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Beyond Hizb ut-Tahrir

Asim Siddiqui
September 12, 2007 12:30 PM
Comment if free... The Guardian

Last night on Newsnight we were treated to a semi-authored piece from Maajid Nawaz, the most senior activist to date to leave the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT). But his comments went beyond HT.

In addition to being a senior international activist of the party, Maajid also has the street credibility of spending four tortuous years in an Egyptian jail for being a member of the group. For him to go through all that and remain loyal to the party (when defecting then might have saved him from further pain), return to the UK with doubts in his mind (having been exposed to non-Islamist literature), become saddened by HT's dogmatism and then leave the party's national executive a year later is very significant.

In the Newsnight piece Maajid gave an insider's glimpse into the cultish-style workings of HT. He shockingly spoke of their plans should they ever establish a caliphate: "millions would be killed" in pursuit of their expansionist aims, he said.

Maajid is important because he has spent time engaged in a root and branch review of the theological, intellectual and legal roots of HT, eventually coming to the conclusion that their methods are invalid under Islam. What is perhaps more interesting is what he has discovered on the way: the implication on Islamism more generally. Maajid has described Islamism as being "the phenomenon of politically inspired theological interpretations"; ie using Islamic theology to justify and promote your political objectives and ambitions. This goes beyond Hizb ut-Tahrir.

His writings can be viewed here. They read like a heavy legal treatise. To some, this stuff is probably sterile semantics or plain common sense. However, the implication of these arguments for young politically active Muslims drawn to Islamist groups and their thinking is fundamental and will - over a period of time - do much to counter the damaging ideas that have turned Islam into a tribe and polarised the world into two groups: Muslims and non-Muslims, where the former must dominate over the latter, through force if necessary.

All Islamist ideologies believe in establishing an "Islamic state" - they differ only on the methods. What critiques such as Maajid's do is remind us again that creating an "Islamic state" where "God's rules" are to be imposed top-down is not part of Islam.
The significance of Maajid's counter-Islamist argument is that it is rooted in Islamic theological discourse. To pre-empt the expectant accusations that he has become a neocon or anti-Islamic secularist, Maajid states that: "Islam today is not in need of a politically inspired modernist reformation, which is actually the cause of our current crisis, rather a counter-reformation and a return to its true essence by Muslims insisting that their religion is not used merely to serve narrow political agendas." He also reaffirms his opposition to the "tragic invasion of Iraq". He also believes Muslim scholarship is more than capable of taking on HT's ideas and the party should not be banned.

Maajid essentially argues that HT's view cannot be implemented because there are countless other (more senior) classical scholars who differ on HT's political interpretation of Islamic texts. Some scholars say any land where the basic religious requirements of Muslims are met (like praying, fasting etc) becomes "Islamic land" and no further imposition of "Islamic governance" is required. It is a matter of principle in Islamic jurisprudence that where there are opposing views yet each opinion is derived from a recognised scholar then each opinion is valid, albeit conflicting. In such a situation, no one opinion can be imposed upon others or label the other opinions as invalid. Consequently if the land is already "Islamic" according to one scholarly opinion then any attempt to work towards forcibly removing it is invalid, Islamically.
The purpose of the state is to allow citizens to live in peace, security and free to perform their religious practices, not to impose their religious doctrines upon you. This minimum requirement renders a state Islamic in the view of some recognised scholars. So what should Muslims do when faced with corrupt or oppressive rulers? The answer is they do what anyone else does: stand up for justice for all people irrespective of faith, campaign for civil liberties, develop civil society institutions, promote democracy and engage in peaceful political and social reform. And that applies wherever a Muslim might live.

The Qur'an describes how God has blessed all of the children of Adam and that he sent his final prophet as a mercy to all of mankind, not Muslims alone. And on that note I wish all readers (irrespective of faith) a very blessed Ramadan.




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