Hizb ut Tahrir: An Interview With Imran Waheed
Imran Waheed addresses Hizb ut Tahrir’s one-day national conference, titled Hizb ut Tahrir and the Vision for the Caliphate, Sept. 4 in London. (Photo: Geoff Caddick / AFP-Getty Images)
Imran Waheed is the spokesman for the British-based Islamic political party, Hizb ut Tahrir, which is dedicated to re-establishing the Caliphate, last held by the Ottomans until it was abolished by Kemal Atatürk in 1924, and thus to the unification of the Muslim world into a pan-Islamic state.
Founded in 1953, Hizb ut Tahrir has been banned in nearly every Arab state, Germany, Russia and the Muslim states of Central Asia — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan — where it has been active since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
The group doesn’t recognize the governments of any Muslim state — ruled as they are by “dictators and tyrants” — and opposes Zionism and democracy. In short, it rejects anything that is not an Islamic theocracy based on the Shariah.
Uzbekistan has been particularly fierce in its repression of Hizb ut Tahrir, where it is considered a major threat. Russia has accused it of supporting the breakaway republic of Chechnya; Germany, of anti-Semitism. Recently, in the wake of the London bombings, Prime Minister Tony Blair called for it to be banned in Britain.
However, Hizb ut Tahrir has repeatedly stated that it is committed to achieving its goals through nonviolent means, and that it is opposed to terror. No clear ties to terrorist activity have been proven. Organized into study circles, or cells, and supervised by a party member who alone knows the next level of leadership, but not the whole hierarchy, it remains to this day one of the most secretive of fundamentalist Islamic organizations.
Paraipan: Knowing that you are a supporter of Hizb ut Tahrir I would like to know why did you choose this particular party?
Waheed: I am a media representative of Hizb ut Tahrir Britain. I chose Hizb ut Tahrir as it had undertaken a detailed and enlightened study of the decline of the Muslim world in the twentieth century and had identified the absence of Islam in state and society as the fundamental reason for this. The party works to bring about an intellectual advancement of the Muslim world by engaging in intellectual and political work. It has a clear and consistent non-violent methodology from which it has not strayed in the slightest in over 50 years of work.
What kind of Islamic ideology does Hizb promote?
We view Islam as a comprehensive system of life that addresses both individual and societal problems. In Islam we have a judicial system, a social system, an economic system, an educational policy, a foreign policy, a punishment system and a ruling system — so, unlike the Western model of secular liberalism, where religion and state are separated, Islam accepts no such dichotomy.
We are an Islamic political party and not a sect or a school of thought.
Its aim is to establish the Islamic Caliphate. Briefly explain what a caliphate is and if it should be a source of concern for the West?
Our aim is to re-establish the Islamic Caliphate in the Muslim world. Our vision of the Islamic Caliphate is as an independent state having an elected and accountable ruler, an independent judiciary, political parties, the rule of law and equal rights for minority groups. Citizens of the Caliphate have every right to be involved in politics and accounting the ruler in which the role of the ruler (Caliph) is to be a servant of the masses governing them with justice.
The Caliphate will play a pivotal role in projecting a positive image of Islam to the West.
What would life be like in this Islamic paradise Hizb promotes for those who are not Muslims and are called “second class citizens?”
Firstly, we do not say that the Caliphate will be an “Islamic paradise” or a utopia.
Secondly, we have never viewed non-Muslims as “second class citizens” and the Caliphate will not view them as such. In fact the Caliphate will deal with all citizens in the same manner, irrespective of whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim. A non-Muslim citizen of the Caliphate will have more rights than a Muslim who is not a citizen of the Caliphate. Non-Muslims would not be viewed as ethnic minorities and left to live in ghettos. The Caliphate would have an obligation to protect its non-Muslim citizens. Many non-Muslims used to live with Muslims under the banner of Islam for almost thirteen centuries. Throughout those periods non-Muslims used to have the same high standard of living as the Muslims did. They enjoyed equal rights, prosperity, happiness, tranquility and security. The Jews and Christians used to be called Ahl al-Dhimma, People of the Covenant. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “He who abuses a dhimmi [non-Muslim citizen] then I will be his rival and dispute him on the Day of Judgment.”
An Islamic classical scholar, Imam Qarafi, says, “It is the responsibility of the Muslims to the People of the Dhimma [non-Muslim citizens] to take care of their weak, fulfilling the needs of the poor, feeding the hungry, providing clothes, addressing them politely and even tolerating their harm even if it was from a neighbor, even though the Muslim may have an upper hand. The Muslims must also advise them sincerely on their affairs and protect them against anyone who tries to hurt them or their family, steal their wealth or violates their rights.”
Reading a few Hizb ut Tahrir political statements, I was intrigued by its intention of waging war against all the Arab regimes who Hizb ut Tahrir believe are not Islamic, and against the Kuffr [Disbelievers]. What do they mean by war? Is the Saudi or the Iranian regime Islamic enough?
Hizb ut-Tahrir is engaged in political struggle, not war, against the rulers of the Muslim world who are a band of dictators and tyrants. Hizb ut Tahrir is at the forefront of political activism in the Muslim world. The party has challenged and called to account the tyrannical rulers of the Muslim world such as Colonel Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Hosni Mubarak, [Islam] Karimov, and General Musharraf. The response of these regimes to our work has been to imprison, torture and murder our members. Whilst our challenge to these regimes has been at an intellectual and political level, by encouraging debate and discussion, these regimes have resorted to banning and silencing the party, as they have no intellectual thought of their own. As these regimes tolerate no opposition whatsoever, other opposition parties are also banned. Despite the banning of the party and the intimidation of its members, the thoughts of the party have nevertheless successfully permeated throughout society.
As for Iran or Saudi Arabia, for a land to be considered a Caliphate, every single article of the country’s constitution, every rule and law, must emanate from the Islamic Shariah. In the case of Iran and Saudi Arabia these criteria are far from being met. In these places, only lip service is paid to Islamic law by claiming that it is the source of legislation. In reality the constitutions of these countries give much more weight to socialism, republicanism, hereditary ruler and capitalism, than Islam. Thus it can, in no way, be claimed that any of the current Muslim countries are representative of Islam and the Islamic system of government, which is the Islamic Khilafah [Caliphate].
What tactics does Hizb use or is likely to use to engineer the collapse of the regimes it does not agree with?
We have clearly set out our methodology for re-establishing the Islamic Caliphate from our inception in 1953 — the methodology is derived from the Islamic texts and is not a matter of expediency or pragmatism. Despite the intense oppression of our members, the rules have not changed.
The party adheres to the Islamic Shariah in all aspects of its work, and takes its methodology from that of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that he used to establish the first Islamic State in Madinah. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) limited his struggle for the establishment of the Islamic State to the intellectual and political domains. Hence the party considers violence or armed struggle against the regime a violation of the Islamic Shariah.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) worked to mobilize public opinion in favor of Islam and endeavored to sway the political and intellectual elites of the time. Despite the persecution and boycott of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the early Muslims, they never resorted to violence.
The party is therefore proactive in disseminating the Islamic intellectual and political thoughts widely in Muslim societies so as to challenge the existing status quo that exists there. The party presents Islam as a comprehensive way of life that is capable of managing the affairs of state and society. The party also expresses its views on political events and analyses them from an Islamic perspective.
In addition, the party works with the people of influence within society to convince them of the need for intellectual and political change.
The party disseminates its thoughts through discussion with the masses, study circles, lectures, seminars, leaflet distribution, publishing books and magazines and via the Internet. We encourage people to attend our demonstrations, marches and vigils.
What do you make of the United States’ “war on terrorism?” Would you say that it is a war against Islam?
The W.O.T. remains the central tenet of current U.S. foreign policy but, fundamentally, W.O.T. is a misnomer; at best a half-truth. There is certainly a “war” but it is neither solely aimed at eliminating terrorists and ending terror, nor is it exclusively aimed at Muslims who engage in violence to achieve their political goals. The W.O.T. (though not in a military sense) is also aimed at another larger category of Muslims who don’t support the use of violence to create political change. The objective with this section of Muslims is to win the battle for hearts and minds — a battle which is currently being lost, largely as a result of the harsh manner in which American and British policies have been carried out. Though there have been some specific political gains and military victories, these have been more than offset by large strategic and political losses. The American plans for reform in the Muslim world, an integral component to winning its W.O.T., will only be partly successful, as the U.S. itself currently lacks credibility, a key precursor to gaining change in the Islamic world.
The W.O.T. has not achieved its goal of making the world a safer place. 75% of Americans think the world is now a more dangerous place than a decade ago. Yet despite this, there remains a fundamental myopia at the heart of the American and British government’s strategy. They have not only failed to name this war correctly, but in terms of execution they are seriously ill equipped to win the battle of ideas. Finally, they have also seriously underestimated the effect of Islamic political ideas on millions of Muslims. Winning the battle of ideas requires sincere leadership, honesty, strong principles and the ability to convince your opponent through the power of thought, not the barrel of a gun.
We often hear and read in mass-media about two kinds of Islam: the radical and moderate branch. Do you agree with this view? If you do, please state why? And if do not, again please explain why not.
We do not accept the division of Muslims into moderates and extremists — these are extremely subjective terms with no clear definitions or legal meanings. Western governments use these terms for the political objective of dividing Muslims into “moderates” and “extremists.” It is not for Western governments to define what a Muslim is or what parts of Islam are acceptable to them. Some have suggested that believing that Islam is the true path for salvation, wanting an end to Western occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, feeling for the Muslims of Palestine and advocating Islamic governance in the Muslim world is “extremism” — however the overwhelming majority of Muslims would subscribe to these ideas. The use of these terms is intended to demonize legitimate Islamic values and beliefs, curtail legitimate political expression and challenge the influence of Islam on politics.
Within Islam, Jihad is an important element of the faith. Would you say that what Al Qaeda and its branches are doing is Jihad?
We are not in any position to comment on Al Qaeda or its activities. We have made our position on violence and terrorism clear and have adopted a clear methodology that is solely based around intellectual and political work.
What is your view on suicide bombers? Is such a behavior encouraged and accepted in Islam?
There is a fundamental question you have to answer first. Do people who have suffered the occupation of their land, expulsion and the loss of self-determination have the right to resist? If it is accepted that an occupied people have a right to choose when to fight and when to make peace, only then can we discuss the means they use. Certainly, the means any people use will be dependent upon their resources. So people with tanks, planes and guns would use these and people without these would use whatever means they do have. To deny this principle would be to say to the weak that it is illegitimate to defend yourself.
However, in no circumstances does Islam allow the killing of innocent civilians, and that is why we have issued a clear denunciation of the attacks of 9/11 and more recently the London bombings of 7th July.
Do you know of any fatwas issued against suicide bombings and other terrorists by Hizb’s clerics or by any other Muslim clerics? In case you do not, can you explain why the Muslim leaders or the Muslims who live in Western societies do not strongly and publicly condemn these actions and accordingly change their weekly sermons within the mosques?
The entire Muslim community has made its position on the London bombings clear — these actions have no justification as far as Islam is concerned. Such actions have been clearly denounced by Muslim leaders and the Muslim community. In fact, the reality in the Muslim world today, from Tashkent to Tripoli, is that the vast majority of work against Western imperialism comes through non-violent political struggle.
However, if these strong statements of condemnation do not exist is the West right to say that moderate Islam is only a wishful thinking?
“Moderate” Islam is a creation of the Western governments and is not a phenomenon known in Islamic thinking or jurisprudence. Western governments are in no position to define what a Muslim is or what parts of Islam are acceptable to them.
Often the Muslims from the U.S. and Europe condemn the coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq as being criminals. What about the Muslims who kill other Muslims in the name of Allah? The same Allah whose teachings are supposed to be peaceful. How do you comment on it?
It is not only Muslims who condemn the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, there are many non-Muslims who also condemn the occupation and call for an end to foreign interference in the Muslim world.
We do not accept the killing of innocent civilians, whether at the hands of Muslims, or whether at the hands of the armies of Western governments. The tears of the widows of Iraq are no different to the tears of widows in London. Western governments do not have a monopoly on anger, rage and suffering.
What is it that Muslims rebel against both in the West and abroad? Is it the West’s values, freedom, human rights, women’s empowerment or its very existence?
This is nothing to do with rebellion. We believe the Muslim world should have the right to determine its political destiny free from external interference. We believe that the nation states in the Muslim world are artificial creations of Western powers to divide Muslims and exploit resources; we seek justice through the formation of a single Islamic state that serves the people rather than corrupt clients of foreign powers.
The overwhelming majority of Muslims deplores Western foreign policy towards the Muslim world, but expresses this through non-violent political work.
What should the West change in its behavior and what should the Muslim change in theirs?
Western governments must end their politics of denial. The Muslim community has expressed clearly its condemnation of violence against innocent civilians wherever that may be. However, we ask when will Western governments come clean to the Muslim community to condemn the killing and terror they have unleashed in Iraq and Afghanistan? When will they explain to the public why they describe some of the world’s most brutal dictators, who torture and murder their political opponents, such as Karimov, Musharraf and Mubarak, as their allies in the war on terror?
The Muslims for their part need to continue speaking out against Western foreign policy in the Muslim world and continue to call for the return of the Caliphate to replace the corrupt dictators.