Disaster 'Caliphatization': Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, Islamic Aceh, and the Indian Ocean Tsunami

March 2015 (VOL. 33, NO. 1)

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The devastation caused by the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami opened access for many different organizations to enter Aceh to conduct disaster relief operations. This paper examines the role of one such actor, the Islamic organization Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI). Through its humanitarian work, including the provision of relief aid, medical care, and trauma healing, HTI pursued its political-religious vision of ‘caliphatization’, the restoration of a global Caliphate and the implementation of Islamic law. Because Islam was already a dominant feature of the Acehnese context with the vast majority of Acehnese declaring a Muslim identity, the case of HTI’s disaster relief work was one of intra-religious proselytization to proximate others. Even so, HTI’s project was intended to be transformative. However, while the disaster clearly provided an opening for HTI to expand its work in Aceh, and while HTI experienced significant growth in the region as a consequence, its wider project of ‘caliphatization’ failed to resonate with political elites and has had little impact on political processes. This paper analyses HTI’s disaster relief work and assesses the reasons for both its rapid growth and limited political impact.