The Caliphate: One nation, under Allah, with 1.5 billion Muslims
The three middle-aged men sitting in an Indian restaurant in Jordan's capital scarcely look like Islamic revolutionaries. They are smartly dressed in Western-style suits and sip thoughtfully from cans of Pepsi as they share their plan to reshape the Muslim world.Skip to next paragraph
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"[President] Bush says that we want to enslave people and oppress their freedom of speech," says Abu Abdullah, a senior member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Party of Liberation. "But we want to free all people from being slaves of men and make them slaves of Allah."
Hizb ut-Tahrir says that Muslims should abolish national boundaries within the Islamic world and return to a single Islamic state, known as "the Caliphate," that would stretch from Indonesia to Morocco and contain more than 1.5 billion people.
It's a simple and seductive idea that analysts believe may someday allow the group to rival existing Islamic movements, topple the rulers of Middle Eastern nations, and undermine those seeking to reconcile democracy and Islam and build bridges between East and West.
"A few years ago people laughed at them," says Zeyno Baran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and the leading expert on Hizb ut-Tahrir. "But now that [Osama] bin Laden, [Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi, and other Islamic groups are saying they want to recreate the Caliphate, people are taking them seriously."
Even more moderate Muslim groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt pay lip-service to the ideal of reestablishing the Caliphate, leaving less ideological space for Muslims who want to move toward Western models of democracy.
"The Caliphate is a rallying point between the radicals and the more moderate Islamists," says Stephen Ulph, a senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation. "The idea of a government based on the Caliphate has a historical pedigree and Islamic legitimacy that Western systems of government by their very nature do not have."
But unlike Al Qaeda, Hizb ut-Tahrir believes it can recreate the Caliphate peacefully. Its activists aim to pursuade Muslim political and military leaders that reestablishing the Caliphate is their Islamic duty. Once these leaders invite Hizb ut-Tahrir to take power - effectively staging a military coup - the party would then repeat the process in other countries before linking them up to form a revived Caliphate.
"We spread our ideas by addressing people directly," says Abdullah Shakr, a fluent English-speaker, who, like all three men, spent time in Jordanian jails for membership in the party. "We don't care if the government knows about us, but ... we try not to catch their attention."
The party was founded in Jerusalem in 1953 by a Palestinian judge, Sheikh Taqiuddin Al-Nabhani. He taught that the Muslim world had grown poor and weak ever since the Caliphate was abolished by Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk in 1924.
The Caliphate was created after the death of Islam's founder Muhammad in 632 AD. During the following centuries the Caliphate expanded Islam's territories by conquest and treaty to cover most of the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa. As the Ottoman Turks lost ground to the West, they increasingly donned the cloak of the Caliphate. In the 1920s, Muslims throughout the British empire, particularly in India, used the restoration of the Caliphate as an anti-colonial rallying point. "People look back on the Caliphate and see its success as a poor reflection on the condition of the Muslim world today," says Mr. Ulph.
Hizb ut-Tahrir promises that a revived Caliphate will end corruption and bring prosperity - though the group doesn't say how. It will let Muslims challenge, and ultimately conquer, the West, its followers say.