Hizb ut-Tahrir in the Syrian Revolution

Hizb ut-Tahrir in the Syrian Revolution
Facebook Share


 Arabic version


The ‘Walls Party’ is so named by activists of the Syrian Revolution in Aleppo and the north because one of its most salient activities is painting walls - particularly over the slogans of the Revolution - and writing phrases on top of them  that condemn democracy and call for an Islamic caliphate. The most dangerous label for this party is ‘white ISIS’ because of its theoretical extremism and, at the same time, abstention from armed action.


The Islamic phenomenon, which dominated the scene of the Syrian Revolution, receives a great deal of media attention but  little research effort, which is concentrated largely on the well-known major movements, such as ISIS (Daesh), Al-Nusra Front and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. This paper attempts to shed light on an experience that, from an early stage, contributed to creating a climate for radical Islamic slogans, without having any particular significance in and of itself. This refers to the hypothesis that some small elite groups monopolize ideological and political functions, which have a maximum impact under favourable conditions to spread rapidly. We have witnessed this through the infiltration of Islamic ideas and symbols in the Syrian Revolution.



This paper is primarily based on official party records, videos as well as some eyewitness testimonies, and uses a descriptive, analytical approach. It is an initial research attempt. The theory will be enriched and broader research will completed in the field.




The Islamic[1] Hizb ut-Tahrir was established by the Judge and Sheikh Taqi al-Din al-Nabhani (1908 -1977), who was born in the village of Ijzim, Haifa Province in Palestine. In 1953 he dedicated his time to be its President and to publish books and pamphlets that are deemed the principal cultural source for the party.



After the death of Al-Nabhani, the party was headed by Abdul Qadim Zaloom, who was born in the city of Hebron in 1924 and was Nabhani’s right-hand man. Zaloom participated in the establishment of the party and the drafting of its rhetoric, approach and some of its books, making his period as head of the party a mere shadow of the dominant founder. Zaloom died in 2003 and was succeeded by the third and current Emir (Head), the engineer Ata ibn Khalil Abu al-Rashteh, who was born in 1943 in the Palestinian village of Rana. The official spokesman of the party lived in Jordan before leaving in 1998 to an undisclosed location believed to be Lebanon. Due to Al-Rashteh’s background in party media work, there were signs of media growth including: an almost infinite multitude of official spokesmen; an interest in the publication of books and pamphlets; and a presence on the internet through various media have appeared in the party since he became an Emir, giving an impression of strength and prevalence to the party that is far greater than its reality.


The party has centralised leadership and is headed by an ‘Emir’ who personally puts forward plans, follows them up, issues orders and holds other party members accountable. The Emir reaches his position through elections, and he has a Shura (consultative) Council, but the final decision is his alone.



The party aims to establish an Islamic state in the Arab countries first, and then the Islamic Caliphate. After that, non-Islamic countries are invited to join through the Muslim nation. The party has an integrated theory formulated by the founder. Several party writers contributed to editing and clarifying redundancy without adding anything consequential. This document includes ideas about the creed, jurisprudence, advocacy, politics and economics and a detailed constitution of the desired Islamic state.


What matters on this topic are two points:


First: Hizb ut-Tahrir was one of the first Islamic movements that equated democracy as a system with disbelief because people themselves legislate what they want, which may not be in accordance with the Islamic Law. It is an infidel system, using a democratic system for judgement which is blasphemous, and calling for it is an act of disbelief. This is because Muslims are commanded to conduct all their actions in accordance with Islamic law and Muslims are servants of Allah, so their will follows God's commands and obeys His prohibitions. In addition, the Muslim nation does not have the right to follow its own desire, as it does not have sovereignty. It is Islamic law which governs its will since it alone has sovereignty. Therefore, the Muslim nation lacks the right to legislate because God is the legislator.


Second: The party does not believe in revolutions, whether peaceful or armed and also does not believe in terrorist acts as a way to reach power. Instead, it focuses on ‘restoring confidence in the teachings of Islam’ through cultural and political activities.


The party defines its approach through three phases:


1. Education phase: The party focuses on building its base and educating individuals in circles of intensive partisan education so that it can create a partisan mass of young people who adopt its ideology and interact with it.


2. Interaction phase with the nation: The party forces the Muslim nation to adopt Islam as a cause and steers public opinion then toward the ideals and rulings of Islam, as espoused by the party. It makes the Muslim nation embrace and follow the party in working to implement these ideals and rulings in real life, establishes a caliphate and appoints a caliph to resume Islamic rule and convey the Islamic message to the world.


Although the party was committed in its course to be blunt and overt, it was restricted to political action and did not engage in military actions against rulers or against those who oppose its ideology.


3. Stage of reaching power: The party believes that Islam does not permit military action to establish the state and that the way to achieve this is stipulated and defined in Islamic law itself.



Prophet Muhammad did this when he offered himself and his message to the tribes until the people of Medina pledged allegiance to him and the Muslim State was established. Therefore, the party believes that to reach power in this age it must seek backing and support from the head of a state, the head of the block, the commander of a group, a senior officer, the leader of a tribe, an ambassador, or any similar influential person to persuade him of the ideas of the party so that this man will apply Islamic law through his power and control. The party has sought support from those it believed were capable in many Arab and Muslim countries and these people were often officers, making the party a revolutionary organisation in practice as it endeavoured in more than one Arab country. Despite the party's failure in seeking support, it generally considers itself to be in the second phase, as it has continued to do all the work it carried out such as study within the party’s circles, collective education, focus on public opinion and resistance against rulers.


Hizb ut-Tahrir, in order to establish the Islamic state today, has followed the historical steps of establishing the Islamic state for the first time in the beginning of Islamic Dawa. Thus, Hizb ut-Tahrir has identified 13 years for itself to reach power (governance), following which is the phase of Islam called the ‘Meccan phase of Islam’, which in history lasted 13 years until the people of Medina swore allegiance to the Prophet. Due to many different conditions and pressures, Hizb-ut-Tahrir extended the period of 13 years to 30 years in order to reach power. However, they have not been able to achieve this, despite the passage of decades.


The party in Syria


Taqi al-Din al-Nabhani left Jordan in November 1953 for his next home in Damascus, and the Syrian authorities deported him to Lebanon for almost two years. The intellectual and political discussions on various subjects, which Al-Nabhani, founders and members of the budding party were always ready to engage in, provided a glimmer of hope to a number of young, educated Muslims who were not satisfied by the Muslim Brotherhood’s simple and direct discourse. Therefore, the party became more widespread among the religious youth in Damascus and other provinces. Al-Nabhani visited a number of Syrian cities such as Aleppo and Hama. This propagation through the holding of discussions, though few in number, did not occur without provoking the ire of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which eventually discharged any member who communicated with Hizb ut-Tahrir.



The party did not get an official license to engage in political activity, but the atmosphere of democracy in the fifties allowed it to move freely until the security forces arrested a group of its members in Damascus in 1955. Then the authorities started to monitor the activity of its members with caution. Since that time, some of the detainees in Syrian prisons have always been from Hizb ut-Tahrir.


However, the party is not mentioned among the Islamic groups that participated in the bloody events in the country between 1979-1982. Al-Wa’i Magazine (meaning ‘Awareness’ in English), the unofficial outlet for the party, claimed once that the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria adopted the Islamic Constitution in 1981. The Constitution had been established by the party to be applied in the case that the Muslim Brotherhood succeeded in reaching power.


The Syrian authorities turned a blind eye on the limited activities of the party throughout the eighties and nineties until they launched a wide campaign of arrests in the autumn of 1999 that included almost all of its Syrian members following a failed coup plot planned by small number of marginal officers. The number of detainees was estimated to be 300, nearly 200 of whom were released in November 2001 and then 68 out of the remaining 113 detainees, who were not included previously, were released. On July 9, 2002, the Syrian Committee for Human Rights estimated the number of remaining Hizb ut-Tahrir detainees to be nearly 60. The duration of their stay in prison ranged between a year and several years. The party also suffered later from at least two arrest campaigns in both 2004 and 2006.


After the Revolution


The Party welcomed the Arab Spring with caution, blessed what it called the ‘movements’ made by rebels in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. The party believed that these ‘events’ were led by the people themselves (i.e., not controlled by the ruling powers) and had a positive impact as they broke the barrier of peoples’ fear of rulers, and Islamic sentiments were dominant in them. On the one hand, people started to demonstrate and to say, ‘Allah is the Greatest’ without fear of their rulers’ tyranny, which has its benefits in mobilising people, and was therefore good and blessed. On the other hand, these movements were initiated with emotional public outcries and were easily infiltrated by influential, international forces and their agents in the country. European powers and the United States were able to penetrate these movements with trained agents who infiltrated the rebels. They then managed to maintain the basic structure of the regimes of the Arab Spring countries and the continuing influence of these powers with a small amount of ‘plastic surgery’, according to the party’s view.



When the Syrian Revolution broke out, the party welcomed it from the same perspective. They deemed it an uprising by the Syrian people, the rebel believers, who were shouting ‘Oh Allah, here we are at your service, at your service, at your service.’ At the same time, they deemed the United States as trying to impose on Syrians a leadership from the secular opposition abroad through the National Council and the National Coalition of Revolutionary Forces. The party thought that the United States deemed the opposition to be an alternative for Bashar al-Assad to obstruct the establishment of a Muslim state, a demand the party claimed early on that Syrian demonstrators wanted, despite a lack of indications for it at the time.


Ten days after the outbreak of the Revolution in the city of Dara’a, the party issued a statement addressing the Syrian public and calling for confrontation with the regime until the point of no return, because eliminating it and its atrocities was imperative and Syrians must adopt this decision and stand together as one to minimise the time until the regime would be toppled. The party believed that, “The Syrian people must know that the relationship with the regime is not negative because it practises injustice, kills, humiliates, impoverishes people and puts them at the mercy of their enemy only, but because it is an enemy of Allah and His religion, above all, and this must be their starting point.”


We have observed that the Islamic standpoint in the party’s discourse was premature, given that the uprising was popular and non-ideological. The party demanded in the same statement that Syrians “Sign yourselves up for the honour of establishing Allah’s rule on Earth until the end of time on the ruins of this defunct regime, and let your change be loved by Allah and His Messenger and do not leave it incomplete; set the precedence of declaring a Muslim Caliphate and exchange neither a ruler with a similar ruler nor a constitution with a similar one. Do not seek the assistance of an infidel foreigner in the affairs of your change, nor let anyone speak on your behalf if they do not support this objective. Yes, declare a Muslim Caliphate.” The party requested support, in line with its approach, from Syrian army officers, calling on them to take action to change the situation drastically. This call was nearly solitary; the dominant voice among the rebels called for a peaceful revolution.



The party’s consecutive statements about the Syrian Revolution have followed these principles:


  • * Welcoming the Revolution.
  • * Insisting on a Muslim orientation until establishing the caliphate.
  • * An ongoing warning against ‘letting foreign conspiring powers that created’ secular and nationalist opposition abroad ‘steal the Revolution.’
  • * Supporting domestic military action against the regime without participating in it in practice.
  • * Rejecting foreign military interference.


As a matter of fact, the Revolution has provided some space for the party to work on a large scale after many cities and regions fell outside the regime’s control. Thus, the party quickly took advantage of this to work publicly and established a number of offices that primarily focused on the distribution of pamphlets, books and Al-Wa’i Magazine. Hisham al-Baba’s name has emerged as the head of the Information Office of Hizb ut-Tahrir in ‘the Governorate’ of Syria, according to the structural and administrative divisions of the party. Al-Baba toured the liberated areas after the armed opposition controlled parts of the border due to new freedom of movement this afforded. It was noted that the first of these tours began in Azaz, adjacent to the Turkish border, and during which he delivered a speech at the Ansar al-Rasool Mosque.


In his speech, he saluted the heroism of the Syrian rebels until they overthrow the regime in Syria and return Islamic features to it, and he extended to the audience the greetings of the party’s Emir. Then he talked about the party's activities domestically and abroad to advocate for the Revolution, and prayed to Allah to make the sacrifices and the blood of the martyrs that watered the soil of the land of the Levant culminate in a good caliphate. He stressed that what is happening in Syria is a struggle between good and evil at a time when both the West and the East have conspired against the Levant’s Revolution for fear of its Islamic orientation, which is proceeding steadily towards establishing the Caliphate.


In the ensuing days, he delivered a lecture that was preceded by extensive publicity titled ‘The Levant’s Revolution: the sacrifices and challenges, legendary steadfastness and an international conspiracy, the latest of which is Lakhdar Brahimi’. The lecture took place in the Soran district near Azaz in rural Aleppo. After that, the party’s project for the Constitution of the Caliphate and ‘a clarification of the plot of Lakhdar Brahimi’ were disseminated. Hisham Al-Baba, an engineer, noted in the lecture the magnitude of the sacrifices that have been offered by the Syrian people and said, “It would be a shame if these sacrifices, the blood of the martyrs, the devastated economy, the suffering of children, the groans of the bereaved, the tens of thousands of prisoners and hundreds of thousands of tortured and displaced people in the East and the West -  it would be a pity after all of this,  if people were satisfied with only a superficial change in faces after more than fifty thousand have become martyrs. People should not agree with anything less than the State of Islam, which punishes every wicked person who fought Allah and hurt His loyal servants.”



These activities have been noticed and attracted the attention of the media, which started wondering about the weight of the party in northern Syria even though the party lacked a military wing, and only invited existing military powers to adopt its ideas. This was confirmed by Abdul Qadir al-Saleh, the famous military commander of Al-Tawhid Brigade, which was the largest striking force in the north, particularly in the countryside of Aleppo, when he answered a question asked by Al-Jazeera about the presence of Hizb ut-Tahrir in the forces of the Free Syrian Army.


This was clarified by Atta Abu al-Rashtah, the General Emir of the party, while answering a question about the Syrian Revolution and the extent of the party's involvement in it. As he explained, “Our work has not changed. We work everywhere we can work. This is what we do before, during and after revolutions. The situation of revolutions creates more scope to make people listen to the word of truth without fear of the security forces as in the past, where people were distancing themselves from us for fear of the security forces, and to this day, people’s return to and interest in us is noticeable - hence your note about the power of our movement and its increase in the nation more than ever. However, if you mean by the term ‘engagement in the Revolution’ that we have now a military wing, this is a mistake and out of the question; we do not have a military wing. We never have and never will. We are a political party whose principles are from Islam; we do not perform physical activities at this stage, but we request advocacy from people of power to enable us to establish the State.”


This was said despite the fact that the party mourned the death of some of its members who were killed ‘in defence of their religion against the enemies of Allah who are used by the West against the people of this religion to prevent the success of the Muslim Caliphate Project’. This does not clarify the circumstances of these incidents, whose locations could be used as indicators of the places inside Syria in which the party spreads.


The party has mourned Abdel Basset al-Khatib (Abu Ali of Aleppo), the engineer Abu Obeida and his brother Abu al-Darda from the village of Sednaya, Abu Bakr from Al-Qaboun neighbourhood of Damascus. The party said that all of them were killed in the town of Yabroud in the Damascus Suburbs in February 2014. It also mourned Mustafa Mansoor, who, according to the party, was killed in a location undisclosed by the statement. The party also defended “…the nation’s revolt against Allah’s enemies who are used by the West against the people of this religion to prevent the success of the project of the Muslim Caliphate” in March 2014. In addition, the party accused Sham al-Rasool Brigade of attempting to assassinate one of its officials in the city of Kafer Batna in Eastern Ghouta, Damascus in April 2015. These incidents indicate the absence of the party’s forces from fighting the regime and that its conflicts or other assaults on its unarmed members were carried out by the Free Syrian Army or other Islamic battalions.


Some may be surprised by the party's position on the Islamic State (ISIS), who seems to have achieved what the party has called for: the declaration of the Islamic State and establishment of a Caliphate. However, Abu al-Rashta, in his official page on Facebook, answered a question asked by a large number of people saying that, “This declaration of a Caliphate is invalid because any organisation that wants to declare a Caliphate somewhere must follow the way of the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, to do so. Some of these conditions include having an prominent Sultan in this place who keeps it safe domestically and abroad. The place where a Caliphate is declared needs to have the requirements of the state. However, the organization which declared the Caliphate has no authority in Syria nor in Iraq and does not achieve security and safety neither domestically nor abroad, and even the one who was given allegiance as a Caliph cannot appear in public and remains in hiding as he was before the declaration! Thus, the organisation’s [ISIS] declaration of a Caliphate is nonsense without any content. The Caliphate is an important state whose method of establishment and way of deriving rules in governance, political economy and international relations are clarified in Islamic law  and are not the declaration called for on websites or by the media. Therefore, the declaration of ISIS is nonsense that does not change the reality of its situation, as it is still an armed movement before the declaration and after it, like the rest of the armed movements.”


The party’s Emir even goes on to say that that, “It is worth mentioning that there is a fear that this declaration might have negative consequences for the idea of ​​a Caliphate among the gullible if this idea falls down from its great status of major importance to become a fragile idea as a way of venting the disturbed emotions of some people. Additionally, one may stand in a square, field or village and declares he is a Caliph and then retreat thinking that he did well! This raises a question mark on the timing of this declaration without a prominent, stable Sultan who preserves the safety and security of his companions domestically and abroad rather than on Facebook or the media.” Al-Rashtah concludes by saying, “This timing is suspicious.”


A few days later, the party issued a stronger statement on the same subject and even went further, deeming ISIS’ declaration of a caliphate as a distortion of the concept. The party sees this announcement as only one of many actions that aim to eliminate the project of establishing a caliphate, particularly after the Revolution has called for it in more advanced stages, and the project of those who want Syria to be a secular state has diminished. The seculars who still exist, who are called today the National Coalition, are few and have very little popularity.


The party’s Emir also rejected attempts by some factions to implement the rules of Islam in their areas of control, stressing that the establishment of these rules and their implementation is only the jurisdiction of the Caliph when the Caliphate is established and in the presence of the Caliph.


It is worth noting that the Party's activity is forbidden in the territory controlled by ISIS, which, on at least one occasion, executed one of its members on charges of apostasy. However the party was allowed to work de facto in the rebel regions, especially in the north, in the rural areas of Aleppo and Idlib, where its meeting in Syria was held in May 2015 titled ‘The Levant’s Revolution is a nation’s revolution towards the establishment of the Caliphate,’ which reiterated the ideas mentioned above.



Some of the party's leaders that emerged in Syria after the revolution are Ahmed Ibrahim Abdel-Wahab, who replaced Al-Baba as the head of the Media Office in mid-2014; Al-Baba returned as only a member in it; D. Youssef al-Hajj Yusuf, deputy head of this office; Abdo Monzer al-Dali, from the countryside of Daraa, who is also a member of the Media Office; his brother Mohammed al-Dali; Munir Nasser (Abu Islam), from Aleppo, a member of the Media Office as well; Mohammed Moosa, also a member of the Media Office; Nasser Sheikh Abdul Hai, a member of the Central Committee of the party’s communications in Syria; Abdel-Hamid Abdel-Hamid, a member of the Committee itself; Mohammad Dabbagh in the Al-Mashhad neighbourhood; Ali Saleh in the neighbourhood of Tareeq al-Bab; Sheikh Abu Hamza in the Marjah District; Ismail Alouhuah (Abu Anas); Ali Abd al-Rahman in the liberated part of the Aleppo countryside; Sheikh Abu Musab al-Shami and Abdul Almoghait Yassin in Aleppo’s western countryside; Yamen Khayyal in the northern Aleppo countryside; Ahmad Haj Mohammed Samer Eid; Hajj Jamal Ibrahim Issa al-Issawi and Ahmed Abu Ubada in the countryside of Idlib; and Ahmed al-Aboud and Amer Ali al-Salem in the countryside of Daraa. However, the name of the Emir of the Governorate of Syria is unknown.


It is noted that the names above are all of people working in the media or advocates of the ideas of the party on religious platforms or in lectures and dialogue sessions, which indicates clearly the nature of the activities of the party in Syria. Just as the party lacked a military aspect, relief activities, ambulance, medical, service, administrative or other aspects that preoccupied many groups and organisations were also absent in its activities.


The highlight of the party's activities is inviting factions to adopt its ideas, which did not happen to a great extent, probably because the party does not have sufficient financial resources to support aspects of armament, ammunition or salaries, which is what these factions really need rather than flyers, brochures and dialogues.




Hizb ut-Tahrir is not a ‘terrorist’ group in the common sense even though it paves the way for various types of Islamic extremism and provides them with a theoretical foundation.


In the history of the party, many have left it to join other organisations involved in practice without waiting for the party’s mechanical, accurate steps, which are futile.


In Syria, although the party popularized an atmosphere of Islamic extremism in symbols, slogans and rhetoric, and repeatedly clashed with activists of the revolution in the demonstrations, particularly regarding the comparison between the flag of the Green Revolution and the black ‘Banner of the Eagle’, its actual impact on the ground may only have been an unintentional introduction for more active and extreme movements.


The known biographies of factions of Islamic militancy currently in Syria, their symbols, internal currents or those passing through it do not mention a noteworthy impact by party’s ideas.


In any case, the final verification of the validity of this hypothesis needs to study collective samples, which are not available now.


[1] ‘Islamic’ here is just an adjective to describe the party, and it is not part of the party’s official name. 




Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry
Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry

Follow Us on Facebook
© 2019 Suwar Magazine. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Boulevard