Dirty Tricks? Hizb ut-Tahrir and its Critics

Since May 2007, Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain has come under increasing public criticism from former members and associates. The three most prominent critics have been Ed Husain, Shiraz Maher and Maajid Nawaz. Of the three, Husain has had the widest public impact with his book, The Islamist, whose main target was the Party, becoming a best seller (with apparently over 50,000 copies sold since its release). Perhaps the most authoritative criticism has come from the most senior figure out of the three, Nawaz, who had been promoted to the national executive committee prior to his departure in 2007.

Although all three have mounted strong criticisms of the Party’s political ideology, Nawaz has disagreed with the call made by Maher and Husain for the Party’s proscription under the Terrorism Acts 2000 and 2006. After two reviews since 2005, the government has decided that there is insufficient evidence to ban the group, although it apparently remains under review. There are some grounds for the suspicion that the unofficial policy is really to threaten the Party with a ban rather than actually impose one in order to moderate its behaviour. Any ban would certainly be tested through the courts and would potentially criminalise a lot of young Muslim Britons, drastically polarising the political climate. And it would be a post-war first — banning a non-violent group for subversion, something neither contemplated for Britain’s Communists during the Cold War nor for Sinn Fein during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

Nawaz has decided to undertake a detailed rebuttal through his blog, Towards Political Engagement, of the Party’s ideological stance on the basis of Islamic theology. His approach seeks to persuade rather than to coerce and is largely directed at serving Party members, surely the best way forward in a period when Muslims face the stripping away of their legal rights, a process that, like the one the British Irish collectively experienced in earlier times, creates a “suspect community”. Nawaz has concentrated rather less on shifting the common public narrative on Islam than his fellow critics.

Hizb ut-Tahrir has taken measures to smear and tarnish the personal reputations of its critics that go far beyond the limits of free and fair rebuttal. One tactic has been to set up spoiler blogs designed to discredit its critics. The first is the faked blog of Rashad Zaman Ali, another former member from Sheffield, who in fact has never had a personal blog on the net. The forgers have put up fake blog entries in his name, written in a naive polemical tone, answered themselves through posting comments and put up links to organisations seen as highly dubious or suspect in Party eyes like the Sufi Muslim Council, British Muslims for Secular Democracy and the Center for Islamic Pluralism, whose Executive Director is the journalist Stephen Schwartz. The implication is that there is no internal community criticism of the Party that is not politically aligned with American neoconservatism or with a betrayal of Islamic rule, one of two “roles” assigned to these organisations by the Party. This is unsubtle stuff but it is nonetheless effective among the alienated young Muslims the Party targets. There is similarly a fake blog for Maajid Nawaz, Toppled Pyramid. Both fake blogs were set up in September to counteract Nawaz’s real blog, Towards Political Engagement, launched at the end of August. The perpetrators did not cover their electronic tracks sufficiently and the blogs have been traced back to known members of the Party.

More serious are the coded threats of violence which Ed Husain has received like the rap poem penned by a Milton Keynes [1] member of the Party, Showkat Ali, in June this year, written as a confessional by Ed in the first person:

No ifs no Butts [Hassan Butt]
Some people after me
To stab me in the heart
Like they did Hassan in Manchester

I dread the return of the Caliphate
Who will apply to extradite me
Put me on trial
And then execute me
As a traitor.

This is totally unacceptable behaviour and it should be exposed. It seeks to end all dissent through a culture of implied violence and must be resolutely opposed. Similarly Nawaz has received explicit and abusive emails and death threats over the telephone which he has reported to the police. There is no positive proof to link these abusive acts to Party members, but Nawaz has noted that the emails contain names and references that could only be known to Party insiders.

The wisdom of putting forward a clear Islam/Islamism distinction to the general public that can be politically exploited by anti-Muslim and authoritarian tendencies is unclear. This binary distinction presents a black-and-white version of a complicated picture of change and adaption among Britain’s Muslim groups and movements, and may serve to inhibit rather than open up debate by provoking a defensive reaction motivated by the spirit of exoneration as much as anything else. An overstated case loses its bite: the trick is how to trigger respectful, constructive but sometimes tough-minded engagement. It remains vitally important that detailed discussion of the essential ideological elements of political Islam and their rather tenuous relevance to life in modern-day Britain and the everyday aspirations of most British Muslims takes place. It also has to be a public debate in order to be taken seriously by those who are being criticised; otherwise, in the normal way of such things, experience teaches that it will be swept under the carpet.

Now it is a tall order of business to take these ideas on in public without playing into Islamophobic stereotypes but that is the challenge ahead that faces British Muslims. And, of the three public critics of the Party, it is Maajid Nawaz who seems to have struck the most considered tone. Yet none of them should face deceptive smear tactics, abuse, intimidation or threats of implied violence. Nawaz has said that, in his time on the national executive committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain, the leadership endorsed the use of the internet to smear critics of the Party or to pose as non-Muslims on internet fora looking to discredit former members. So this is not a new tactic. No doubt in this case, a factor of plausible deniability may come into play, but it is up to the leadership to control its members and its youth (shabab) to conduct their rebuttals in the Islamic spirit of etiquette (adab) and good character (akhlaq). If they believe their ideas are worth defending then they would not feel the need to resort to these dirty tricks campaigns.

This blog has been republished courtesy of the new City Circle blog.

Please take note of the new comments policy here. All posters should give their full name, a verifiable email address, their hometown and/or their institutional/organisational affiliation and abide by all the other rules otherwise their post will not be put up.


[1] Showkat Ali hails from Milton Keynes but was undergoing teaching training in Birmingham as reported in the New Statesman, 14 June 2007.


Filed under Internet, Islamism

9 responses to “Dirty Tricks? Hizb ut-Tahrir and its Critics

  1. Yasir

    Look, when people come out with the kind of things the likes of Maajid have, people are going to get emotional and do silly things, but to try and make this into some kind of ‘attack’ by the party? On what basis can HT be accused of anything? So maybe some members have made some comments on websites, to be honest most of them from what I have seen have been clearly humorous in nature, as opposed to some kind of ‘dirty tricks’ campaign to smear anyone, as Yahya suggests. And Maajid’s claims that HT have done this as a policy? Please. The Party’s record speaks for itself, it has never engaged in smearing, even engaging in personal attacks of any kind.

    Lets get back to the real debate, and not get distracted by irrelevant issues, which are only brought up because dealing with the Party on its thoughts is too difficult for the likes of Yahya Birt.

    ‘It remains vitally important that detailed discussion of the essential ideological elements of political Islam and their rather tenuous relevance to life in modern-day Britain and the everyday aspirations of most British Muslims takes place. ‘

    – Is that right? Well where are these discussions? It’s funny how the very person who brings up a pointless and baseless argument here then goes on to claim how vitally important it is to have a detailed discussion on political Islam. If Yahya (or anyone else) disagrees with HT’s method/objectives, then let’s hear your argument.

    Yasir Hassan, London, Hizb ut-Tahrir

  2. Yahya Birt

    Dear Yasir, as-salamu alaykum,

    I don’t regard the manner of this debate as irrelevant. Far from it. To excuse this type of behaviour as “emotionalism” is too lenient and some would certainly see it as self-serving. Party members and associates have to restrain themselves when defending their viewpoint and the leadership has to call them to account. Such tactics have been centrally endorsed in the past on the testimony of a former member of your national executive committee who only resigned in 2007. Whether these kinds of attacks are centrally endorsed or are the outcome of individual initiative is irrelevant in terms of evaluating their intrinsic moral worth. Even if not centrally endorsed they should be cracked down upon by the Party’s leadership as improper behaviour otherwise they will not be exercising proper moral leadership. Otherwise no civilised debate will be possible on these issues. If you can’t treat someone like Maajid Nawaz well, then the Muslim community at large will not think much of the Hizb’s commitment to genuine debate or of its one-directional notion of adab. Even if one has had qualms and disagreements with Ed Husain’s and Shiraz Maher’s approaches, they don’t deserve this treatment either. It just makes you look as if you want to play up to the stereotypes of being authoritarian and intolerant.

    To make some brief mention of substantive issues.

    My definition of political Islam or “Islamism” is a broad one. Islamism is the engagement of Muslims with modern politics, mobilising Islamic discourses, symbols and practices which may manifest itself in many forms. In this sense Iqbal or Jinnah were Islamists, as one might call Erdogan an Islamist, committed as they were or are to Muslim empowerment in what might be recognized as Muslim social democracy. They would fall within the spectrum of political possibilities that one might call Islamist, as would Khomeini’s Iran or Mullah Omar’s Afghanistan. This dignifies the term with analytical rather than polemical potential and affords us the opportunity to understand rather better the political possibilities that have emerged during the phase of Islamic revival over the last half century or so in the Muslim world. I haven’t written about this at length but hope to do so at some stage.

    I would also like to write about secularism, of which there are various traditions, some of which were endorsed during the centuries of the caliphate. The separation, unlike in Europe, did not centre around religious institutions and the state and the delimitation of their various roles in politics, law and education. Rather it centred, as far as I understand it, upon the autonomy of the ulema from the state in interpreting religion and the autonomy of the state from implementing any one Islamic legal tradition as promulgated law. In fact policy and indeed adminstrative law remained the prerogative of the many rulers who claimed the mantle of the caliphate over a long period. What this means in modern-day terms would be an interesting discussion. Similarly the characterisation of the public sphere as a domain in which participants enframe public reasoning to address the common or general interest has important analogues in Christianity (“res publica”) and in Islam (“maslaha”). The public sphere as a domain is autonomous but overlaps both the state and the market, but is also not civil society because it addresses directly the levers of modern-day power. The question today as always is how this public sphere to be characterised? How inclusive is it?

    I have addressed the issue about the extent of political concern verses the extent of political influence, or of ummatic politics and nationalism in a globalising world in an earlier essay that I wrote:


    which may or may not interest you. In due course I hope to write further about these issues and perhaps we can discuss these matters at that point.

    Your brother in faith, Yahya Birt

  3. Asalaam Alaikum
    apologies for not responding and reposting in the post below on the unity pledge, will be happy to post the al-fitrah literature to you if my in-laws still have it.

    As myself and others including Summayah Evans on her blog have pointed out, Maajid’s sincerity is in some question as his official story doesn’t tally with his actions. Maajid claims that he revised all his views in an Egyptian prison and formulated his new viewpoints there.

    However on leaving that same prison cell he returned to HT UK and even took up a position on their executive committee. A strange thing to do considering his own claims that he no longer accepted HT’s stance. He has yet to bring an answer to this discrepency.

    Beyond that his actual argument is fallacious- the idea that because a government paid faqih has given a ruling that the regime is legitimate means we have to accept that as a legitimate fatawa and ijtihad and not allowed to take any action in opposing it as being unislamic. This means any ruler anywhere can employ a suitably pliable faqih to give the fatawa he wants and munkar will prevail.

    Which seems to coincide with your thoughts about Islamic secularism- that the ulema should not be under state control. However i don’t like this term secularism even when Islamically qualified, i think it’s highly misleading. Rather the ulema in these situations were part of the “checks and balances” of the Islamic state.

    Mujaddid Ahmed Sirhindi(RAA) didn’t accept such fallacious reasoning from the court “ulema” of the Mughal Emperor Akbar about his “Din-e-Ilahi” and neither should we, whether or not we agree with HT’s methodology or not.

    Ismaeel Hijazi

  4. As-salamu alaykum,

    Dear Ismaeel,

    Doubtlessly Maajid Nawaz would be in a better position to explain this point in his autobiography than I would. The explanation that I have heard about this perceived discrepancy between disillusionment in prison and rejoining the Hizb post-release satisfied me. Let me say that no personal journey is not without genuine competing claims upon one’s sense of loyalty — the search for truth, the need to be true to one’s friends, to fight for one’s cause and so on. These matters are not always straightforward and to make the worst construction on such matters is not necessarily the right way to go. The brother should be asked directly about this.

    On the matter of the ulema endorsing or not endorsing the political status quo in their country, I’m sure that this is matter of degree and is never completely unconditional. The Sunni ulema have not, by and large, been revolutionaries and rebels even if they did not shy away from frank advice to the rulers. An endorsement of a political structure does not imply support for political elites and everything that they do tout court. I can’t claim to know enough about the Azhar’s endorsement of Egypt’s twentieth century experiment with constitutional democracy (prior to its usurping in the second half of that century) to come to a settled conclusion. All I would say is that applying the principle of the moral autonomy of the ulema from realpolitik is different from assessing the judgements they made concerning particular political systems and/or rulers. Does the assessment of Akbar by Imam Sirhindi have a global legal scope? I suspect the answer is that it does not. And Allah knows best.

    wa s-salam, Yahya

  5. Asalaam Alaikum

    Vis-a-vis the question of whether the Ulema in question support the regime or the elites or individual decisions is not really the question i was addressing.

    Maajid’s argument boils down to a question of whether an ijtihad adopted by a government can be challenged by another and whether it is right for HT to impose their political ijtihad on others.

    The first answer is a circular one because he says the ulema have given legitimacy to the quasi-democratic systems in the middle east and this has been adopted by the rulers. For us to accept that the ruler has a right to implement that ijtihad we have to first accept his right to rule is legitimate. Thus we are left in the paradox of a ruler who is legitimized by a principle which cannot be applied until it is established that he is legitimate. The reality however is that these governments are in the main usurptions of power which were not legitimate and have only been “legitimized” by a section of the ulema retrospectivley.

    Now if we do accept that the ruler is legitimate based on the verdict of a single or at the best a minority of the ulema’s opinions where does this leave us, how do we restore the Divine Law at a public level? It cannot be denied that this is a communal obligation for us- our aqeedah works and fiqh works are all unanimous on the need for the rule of a single Imam who can implement the limits of Allah (SWT) and ensure justice.

    Mujaddid Ahmed Sirhindi himself was not a revolutionary, he did not lead any armed struggle against Akbar, however he wrote many letters to people in authority to correct their beliefs and give them advice. My point in reference to him was not the particular judgment he made of Akbar but the principle behind it: that if i’m living in a police state that oppresses the majority of it’s citizens and denies the implementation of divine law and an alim has given a fatawa endorsing the validity of this rule, can no other alim challenge that fatawa? If not how can change be envisioned- as this ijtihad has been forced upon the people. Maajid’s view is this is legitimate and HT cannot enforce their ijtihad upon any of these governments regardless of any other consideration.

    Your statement that most of the ulema were not revolutionaries is true in so far as they accepted it was better to have the tyranny of a Caliph who at least upheld the Shariah. However when this was felt to be in question- i.e. the question of upholding the shariah the situation in somewhat different, Imam Hussain (RA) and Hadrat Abdullah bin Zubair (RA)’s examples of fighting against Yazid are examples from the time of the Sahaba (RAA) and Imam Abu Hanifah (RAA) contributed to Imam Zayd bin Ali’s (RAA) uprising. More recently there was the Naqshbandi Imam Shamil’s jihad firstly against the unislamic adat laws followed by the Daghestani and Chechen peoples and only after that against the Russians.
    Also there is the example of the Qadiri Shaykh Uthman Dan Fodio’s jihad to establish an Islamic state in what is now northern nigeria because of the implementation of unislamic and anti-islamic laws by the ruler of his time.


    Ismaeel Hijazi

  6. Dear Ismaeel, as-salamu alaykum,

    At present I don’t want to get drawn into a long discussion of the substantive issues, as I mentioned in an earlier post I hope to write about some of these issues at greater length at a later date and perhaps we could discuss them at that point. But just to say one thing: I am personally not keen to jump to the conclusion that the various fatawa of the ulema during the colonial and post-colonial periods endorsing the political status quo should be dismissed just on the basis of perceived political bias. There were often some very interesting fiqhi arguments made, but I need more time to consider them. One ruling for instance that I find interesting is the Hanafi ruling that if any state upholds basic religious freedoms and allows the symbols of Islam to be manifested (to openly manifest one’s faith, to right to pray openly and collectively i.e. to build mosques and call the adhan, collect and distribute the zakat, to call people to one’s faith without restriction and so on) then such a state might be considered part of Dar al-Islam. This ruling is important as these basic religious freedoms are available to most Muslims living in and outside the Muslim world. This provides therefore a positive context in which Muslims may then work for the establishment of justice for everyone in the societies where they live. Secondly my interest lies less with the currently utopian goal of recreating the caliphate and more with exploring:

    (a) the prospects for positive faith-based engagement with society and politics in modern secular liberal democracies (as that is our context in Britain) and

    (b) the prospects for the tangible empowerment of ordinary Muslims in the Muslim world involving — at the very least — economic development, human rights protections, democratic and accountable politics and re-establishment of political sovereignty in Muslim nations, realising the opportunities of an increasingly interconnected globe while facing many collective challenges. These challenges include superpower unilateralism, the machinations of a New Great Game in the Muslim world (between the US, EU, China and Russia), disintegrating state structures, authoritarian and bad governance, massive global inequality and exploitation, anarchism and violence, religious extremism (ghuluw), extreme poverty and global environmental degradation.

    Wa s-salam, Yahya

  7. As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    I read the Showkat Ali poem also, and it was in no way threatening to Ed Husain and did not contain incitement to harm him. Another part of the poem made reference to his family being afraid that they would be the subject of his next book, and I think the reference to fearing being stabbed was a satire on Ed’s persistent claims of persecution he makes in the media.

    Yusuf Smith, London (Indigo Jo Blogs)

  8. As-salamu alaykum, Dear Yusuf,

    With all due respect, I think the reading that I offer of a coded or implied threat here is perfectly reasonable. I don’t think it was direct incitement, of course. But remember that Hasan Butt was actually stabbed in Manchester, a real and far from imaginary incident. And the writer, even if it is his feverish imagination, dreams of what they might do to “traitors” like Ed Husain: he’ll be the first up against the wall come the revolution.

    In the case of real or implied threats and intimidation the first thing to do is to take the matter to the police. Why should one take any chances, especially if one is married with kids? However, without playing up to the widely-rehearsed trope of the martyred liberal, I think it is perfectly legitimate to ask the question publicly why on earth should we put up with these kinds of violent fantasies (which can have real life repercussions, let’s be honest)? They have no place in civilized debate.

    I’m also waiting for someone in HT who said that they would get back to me with kind of clarification on some of the issues raised in this piece. Officially HT does not talk about matters of internal discipline, a Party rule that may play out to their disadvantage on occasion. I’ve had all kinds of interesting and opposing unofficial accounts of the issue about how Hizb ut-Tahrir deals with its critics from both ex-members and serving members. But I’ve been held to the rigors of confidentiality and so on and so cannot say more privately or publicly.

    Best and kind regards, Yahya

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