Hizb ut-Tahrir and Fighting the War of Ideas, Myth and Reality

Introduction

Research papers on Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT) have become recently more frequent. Interest in the activities of HT worldwide has also increased. Some major research institutes have published papers on the issue. In 2003 the Heritage Foundation published a paper by Ariel Cohen [9] and in 2004 the Nixon Center did the same for Zeyno Baran [11, 12]. The Khilafah Conference organized by HT-America in Chicago (on July 19, 2009) has promoted several articles and interviews in different media platforms, including the CBS News report (July 17), the Southtown-Star article on July 17, 2009, and many others. Several Blogs and online articles continue to label HT as a radical supremacist group, although they admit that the group does not engage in violent militant activities. The most significant among these publications is “Fighting the War of Ideas” by Zeyno Baran, published in the Foreign Affairs in its 2005 November/December edition [10]. In that article, Baran argues that HT is a radical organization which poses a real and potent threat. She states:

“HT is not itself a terrorist organization, but it can usefully be thought of as a conveyor belt for terrorists. It indoctrinates individuals with radical ideology, priming them for recruitment by more extreme organizations where they can take part in actual operations. By combining fascist rhetoric, Leninist strategy, and Western sloganeering with Wahhabi theology, HT has made itself into a very real and potent threat that is extremely difficult for liberal societies to counter.”

 

In this article, I discuss the claims made by Baran from the perspective of a student of both HT literature and the Marxist-Leninist culture. I would like to stress the academic nature of this article, maintaining the integrity of my profession as a professor of business and information technology. My knowledge of Marxism-Leninism goes back to my undergraduate studies in the former Soviet Union, where Marxism-Leninism studies were part of the degree curriculum. My knowledge of HT literature is attributed to extensive study of Taqiuddin An-Nabhani’s (the founder of HT in 1953) publications.

HT: The Conveyor Belt

Baran claims that HT acts as a conveyor belt for terrorists. She first made this claim in the extensive report “HIZB UT-TAHRIR: Islam’s Political Insurgency” published by The Nixon Center in December 2004, where she wrote:

“It [HT] is in fact more of a conveyor belt, whereby people who have for several years been indoctrinated with HT ideology are produced and who then move to more radical platforms on which they can carry out a common mission.”

 

In the report published by the Nixon Center, Baran does not provide a proof for this concept; although she cites examples of some groups whose members or founders were once members of HT. The nature of the Nixon Center report may allow a claim to be made without formal and thorough investigation of its accuracy and integrity. However, once the claim is made in a well respected journal such as Foreign Affairs, the proof and evidence requires more scrutiny and elaboration. I read the Nixon Center report and spotted the inadequacy of justification. I only decided to write and question the claims when the article appeared in Foreign Affairs.

The core claim is that HT serves as a conveyor belt for radicals and terrorists “… whereby people who have for several years been indoctrinated with HT ideology are produced and who then move to more radical platforms on which they can carry out a common mission.” If one were to prove such a claim, one would investigate the ideology of HT and search for that type of indoctrination which, once undertaken, enables a member to graduate and move into violence. Given that the publications of HT are open to the public since it was established in 1953, the task of verification becomes possible. It is to be noted that the publications of HT were banned only by governments and regimes in the Muslim world, rather than by HT’s administration. With the advent of the Internet, the publications of HT have become more accessible to all interested groups.

Having said that, I would like to provide a detailed and structured account of HT ideology and doctrines on the issue of using violence for achieving political goals. Before doing so, I would like to explain the method of HT for adopting ideas, means, rules, methods, strategies, tactics and styles.

HT’s Ideological Framework

The ideology of HT is based on the principle that man, life and universe are created by God, and that the relationship between people and God is that of complete obedience and servitude to God’s orders and that the people will be held accountable for their behavior in front of God in the hereafter. HT maintains that this principle is the foundation of the creed of its ideology upon which it established all its rules, thoughts, regulations, etc. HT states that this creed serves as its ideological foundation as well as its ideological leadership [1]. The doctrines of the creed are collectively compiled and found in two main sources according to HT: the Qur’an and the Sunnah (statements and acts of Prophet Muhammad). In addition to these two sources, HT believes that the unanimous agreement of the companions of Prophet Muhammad on a certain issue comprises another source of Islamic jurisprudence. A fourth source, Qiyas, or analogical deduction from the texts of the Qur’an and the Sunnah is also admissible by HT as a means of deriving rules and regulations [2].

HT defined two objectives to be undertaken by the party following its establishment in 1953. These objectives are firstly to carry the call for Islam and secondly to revive the Islamic way of life through the re-establishment of the Caliphate (Khilafah) [3].

HT also defined the method by which it will achieve its objectives. In 1954, HT published an internal memorandum, entitled “The Starting Point”. In this memorandum, HT clearly defined the objectives it wants to achieve as well as the method it would use to achieve these objectives. I will cite some sections of this publication, which clearly defines the doctrine with which HT ‘indoctrinates’ its followers. Article 9 says [4]:

“Preparing the Ummah (i.e. Islamic Nation) to carry the Islamic Call means exactly to prepare the Ummah for the political work on the basis of Islam. This task cannot be accomplished unless the Islamic ideas become the dominant ones and unless the political method in the Islamic context becomes clear and dominates all other ideas.”

 

In this article, HT clearly states that the political process is the only process that it will use.

In article 10, HT states:

“Since the Hizb (i.e. Party) carries the Islamic Call in its form as an intellectual leadership from which the systems of life emerge, and it uses the political process as the only method for this Call…”

HT clearly states here that the political method is the only method it will use in its endeavor to accomplish its objectives. In this context, HT argues that the imperialist foreign powers will try to create rock solid obstacles to prevent the party from achieving its objectives. Nevertheless, HT warns that it must always avoid getting in verbal or physical conflict with these powers, which create these obstacles [5]. In article 12, HT states:

The only weapon in the hand of the Hizb is Islam. It must not use anything else; and the intellectual aspect is what the party as a whole should be equipped with.

 

In article 20, HT reasserts the concept of only using the thought process and the political method in its work:

“And therefore, the intellectual aspect must always be the foundation, and its connection to the political work only shall be the corner stone of the party’s work.”

 

HT argues that the intellectual and political processes are in complete compliance with the objectives and activities it will carry:

“The mission of HT is to carry the Islamic Call. This makes amongst its main activities the following:

  1. To change the way of thinking of the world to that of the Islamic way of thinking.
  2. To change the intellectual foundation upon which people base their opinions and ideas to the Islamic intellectual foundation.
  3. To replace the thoughts carried by people with Islamic ones.
  4. To connect all the thoughts to the Islamic intellectual foundation”

It is important to note that all activities that the HT defined for itself are purely ideological, intellectual and thought related. None of these activities require nor warrant the use of force or violence. In article 33, HT states that this mission requires thinkers, rather than militants.

Article 34 states:

“The method (of HT) in carrying its ideas to the people in the society is to invite them using the method of wisdom, excellent invitation, and the best of argument. Allah says ‘Call to the path of your Lord with wisdom, excellent invitation, and argue with the best of the arguments’ [Qur’an 16:126].”

 

This method is completely based on the intellectual and political process.

Since 1953, HT has continued to be committed to its ideological framework and to the political and intellectual processes that it sketched out as its only method. In the 1980s the militant Islamic groups gained significant attention in the Muslim world, especially in Afghanistan and Egypt. The militant approach had a great appeal to a significant portion of the Muslims, particularly the youth. Furthermore, the militant Islamic work was, by and large, supported by the USA due to the cold war relationship with the former Soviet Union. Within that atmosphere, HT confirmed its continued belief in the political and intellectual processes and rejected the militant approach. It is important to observe that the pressure against the party to clarify its position related to militancy did not come from regional or international powers. Rather, it was pressed upon the party by peer pressure from Islamic movements and the Muslim masses. The party chose to declare its commitment to the political process at a major conference in December 1989, in St Louis, Missouri, USA [6]. HT presented at the conference “The Method of HT for Change”. On page 8, HT restates its objectives:

“Accordingly, HT defined its objective to be the revival of the Islamic life and carrying the Islamic Call, and it mobilized in the Ummah to achieve this objective”

HT also defined the method by which it will achieve its objectives:

“He (i.e. the party) also arrived at the method which he must follow to achieve his objective. The method is based on the method used by the Messenger of Allah since he was chosen by God as a Messenger until he established the Islamic State in Medinah.”

 

HT believes that the method it has to follow must be based on the method and steps taken by Prophet Muhammad, which led him to create the first Islamic State in Medinah, thirteen years after his mission had begun. HT outlines the reason why its method should be political (page 9):

“And this group work must be a political work, and cannot be anything but political. That is because the establishment of the Caliphate, and the appointment of a Caliph is a political work, and because the ruling according to Allah’s revelation is political as well, and cannot be anything but political.”

 

HT goes further in its argument to claim that any group that assumes any work besides the political work will not be able to achieve the objective of re-establishing the Caliphate. The party goes further to examine all the other differing methodologies which HT thinks should not be followed. Those include the charity oriented groups, the spiritual groups, educational groups, the militant groups that engage in preventing evil by force and groups calling for moral behavior. HT explains how these differing methodologies are not suitable for achieving the objective of re-establishing the Caliphate.

In its literature and teachings, HT discusses at length the issue of violence and carrying arms against regimes which are not ruling according to the Shari’ah (laws) of Islam. The militant Islamic groups use a statement (Hadith) of Prophet Muhammad to justify the use of violence to create the necessary change. The statement was in response to a question posed by one of the companions of the Prophet, called Obadah Bin Samit, who asked “Shall we fight them (the rulers) with our swords?” The Prophet replied “No, unless you see them ruling you with laws other than those revealed by Allah”. HT maintains that this Hadith does not apply to the current situation in the Muslim world. That is because the Hadith talks about an already existing Islamic State in which the ruling regime diverts the state from its Islamic status to a non-Islamic one. In other words, the Hadith talks about the potential use of force to preserve the Islamic ruling in an Islamic State. However, the current situation in the Muslim world is one in which the Islamic rulings are absent altogether. As such, the issue at hand is not to preserve an Islamic code, but rather to establish one from scratch. This case is more similar, in HT’s opinion, to the case when Prophet Muhammad was in Mekkah and was working to build an Islamic State. HT states (page 18):

“The Hizb is committed to the ruling of Shari’ah and to the steps taken by the Messenger to establish the state.”

 

The Prophet is known to have established the first Islamic State without using any form of violence or military action. When he was urged by some of his companions to use force against the infidels of Mekkah, his response was “we are not ordered to fight back”. This case is depicted in the Qur’an (Chapter 4, Verse 77):

“Have you not turned your vision to those who were told to hold back their hands (from fight) but establish regular prayers and spend in regular Charity? When (at length) the order for fighting was issued to them, behold! a section of them feared men as – or even more than – they should have feared Allah”

 

To make the point absolutely clear, and to assert beyond a shadow of doubt that HT will not resort to the military option no matter what the conditions are, it states (page 23)

“Even though the Hizb is committed to his open, frank and challenging approach; he will constrain his activities to the political ones only. He will not resort to material actions against the rulers, or against anyone who stands in the face of its mission, or against anyone who seeks to harm the Hizb. This commitment is in line with the acts of the Messenger of Allah in Mekkah being constrained only to verbal acts without using any material means during his struggle until he migrated to Medinah. When the people who pledged the allegiance to support him in Medinah asked his permission to fight his enemies in Mekkah, he replied to them ‘We have not been permitted to fight yet”’ Allah also asked him to be as patient as the Messengers before him when he is harmed; ‘Messengers before you were rejected, and they remained patient when rejected and harmed until our victory came to them’ [Qur’an 6:34].”

 

The permission to fight and use military actions was revealed later in Medinah after the establishment of the state. Hence, the rules of fighting in Islam (Jihad) are associated with the state (the Caliphate) rather than with the method of establishing the Caliphate. HT believes that the Caliphate will define the rules of war and peace in light of the Islamic rulings of the political system and the foreign policies of the state. But that will be within the scope of the state rather than the scope of the Hizb and its methodology.

What should be noted here is that HT requires every one of its members to adopt all the ideas and thoughts that HT as a group believes in. Adopting the methodology of HT is a core requirement as much as adopting the basic beliefs of the Hizb. It is reported in the history of the Hizb that in the early 1960s when the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) was on the rise, several members of HT were let go because of their inclination towards the militancy of the PLO. Similarly, HT expelled others who sought to follow the militant examples in Afghanistan or Egypt in the 1980s. So the truth of the matter is that some of those who fail to comply with HT’s strict political nature leave the Hizb or the Hizb removes them, and they find their way to other groups. In other words, it is not the indoctrination of HT that makes some members more militant. It is the other way around. It is the failure of certain members to be indoctrinated with the ideas of HT that takes them to rather violent and non-political groups.

Therefore, the theory of HT being a “conveyor belt” for militant groups does not hold at all. The contrary is true. The main case that Baran cites as an example of the conveyor belt phenomenon is Omar Bakri Fostoq [aka Omar Bakri Mohammed], the leader of the Muhajiroon group (now dissolved). Fostoq was removed from HT in the mid 1990s because of his disagreement with HT on the basics of the methodology of HT. The doctrines he learned at HT were those outlined in this article, i.e., the political and intellectual struggle. In other words, he was not taught or indoctrinated with militant ideas and was in fact asked to leave the party.

The other case brought by Baran is the case of Sheikh Asad Tamimi who founded the Islamic Jihad Organization in Jerusalem. Sheikh Tamimi was dismissed from HT in 1956 due to conflicts with HT on issues related to parliamentary elections in Jordan. He came back into political action after the revolution led by Khomeini in Iran in 1979.This case should not be brought in connection to HT. A more interesting case, in my opinion, could have been the case of Mr. Hani Al-Hasan, who left HT to become one of the founding members of the Al-Fatah Palestinian organization. He later became a committee member of the PLO. Al-Hasan believed that the military struggle is the only means for liberating Palestine and that HT’s approach is not sufficient. Had the relationship between HT and PLO been on the positive side, one would be tempted to assume that Al-Hasan was HT’s link into the PLO. The truth of the matter is that HT had a very strong stand against the PLO since it was initially established on January 1st 1964. Only a few days after it was formed, HT declared that the PLO was an illegitimate organization from the Islamic perspective. HT declared that it was prohibited in Islam (Haram) to join the PLO or to support it by money or by any other means.

The conveyor belt theory implies that HT graduates people who are prepared within the Hizb to be militant and ready to pursue violent means of change. The facts, based on HT literature and behavior, clearly show that HT indoctrinates its members only with the political means for change. In fact the arguments that HT brings to the table are far more convincing than all the arguments that argue in favor of the military approach. Lastly, it remains a fact that the number of people who left HT or were removed by HT to join or to form groups with a more militant agenda are far less than those who join HT for the opposite reason. In Uzbekistan, the IMU (a militant Islamic group) witnessed a large turnover from its ranks to HT.

It is also interesting to note that Baran, in her testimony in front of the House Committee on International Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia on June 15, 2004 stated that “Unlike many others, however, HT hopes to achieve this goal (the Caliphate) peacefully.” This testimony is based on Baran’s analysis of HT work.

Does HT have a Leninist Strategy?

 

Baran claims that HT adopts a Leninist strategy, among other things which make HT a real threat:

“By combining fascist rhetoric, Leninist strategy, and Western sloganeering with Wahhabi theology…”

 

I believe that the mere labeling of HT with a communist flavor is sufficient to discredit the Hizb and to place it on the black list of many, including the western governments, public opinion and other organizations. I personally have not seen a study, credible or otherwise, that compares HT with Lenin’s communist party or any other communist party for that matter. Certainly, Baran has not drawn any comparison and has not made a reference to any such study. She simply made the claim in her article. From a purely academic perspective, this claim is sufficient to render the article defective. I do not intend to carry a thorough comparative study in this article (though I may do that later). However, I will use my recollection of my studies of the history of the communist party in the former Soviet Union to make some clarifications. My recollection goes back to my undergraduate studies in the old Soviet Union, where the study of communist doctrines was part of the official university curricula.

One of Lenin’s strategy articles was under the title ‘We Shall Not Take This Road’. This statement was a declaration of strategy change. Lenin’s brother was executed by the Russian government after he was accused of blowing up bridges in Moscow. Lenin decided that the violent approach is not the right approach for the revolution. He made the change in favor of the political revolutionary approach.

In contrast, HT never used the violent approach. Also, HT believes that the approach it follows is derived from divine rules and thus is not subject to change due to harsh conditions or hardships encountered. HT has not made any change in its strategy since it was formed in 1953. HT believes that the tactics and means can change but not the main approach.

Lenin derived the rules of his revolution from his philosophy of dialectic and historical materialism. This philosophy suggests that the revolution takes place based on the natural struggle between the classes of society. On the revolutionary side is the class of workers and farmers. On the other side is the class of landlords and owners of the means of production. Lenin grew his party and supporters among the two classes of the proletariat.

In contrast, HT derives the rules of political change from the divine revelation as found in the Qur’an and Sunnah. The grassroots of the movement of HT includes all types of people such as farmers, workers, employees, landlords, merchants, teachers, doctors, engineers, professors and others. Lenin propagated the conflicts between the classes of the society in an attempt to create a big rift between the classes as a pretext for the revolutionary change. HT, on the other hand, believes that all the people in the society should be the base for the change and no antagonism is propagated. HT states [7]:

“The three groups which stand in the face of HT’s mission are the rulers, the dark forces, and the ones obsessed with the foreign culture. The plan of the imperialists is to place these forces as rocks in the face of the Call to delay its progress towards achieving the objective. The imperialists know that these rocks do not prevent the Hizb from achieving the objective, although it causes delays. Therefore, the Hizb must avoid the clash with these groups (rocks) and any other rock to be placed in front of him. These rocks must become building blocks of the castles rather than obstacles. In other words, these groups must be won towards the Call. At least it must be understood by them and by all that they are only tools in the hands of the imperialists. If it is not possible to win them over, at least avoid their impact.”

 

This philosophical argument of HT is fundamentally distinct from the Leninist strategy, which is based on the struggle and conflicts between classes. As I said in the beginning of this section, I do not intend to carry a thorough comparative analysis in this article. However, there is clear evidence that there is no resemblance between HT’s strategy and the Leninist one. In the mean time, I think that a thorough analysis is worth pursuing. It is worth mentioning though, that HT published a book entirely devoted to the disproof of the Marxist-Leninist theory [8]. HT provided a thorough criticism of the communist ideology in the book ‘System of Islam’, which is considered the foundation of HT doctrines. The communist economic system is heavily criticized in the book ‘The Economic System of Islam’ published by HT in 1953.

Does HT have a Wahhabi Theology?

 

Baran claims that HT has a Wahhabi theology, among other things which make HT a real threat:

“By combining fascist rhetoric, Leninist strategy, and Western sloganeering with Wahhabi theology …”

 

Here again, Baran does not provide any reference for such a claim and nor does she highlight any aspects of similarity between HT doctrines and those of Wahhabism. The purpose of associating HT with Wahhabism is to build an indirect link between HT and terrorism. The western media has already built a case that many of those who are accused of terrorism belong to the Saudi Wahhabi theological school. When Baran says that HT adopts the Wahhabi school of thought, she immediately builds a case against HT. The irony is that she provides no evidence to substantiate this claim, even though it should not be difficult to prove or disprove it. The Wahhabi school of thought is well known in the Muslim world and the scholars who belong to this school are many and accessible via their websites and official status in Saudi Arabia. It suffices to quote any of the Wahhabi scholars and seek a professional opinion. This is only a shortcut which leads to fair conclusions. A more thorough analysis is warranted if this claim were to bear any credibility.

My quick thought on this issue is that, historically, the Wahhabi movement has been closely associated with Saudi Arabia. Its propagation outside Saudi Arabia has always been enabled by scholars who studied in Saudi schools of Shari’ah. The founder of HT (An-Nabhani) was educated in Al-Azhar in Egypt, which is known not to be on friendly terms with the Wahhabi school of thought. The successor of the first leader of HT (Abdul Qadeem Zalloum) was also educated in Al-Azhar. HT has been heavily criticized by Wahhabi scholars for some of its basic ideas that are related to the foundation of belief. Again, it takes a quick search on pro-Wahhabi websites to find out how much HT is criticized by this school of thought. The claim that HT is a Wahhabi faction is not founded on any evidence. Such a claim will be looked at with surprise by a great majority of Muslims who know HT and Wahhabism. I do not intend to comment on the Wahhabi school of thought in this article. I only want to emphasize that there is no correlation between HT and Wahhabism.

Conclusions

 

The conclusions of this research paper are clear: HT’s methodology and approach have not and will not deviate from the political and intellectual path. The commitment of HT not to be involved in any violent activity is based on its faith and understanding of the revelation of God, which makes its involvement in any terrorist or violent activity impossible, either in theory and practice. No person can integrate into the body of HT until he or she adopts this political and intellectual methodology and approach. Thus, the claim that HT acts as a conveyor belt of terrorism is baseless and lacks any credible evidence. It contradicts 56 years of HT’s activities and HT’s documented literature that is accessible by the public at large. Any research paper that claims otherwise is defective and does not adhere to the norms of academic research that necessitate approaching any topic with the intention to get correct conclusions, not holding the conclusions in mind and framing the research to justify them. The claims of any resemblance between the strategy of HT and that of Leninism-Marxism and between HT ideas and those of Wahhabism are contradictory to everything HT stood for since it was established in 1953. Leninism-Marxism stands for the total denial of the existence of God and its strategy is based on the conflicts between society classes, while HT is totally opposite to that. Wahhabism, on the other hand, gained credit among its followers during the times of the Ottoman Caliphate due to its denial of the legitimacy of that Caliphate, while HT stands firmly on the opposite of that. Recent papers by Baran of the Nixon Center and by Cohen of the Heritage Foundation concerning HT were conducted in contravention of standard academic research norms and approached the issue in an entirely subjective manner. Understanding HT must go through the total understanding of its well-documented literature available to the public. In case any questions are not answered by the literature, HT has official spokesmen in Sudan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey and Indonesia. HT also has official media representatives in the UK, Netherlands and Denmark. Also, HT has media offices in Lebanon, Turkey, Yemen, Iraq and Jordan. Any of these officials or offices can be approached with questions to be answered. In addition, such questions could be conveyed to HT’s global leadership through these officials. Research based on such an approach and dependent on such official answers would gain significant credit and would be able to stand its ground when cross-examined against standard academic research norms and measures.

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