The Recruiting and Organizational Structure of Hizb ut-Tahrir

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 22

Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami (the Islamic party of liberation) has had a largely unremarkable history since its founding in Jerusalem by Sheikh Takiuddin an-Nabahani in 1953. It was formed to promote the politics of pan-Islam—a goal that it has stuck to doggedly for the past 50 years. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) has made significant inroads in Central Asia. The causes and effects of this development are the subject of heated disputes between academics and political analysts.

Recruiting policy

The Website of the party claims that “the Party accepts Muslim men and women as its members regardless of whether they are Arab or non-Arab, white or colored, since it is a party for all Muslims. It invites all Muslims to carry Islam and adopt its systems regardless of their nationalities, colors and madhahib (Schools of Thought)” [1]

However in Central Asia, HT has typically targeted the following groups:

• Socially vulnerable people; including the unemployed, pensioners, students and single mothers;

• Representatives of local power structures (mostly executive branch officials) who can shield party cells from surveillance and prosecution; and

• Law enforcement personnel who can facilitate access to sensitive information.

In an interview with the Jamestown Foundation on August 6, 2004, Dr. Rafik Saifulin, an adviser to the Uzbek President said:

“HT is attractive to those who find it difficult to position themselves in the complex social and economic conditions of modern Uzbekistan and other countries of Central Asia … Mass unemployment amongst young people is driving them to join radical Islamic organizations. Also it is probable that the tendency towards radicalization will gradually intensify, since economic conditions are unlikely to dramatically improve any time soon. At the same time, it is important not to exaggerate the threat posed by HT. Grave economic conditions mean that the majority of people are first and foremost interested in daily survival and are thus largely apolitical. Only human rights activists and radical youths from Islamic organizations are engaged in political activity.”

According to the Charter of HT, the age of new members should be between 18-30 (Nonetheless, minors can be found in the membership of the party). The enrollment process is complex. Candidates have to pass preliminary training in religious knowledge, and generally must belong to the social groups outlined above.

Recruitment of new members is predominantly carried out in rural areas of Central Asian republics where disadvantaged youths proliferate. According to Dr. Rafik Saifulin, “HT is most popular in the countryside and the majority of their members come from rural areas. Nonetheless HT has some support among the owners and managers of small and medium sized businesses in cities, in particular among those who are engaged in small wholesales trading operations.”

Ideally, each new member should recruit another 5 people for the party. Thus it is not surprising that sometimes one finds whole families involved in HT activities. Membership in HT is not determined by age, sex or national identity. Instead the focus is on the recruits’ potential outlook, mentality, and attitude to existing political institutions. Members are not required to have a detailed knowledge of Islamic principles but they are expected to share the pan-Islamic goals of the party.

HT is open to female recruitment; indeed in some respects females are considered to be the most effective and loyal operatives. Females are usually recruited by other females—especially relatives of imprisoned cadres. Female members often skillfully exploit a traditional moral prohibition on their prosecution by men.

In an interview with the Jamestown Foundation on September 3, 2004, Dr. Orozbek Moldaliev, head of the World Politics Department at Bishkek Diplomatic Academy and a retired KGB colonel said:

“Members of HT are basically young people between the ages of 25 – 35 years, and often hail from more traditional areas and families. The majority of HT members are ethnic Uzbeks not only in Uzbekistan but also in southern Kyrgyzstan and northern Tajikistan. HT has had the least success amongst the Kyrgyz and the Turkmen, who are less devoted to Islam. In Kazakhstan, HT activities are concentrated in the south of the country bordering Uzbekistan.”

Early on in their recruitment new members acquire a basic rank, Dorises, which obligates them to perform studies of the Qur’an, as well as familiarize themselves with standard party literature. Dorises from one cell are not aware of the existence of Dorises in other cells. This basic security procedure is designed to shield the party from surveillance and penetration.

Over several months a skilled instructor, or Mushrif, trains new members on topics ranging from religion to world affairs. The religious subjects constitute no more than 10-15 percent of the curriculum. When the training is completed, candidate members take examinations, and upon successful completion of these swear an oath on the Qur’an that they will never betray the goals of Islam and the party and pledge to devote their lives to the resurrection of the Khilafah (Caliphate).

The oath of a candidate member of HT reads as follows,

“In the name of Allah, I swear to protect Islam and to maintain fidelity to it; I swear to accept and follow goals, ideas and principles of HT in words and deeds; I swear to recognize the rightness of the party leadership’s actions; I swear to carry out even those decisions of the party leaders that I find objectionable; I swear to direct all my energies for the realization of the party program. Allah is the Witness of my words”.

Upon swearing this oath a candidate member becomes a full member of the party – a khizbi.

Subsequently, the second stage of the educational and training process begins. Under the general management of a Naquib the new khizbi compare sociopolitical conditions in the republics of Central Asia with other Islamic countries by referring to the publications of the party. The most promising new members are promoted to the post of Mushrif. They are also trained in special groups for the administrative board where they learn how to organize practical actions and provide training to rank and file members.

At the beginning of the third stage of training the most active, prolific and brilliant new members—who have proved their loyalty in real actions—are rewarded with the rank of Naquib. The Naquib not only organizes training, propaganda work and the distribution of leaflets, but also manages the general party work at a district level. The next position in the party ranks is the Musaid – the assistant to the head of the regional organization. Above that is the position of Mas’ul – the head of the regional organization who is subordinated to the Muta’amad – leader of Hizb ut-Tahrir in a Central Asian republic. A Muta’amad is responsible for maintaining and strengthening the national branch of the party according to the unique social, economic and political circumstances of that particular Republic. All national Muta’amads submit to one Amir.

Organizational Structure

The structure of HT in Central Asian regions resembles a secret hierarchical pyramid consisting of a set of Cells (Khalaka) – a party nucleus that is composed of 5 members.

General structure of HT [2]

National (regional) structure of HT [3]

A New Direction?

Some observers believe that HT has started to develop military structures and capabilities. It is difficult to find evidence of such structural changes and according to Dr. Orozbek Moldaliev, “HT members until recently used to avoid contact with secular institutions, and researchers only have sketchy information on the party’s activities across the region.”

However according to Dr. Rafik Saifulin, “Regarding Uzbekistan formation of military structures is problematic, but not necessarily implausible given the deteriorating economic situation. In the case of Tajikistan, HT military structures can develop quickly since the HT branch in that country has had some contact with the violent Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). It is in Kyrgyzstan that HT has the greatest potential to develop armed capabilities not least because the party is developing a sophisticated infrastructure in that country.”

The discrepancy between Dr. Saifulin’s comments on Kyrgyzstan and Dr. Orozbek Moldaliev’s views may be explained by the fact that HT is not dismayed by the initial poor reception of the local population and continually strives to deepen its reach and influence regardless.

Until recently the Kyrgyz government was the most tolerant of all Central Asian regimes towards Hizb ut-Tahrir. In an interview with the Jamestown Foundation on August 27, 2004, the Counselor of the Kyrgyzstan State commission on religious affairs in the Southern region, Mr. Zakirov Shamshibek Shakir, said that in the Fergana Valley (the most densely-populated area of Central Asia), HT members are active, but local authorities have not generally detained them if they found them distributing leaflets since there was no law that proscribed propagandistic activities. But given the increasing confidence and audacity of the party, the government is beginning to revise its tolerant attitude. On October 23, Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, speaking at a session of the country’s Security Council in Bishkek, said that Hizb ut-Tahrir was one of the most significant extremist forces in Kyrgyzstan and it’s aim was to clearly establish an Islamic state in the Fergana Valley and thus “declare an ideological jihad against the whole of Central Asia”. [4]

Notes

1. http://www.hizb-ut-tahrir.org/english/

2. Islam in Kyrgyzstan: tendencies of development, published by ÎñÎÎ «Àëòûí Òàìãà», 2004, pages 49.

3. Islam in Kyrgyzstan: tendencies of development, published by ÎñÎÎ «Àëòûí Òàìãà», 2004, pages 51.

4. ITAR-TASS news agency, Moscow, in Russian 1537 gmt 23 Oct 04