Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami: The Challenge of a Non-Violent Radical Islam

Project Details


Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami has received less international scrutiny than other fundamentalist Islamic groups because it has advocated a non-violent approach toward its goals. In theory, the group rejects terrorism, considering the killing of innocents to be against Islamic law. Growing out of movements in the Middle East in the 1950s, the group has flourished in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan in the wake of US intervention in Afghanistan. They have considerable support among young Muslims in Western Europe and a large organizational base in London. An examination of this group provides insights that improve understanding of the promise of peaceful Islamic fundamentalist politics, as well as the potential terrorist threat posed in Central Asia by a radical underground international organization underground.

Primary Findings:

The study has utilized social movement theories (SMT) to address the rise of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Central Asia and explain its non-violent approach. The emergence of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Central Asia is epistemologically important, because it has raised some interesting questions about the ability of SMT to accommodate the emergence of Islamist groups in non-Western societies. Although the application of conventional SMT to Hizb ut-Tahrir can enrich our understanding of Islamist mobilization in Central Asia, it inherently suffers from a weakness to address the problem of free-riding. Given that people in the region know that Hizb ut-Tahrir works for the establishment of an Islamic state anyway, they can avoid participation and still reap the "benefits." The group's ideology has provided a mechanism for mobilizing collective action in Central Asia.

The emergence of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Central Asia has complex roots. Social movement theories provide partial explanation for the causes of this political phenomenon:

  • Structural-functional theory suggests that the group has emerged in Central Asia in response to the dire economic and social hardships of the post-Soviet transition.
  • Resource mobilization theory argues that the availability of human, organizational, financial, legitimacy, identity and institutional resources can explain the rise of Hizb ut-Tahrir in the region.
  • Political opportunities theory claims that Hizb ut-Tahrir moved into the political limelight because of failures and injustice of current governments in Central Asia.
  • Framing theory argues that Hizb ut-Tahrir has framed its diagnosis of the political scene in moral terms that point to its own potential for improving well-being in Central Asia ("Islam is the answer").

Although each contributes toward understanding Hizb ut-Tahrir, these theories nevertheless share a secular framework of perception and tend to ignore the unique inseparability of the Muslim faith from the politics of its adherents. As a result, these theories do not sufficiently consider the importance of Hizb ut-Tahrir's ideology as a mobilizing force. The disintegration of the Soviet Union has produced an ideological vacuum among Central Asia's devout Muslims that has been filled by Hizb ut-Tahrir. Its ideology has become popular because it draws its legitimacy from the Quran and other Islamic sacred texts. In this regard it is important to note that Hizb ut-Tahrir attracts relatively educated individuals and is modern in its use of internet and mass media communication. In addition, social movement theories cannot account for Hizb ut-Tahrir's 50-year commitment to non-violence; it is rather Hizb ut-Tahrir's interpretation of early Islamic history that explains its non-violent political methodology. Some Hizb ut-Tahrir members have engaged in political violence, but this appears rare and not supported by Hizb ut-Tahrir leadership.


To gain insights on this group that can inform understandings of Islamic fundamentalism, Emmanuel Karagiannis and Clark McCauley used newspaper reports, Hizb documents, and interviews with scholars, security experts, mullahs and imams, journalists, diplomats, government officials, and group sympathizers in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Data collected for this research was analyzed in light of social movement theory to explain varying levels of success of Hizb in Central Asia. In addition, the research team conducted comparative analyses of Hizb ut-Tahrir and other radical Islamic organizations like Al-Qaida and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, as well as comparisons between Hizb ut-Tahrir and neocommunist parties in Central Asia. 


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