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Hizb-ut-Tahrir's distinction

About the author
Abdul Wahid is a practising medical doctor and a member of the executive committee of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Britain.

When I wrote my openDemocracy article “Tony Blair and Hizb-ut-Tahrir: ‘Muslims under the bed’”, I wanted to make a specific point: that the measures announced by the British prime minister on 5 August – including a legal ban on the party of which I am a member, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, were potentially landmark proposals. I hoped also to inform people about the true nature of the party in order to put Tony Blair’s controversial measures into perspective.

However, my article has provoked criticism of Hizb-ut-Tahrir that does not address my substantive arguments. Some of this may be valid but most, I think, is not. Many things written in the three articles openDemocracy published in response to mine (by Huda Jawad, Ehsan Masood, and David T), as well as in the voluminous forum postings, were either inaccurate, outdated or a rehash of former allegations. I hope readers will understand that limited space allows only a partial reply to all the issues raised; but there are certain important points that I would like to respond to.

The loyalty question

Ehsan Masood’s piece rightly focused upon the fundamental question of loyalty, one that the government has to consider when considering issues of national security. However, he is wrong about Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s view on reporting terrorism to the police, a matter on which we have been consistent.

If any Muslim citizen possesses information indicating an imminent act of violence, then he has an Islamic duty to prevent this from taking place, even if this means reporting to the police. Masood’s article was the first time I had ever seen a view to the contrary presented in the media, and it was sad that he did not check his facts, and instead made assumptions – a frequent problem when people talk or write about Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

A serious related point must be registered. The Muslim community as a whole is often asked to look out for suspicious activity. This has created an atmosphere of paranoia in some places, with very negative effects: women in hijab being reported to the police while shopping, people being detained for two entire days merely for having a certain appearance, members of the community using the atmosphere to settle old scores by maliciously and falsely reporting their enemies.

I think everyone would benefit if they differentiated between the (infinitesimal) cases of real threat that do indeed need reporting, and the fuelling of or succumbing to a hysterical climate.

Also in openDemocracy on the nature and influence of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir party:

Abdul Wahid, “Tony Blair and Hizb-ut-Tahrir: ‘Muslims under the bed’”

Huda Jawad, “Being Muslim in Britain: home truths for Abdul Wahid”

Ehsan Masood, “The Hizb-ut-Tahrir equation”

David T, “Hizb-ut-Tahrir: the snarl behind the smile”

See also the extensive forum discussion following the publication of these articles

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The danger of stereotype and confusion

Some contributors to this debate recall bad personal experiences of Hizb-ut-Tahrir in their university days. Among the reasons may be that some of our members, in their first flush of political activism around a decade ago, were over-enthusiastic in their work; they are more mature now, but old impressions have stuck.

Thankfully, such criticism has been extremely uncommon for at least the last five years, to the extent that in 2004 both Muslim and non-Muslim students in many British universities worked to lift the National Union of Students’ ban.

Another reason why the aggressive image remains is the perpetual media associations between Hizb-ut-Tahrir and al-Muhajiroun, an organisation with whom we have had no association by word or deed since the expulsion of its founder in 1996. So I strongly resent the suggestion of a “snarl behind a smile”, that a deceptively benign appearance hides a sinister reality. I smile sometimes, and I snarl sometimes. Behind both there is a thought and an idea – surely they, not superficial appearances, deserve careful, objective scrutiny.

The challenge of politics

Hizb-ut-Tahrir has, for several years, welcomed inquiry and criticism of our policies and recommendations for the Muslim world and Britain. But when observers look at the party, they tend to become preoccupied with the mode of political activity, or narrow questions about what political institutions we will or won’t engage with, rather than the substance of the message.

Moreover, some who do challenge our political views often resort to partial understandings of individual texts that are detached from context – either of the Muslim world or of global history in general. For example, the war rhetoric prevalent in Europe fifty years ago was full of derogatory epithets and proud declarations, but these are no longer seen as appropriate.

Winston Churchill’s “fight them on the beaches” is relevant to Normandy in 1944, not Barbados in 2005; the language of “freedom” used in campaigns for independence today differs between Scotland and Aceh. It would be ridiculous to assume that rhetoric relevant to a population that sees itself under occupation is symptomatic of the viewpoint of Muslims generally, and Hizb-ut-Tahrir specifically, on all issues relating (say) to Jews and Americans. Yet that is all too often what we see in these so-called challenges to our political ideas. In fact, the decision to remove some of our overseas literature from our British website was a considered response to the legitimate proposition that people who read it out of its context might see it as offensive.

I would truly welcome more real, objective investigation of what Hizb-ut-Tahrir advocates for the Muslim world, and for Muslims wishing to offer a contribution in Britain. Instead, David T seems to have fallen prey to the kind of selective, tendentious arguments we are usually accused of using against western governments.

Home truths

The most humbling of all the criticisms raised was unquestionably Huda Jawad’s indictment that Hizb-ut-Tahrir had neglected the basic needs of our community by preoccupying ourselves with international issues.

It is a hard allegation to refute. She is correct that all of us involved in Islamic “activism” have been deficient in adequately meeting the social concerns she raises. We have made some modest but productive efforts over the past four years – in particular with regard to youth and drug problems, and forced marriage. But the fact that such problems are still on the increase is evidence that more needs to be done.

I welcome Huda Jawad’s advice, as I welcome much of the sincere personal advice we have been offered by Muslims and non-Muslims since Hizb-ut-Tahrir hit the media spotlight in the past few weeks. I have learned how our message to the Muslim community – one whose context, I truly believe, the community appreciates – is perceived by those outside. I also appreciate that errors made by immature young men almost a decade ago have been a factor in making our ideas difficult to reason with or accept.

But it is not necessarily useful to confuse important but distinct debates about Islam, the situation of Muslims in Britain, the global aspirations of Muslims, and national security. These are very different issues that deserve to be considered separately. To blur their distinctions will not lead to the answers that so many seek.


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