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Ḥizb al-Taḥrīr al-Islāmī

Suha Taji-Farouki
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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Ḥizb al-Taḥrīr al-Islāmī

Ḥizb al-Taḥrīr al-Islāmī (the Islamic Liberation Party, also “Hizb ut-Tahrīr”) is a transnational Islamist movement. Its actual and potential impact is the subject of ongoing debate, while its radical discourse and repudiation of violence pose a policy challenge to Western governments.

Emergence and History.

Ḥizb al-Taḥrīr al-Islāmī was established in Jerusalem in 1953 by Taqī al-Dīn al-Nabhānī (1909–1977), an al-Azhar graduate, high-school teacher, and judge from Ijzim in northern Palestine, and colleagues who had left the Muslim Brotherhood. It declared itself a political party with Islam as its ideology and the revival of the Islamic community (ummah)—purged of the vestiges of colonialism and restored to an Islamic way of life—as its goal. It would achieve this goal by creating a single Pan-Islamic state on the ruins of existing regimes, which would implement Islam in toto, convey it worldwide, and restore Palestine to the Islamic fold. Although it never obtained official sanction there, the party enjoyed modest successes in Jordan and the West Bank, until opposition to the pro-Western monarchy was suppressed and martial law imposed in response to the political crisis of 1957. It indoctrinated recruits; disseminated its ideas through leaflets, lectures, and sermons; and contested parliamentary elections. Branches appeared in Syria, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Iraq as early as 1953–54. The ascendancy of Nasserism hindered its effort to gain popular support during the 1960s, yet the party 's growing confidence culminated in two coup attempts in Amman in 1968 and 1969, coordinated with simultaneous arrangements in Damascus and Baghdad. Similar plots emerged in Baghdad (1972), Cairo (1974), and Damascus (1976). Under ʿAbd al-Qadīm Zallūm, a founding member who in 1977 succeeded al-Nabhānī as leader, the party expanded across the Arab world but it still failed to gain a high profile. The activities of Hamās and Islamic Jihād and the electoral success of the Muslim Brotherhood 's Islamic Action Front from the late 1980s underscored the party 's marginal status in Palestine and Jordan, its original strongholds.

More recently, there is evidence of renewed vitality in Palestine and Jordan, and in Syria, and of continuing activity in the Arab Gulf countries, North African countries, Sudan, and Iraq, in spite of the party 's proscription, based on a perception that it seeks the violent overthrow of their regimes, in all Arab countries except Yemen, the U.A.E., and, since 2006, Lebanon. If mainstream political Islam presented serious competition in Arab countries, the party found fertile ground elsewhere in the Muslim world. Its activities spread to Turkey (where it was classified a non-terrorist organization in 2004); South Asia (Pakistan and Bangladesh); Southeast Asia (Indonesia and Malaysia); and, visible since the mid- to late-1990s, Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and most recently Kazakhstan, where in each case it has met with severe repression, and Kyrgyzstan, where the state response has been more moderate; Russia banned it in 2003). It has also reached East Africa, with widespread activities in Zanzibar (2006). The party has been active among Muslim communities in Australia, the United States (where it remains off the terrorist organizations list), and Western Europe. Its activities were banned in Germany (2003), and it came under scrutiny in Denmark (2002) for its perceived anti-Semitic rhetoric; in the UK some mosques and higher-education institutions have denied it a platform. The party 's UK image was tarnished by association with Omar Bakri Muhammad, leader of its British branch until 1996. Its success in distinguishing itself from his al-Muhajiroun group, which supported the global jihādī movement, is evidenced by the government 's decision not to proscribe the party following the July 2005 London terrorist attacks.

The party 's growing geographical reach has been matched during the last decade by increasingly effective use of the Internet and other new media to create a more integrated and accessible global perspective, the adoption of English as a major language of dissemination, and the granting of greater tactical and administrative autonomy to regional branches. These developments reflect an acknowledgement of the realities of globalization and the presence of significant membership cadres outside the Arab-Muslim world by Zallūm and, in particular, his successor as leader since 2003, the media-savvy Palestinian ʿAṭāʿ Abūʿl-Rushta (b. 1943, an engineer and former Jordanian branch spokesman). Recent international media attention has centered on the party 's surging activities in Central Asia, where it has responded effectively to the ideological vacuum created by the collapse of Communism and problems of socioeconomic deterioration. This has led some to argue that the region is the focus of its global strategy and that the party represents a threat to American strategic interests there; others insist its impact is limited. The party 's growing adaptability and pragmatism are showcased by its high profile in London: although important to its international media campaign London is not its global headquarters, as some have claimed.

Ideas and Worldview.

The party has a distinctive and coherent system of thought reflecting al-Nabhānī 's attempt to construe Islam as an ideology superior to capitalism and socialism. The Islamic ideology comprises a rational doctrine that shapes thought and conduct, and a system for ordering all aspects of life. Al-Nabhānī 's views concerning the foundations of this doctrine are controversial. Issuing from the doctrine, the Islamic system is the sharīʿah, elaborated through ijtihād (independent judgment). Al-Nabhānī developed a distinctive articulation of the sources of the sharīʿah, displaying some affinity with trends in Islamic jurisprudence that reduce the role of reason and suspend mechanisms that serve the community 's interests and accommodate change. He considers reestablishment of the sovereignty of the sharīʿah, now absent worldwide, as the lynchpin in restoring an Islamic way of life: only the Islamic state can achieve this. He posits the model of the caliphate as detailed by classical jurists, synthesized with modern political processes, as the divinely prescribed form of Islamic government. His uniquely comprehensive draft constitution details Islamic legal rules for the state 's political, economic, and social systems. Executive and legislative powers are vested in an elected caliph, in whom most state functions are centralized. Citizens call the state to account through institutions and a political opposition expressed through Islamic political parties. Political participation forms a collective religious duty (farḍ kifāyah), but consultation (shūrā) is not considered a pillar of Islamic government. Al-Nabhānī 's call to restore the caliphate was originally counterposed to secular Pan-Arabism in the struggle to reverse the fragmentation caused by the implantation of nation-states and Israel. Today it is revitalized as a vision of a utopian order that promises justice and inclusion, challenges the exploitative global hegemony of western capitalism, checks its neocolonial exploits, and restores to Islam its worldly status. Al-Nabhānī described a world divided between Islam and unbelief (kufr), which seeks to destroy Islam and finds its most virulent expression in capitalism, itself organically connected to secularism, democracy, and colonialism, and headed by America and Britain. Like democracy, nationalism is a construct of unbelief, used to divide Muslims, while international organizations are vehicles of unbelieving states.

The party has construed the Islamic resurgence of the last few decades as evidence that its ideas have taken root. Its optimism has grown since the first Gulf crisis, the “war on terror,” and the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, which, in its view, have exposed Western designs on the Muslim world, the treachery of “puppet” Muslim regimes, and the failure of other political movements.

Organization, Membership, and Strategy.

Using an Islamic discourse al-Nabhānī legitimized adopting modes of political organization and mobilization characteristic of modern nationalist parties that emerged in the Arab East from the 1930s. He developed a centralized, hierarchical, and disciplined framework for the party, where executive power is vested in one individual at each level of organization. To maintain ideological homogeneity the central leadership “adopts” material as party canon, which becomes binding on members. The party has maintained a remarkable degree of ideological and operational cohesion across its career, and there have been few internal divisions and splits (in Jordan, U.K., and Uzbekistan). Membership has drawn heavily on secondary school and university students and recent graduates, but profiles vary within and across regions, from middle-class professionals to the uneducated and poor. Al-Nabhānī elaborated a coherent political program for the party modeled on the Prophet 's precedent in establishing the Medinan city-state and comprising three consecutive stages, designed for implementation in Muslim societies, beginning with the Arab countries. First, to build the party 's cadres through indoctrination of individuals with its ideology; second, to interact with society in order to supplant society 's erroneous concepts—spawned by decline and the colonialist legacy—with the party ideology, creating thereby a public base of support for the revolutionary state, the establishment of which forms the third stage, viz., seizing government through a coup d ’état executed by power groups won over to the party 's cause. In stage two the party politicizes Muslims, exposing conspiracies hatched by Islam 's enemies and Muslim rulers ’ collusion in these; this has produced sustained analysis of international politics. The party confines its role to the political-intellectual struggle exclusively; it does not participate in charitable, social, or educational projects, while its rejection of other Islamist groups ’ tactics (including jihād and participating in the democratic process) makes cooperation with them difficult. Debates concerning its attitude towards the use of violence have intensified since 9/11, witnessing unsubstantiated attempts to conflate it with the militant IMU and al-Qaʿida. Evidence concerning party finances points overwhelmingly to internal sources and private donations.

See also JORDAN.


Works on Ḥizb al-Taḥrīr al-Islāmī

  • Baran, Zeyno. Hizb ut-Tahrir: Islam 's Political Insurgency. Washington, D.C., December 2004. Overview of the party 's ideology and international presence with a particular focus on the perceived threat it poses in Central Asia; unreliable in parts. Develops the controversial thesis that the party constitutes a “conveyor belt” for radicalism and terrorism, and is guilty of indirect incitement to violence. See also Baran 's “Fighting the War of Ideas,”Foreign Affairs, 84: 6 (2005), 68–78.
  • Mayer, Jean-François. “Hizb ut-Tahrir. The Next Al-Qaida, Really?” Program for the Study of International Organization(s) [PSIO, Geneva] Occasional Paper 4 (2004). hei.unige.ch/psio/fichiers/Meyer Al Qaida.pdf. Investigates the claim that the party 's radical discourse and anti-Americanism translate into a potential for international terrorism, detailing its condemnation of al-Qaʿida terrorist attacks in the West.
  • Radical Islam in Central Asia: Responding to Hizb ut-Tahrir. International Crisis Group Report 58, Osh/Brussels, 30 June 2003.   www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?id=
1441&CFID=29482480&CFTOKEN=55008137. Overview of party ideology and international distribution with a detailed focus on recruitment, activities, impact, and state responses in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, using field material. Questions the claim that the party constitutes a direct threat to Central Asian regimes. On Kazakhstan, see Karagiannis, Emmanuel. “The Rise of Political Islam in Kazakhstan: Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami,”Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 13 (2007): 297–322, which applies social movement theory to explain the party 's very recent rise there in the broader post-Soviet regional context.
  • Taji-Farouki, Suha. A Fundamental Quest: Hizb al-Tahrir and the Search for the Islamic Caliphate. London, 1996. Authoritative reference work based on original Arabic sources, providing a detailed overview of the party 's emergence, history, and international presence, analyzing its ideology, organization, and strategy in comparison with contemporary Islamist movements. Currently out of print; an updated expanded version is planned.
  • Taji-Farouki, Suha. “Islamists and the Threat of Jihad: Hizb al-Tahrir and al-Muhajiroun on Israel and the Jews.”Middle Eastern Studies, 36: 4 (2000), 21–46. Distinguishes between jihād as rhetoric and as praxis in the party and in Omar Bakri Muhammad 's splinter movement.

Works by Taqī al-Dīn al-Nabhānī

  • Nabhānī, Taqī al-Dīn al-. al-Dawla al-Islāmīya. Jerusalem, 1953 (Eng. trans., The Islamic State, London, 1998). Traces the historical Islamic state 's rise, decline, and demise, identifying how to restore it. Includes the party 's Draft Constitution of the Islamic State.
  • Nabhānī, Taqī al-Dīn al-. Mafāhīm Ḥizb al-Taḥrīr. Jerusalem, 1953 (Eng. trans., Concepts of Hizb ut-Tahrir, London, n.d.). Presents an understanding of Islam and the responsibilities of those working to establish the Islamic state.
  • Nabhānī, Taqī al-Dīn al-. Nịām al-Islām. Jerusalem, 1953 (Eng. trans., The System of Islam, London, 2002). Discusses fundamental concepts in the party ideology, elaborating views concerning the sharīʿah. Includes the party 's Draft Constitution of the Islamic State.
  • Nabhānī, Taqī al-Dīn al-. al-Takattul al-ḥizbī. Jerusalem, 1953 (Eng. trans., Structuring of a Party, London, 2001). Outlines a philosophy of revival and how to engineer it, and a critique of attempts at revival in the modern Arab East.
  • Official global party Web site in English, Arabic, Turkish, Urdu, Russian, and German. www.hizb-ut-tahrir.org.
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