Despite Proscription, HTI’s Ideological Activism Continues
Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia was banned in 2017, but the propagation of HTI’s ideology has continued to thrive in Indonesia via various media channels.
Although proscribed in 2017 for promoting ideas at odds with Indonesia’s national ideology Pancasila, former Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) activists have continued to successfully disseminate their ideas. Unlike the majority of Indonesian Muslims, HTI’s ideology believes that Muslims have the obligation to replace nation-states with a transnational caliphate that implements shariah law.
One avenue through which HTI activists have kept their activism alive has been the publication of a monthly magazine, Al-Wa’ie. The publication of Al-Wa’ie, which apparently targets the intellectual stratum of HTI’s sympathisers, complements strategies that reach out to the popular masses. These include the publication of Buletin Dakwah Kaffah, a bulletin circulated among Muslims attending Friday prayers. The former activists of HTI also disseminate their ideology through social media channels such as Khilafah Channel and Media Umat.
Published since the early 2000s as a mouthpiece for HTI, the publication of Al-Wa’ie was briefly disrupted in mid-2017 when HTI was proscribed by the state. However, Al-Wa’ie was able to almost immediately resume its activities at the end of the same year by establishing a new website specifically dedicated for the publication of Al-Wa’ie. Al-Wa’ie was also listed as a publication of Pusat Studi Politik dan Dakwah Islam (Research Centre for Politics and Islamic Preaching), rather than of the proscribed HTI. Between late 2017 and early 2022, Al-Wa’ie has published at least 48 new editions, all of which are accessible online by the public. Al-Wa’ie continues to feature the views of key HTI figures, such as Ismail Yusanto, Shiddiq al-Jawi, Rokhmat S. Labib, and Farid Wadjidi.
Most significantly, the editorial focus of Al-Wa’ie post-2017 continues to articulate the ideological premises of HTI: i.e., that Islam is under siege by forces that prevent it from realising the ideals of implementing sharia law and establishing an Islamic caliphate. For example, in the March 2018 edition, Al-Wa’ie argued that HTI was proscribed because ‘puppet regimes’ in Muslim countries wanted to prevent Muslims from rising and making a ‘total implementation of Sharia’. The January 2022 edition focused on how the campaign of religious moderation, which is sponsored by the West to tame Islam’s challenges against the ideology of global capitalism, was threatening Islam by demanding that Muslims moderate or compromise their commitment to the application of Sharia.
The fact that Al-Wa’ie has continued to be able to publish in virtually its original form and other HTI-affiliated platforms have continued to thrive are a reflection of the limited success the Indonesian government has had in curbing HTI’s ideological activism. There are several reasons for this.
First, although the authorities have focused on disbanding HTI as an organisation, HTI’s leaders have not been subjected to harsh legal measures like those of Front Pembela Islam (FPI). Contrary to past statements vowing to do so, the state also does not punish former activists who continue promoting HTI’s ideology. Consequently, HTI’s activists continue propagating their ideology by presenting themselves as individual preachers rather than as members of the organisation. The activities of Ismail Yusanto, the former spokesperson of HTI, are illustrative. After the proscription, his views are still regularly featured in Al-Wa’ie. He frequently gives public talks or joins public discussions that are live streamed on YouTube, attracting thousands of viewers. However, in carrying out these activities, Yusanto has framed himself as a ‘Muslim intellectual’ (cendekiawan Muslim) rather than as a member of the HTI.
Most significantly, the editorial focus of Al-Wa’ie post-2017 continues to articulate the ideological premises of HTI: i.e., that Islam is under siege by forces that prevent it from realising the ideals of implementing sharia law and establishing an Islamic caliphate.
Second, the decision to proscribe HTI may have underestimated HTI activists’ resolve and flexibility. For its activists, HTI is primarily an organisational instrument for facilitating da’wah. Consequently, when the organisation is disrupted, the activists are required to develop new strategies for continuing da’wah. Instead of stopping the activists from propagating their ideology, the proscription of HTI has encouraged them to refine their methods of communication. In addition to reviving Al-Wa’ie and Buletin Dakwah Kaffah, pro-HTI YouTube channels post videos by HTI key figures almost daily, reaching hundreds to thousands of viewers. Key pro-HTI channels like the Khilafah Channel Reborn and Media Umat have attracted around 20,000 subscribers respectively. While the impact of these media channels is hard to verify, they are testament of the activists’ resolve in promoting their ideology.
Third, rather than deterring the activists, the proscription of HTI has merely served to feed HTI’s key narratives that Islam is under siege by forces hostile to sharia and caliphate. The proscription has been exploited by the activists as evidence that Islam is truly under threat. Rather than weakening HTI’s narratives, the proscription provides an opportunity for the activists to reaffirm their narratives.
The resolve and resiliency of HTI’s activists have clearly undermined the state’s original objectives. When he announced the proscription of the HTI, Wiranto, the former Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister of Politics, Law, and Security (Menkopolhukam), expected that the proscription would make the activists stop spreading the ideology. Mahfud MD, who took the post after Wiranto, similarly argued that the proscription was expected to prevent HTI’s ideology from being propagated. Events have shown that this has not happened. Since HTI’s activists cannot be fully silenced, the state needs to change its approach to focus on enabling genuine contestation against the ideology that HTI’s activists propagate. However, it is important to avoid the impression that the contestation is state-sponsored, so as not to reinforce HTI’s narratives that Islam is under attack by the state. This requires allowing independent actors who are sometimes even critical of the state to express their views. Fostering a healthy democratic climate would be the first step to allow genuine contestation against HTI’s still-flourishing ideology.
Rizky Alif Alvian is a junior lecturer in the Department of International Relations, Universitas Gadjah Mada.