Hizb ut-Tahrir translates as “party of liberation”. It was set up by a Palestinian court clerk, Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, in 1953. In a Middle East awash with pan-Arabism and the politics of nationalism and race, it adopted Islamic teaching and scripture as its ideology, Leninist organisation as its method of action, and the re-establishment of the caliphate as its aim. The caliphate, or khilafah, dates back to the seventh century, when all Muslim lands were under the governance of a single elected caliph, and were subject to a single system of Islamic law. Hizb wants to recreate something similar now for the whole of North Africa and the Middle East and for much of central and south Asia.
Al-Nabhani’s party proposed a constitution of 187 articles for an Islamic state, detailing everything from Islamic economic and education systems to relationships between men and women (women being an “honour to be safeguarded”, but having rights to own property, to vote and to do business). The Jordanian authorities then responsible for the pre-occupation Palestinian territories arrested al-Nabhani as soon as he tried to register his fledgling organisation. He was eventually forced underground and the party has remained there ever since.
In the past 50 years, Hizb has spread its message to more than 40 countries, from Malaysia to Scandinavia. It refuses to give membership figures, but estimates hover around the million mark. Its support is thought to run much higher–roughly ten million in central Asia alone, according to the Arab news magazine al-Majalla. Although it has never been directly implicated in an act of violence, Hizb is banned in nearly every country in which it operates. Between 7,000 and 8,000 members are thought to be in prisons in Uzbekistan: it was over their treatment that the British ambassador to that country, Craig Murray, protested last year–they were being boiled alive, electrocuted and raped, he said–and got himself disciplined by the Foreign Office.
Egypt, Syria and Libya are among the many other countries where Hizb members are imprisoned, sometimes for membership alone. Three British members were sentenced to five years in jail in Egypt this year for being in possession of Hizb literature. The party’s activities were outlawed in Germany in 2002, when it was found guilty of distributing anti-Semitic material. Last year Russia arrested 55 members of the group.
The idea of the Hizb “graduate” is not without foundation. According to intelligence sources, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda’s man in Iraq, is a former member of the Jordanian branch of Hizb. According to the same sources, the al-Qaeda commander Khalid Sheikh Mohammed also spent time with the party. When MI5 searched the home of Omar Sharif, the Derby father-of-three who committed suicide after failing to blow himself up in a bar in Tel Aviv in April 2003, it found plenty of Hizb literature.
Unlike al-Qaeda, which operates on a loose, “franchise” basis, Hizb is rigidly controlled by its central leadership, based in Palestine. Below that, national organisations or wilayas, usually headed by a group of 12, control networks of local committees and cells. New members must spend at least two years studying party literature, under the guidance of mentors, before they take the party oath. A parallel, separate structure exists for women, who are encouraged to become fully active members.
Last year, the British party, headed by a 28-year-old Indian IT engineer, Jalaluddin Patel, attracted 10,000 Muslims to a conference, entitled “British or Muslim?”, at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. It was Britain’s biggest Muslim event to date, and the organisers plan to make this year’s conference, due to take place in London at the end of November, even bigger. – Source: Shiv Malik, For Allah and the Caliphate: Hizb Ut-Tahrir, with Its Millions of Muslim Followers, Is Accused in the US of Being a Conveyor Belt for Terrorists. but How Dangerous Is It Really? New Statesman, September 13, 2004.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is not a religious organisation, but rather a political party whose ideology is based on Islam. It aims to re-establish the historical Caliphate in order to bring together all Muslim lands under Islamic rule and establish a state capable of counterbalancing the West. It rejects contemporary efforts to establish Islamic states, asserting that Saudi Arabia and Iran do not meet the necessary criteria. According to Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Islamic state is one in which Islamic law – Sharia – is applied to all walks of life, and there is no compromise with other forms of legislation.
Hizb ut-Tahrir claims to reject violence as a form of political struggle, and most of its activities are peaceful. In theory, the group rejects terrorism, considering the killing of innocents to be against Islamic law. However, behind this rhetoric, there is some ideological justification for violence in its literature, and it admits participation in a number of failed coup attempts in the Middle East. It also has contacts with some groups much less scrupulous about violence. But despite the allegations of governments, there is no proof of its involvement in terrorist activities in Central Asia or elsewhere.
– Source: Radical Islam in Central Asia: Responding to Hizb ut-Tahrir
, Asia Report, June 30, 2003, International Crisis Group
Many Hizb-ut-Tahrir members do at times speak in ways that suggest the organisation, or at least part of its base, has not precluded resorting to violence if it continues to suffer severe repression, particularly in Uzbekistan.
Nevertheless, the Hizb-ut-Tahrir presents a particularly difficult challenge to Western policymakers since it holds extremist views but openly advocates only peaceful change. Governments in Central Asia, which believe it to be a considerable threat to the political order, have responded by jailing people for the non-violent expression of ideas.
– Source: The IMU and the Hizb-ut-Tahrir: Implications of the Afghanistan Campaign
, Asia Briefing, Jan. 30, 2002