As popular revolutions and mass anti-government protests spread like wildfire across North Africa and the Middle East, “Islamists” in particular have filled the vacuum as secular dictators have fallen like flies.
One organisation which has caught the attention of the media and global analysts is Hizb ut Tahrir, a political party founded by Palestinian scholar Taqiuddin an-Nabhani in 1953. The group aims to re-establish the Islamic Khilafah by unifying Muslim lands and resources without taking part in the democratic system.
In an exclusive interview with Dilly Hussain, the chairman of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s UK executive committee, Dr Abdul Wahid, says that the concept of an Islamic state is now back on the agenda.
DH: Dr Abdul Wahid, tell us your general reflection on the Arab Spring two years on and how it has affected HT.
AW: Alhamdulillah, things have changed a lot and are still changing. The fear factor in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and much of Syria has gone. People have stood up, spoken out and three major tyrants have fallen in humiliation. The sentiments for Islam, so long suppressed, are loud and clear.
The era of oppression had its impact, but the party is operating openly in all three countries. It is has been extremely active in Tunisia since the outset of the uprising and now has offices in Tahrir Square in Cairo. But we are under no illusions, what has been termed “revolutionary change” is still change in progress.
Tyrants have fallen, but in Egypt and Tunisia the military – with its strong links to colonial powers like the US, UK and France – are still very much in charge. Whatever change has happened has been change they have “allowed” to prevent things fully falling out of their control.
So, there is still work to be done there to gain a fully independent footing.
DH: Does HT perceive the Muslim Brotherhood’s victory in Egypt and An Nahda’s victory in Tunisia as a positive shift for political Islam?
AW: An Nahda and the Brotherhood’s roles in their respective regions is a reflection of two things: Firstly, the record of sacrifice both groups have made for decades meant both had respect and sympathy from the people. Secondly, a vote for them (and some other parties) has been seen as a vote for Islam. So their victories are definitely part of the strong public opinion for Islam.
However, the disappointing thing is the “absence” of Islam from their policies! Indeed, one or two of their prominent members seem more intent on courting the support of Western politicians than the Islamic sentiments of their grassroots.
They might argue that there is a need to unite the diverse population – but it is sad that they have not presented a stronger argument about how Islam can – and did – unite diverse populations. They have argued that you cannot implement Islam in a complete jump, yet they are arguing that you can implement a “civil state” in a complete jump.
They might argue that they do not have a free hand because of the army (or the West) but if that is the case they should declare that the shackles of slavery have not been removed – and they ought not to have been complicit in halting the revolutionary momentum by making back-room deals with the regime.
The danger is that their failings by implementing a secular civil system will be labeled as failings of political Islam.
DH: The subject of Khilafah is now a global topic, the concept gaining support among millions of Muslims. But in the case of Syria, many say that destroying a country and inflaming regional and sectarian tensions is not the way to achieve it. What are HT’s views on this?
AW: The way to Khilafah is not via embarking on a war against a regime or an armed struggle. Hizb ut-Tahrir works according to an ijtihad that follows the Prophetic method – of intellectual and political struggle, seeking support from all sections of society including the power brokers. Indeed, one can see the wisdom of this method, which is a Shari’i method, in what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, insofar as whatever change occurred did so requiring the consent of power brokers in society.
However, we support the struggle against the regime in Syria for different reasons. The people rose up peacefully and spoke out forcefully. They were met with brutality, mass murder and rape by the regime. Then they fought back to defend themselves, as Islam allows, and had no choice but to continue or face extermination.
This is why we support the struggle against the regime in Syria.
DH: How active is HT in Syria and are they working with other groups on the ground who also desire Khilafah if Assad falls?
AW: Hizb ut-Tahrir has been present in Syria since the 1950s. So we are from the people. In 1999, the regime imprisoned hundred of members of HT from a variety of professional, academic and military backgrounds. So we have been in the heart of the country for years.
The revolution is the peoples’ – not that of any one group. Alhamdulillah, our voice was heard within Syria from the start and the regime even “blamed” us at the outset for the calls against them. Our members, like other Muslims, will defend their towns and homes from the regime.
HT itself doesn’t have brigades; rather it works with the people and gives its message to the people – about the plans of the colonial powers and about its vision for an alternative future. Alhamdulillah, that message is well received by the people and by many of the groups within the opposition.
The Ameer of Hizb ut-Tahrir, Shaikh Ata Abu al-Rashtah, has addressed the rebels in Syria – most recently on 12th Rabi’ al Awwal 1434 / 24th January 2013 – when he warned that the international community continued to allow the brutal aggression to continue in order to make the people accept the various councils and committees that are being formulated outside the country as a client government-in-waiting. He encouraged the people not to fall for the plots of the external powers, not to be disheartened and to continue to demonstrate their support for Islam.
DH: It has been reported that Jabhat al Nusra pledged their alliance to Al Qaeda. What are HT’s views on this and are you effectively supporting AQ in Syria?
AW: The most significant thing about this statement is that the regime as well as those powers hostile to real Islamic change will leap upon it and use it as a stick to beat the opposition on the ground. It is a mistake, perhaps deliberately by some, to characterize all the opposition to Assad’s regime by this statement.
The people are united in opposition to the regime. The people seem very clear that Islam needs to be central in the post-Assad era. The people seem very clear that they are wary of the Western-formed attempts at creating a leadership in exile – who now, at this eleventh hour, find it necessary to mention Islam as part of a post-Assad future.
However, beyond that, peoples’ specific ideas and solutions will differ.
DH: HT say they oppose Western interference in Syria but isn’t that just words? Aren’t the West and its proxies actually driving events in Syria and the mujahideen on the ground are in reality doing their dirty work to be double-crossed later when the time is right?
AW: It would be wrong to talk of the mujahideen doing anyone’s “dirty work.” They are genuinely defending the people against an oppressive regime. It is also wrong to lump the real opposition (on the ground inside Syria) with the Syrian National Council (SNC) and other external Western-backed bodies.
The West has tried very hard for two years – through its proxies in the region and by supporting the external opposition – to prevent the whole region from slipping from its grip and turning towards some sort of Islamic-inspired rule.
Over time, many people on the ground have begun to realise this plot of the West and that its real fear is the awakening of the people’s desire for Islam. People need to remember that the West has long cooperated with Bashar’s brutal government including rendering people like Maher Arar to be tortured in Syria.
Initially, when facing bombs and bullets, people appealed for Western help as they did in Libya. However, as time has gone on, many people now have a realistic view of the poison that Western government’s offer.
What is sometimes less clear to people is the role of the West’s regional proxies like Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia who refuse to help the people out of a sincere sense of Islamic obligation but only in concert with aiding the plans of their Western allies.
DH: How can you guarantee that sincere Islamic fighters on the ground who want to establish Khilafah aren’t being armed, funded and manipulated by the West?
AW: You can never guarantee such things. What you can do is simply try to firstly expose the hostile, yet sometimes not obvious, agendas of foreign powers and their proxies; and secondly, build a consensus of what you are struggling for – ie not just to remove Assad, but to create a situation where you can establish a society that pleases Allah (swt) and rules by what Islam ordains.
US officials now admit that their main dilemma in Syria today is that the vast majority of those resisting and opposing Assad are Islamic brigades demanding an Islamic future and opposed to western intervention or interference.
DH: What are your thoughts on the sectarian strife that is engulfing the Muslim world?
AW: This is unwelcome. Regimes like that of Assad’s have fostered sectarian divisions, exploiting them to maintain a balance of power. Moreover, some of these divisions were defined in the early 20th century, largely under French colonial rule.
Finally, with Iran backing Assad and Saudi/Qatar voicing opposition, it has reinforced these divisions. We saw this in Iraq, where historically people lived well side-by-side. Both Saddam and the West managed to divide people based on sects/regions.
Islam, under the Khilafah, has the ability to unify people under an Islamic constitution – giving people (Muslims and non-Muslims) protection and rights under the laws of Islam.
DH: Given the divisions in the Muslim world, isn’t a united Khilafah under one leader just a pipe dream? It’s clear that the Shia have a different notion of an Islamic polity which wouldn’t submit to a Sunni caliphate. Is it more plausible and realistic to hope for a number of independent Islamic states in a loose federation?
AW: Firstly, Khilafah is not about “dreams,” “realistic,” “unrealistic” etc. It is about the hukm of Allah. Is it a “dream,” “realistic” or “unrealistic” that people pray, pay Zakat, fast or make Hajj?! Such a question sounds absurd. Khilafah is an obligation, so the question is about how you work to re-establish it, insha’Allah.
Secondly, as with many Islamic rules, there are different conceptions of the details. We offer our vision and ijtihad, but accept if someone else implemented theirs, and it was a valid ijtihad by Islam – under whichever school of thought – that would fulfil the obligation for the Ummah.
Thirdly, the idea of a “number of independent Islamic states in a loose federation” is wrong from a Shari’i and political argument.
From a Shari’i argument it means institutionalizing division and nationalism, which is haram. From a rational political perspective, it is nonsense. It either leads to hostility and conflict between states, or an economic and political cooperation, as with the European Union.
And what the European Union has showed, especially in the past 2 years, is that without a level of political unity that unifies fiscal rules and policies, as well as border and foreign policies, it is unworkable. Any polity that did unify these is effectively a unified state – so why avoid the question?!
Apart from basic necessities like an end to conflict and poverty, unity is one of the fundamental things that Muslims the world over crave. Despite the fracturing of that unity in the early 20th Century with the destruction of the Khilafah, we see unprecedented levels of support for unity between Muslims, Alhamdulillahi Rabbil ‘Alamin.
You can follow Dilly Hussain on Twitter @DillyHussain88