By Rowena Razak
August 4, 2012
Despite being able to find some supporters, the party faces an uphill climb. With too many schisms within the Islamic world, Hizb ut-Tahrir will find it difficult to circumvent all of them through an ideal.
On the surface, Britain seems like an unlikely location for the seat of the caliphate. However, many Islamist groups and individuals have called for the establishment of the caliphate, or Khilafat from and in the United Kingdom. Hizb ut-Tahrir, or the Party of Liberation, established in Palestine in the early 1950s, found a platform in Britain from which to preach and spread its non-violent path to ‘true Islam’. It has found audiences and followers in Europe, Africa, Central Asia and recently, in South East Asia, especially Indonesia.
Following the Prophet Muhammad’s death in 632 and with no precisely designated succession plan, the newly Islamised Arabs were left leaderless. Thus began a long struggle, which arguable continues to this day, of who should lead the Islamic world. In recent times groups such as Al-Qaeda have called for a more violent struggle towards unity with a vanguard group at the helm. Ironically, but unsurprisingly perhaps, this is somewhat similar to Lenin’s concept of the vanguard to lead the communist revolution in Russia.
Hizb ut-Tahrir was formed during the Arab nationalist struggle of the 1950s. It wanted to unite the Arabs around Islam and saw the re-establishment of the caliphate as the best political system for the Arab world. Ultimately it failed in the Middle East – its call for a caliphate threatened the Arab monarchies, specifically Jordan where they had tried to register as a political party but were disallowed. Unable to preach openly, the group sought the religious freedom of the west and established itself in Britain in the 1980s.
In order to fit with the modern world, Hizb ut-Tahrir has been able to adjust its ideals to the 21st century. Their website talks of the establishment of a ‘modern caliphate’ that would encompass all, Muslim and non-Muslim. Its hierarchy, reminiscent of a corporation, has the caliph heading different designated departments, everything from finance to jihad.
Their message has been popular amongst the party’s target groups, including second-generation British born Muslims and Muslim students of different nationalities. Despite some scrutiny from the British government following the July 2003 bombings, Hizb ut-Tahrir has been allowed to continue to operate. Although they work fairly openly within the United Kingdom, it continues to look eastwards. Through pamphleteering and preaches, they remind followers and potential supporters that their struggle is not in the west.
Having established itself in Britain, Hizb ut-Tahrir has broadened its scope eastwards again, notably in Africa and Central Asia. Its members have targeted unstable countries where a caliphate could be offered as a potential solution. For instance in Zanzibar, where there had been some conflict between the Muslims and Christians, Hizb ut-Tahrir offered the caliphate as a solution. Condemning democracy as the way of the infidels, they promoted the establishment of an Islamic state.
Hizb ut-Tahrir has launched similar campaigns in Central Asia, specifically in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Their vision is to unite these three countries, together with China’s Xinjiang province as a way to kick-start the caliphate. However, in this respect Hizb ut-Tahrir has met strict resistance from the governments in this region. Undeterred, the party has most recently set up in South East Asia. A rally in Jakarta in 2007 saw an estimate of 80,000 followers call for the establishment of the caliphate.
Throughout its history, Hizb ut-Tahrir has remained true to its non-violent path. Despite backlash and suppression, they have only relied on preaching and campaigning in order to spread its messages and goals. A 2003 report by the International Crisis states clearly that the group has not been involved in any terrorist activity in Central Asia or elsewhere.
Hizb ut-Tahrir continues its campaign to establish a caliphate. Despite being able to find some supporters, the party faces an uphill climb. With too many schisms within the Islamic world, Hizb ut-Tahrir will find it difficult to circumvent all of them through an ideal.
Rowena holds a BA in History from the School of Oriental and African Studies and an MA in Middle East & Mediterranean Studies from King's College London. She is currently a DPhil candidate in Oriental Studies at St Antony's College, Oxford.