Reflecting on Hizb ut-Tahrir’s 2024 ban in the UK: exploring the group’s ideology and tactics

By Elisa Orofino

Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT, literally “the Party of Liberation”) stands as one of the most long-living, transnational Islamist groups inspiring movements and organisations around the world since its inception in 1953 in Palestine. While no official figures on the membership have ever been published, it seems fair to state the HT is currently active in 45 countries around the world, as multiple rallies and events suggest the group’s transnational presence. HT is banned in many Muslim majority countries, however, the group still continue its activities underground.

The main reasons for multiple national bans against HT over the decades are connected to the strong HT anti-authority and anti-Western sentiments, which have characterized the group since its very beginning. Emerged as a “protest for justice” movement to fight against the Western presence in the Middle East and the creation of the state of Israel, HT reflected the vision of its founder, Sheikh Taquiddin An-Nabhani, a Palestinian Islamic scholar and teacher. An-Nabhani had strong views against Muslim political leaders who amicably co-operated with Western states and would not hesitate to call them “apostates” and corrupted. As a result, the group was banned right after its emergence in the Middle East, having its early members and leaders being imprisoned and persecuted mostly in Palestine and Jordan. Due to the harsh conditions experienced in Muslim majority countries, HT members and leaders fled to the West, which (as much as they despised it) was the perfect setting where to proselytize new members and disseminate their ideas.

Over the decades, HT members in the West benefitted from the master frame of human rights and the freedom of speech to express anti-government feelings together with their dissatisfaction of the current status quo. The UK ban of HT, which came into force on 19th January 2024, marks a turning point in the story of HT in the country, being for more than 40 years the European headquarters of the group. The ban was triggered by controversial chants and slogans promoted by HT members in London during pro-Palestine protests in late October 2023. More precisely, HT members were inviting to “jihad”, calling Muslim countries to get their “armies and go and remove the Zionist occupiers”. On the same occasion, Luqman Muqeem, a member of HT Britain, said the Hamas attack on Israel “made us all very, very happy” while sharing multiple antisemitic quotes on social media.

As HT Britain kept a very low profile over the last decade, the boldness of these statements and protest style adopted in London in October 2023 stood out as quite peculiar. The low profile characterizing HT Britain was most probably related to the fact that the group has been under the UK government scrutiny since its existence in the country (late 1980s), with discussions around potential ban first initiated under Tony Blair’ leadership. Since then, HT kept a very low profile in the UK, which certainly came to an end with London protests in October 2023. HT’s change of attitude seems to be related to the core beliefs of the group and to its controversial position regarding the use of violence. With regard to the core beliefs, the group’s main goal is the re-establishment of the Caliphate in Muslim majority countries where the Ottoman Caliphate was in place for more than 600 years, before it came to an end in 1924. These areas are known as “majaal areas” where HT believe that Caliphate will eventually be re-established through a revolution. HT founder, An-Nabhani, elaborated a detailed methodology for action to re-establish the Caliphate, which he claimed was inspired by Prophet Muhammad’s example re the conquest of Madinah. More precisely, in his seminal work “The Islamic State”, An-Nahbani envisaged a number of stages to establish the Caliphate, which included “building the society”, “preparation for jihad” and “beginning of jihad” to support the liberation of Muslim lands.

As Palestine stands as a majaal area, it seems fair to assume that HT’s change of tones and boldness of protest style in London in October 2023 was due to the group’s assumption that the time had come for Muslims to rebel against oppression in Palestine supporting Hamas, regardless of its status as terror organisation in a multitude of Western states, including the UK. As a transnational organisation, HT openly depicts the West as a corrupt social, political, economic and religious system and has no hesitation in rejecting Western sponsored views on specific Islamist groups, including Hamas. One could argue that HT Britain saw the opportunity to re-establish the Caliphate in Palestine and did not hesitate to express strong opinions and call for action in London. In the past, HT often capitalised on the Israel/Gaza conflict to re-iterate the necessity of re-establishing the caliphate as the only system able to protect the Muslims around the world. This attitude is in line with what has been defined as “HT’s LoGLo Strategy”, where LoGlo is a portmanteau of the two terms “local” and “global”. HT branches mostly use local issues as prompts for criticising national authorities, while exalting the caliphate as the best model of government, therefore connecting local issues with their global goal, i.e. the re-establishment of the Caliphate. And this is exactly what happened during London protests in October 2023.

When looking at the evolution of HT chapters in countries where the group has been already banned (e.g. Pakistan, Egypt, Germany) one thing stands out: the underground activity of the group through sister organisations and/or other pseudonyms. HT chapters continue to operate and members remain in the group as they loyalty is not attached to charismatic leader but built on HT ‘Aqeedah (the doctrine) and core values. HT members are cultured on the official adopted literature of the group (mostly made up of the writings of the funder) through weekly halaqaat (study groups) that all HT members at all levels need to attend. This continuous culturing process produces a strong social identity among HT members which implies that they see themselves as the “continuation of the group” .

As a result, HT membership has a strong emotional value and significance to members and this indissoluble bond between the individual and the group is further reinforced by two elements: self-efficacy and positive intergroup differentiation. With regard to the former, the clear methodology sponsored by the group leadership as Prophet-inspired as well as their clear idea of the Caliphate they want to re-establish (strengthened by the Constitution they have ready drafted) convey the message that HT is a reliable group with a strong vison. At the same time, members are convinced that HT is better than any other Islamist group having similar ideas (positive intergroup differentiation) because of its uncompromising stances and its survival to bans and persecutions over seven decades. As discussed above, given the strong emotional and religious significance that membership to HT has, it is plausible to expect that HT activity in the UK will continue even after the ban and the designation of the group as a terror organisation.

Dr. Elisa Orofino is Senior Research Fellow at PIER (The Policing Institute for the Eastern Region at Anglia Ruskin University), where she leads research on extremism and counter-terrorism. Elisa’s research focuses on the liminality between vocal and non-violent extremism and she is currently working on three main areas: extremism in the online space; the shift from vocal extremists to terror offenders in the UK; and the commonalities across different expressions of extremism. Elisa has published extensively on these topics. She is the author of Hizb Ut-Tahrir and the Caliphate (London: Routledge, 2020), editor of the first Routledge Handbook on Non-Violent Extremism (London: Routledge ,2023) and a variety of journal articles, book chapters and research papers.

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