To Vote or not to Vote? An Islamic Perspective


Sheikh Abu Eesa Niamatullah – Why your vote matters at the 2010 General Election

PARTICIPATING in the British electoral system has frequently been a bone of contention amongst many within the Muslim community. Whilst many mosques actively promote voting and consider participation in the democratic process as an Islamically desirable and necessary action, others consider the very same action to be harām or even an act of disbelief!


With the 2010 General Election rapidly approaching, one feels that some guidance from the Sharī‘ah is necessary. This is all the more important given the election is highly likely to be one of the closest in living memory, and in such circumstances, the outcome of a few dozen seats which depend on the Muslim vote, may prove crucial in determining the overall winner.


To vote in the general election is not just to elect an individual to the House of Commons. It is to participate in a man-made electoral system which does not take as its corner stone the principles enshrined within the Qur’ān and Sunnah.


Accordingly the immediate instinctive reaction of any Muslim scholar would be to consider participation in such a system as a betrayal of core Islamic values, for indeed the right of legislation is due only to our Creator, the Al-Mighty.


But is this instinctive reaction the only consideration to make before declaring the entire process harām? Whilst this article is not intended to be a detailed Islamic ruling per se, it would be appropriate to list in summary fashion some of the key issues.


Historically, rulings considering participation in such a system to be impermissible have been based on specific scenarios and situations which are not at all applicable to us today in Britain. It is a well known principle of Islamic jurisprudence that if a change of circumstance occurs, the ruling can also change.


Contemporary scholars have determined that the circumstances facing today’s Muslims living peacefully in the West, in an environment where the State protects our individual rights to worship, own property and be treated equally with non-Muslims under the law, are sufficiently different from historical precedents to depart from the traditional rulings of impermissibility.


Once this key distinction is made, several other Islamic considerations come into play.


Firstly is the key consideration, especially relevant in the context of Muslims living in Britain, that if a person is presented with two evils and has no choice but to perform one of them, then he wards off the greater evil (or harām) even if it means performing a lesser evil (or harām).


Secondly, that to enjoin good and forbid evil is an intrinsic part of Faith, and is one of the greatest communal obligations in Islām, as Allāh says, “You are the best nation ever to be brought forth for people. You enjoin the good and forbid the evil, and you believe in Allāh.” (āle-‘Imrān, 110)


Based upon this, it is mandatory that every Muslim actively work towards changing the evil in his or her life. Undoubtedly, if we have the ability to potentially delay and disrupt the ill-considered plans of those who would want to rule us, this becomes important. Likewise, blocking the BNP and other similar parties at the local level is undoubtedly from the communal obligations upon the Muslims.


Thirdly, according to many scholars, it is allowed to enter the political system in order to elicit change using a well known principle found in Usūl’l-Fiqh namely “The legislative law of the previous Prophets is legislation for our nation too.”


The scholars who accepted this principle, clarified it would only be applicable if it had not been abrogated by legislation in our Sharī‘ah, based in turn on the Qur’ānic narrative on the Prophet Yūsuf (‘alayhis salām), who accepted a ministerial position in a government that was ruling by laws other than the Law of Allāh in order to achieve the greater good.


Accordingly, the vast majority of contemporary scholars have ruled that it is at the very least Islamically permissible, and many state indeed virtuous to vote. Moreover, some scholars have gone further and considered it to be an Islamic obligation to vote.


To recap, the rationale behind these rulings is, given that we as law-abiding Muslims have chosen to live in Britain, and given that the electoral process and governmental system has a profound impact upon our lives, it is important to influence this process as much as we can so that the positive elements of the system can be strengthened and the negative elements weakened.


Consequently the person who votes with this intention is one who will be rewarded for his action.


Once this perspective is accepted, another dilemma then immediately presents itself in the form of two questions. Firstly, will my individual vote make one jot of difference, and secondly, how do I decide exactly which party or candidate to vote for?


These crucial questions require careful analysis and thought and will be tackled via a subsequent article.


Let us conclude by restating that the forthcoming general election is highly likely to be one of the closest in living memory, and in such circumstances, the outcome of a few dozen seats which depend on the Muslim vote, may prove crucial in determining the overall winner.


Sheikh Abu Eesa Niamatullah – Senior Adviser to ‘Get Out & Vote!’ which is a charitable initiative encouraging Muslims to constructively participate in the British Electoral System.


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