her time at work writing about her desire for martyrdom.
The judge gave her a nine-month suspended sentence but told her, "In many respects, you are a complete enigma to me."
In Muslim Women, British Hopes May Be Misplaced
Britain is being confronted with a wave of enigmas — the increasing number of British Muslim women who have taken to wearing not just the headscarf, but the full face veil known as the niqab.
This Islamic reawakening comes at a time when the British government is trying to enlist Muslim women in an effort to combat extremism. It has created the National Muslim Women's Advisory Group to give Muslim women a greater voice in British society.
But writer and researcher Munira Mirza says many young Muslim women are starting to embrace radical ideals and even to support al-Qaida.
"There is a misconception among politicians in Britain that if you involve women in the dialogue process, then somehow that will soften the men, which is obviously a misperception. Why should women be any less angry? Why should women be any less radicalized? It is actually quite a sexist idea that women are just softer," Mirza says.
Recent polls have shown that as many as four in 10 British Muslims want Sharia, the Islamic law, applied in Muslim-populated areas of Britain.
Sharia, which is practiced in many parts of the Islamic world, is a religious code of living. But it also specifies stoning and amputation as normal punishment for some crimes.
Muslim Groups Disagree Over Role of Women
Combating radicalism and alienation have also become priorities for moderate Muslims. Women are being enlisted in the most extensive effort by moderates to combat disaffection and extremism among Muslim youth.
The Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board has drafted new guidelines that would give Muslim women a greater role within mosques, Islamic centers and faith schools. The guidelines include condemnation of domestic violence and forced marriage.
But radical groups have reacted negatively.
Hizb u-Tahrir, one of the most controversial groups in Britain, has railed against the new guidelines as selling out Muslim principles and an attempt at government control over Islam.
Hizb u-Tahrir is banned in Germany and most of the Middle East for its stated aim to establish a global Islamic state. It also calls for the destruction of Israel.
The group claims to be nonviolent, but former members have described it as a conveyor belt to terrorism.
And it has been very active in recruiting women with a form of Islamic feminism.
Radical Groups Appeal to Women
Investigative journalist Shiv Malik says Hizb u-Tahrir has been very successful in creating a support network for young women who would like to defy their patriarchal family and seek an education or assert the right to choose their own husbands.
"They have that conflict, and who is going to help them through that? It's the radical groups who say, 'Look, if your family is saying now get out of the house, we will support you, we will take you in, we'll give you friends, we'll give you a family network. Yeah, you can go and get an education,'" Malik says.
Hizb u-Tahrir's goal is to promote a global Islam, cleansed of all ethnic or cultural traditions. And women are an essential tool.
Journalist Shiv Malik says the group has set up two schools in Britain for primary-age children.
"If you look at the curriculum, all these radical ideas are there. They are educating kids from 5 years up to 11, and it is women doing this, not men," Malik says.
Religious Divisions on Campuses
Anthony Glees, professor of Intelligence and Security Studies at Brunel University, says a form of religious apartheid already exists on many British campuses. And he points out that rising religious radicalism among British Muslim youth is having broader effects.
"One meets an increasing number of British Muslim students who are becoming devout, and one meets an increasing number of British Muslim mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandparents who are being, in a sense, radicalized by their children and grandchildren, who are saying ... you should go back to the veil, you should go back to our traditional ways," Glees says.
Glees also says that extremist Islamist groups appear to have shifted tactics away from terrorist attacks. They now appear to be using women to pursue what he calls a long-term subversive strategy of "self-ghettoization."
"This demand for separatism, it's not about terrorism, but it is about a separate Islamic or Islamist identity. What you will have is the establishment of Islamist enclaves within British mainstream society," Glees says.
Glees and other security analysts stress that the extremists are a minority. But they warn that the movement toward separatism is gaining ground and could seriously undermine Western values and the cohesion of British society.