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Group plays politics of fantasy

By Irfan Yusuf - posted Wednesday, 31 January 2007

They regard participation in democracy and secular government as against God's law. They discourage their members from participating in public life. They are regarded by more mainstream co-religionists as fringe and extreme.

We could be describing the Exclusive Brethren, a fringe Christian congregation. Or we could be describing Hizb ut-Tahrir, a fringe Muslim political movement. But there's no point comparing apples with oranges. HT leaders aren't accused of subverting Australian court processes or of covering up sexual offences against minors. And the Brethren aren't suspected of using violence to impose an alien political order in Australia or elsewhere.

Yet a small number of Muslim elders are concerned about the apparent growth in HT's activities. The Age cited the chairman of the now-defunct Prime Minister's Muslim Reference Group, Dr Ameer Ali, as calling for government help in combating HT.


"We need resources to counter it, and we have none … The Government should encourage moderates to promote themselves as an alternative, and allocate resources for this," he said.

In recent years, Ali has been president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC), Australia's main Muslim organisation, which is now under court-appointed administration.

During Ali's term in office, AFIC showed its commitment to understanding the needs of young people by appointing an imam in his 60s with poor English language skills to advise it on youth affairs. It's true. AFIC's adviser on Muslim youth was none other than Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali.

But criticising AFIC doesn't address the apparent problem of HT campaigning among young Australian Muslims to re-establish the Islamic Caliphate abolished by Kemal Ataturk in 1924.

HT are banned in a number of nominally Muslim countries. The Christian Science Monitor reported in September 2005 of government attempts in Kyrgyzstan to suppress HT after it was accused of inciting rebellion in Central Asia's Ferghana Valley. The rebellion's apparent goal was to replace the governments of Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan with one rump caliphate.

In Britain, HT has not yet been banned, although Prime Minister Tony Blair considered it but was advised not to.


However, its presence on many campuses has been curtailed after it distributed material that was grossly anti-Semitic (and not merely critical of the Israeli Government). Britain's umbrella Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) has supported calls to remove HT from campus student activities. Ali claims that there is a possibility young Muslims here "will fall into Hizb ut-Tahrir's trap, so we have to be careful". Yes, there is a possibility. But let's keep things in perspective.

HT's agenda is limited to political events overseas. It's true that many young Muslims are upset by events in Iraq, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and other parts of the world where Muslims are suffering. But what really upsets Muslims here is that their community leadership seems powerless to effect change in Australia's foreign policy. Further, Muslims are also fed up with being marginalised by potshots from allegedly conservative politicians and media commentators.

In what manner can HT empower young Australian Muslims to change the situation? HT teaches that active involvement in democratic politics represents a fundamental breach of the sacred law. Democracy and secularism are declared un-Islamic, voting is forbidden and membership of secular political parties regarded as virtual apostasy. HT insists Muslims work outside the system and re-invent a more "Islamic" wheel, an approach seen by the well-integrated majority of Muslims as an exercise in futility.

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First published in The Age on January 11, 2007.

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About the Author

Irfan Yusuf is a New South Wales-based lawyer with a practice focusing on workplace relations and commercial dispute resolution. Irfan is also a regular media commentator on a variety of social, political, human rights, media and cultural issues. Irfan Yusuf's book, Once Were Radicals: My Years As A Teenage Islamo-Fascist, was published in May 2009 by Allen & Unwin.

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