British Muslims welcome ban on Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), but it’s 20 years late

In Luton, there was a twenty year period from the mid-1990s to the mid-2010s when strolling through the Bury Park shopping area on a Saturday afternoon or attending Friday prayers at any mosque meant inevitably encountering the now-prohibited group known as Hizb ut-Tahrir, or simply “HT.” They proved to be a troubling presence for nearly everyone in the community. Islamic scholars and imams held disdain for them and were completely at loggerheads with the HT’s propaganda of a politicised version of Islam that seemed detached from reality and the religion itself – in spirit and text. Ordinary Muslims shared this aversion, as HT ideology and rhetoric sought to reduce every aspect of life to an absolutist authoritarian version of “hukum shar’i” or state proscribed Shari’ah. Ordinary parents, too, harboured concerns, fearing that their children might fall prey to the ideological fanaticism of HT activists. University Islamic societies in almost every university in the UK had HT radicals clamouring for ISoc committee positions and proselytising their views, and in the process often inciting fierce debates with non-HT’s about their ideology.

Yet, despite the widespread repulsion towards HT, they managed to exert a significant influence on an entire generation of Muslims. These individuals grew up under the conviction that it was God’s will for Muslims to spearhead a global political movement aimed at establishing Islamic dominance worldwide. There was no nuance. No context. No reasonable reading of Islam itself and Islamic civilisational history. No exceptions. No mercy. No mutual understanding.

The HT presence in Luton typified the scene across many UK towns and cities with sizeable Muslim populations. HT’s were in turn energised by the reaction, which served as a gratifying affirmation. They considered the opposition (both from Muslims and non-Muslims) they faced as a natural reaction to what they perceived was the only true and credible interpretation of global geo-politics. Many HT members made it into important roles in local Muslim radio stations as speakers and guests, and in some cases assumed roles as coaches in schools and colleges. Off-shoot groups of even more extreme versions of the HT and self-glorifying individuals spawned from them too, many of whom have since been banned.

Organised pushback from Muslims did come, but it was highly fragmented and tactical. Imams and scholars started publicly condemning and refuting the beliefs and ideology of HT. By the late 2000s, the majority of mosques had, in varying degrees, prohibited HT activists from distributing leaflets or conducting discussions within their premises. Despite these public bans within mosques, none of the emerging Muslim advocacy groups took a public stance against HT. To this day none of them have. Though the Prevent law, and wider securitisation agenda, has kept HT and other groups and ideologies in-check. Over time, many HT activists matured, often they got busier in their lives, and began to recognise the flaws in their ideology. But, whether the ideology disappeared in total was questionable. Indeed, the rhetoric remained online, and in small pockets of activists, with occasional public utterances of anti-Westernism and “khilafah is the saviour” rhetoric on radio shows and public events, all be it guised in all sorts of accepting language.

So the fact that the Government has finally enshrined into law a total ban on HT is a welcome relief of 20 years in the making. With it, comes a much needed push for Muslim communities to start recognising the shortcomings of community building of recent years, and to forge a more productive and God-centric futures. But whether Muslims can do so will depend on whether a new generation of Muslims leaders can do community and institution building, and whether the remaining rabble-rousing baggage of the lingering groups and individuals of the 2000s will have the humility in them to finally step aside.

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