Patrick Goodenough | International Editor | Monday, August 13, 2007
Video footage posted on the group's websites showed tens of thousands of people, men and women seated apart in the stadium in Jakarta, waving black and white flags and shouting "Allah is greater."
The event was organized by Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Party of Liberation), which called it the biggest event calling for the revival of a caliphate since the last time one existed in the 1920s.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is a transnational Sunni group that says it shuns violence, but it has been outlawed or restricted in Germany , Russia and parts of the Middle East and Central Asia. The British government said it planned to ban the group after the July 2005 London bombings, although it has not yet happened.
Muhammad Ismail Yusanto, the group's Indonesian spokesman, said on the sidelines of the meeting that the group rejects democracy, because sovereignty is in the hands of Allah, not the people.
In a statement, he called secularism "the mother of all destruction," and he called on all Muslims to join the struggle to implement Islam and Islamic law.
Most of those attending were said to be Indonesians, although supporters of the group also came from the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
The Indonesian authorities blocked two foreign leaders, from Britain and Australia, from attending.
The Australian, Sheikh Ismail al-Wahwah from Sydney, said he was turned around at the airport and sent home, and the group's British office said the same thing happened to Imran Waheed, a member of its executive committee who was to have addressed the gathering.
"Whether this is the desperate action of the Indonesian regime or the regime following the orders of an overseas government is unclear," Abdul Wahid, chairman of the UK executive committee, said in a statement.
"What is clear is that there is an attempt to prevent Dr. Waheed from speaking. One has to ask, do they fear our arguments so much?"
Wahid said the meeting in Indonesia had been a great success, and that the concept of a caliphate "is increasingly seen as the alternative to corruption and tyranny in the Muslim world, where the population see Islamic governance as an inherent part of their way of life."
But in Indonesia, the world's most populous Islamic nation, not all Muslim leaders are supportive of Hizb ut-Tahrir's ideology.
Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of the mainstream Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), said earlier this year that groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir "tend to use the Islamic religion as the political ideology rather than the way of life," and cautioned against movements "that do not spring from Indonesian traditions."
Muzadi said that NU and Hizb ut-Tahrir "have different views dealing with the concept of nationality and Indonesia in nature," with the latter supportive of the unitary state of Indonesia while the latter was focusing on struggling for a caliphate.
Claiming a membership of 40 million, NU is the biggest Muslim organization in Indonesia.
In an opinion survey earlier this year of attitudes in four key Muslim countries -- Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan and Indonesia -- University of Maryland pollsters found 36 percent of respondents "strongly" in favor of "unify[ing] all Islamic countries into a single Islamic state or Caliphate."
Scholars say a caliphate has not existed in any form since 1924, when Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk formerly abolished the institution, following the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire during and after World War I.
Muhamad Ali, an Indonesian scholar of Islam currently at the University of California Riverside, said Monday he thought Hizb ut-Tahrir's push for a caliphate (also known as a khalifa or khilafa) was neither necessary or realistic.
"Coming back to the so-called golden age of Islam is an utopia, and is not sanctioned in the Koran and in the Hadith," he told Cybercast News Service, referring to the Islamic sacred text and the traditions of Mohammed, the Muslim prophet.
"The call will take away Muslims' energy toward something unrealizable and ineffective," Ali said.
In Indonesia, he noted, both NU and another major mainstream organization, Muhammadiyah, had never regarded a caliphate as crucial.
"The real challenge for Indonesian Muslims are to improve education, health, and public services, without a khalifa. Presidents, governors, regents, and the religious scholars and non-religious intellectuals in Indonesia are trying to realize reform in all aspects of life without a khalifa," Ali said.
"The imagined khalifa will not be realized and will not be accepted by many let alone most Muslims in Indonesia and other places."
Hizb ut-Tahrir was founded in 1953 by a Palestinian Arab and works openly -- except in those countries where it is proscribed -- for the revival of the caliphate. Even regimes like the one ruling Saudi Arabia are not sufficiently Islamic for the group.
"It can, in no way, be claimed that any of the current Muslim countries are representative of Islam and the Islamic system of government which is the Islamic [caliphate]," it group says on a website.
Hizb ut-Tahrir spokesmen insist it does not promote violence, but experts regard it as dangerous.
Heritage Foundation scholar Ariel Cohen has described it as "a clandestine, cadre-operated, radical Islamist political organization" that is "transnational, secretive, and extremist in its anti-Americanism."
"Like al-Qaeda, it [Hizb ut-Tahrir] advocates an Islamic Caliphate in which [Islamic law] will be supreme, but says it wants to achieve it through peaceful mass agitations and not by resort to terrorism or other acts of armed violence," according to South Asian political and security analyst Bahukutumbi Raman. "What the al-Qaeda seeks to propagate through jihadi terrorism, it propagates through political means."
"[Hizb ut-Tahrir ] is not a terrorist organization, but it can usefully be thought of as a conveyor belt for terrorists," Zeyno Baran, director of the Center for Eurasian Policy at the Hudson Institute, wrote in 2005. "It indoctrinates individuals with radical ideology, priming them for recruitment by more extreme organizations where they can take part in actual operations."
On Monday, Islam scholar Ali said the group was "not very significant" in Indonesia.
"It represents [a] minority, most of them educated not in religious schools and universities," he said. "They simply want a short-cut toward the realization of [an] Islamic community."
Ali said most Indonesian Muslims do not embrace such "foreign" concepts as that of a caliphate.
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