chapter  3
15 Pages

Hizb ut-Tahrir in Central Asia

Hizb ut-Tahrir probably became active in Central Asia in the early to mid1990s. It seems that Jordanian missionaries, under the cover of preaching Islam, established the first cells in Uzbekistan.1 However, it is also possible that Hizb ut-Tahrir’s literature had reached Soviet Central Asia in the 1980s. It was under the guidance of an-Nabhani’s successor, Yusuf Sheikh Abdul Qadeem Zaloom that Hizb ut-Tahrir stepped up its activities in post-Soviet Central Asia. Regional governments have responded to the emergence of Hizb ut-Tahrir

with repressive measures against its members. Yet, the Tajik, Uzbek, Kazakh and Kyrgyz authorities have been unable to neutralize group activities in their respective countries. In fact, the impression is that punitive measures are having completely the opposite effect: the group is growing in popularity. Since Hizb ut-Tahrir operates clandestinely, its membership in Central Asia is unknown. Rough estimates of its strength range from 20,000 to 100,000.2 The author’s estimate, based on interviewswith security officials and group members, as well as the number of arrested members in the region, is that there are around 25,000 hard core members and many more sympathizers in Central Asia. Little is known about the social background of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s members

since there is no independently verified data. However, it appears that most rank-and-file members of Hizb ut-Tahrir come from the lower strata of society, while its leadership comes from intelligentsia and the educated middle class. Most members are in their 20s or early 30s, with senior members being in their late 30s or early 40s. Interestingly, the group approaches members of all ethnic groups, including

non-Muslims, apparently aiming at their conversion to Islam, although this has not been a major objective for the group. In terms of membership, Hizb ut-Tahrir in Central Asia initially was an ‘Uzbek phenomenon.’ Since the late 1990s, many Tajiks, Kyrgyz, Kazakhs and even some Russian converts to Islam have joined the group.3 Nevertheless, Hizb ut-Tahrir has still its strongest following in Uzbekistan and Uzbek-populated areas in southern Kazakhstan, southern Kyrgyzstan and northern Tajikistan.