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A radical mother transformed

By Zain Verjee and Bharati Naik, CNN
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Renouncing radical Islam
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hadiya Masieh, 32, joined the radical Islamist group Hiz ut Tahrir while in college
  • Hizb ut Tahrir members' "main focus was on politics," she says
  • London bombings of July 7, 2005, were a turning point for her
  • She and her husband now work to bring faith communities closer together

(CNN) -- Hadiya Masieh, a 32-year-old mother, was born a Hindu, received her early education in a Christian school, converted to Islam and joined a radical group in college. It's a story that makes her feel emotional and nervous as she recounts her past -- a past she has since renounced.

Hadiya was only 18 years old when she became interested in Hizb ut Tahrir, a radical Islamic group. While studying for a degree in business at Brunel University in England, she became closely involved with the activities of Hizb ut Tahir.

As a teenager, Hadiya had a natural inclination to learn about different religions and was drawn to Islam because of the focus on one God as the creator. Her quest to know more about the religion led her to meet members of Hizb ut Tahir on her college campus.

Speaking of her early days with Hizb ut Tahrir, she reflects on her interaction with other members of the group: "I was initially looking for spiritual understanding of Islam and they were trying to say that spirituality is important but their main focus was on politics and that the politics was just as spiritual in Islam."

She learned soon that the main aim of the group was a call for "Khilafah," establishing a Muslim state.

As a member of Hizb ut Tahir, Hadiya held regular talks and tried to recruit others to the group. She remembers that even though the group by itself did not get involved in acts of terrorism, the members never denounced violence perpetuated by others.

Despite Hadiya's close and prolonged involvement with Hizb ut Tahrir, her parents remained unaware of the degree of their only daughter's involvement with a radical organization. Hesitant to speak of her relationship with her family, Hadiya reminisces, "at the end of the day I was still a loving daughter towards them, and that's what they saw of me."

Sometime toward the end of her 10-year involvement with Hizb ut Tahrir, Hadiya began to question her work with the group and the message that was being sent out. "When you are in a group like this, they talk about the same thing over and over again and eventually human nature will start to think it's not making a difference," she said.

The July 7, 2005, London bombings killed more than 50 people and left the world in shock. And it proved to be a major turning point in Hadiya's life.

"I was heavily pregnant with my third child and when I was in the waiting room, looking at the screen, I just felt like hiding." She shakes her head at the memory. Recollecting the images of 7/7 bombings, Hadiya adds, "I think it was wake-up call for anyone in [Hizb ut Tahrir] who is living in Britain, whether they wanted to admit it or not."

After she gave birth to her youngest child, Hadiya began exploring a different path, a more moderate and spiritual approach to Islam. It was in 2008 that she finally severed ties with Hizb ut Tahrir and instead started giving talks in colleges to foster closer ties among communities.

Both Hadiya and her husband, Dawud, who also is a former member of Hizb ut Tahrir, now work toward building better understanding among religions and communities.

Hadiya recently helped organize a movie screening in North London for more than 70 Jewish and Muslim women as part of her work with a faith-based organization called Three Faiths Forum.

"I feel more at peace with what I am doing now," Hadiya says with a determined tone, "because all of the messages that I am talking about now are very positive."