The Islamic Liberation Party, Hizbut Tahrir (HT), is becoming increasingly prominent in Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia, reports Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore) in Studies in Conflict and Terrorism (July).
The article focuses especially on HT in Malaysia, a country where it had never been researched before. A truly transnational Islamic political movement, HT has attracted growing attention in recent years due to its expansion to new areas (starting with Central Asia, where it has met sometimes very harsh repression) and also to discussions over whether it is a radical but non-violent Islamist movement or a conveyor belt for terrorism. Osman clearly considers HT as being consistently non-violent.
But the aim of the article is primarily to show how HT reached Malaysia and developed there. As in the case of several other countries, it came to Malaysia not primarily from other Muslim countries, but via the UK. There had been scattered HT study circles in Malaysia before 1997, connected to HT Indonesia. Then, between 1997 and 2005, several HT members of Malaysian origin living in the UK started to actively recruit Malaysian students at places where they seek to meet other Malaysians when feeling homesick.
This resulted at the same time in the recruitment of some students from Singapore. It also means that recruitment actually took place among Malaysian elites. The movement started to be active in the public arena in Malaysia from 2004 to 2005. Although still small and with limited support, membership is growing rapidly, especially at universities, where several of its members teach. It also produces a weekly pamphlet, distributed at mosques and prayer halls across Malaysia, in order to spread the ideals of re-establishing the Caliphate beyond its own ranks.
Since it does not “excommunicate” other Muslims (in contrast with some other groups cultivating a radical ideology), it also invites representatives of other Muslim groups or senior religious scholars to address its seminars. While some people within the Malaysian religious bureaucracy appreciate HT, the group seems not to have been very successful in its attempts to influence leaders of established, much larger Islamic parties or police and military officers.
There have been no attempts by the government to ban HT (but it is being monitored), since its size remains small; it is not involved in violent activities and it may also be seen as a group that might weaken the opposition Islamic Party of Malaysia (PAS); indeed, some PAS members are reported to have left it to join HT.
(Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Taylor & Francis Group, 325 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19106)