HIZBUT TAHRIR AND POLITICS IN INDONESIA
Advent of an Islamic caliphate?
By Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman, For The Straits Times
Aug 29, 2007
ON AUG 12, one of the largest-ever Muslim congregations was held in Indonesia. Close to 100,000 Muslims convened in Jakarta to pledge their support for the revival of the Islamic caliphate, a super-state encompassing all Islamic countries in the world, as well as for the implementation of Islamic laws in Indonesia.
The event was addressed by prominent Indonesian leaders, including Kiyai Abdullah Gymnastier, a popular Islamic preacher, and Professor Din Syamsuddin, leader of Muhammadiyah.
Besides guests from 30 of the 33 Indonesian provinces, the conference also attracted participants from Europe, Asia and Africa. The event was organised by Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) which has begun to emerge as an important Islamist group in the country.
Origin and aims
HTI is the Indonesian chapter of Hizbut Tahrir (HT), a global party whose primary aim is to revive the Islamic caliphate. HT was founded in Jerusalem in early 1953 by the Palestinian intellectual and jurist Taqiuddin an-Nabhani. Nabhani had trained in law at Al-Azhar University, Cairo, before becoming a judge in Jordan. Nabhani, a sympathiser of the Muslim Brotherhood, was influenced by its thinking on the completeness of Islam as a socio-political and economic system.
He was also a profound thinker who developed practical blueprints for social, political and economic systems of Islam. Nabhani rejected many Western-inspired political concepts such as secularism, democracy and capitalism. He identified these concepts as the cause for the decline of the Muslim world. As such, despite being a political party, HT often refrains from contesting elections so as not to give legitimacy to democracy. After his death in 1977, the party's leadership shifted to Abdul Qadim Zalloum and later Ata Khalil Abu-Rashta, both of Palestinian origin.
Today, HT is believed to have branches in more than 45 countries. It is banned in most Muslim countries as well as in Russia and Germany. After the July 7, 2005 London bombings, the British government contemplated banning the party but decided against doing so. In recent years, its chapters in the Asia-Pacific have become increasingly prominent. Of these, the Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) is one of the most important chapters.
In Indonesia, HT has been active since 1983. The party first arrived when Abdullah bin Nuh, a popular Islamic scholar of Arab descent, invited an Australian HT activist of Lebanese descent, Abdurrahman Al-Baghdadi, to migrate to Indonesia to propagate HT's teachings. Using Nuh's Islamic school in Bogor as his centre, Baghdadi began to spread HT's teachings at campuses and mosques in Java.
At this stage, the movement operated in a clandestine manner due to the authoritarian nature of then-president Suharto's regime. It was only after the downfall of that regime in 1998 that HTI began operating publicly. In May 2000, the party held an international conference in Jakarta under the banner of HT. Since 2000, HTI's membership and profile have grown rapidly. It has branches in 30 provinces. And judging by the size of the turnout at the conference and the reach of the Al-Islam bulletin, which prints one million copies weekly, it is reasonable to estimate its membership to be in the hundreds of thousands.
BY Indonesian standards, HTI is a minuscule outfit, given the size of Muslim organisations such as the Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah. Yet, it is important for several factors. First, the majority of its members are tertiary students or middle-class professionals from urban areas.
Many young people are attracted to the intellectual nature of HTI's ideology, seeing its teachings as practical and easily implemented. For instance, one of the books used in HTI's training circles, The Islamic State, a draft charter of the caliphate, was drawn up by the party's leaders to explain the different branches of government and specific policies pertaining to defence, education, social and foreign affairs. Such a clear programme is often missing in Islamist writings, which tend to be abstract and conceptual.
Second, the large (slightly more then half) number of young women who attended HTI's conference is indicative of its growing appeal. Unlike most Islamic parties and groups, HTI is liberal in its attitude towards women. It advocates equality between the sexes, such as the right to seek employment and take part in businesses and investments. It also proposes that women be given the right to choose their life partners. In politics, HTI argues that the responsibility for reviving the caliphate is obligatory on men and women and argues that women can participate in elections.
Another factor for the appeal of HTI is its transnational character. The party is controlled by a foreign leadership based in the Middle East. Even its local leaders are appointed by the leadership in the Middle East. It is interesting to observe that members from the United Kingdom and Denmark who attended the Jakarta event were at ease discussing the ideas and concepts of the party with their Indonesian counterparts.
FOLLOWING the success of the conference, HTI's spokesman Ismail Yusanto announced the possibility that the party may contest elections. Such a scenario will have consequences for Indonesian politics and HT as a transnational Islamic party. HTI's appeal to the younger segment of the Indonesian populace means its following is likely to rise. Yet, it is difficult to estimate the real strength of HTI until the next election, in 2009.
For HT as a transnational Islamic party, the experience of its Indonesian chapter will be an important litmus test for the popularity and strength of its ideas. It will be interesting to see whether HTI will compromise its ideals in the process of jockeying for political power in a country where political compromises are the rule.
Such a scenario will have severe ramifications for HT and may result in fractures within its ranks. On the other hand, the success of HTI will act as a catalyst for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate, which will cease to be a mere romantic idea of a marginal Islamic party.
The writer has been researching the Hizbut Tahrir for the past two years. He interviewed HT members in the UK, Indonesia and Malaysia between 2006 and 2007.