A FORMER Islamic extremist has described how he changed his beliefs during his four-year incarceration in an Egyptian jail.

Maajid Nawaz, a former Westcliff High School for Boys pupil, was jailed in 2002 with two other British men for belonging to the Hizb ut-Tahirir party, which is responsible for recruiting young Muslims to an extreme form of Islam.

While in prison, Mr Nawaz, 30, said he was given traditional Islamic books and converted back to the gentler side of the faith.

This week, Mr Nawaz, who lives in London, launched a Muslim think-tank, the Quillam Foundation, which aims to bring together those who oppose violence and extremism.

He said: "I am hoping to achieve two things. The first is I want to demonstrate how the Islamist ideology is incompatible with Islam.

"Secondly, I want to develop a western Islam that is at home in Britain and in Europe.

"There are other groups focused on trying to develop a more tolerant version of Islam, but they are not countering the radical form of Islam.

"We want to reverse radicalisation by taking on their arguments and countering them."

Mr Nawaz, a frequent visitor to Southend, where he has family, added: "During my imprisonment in Egypt for being one of these organisations, I had access to traditional Islamic literature and I realised what I believed in before was incompatible with Islam.

"Islamists are at odds with Islam as a faith. Islam is a faith not an ideology."

The foundation, named after a 19th century British convert, was launched at the British Museum on Tuesday.

The foundation believes British Muslims will find much in the Islamic faith to guide them on the path of peace, rather than extremism and violence.