As the general election approaches in the UK, so does the debate on the issue of voting amongst the Muslim community, which primarily revolves around the question of - is it haram (unlawful under Islamic law) or halal (permitted) to vote? The opinion is largely divided into two opposing camps of, for and against voting. In Islamic law, different opinions (Ikhtilaf) can exist on a particular issue; this is inevitable when the textual evidences are not precise on the matter. Each faction will argue in favour of their adopted opinion as the strongest, and view other opinions as weak, rather than invalid.
Therefore, on this issue voting, do the opposing factions accept there is legitimate difference of opinion? The pro-voting camp in general tends to accept there is a legitimate difference of opinion, whereas the anti-voting factions do not, they consider the prohibition as categorical. Groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT) are particularly vocal on promoting this viewpoint in the UK and in other Western countries where there is a significant Muslim population.
This seem strange given that HT has already stated their sole objective is to establish the Caliphate in the Muslim world; therefore, it is difficult to see the connection between voting in the UK election, and their sacred ‘method’ of bringing about change in the distant Muslim countries. Why meddle in the internal politics of UK, if the country is outside your radar?
Their slogan is simple - it is haram to participate in the political system, and voting is an example of that. Even after I had left the party, I used to subscribe to this view, but now I am of the opinion that there is more than one legitimate Islamic viewpoint on this matter. Moreover, the permissibility to vote in a non-Islamic country is the stronger viewpoint, and the following points will argue this.
a) You rule by Islam, but we live by Democracy!
The central argument against voting is based on the premise that Islam forbids the believers (Muslims) to legislate, this is the sole right of creator, numerous Quranic verses and Hadiths clearly supports that position. Whereas in a democracy, the people are sovereign, they are represented by the elected MPs in the Parliament who make the laws on their behalf. Thus, they argue Muslims cannot participate in the legislative process directly as MPs or indirectly by voting for any candidate, thereby endorsing a non-Islamic system.
However, this is a simplistic viewpoint as it overlooks the fundamental difference between a Muslim society and a non-Muslim society. The textual evidences obliging the Muslims to rule by Islam is addressing the believers collectively, where they have power and authority. This has to be the case rationally, because to implement the laws, one has to have the ability to do that in the first place.
Therefore, to apply the verses, HT should lead by example and try to acquire power in the UK, or migrate to a Muslim country where it is more practical to do that. But, HT members will do neither! Moreover, HT has specifically stated many times that they are not seeking to establish an Islamic government in the UK to apply those evidences. If you are not willing to do that, then how can you demand from others to do this here? This is an inconsistent position.
The reality of the Muslims is, they are willingly living in a Western democracy – and those calling for Sharia rules in distant lands are continuing to live by democracy in the West, their words do not match their deeds.
b) Voting is haram, but what about the application of non-Islamic laws?
Following on from the above argument of the obligation to rule by the divine laws implies that the anti-Voting groups should only resort to the application of non-Islamic laws out of necessity or duress. Yet, they are now seeking to overturn a ban1 imposed in Germany by going to the German courts and seek judgement from non-Islamic (Kufr) laws. This is far from a life and death situation, it does not even constitute duress or hardship. The boycott imposed on the Prophet and his companions created very harsh conditions, yet, they did not seek judgment in the tribal courts of the pagan Arabs.
After lecturing the Muslims in the UK with the verses like “Judge by what Allah has revealed” they are now seeking judgement from non-Islamic courts. A vote may or may not lead to someone being elected, then it may or may not led to the person legislating, but actively seeking remedy by non-Islamic laws for a non-essential issue is a more severe violation of the principle of not judging by what Allah has revealed.
c) The hype of participation
The main reason given behind the prohibition to vote in a non-Islamic society is participating and endorsing a man made system. HT has missed something fundamental. The vote does not endorse the system, which already exists and will continue to exist regardless of the number of participants in the general election. Therefore, the political system is independent of the number of people participating in voting.
Moreover, we are all participants by default as law-abiding citizens. By abstaining from voting, one also contributes to the election result. Likewise, to say we do not vote because we do not wish to be represented by the MPs is also flawed, as every citizen is represented by their local MP. Since we are all participant by default, we can remain idle and be represented, or we play an active role and try to steer the ship in a certain direction as best as we can. HT is opposed to this, unless it is for their benefit, thus they lobbied MPs not to impose a ban on the party.
But, why restrict participation to voting? On that premise, other forms of participation that makes greater contribution to the system should also be wrong. We know, real participation and endorsement of the system is done through giving obedience, and paying the taxes, which is the fuel for the system. It would collapse if the masses refused to pay tax or gave mass disobedience; in contrast, even if the entire country did not vote, it would have negligible impact on the system in place.
HT members may not vote, but for sure every single member is an excellent law abiding and taxpaying ‘democratic’ citizen, who are actively making valuable contribution to the functioning of the political system in the UK at the highest level.
To answer this inconsistency, they say paying tax is a matter of coercion. Nobody is literally forced to pay tax, one has the choice not to work, and survive comfortably on government benefit. Similarly, they can also disobey the law and go to prison, which is the best position in line with their argument of not supporting or endorsing the system, as they will make the least contribution inside a prison. Furthermore, the system will be supporting them and their families putting greater burden on it.
That, still leaves the fundamental question of how the Muslims should engage politically living in a predominantly non-Muslim society. To support their isolationist stance, HT cites the early life of the Prophet in Mecca and the Muslims who sought temporary refuge in Abyssinia.
d) Mecca or Abyssinia
It is perplexing why HT mentions Mecca when they are at odds with the evidence. The Prophet (saw) was not living as a tax paying and law-abiding citizen in Mecca like the typical HT member, he was on a mission to establish a new order. This is in complete contrast to HT position in the UK who has gone to lengths to show how they are not a threat to the UK system, as their mission is only for the distant Muslims countries.
So, how is Mecca relevant to the issue of election or participation? They cite the example of the Prophet refusing the offer of power made by the Pagan Arabs as evidence of non-participation. However, they conveniently leave out the fact that there was a condition attached to the offer made to the Prophet. In contrast, there is no condition attached to voting or participating in the political process here.
As for Abyssinia, the Muslims were there only as temporary refugee and there is no evidence that shows they were given specific instructions about how they should conduct themselves. One has to prove such instructions were divine commandments.
There is no clear evidence, which shows how Muslims should engage with non-Muslims living under their authority. This is the reason why there is difference of opinion on this subject.
e) Who are the benefit seekers?
For the Muslims in the UK, which includes HT, the reality is, they are living a relatively comfortable life under the authority of non-Muslims. Most of us are honest enough to recognise our weakness, and admit that we are here because of economic reasons. So nobody is in a position lecture others about benefit. It is part of human nature to seek benefit.
Even if you are born here, you can migrate. Nick Griffin or the UKIP would happily pay for your ticket with some pocket money to move. If HT members are so eager to implement Sharia laws, they should have all migrated to Afghanistan when the Taliban seized power in the early years. The argument that they did not want to implement Islam fully is a poor excuse, they did what was in their ability, if you wanted to go the extra mile, and then logically you should have migrated there and offered full support to achieve that. At least you would have had some experience. The truth is nobody wanted to trade for the streets of London, Sydney, New York, Toronto, for the muddy streets of Kabul!
HT logic seems to be, you cannot vote for the MPs but you can benefit from them, as you can lobby them. You cannot vote because they will legislate laws, but you can go to the court seek judgment from those laws for your benefit even on trivial issues. Their message is do not attempt to change the system here, but remain in the West as long as you like, do everything except vote, and watch us, we will bring the Khilafah back.
f) Is their a practical alternative or just wait of the Khilafah?
Groups like HT do not offer a practical alternative for the Muslims living here as means to protect our interests and identity. In fact, their message is do not attempt to change the system, just wait for the Khilafah in the Muslim countries, in the mean time do everything, except vote.
If the BNP were engaged in an area to be elected and if one of the promises was to close down the Mosques, what would you do? The HT answer is nothing, as they did not spend any effort building them in the first place. However, if the BNP campaigned like David Cameron to ban the party – you would see them move to hold hands with Clare Short or even George Galloway.
The voting is undertaken with the intention of securing our interest and rights living under the non-Islamic system, it is not a vote for the system, which already exists. That is no more than going to the courts and seeking judgements from them. If you do not vote, you are still contributing towards the election result, and being represented. One can remain a spectator give others a free hand to decide your fate, or you try to influence the system to your favour.
It is time to move the debate of voting to the more serious issues affecting our own community, and the wider community. We should value those who have kept their heads down and worked hard for the community. They are the ones who have built numerous Mosques, community centres, help the poor and needy Muslims abroad, and built good relations with the non-Muslims to the extent that they were able to contribute towards the 2 million to march against the war. Yes, I know it did not stop the war, but none of the HT marches or demos did not achieve anything either! There is no instant solution anywhere.
This is an excellent opportunity to unify the Muslims in the UK, and give them a clear direction to use their voting power – at the least, this will mean increase politicisation of the Muslims, which will not only help our cause but also the cause of Islam.
Yamin Zakaria (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Published on 20/4/2010
1 http://www.hizb.org.uk/hizb/press-centre/press-release/hizb-ut-tahrir-challenges-german-ban-at-european-court.html - “London, UK, June 25th 2008 - This week Hizb ut-Tahrir is submitting an application to the European Court in Strasbourg seeking the ultimate overturning of the ban imposed upon all activities of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) in Germany. Membership of the Party is not banned in Germany.”