The Kebab Kaliphate Klub


I’d been planning to have a quiet weekend just sitting back, putting my feet up and watching the tennis. Then the media circus started. The headlines screamed:



Or something like that.

The way they were carrying on, I thought Anthony Robbins had grown a beard and was hosting some kind of al-Qaeda training camp on how to ‘feel the jihad within.’ Instead, it turned out to be just another bloody Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) rally.

So, I thought I would ring my Indonesian buddy (one of whose female relatives married a local HT leader) and suggest we go along for a few laughs.

Like millions of Indonesian Muslims, my mate follows the Muhammadiyah, one of Indonesia’s two main Islamic ‘churches.’ At last count, the youth group of Muhammadiyah consists of a handful of members around 10 million. The other group, Nahdhatul Ulama (NU) has around 20 million in its youth wing and around 40 million in its senior wing.

The Indonesian wing of HT has around 150,000 members. Excuse me while I check my blood pressure.

HT (whose members are affectionately labelled as ‘Hizbos’) is an international political movement (the Arabic word ‘Hizb’ literally means ‘political Party’) whose goal is to re-establish an international caliphate. HT believes that things have been Allah-damned awful for Muslims ever since Kemal Atatürk gave the last Caliph the flick in 1924. Everything before that was a bed of roses. HT believes that the only way to bring back the roses is to revive the caliphate using ‘Islamic’ methods.

And what makes a method for reviving the caliphate ‘Islamic’? Well, for starters, you shouldn’t use democracy, capitalism, socialism, liberalism or any other ‘ism.’ You shouldn’t participate in mainstream politics or economics; you should only use methods that are ‘Islamic.’

A Hizb ut-Tahrir banner, image from here

This, in a nutshell, is HT methodology. It’s completely self-defeating. They are excellent at telling you what isn’t Islamic, but hopeless at telling you what is.

Here are just some of the problems with their methodology:

  1. Their permissible means don’t coincide with classical formulations of Islamic sacred law.
  2. They say they are against un-‘Islamic’ (read ‘Western’) methods, yet their entire program is couched in Western terms and uses Western political constructs. For instance, they use terms like ‘Islamic State’ when the caliphate did not coincide with a State in any sense.
  3. They have a rather strange sense of history.

At the conference, one of their local speakers (a young chap named Ashraf Doureihi) told us that classical Islamic jurists didn’t give any guidance on how to revive the caliphate. He attributed this to the fact that classical jurists always took the caliphate’s existence for granted.

That’s true. They also took a lot of other things for granted. A bed-of-roses caliphate wasn’t one of them.

Before I commence a brief history lesson, I’d like to wish you all a happy new year. We’re currently in the month of Muharram, the first lunar month of the Islamic sacred calendar. During the first 10 days of Muharram, Shi’a Muslims commemorate the days leading up to the massacre of Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Mohammed (he was definitely no relation to Saddam!).

Hussein is loved and revered by all Muslims regardless of denomination. His father, Ali, was the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law. Ali was also the fourth Sunni Caliph and the first Shi’a Imam. When Ali died, the Governor of Syria declared himself Caliph. Later, he appointed his son Yazid to succeed him. This was the beginning of a caliphate whose moral and legal validity is questioned by both Sunnis and Shi’as.

Yazid was a nasty piece of work. He sent an army to surround Hussein and his completely unarmed extended family. Almost all were massacred. Among the martyrs was Hussein himself. Shi’a Muslims commemorate this as a sacred day (as indeed do most Sunnis).

So there you have it. A caliph murders the grandson of the Prophet and a whole bunch of his relatives. Is this the caliphate HT wants to revive?

A Hizb ut-Tahrir rally in London

The dynasty of Yazid were known as the Umayyads. They were later succeeded by a separate dynasty called the Abbasids, who made it a point to massacre just about every Umayyad they could find. One managed to get away and set up a rival caliphate in Spain. So at one stage, there were two caliphs! Is this what HT wants?

Getting back to classical Islamic sacred law, quite a few of these caliphs were quite happy to jail and torture classical Muslim jurists. Sunni Islam is an amazing example of juristic pluralism. Numerous schools of law developed, and today four have come down to us in their full form. The most popular one is called the Hanafi school and was founded by a Persian chap named Abu Hanifa.

Now Abu Hanifa was jailed, tortured and publicly humiliated by the Caliph of his day. Why? Because Abu Hanifa refused to become Chief Justice under a Caliph he regarded as corrupt. The founders of the other three schools were also treated very shabbily. One even died in the Caliph’s prison.

Most young Muslims know their history. They know that caliphates can be good and bad. Just as can liberal democracies, social democracies and even constitutional monarchies (just ask David Flint).

Which probably explains why hardly 400 attended Sunday’s gathering. After gaining so much publicity, this was a poor turnout. Perhaps 10 times this number would take out an hour from their Friday lunchtime to attend congregational prayers at the Imam Ali ben Abi Taleb Mosque (the one in Lakemba where Sheik Hilali occasionally preaches) without any need for advertising.

The overseas speakers included an Imam from Jerusalem and a speaker from Indonesia. How such allegedly threatening speakers could so easily enter the country is surprising. Especially when one considers that speakers of far less controversy have been denied visas. How on earth did the DIC-head let them in? Or has the DIC-head suddenly lost all his ministerial discretion?

In December last year, the London correspondent for the al-Jazeera News Network was denied entry to Australia at the last minute. Malek Triki was to be a keynote speaker at a journalism
conference co-hosted by Macquarie University and University of Technology Sydney. Apparently his surname was confused for that of one of Saddam Hussein’s henchmen. How DIMA-witted can you get!

For a Party which openly prohibits its followers from participating in democratic processes, HT has now become a political hot potato. Bankstown’s ALP-Right Mayor Tanya Mihailuk (whose ward contains HT’s Greenacre headquarters) cancelled HT’s booking for the Town Hall. Her factional colleague and Member for Lakemba, Premier Morris Iemma, insists that the Federal Government proscribe HT as a terrorist organisation.

Iemma has the luxury of doing this. The NSW Libs don’t look like running a candidate in his seat in the next State election. And should HT’s anti-democracy ideology be followed by a substantial number of the area’s Muslims, Iemma should be able to rest easy knowing that any Muslim vote will be even more split than it usually is.

Whatever Iemma’s concerns, HT’s clumsily expressed methodology attracts so few people, and their ideology is so fringe, that they’ll be lucky to take even a first step toward achieving any caliphate. HT should be compared less to al-Qaeda and more to the galaxy of loony socialist groups on campus seeking to establish socialism.

The Federal Government is clearly alert. At this stage, no one (apart from paranoid bloggers) need be alarmed.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.