To Vote or Not to Vote – That is the Question

By Imam Qari Muhammad Asim (Senior Editor)

Senior Imam – Makkah Mosque, Leeds

@QariAsim

Research by various think-tanks and community umbrella bodies has shown that Britain’s minority religions have the potential to exert a huge influence on the 2015 election result. In 159 of the 632 seats, the number of Muslims is greater than the margin of victory in 2010; this is true among almost half the 193 marginal seats.

In other words, British Muslims could have the decisive vote in a quarter of constituencies  and can potentially make a difference in terms of which political parties comes to power.

It is debatable how much influence Muslims can have at the 2015 general election. Whilst Muslims may be able to make such political impact, there is a tiny minority of Muslims who hold the view that political participation outside an ‘Islamic system’ is forbidden (haram) or is Shirk. They have been going around placing posters, from London to Cardiff, arguing that “Voting is Shirk” or “Voting is worse than Terrorism”.

Muslims, since the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), have been politically active whilst living in Muslim and non-Muslim countries. Therefore, the above notions claiming that voting is not permissible do not seem to be well founded given the global context in which we live in; these notions are a clear departure from centuries of well-established religious thought.

Such notions arise on two assumptions that:

  1. Muslim minority existence in non-Muslim majority communities is a temporary circumstance;
  2. an ideal form of Islamic government (khilafa) will arise at some point in the future.

The search for a perfect Islamic state needs a bit of realism concerning the current global political climate and the need to engage with politics in a pragmatic way.

This is a not a theological article and therefore we will not analyse, on theological basis, the arguments propounded by those who are anti-voting. Our objective is to highlight that such arguments are artificial in the current context and will lead to Muslims being further alienated in the society and considered as the ‘fifth’ column.

Political Participation & Muslims

A tiny minority of Muslims that are opposed to political voting argue that voting and being part of the political process in non-Muslim countries is haram, they even go as far as saying it is kufr. Effectively, they are seeking Muslims to withdraw from political participation.

Voting is only one form of active political engagement; in general it is important for Muslims to be involved in politics at all levels: to seek justice and the common good, whether through grassroots campaigns, voting or standing as a candidate for local or general elections. In the Islamic perspective, political engagement is a way of seeking the common good. In a non-Muslim majority country, some scholars have argued that a state which provides religious freedom, security and even facilitates religious practise achieves the broader purpose of the Shari’ah.

While voting is not a legal obligation, it should be strongly encouraged due to the consequences of withdrawal. Far from advocating withdrawal from society, mainstream current Islamic scholarship regards political engagement as a moral obligation.

Voting is not Forbidden (impermissible)

The process of voting in Britain is neither based on religious ideologies and elections are not won and lost on the basis of religion. Accordingly, a candidate that stands up in an election does not promise to implement the laws of any religion. A candidate / political party, promises to improve the services and facilities for the public. These services may also be connected to a particular religion, such as promising promotion of Islamic finance throughout the country or relaxing the parking rules near a mosque on Fridays or schools children being allowed a holiday on Eid.

When one votes for a party – whether a Muslim or not, it does not necessarily mean that one agrees completely with a particular political party’s beliefs and ideologies, rather the intention is that the candidate (or party) will be of help (or of more help than the other candidates) to the whole community. Accordingly, to vote a particular candidate or party in non-Muslim countries will be permissible and not considered a sin, impermissible or Kufr. The scholars from the four schools of legal thought – Zamakhshari (Hanafi), Qurtubi (Maliki), Mawardi (Shafii) and Ibn Taymia (Hanbali)- have all discussed this and stated its permissibility.

Abstention is Indirect Voting

Some people argue that there is no point in voting because we are not going to get anything out of it. This is not an argument particular to Muslims as even many British people think the same way. We need a thorough analytical study that can confirm that all parties are nothing but different faces of one coin. Without such analytical study, it is difficult to say that all parties are exactly the same in internal and external policy. Abstention from voting is essentially indirect voting. It will not realistically lead to change and any sane person would say that abstaining from selecting an option would potentially leave room for the least preferred option to win. There are numerous verses of the Qur’ān and Prophetic actions which demonstrate that to enjoining good and forbidding evil/ hateful/ wicked is an intrinsic part of the faith [Qur’an: 3:110]. Based upon this, it is moral obligation that every Muslim changes the evil in his or her life. Undoubtedly, if we have the ability to potentially delay and disrupt the plans at the local level of those who are Islamophobes, then this is the communal obligations upon the Muslims.

Political engagement, in Britain as elsewhere, is largely a question of holding power to account. Democratic systems are one of the best frameworks within which we can fulfil the Islamic imperative of holding power to account in the British context.

If one or a few of our attempts to change a particular policy has not succeeded, it does not mean that we should withdraw from the political system. Unless we are part of the system, we will be voiceless and unable to exert any influence over any policy.

Abstention from voting is actually indirect voting. It is wrong to assume that abstention provides some sort of escape! No matter what British Muslim do – or don’t do – they have a role to play in the outcome of the elections. Therefore, it is our responsibility to fully consider our options and make an informed decision about the political parties and local candidates.

Conclusion

There are currently hundreds of Muslim councilors in Britain and many Muslims in the Parliament. Further, dozens of Muslims are standing for election on 7 May 2015. This clearly reflects that Muslims do not believe that voting is not permissible. Moreover, one of the reasons for Arab Spring was that people wanted to vote and choose their own governments.  Voting, in many cases, merely means choosing or selecting. Participation in a system, which is not based on Islamic principles, does not necessarily mean participation in kufr itself. It depends on the nature of such participation. The reality our world is such that more Muslims live in the West than in the Middle East and therefore seeking withdrawal of Muslims from the political process will only be of detriment to Muslims than any other community. Islamic principles do not endorse such ill-judged behavior.

We may conclude that it is absolutely wrong to accuse people of committing an act of kufr if they vote. We should be extremely careful in accusing individuals of kufr. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The one who accuses his brother of kufr then surely one of them is [Kafir] as has been claimed.” [Bukhari].  Such accusations, at best, reflect naivety and at worst, ignorance.

At a juncture in history when there are of plenty of forces that are attempting to silence British Muslims, British Muslims should exercise their right of vote and be accounted for so that they can also be part of the process to hold their elected members to account in due course.

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