With the rise of the rightwing Conservative Party, there is a real danger that the Muslims in UK may face anti-Islamic legislation that specifically targets them; the trend has already been set in motion by the ban on the Burka (Niqab) in Belgium, the Minaret in Switzerland, and now France is on the verge of banning the Niqab. To halt these types of legislation, one has to engage the system somehow, particularly focus on influencing the legislative process.
Even in the absence of the danger of anti-Islamic laws becoming real here, there is a need to participate in order to ensure the following:
• Introduce new laws to cater for the needs of an expanding Muslim community.
• If possible, reverse the existing laws that contradict Islam, especially those are harmful to the community as a whole. For example, we should support new laws that call for a decrease in the number of gambling shops on the high streets, and curtail the availability of alcohol.
• At the very least, we need to ensure the existing laws that give us a level of protection are not eroded. Thus, resist any attempts to close down Islamic schools and Mosques to the incarceration of innocent Muslims.
The case for participation is not just based on rational justification given above, but one that stems from the general Islamic principle of - preventing harm.
There is clear prohibition to commit suicide, theft, robbery, murder, slander and backbiting. The verse of deterrence commands the believers to prepare the armed forces, to deter the enemy from an attack. If one is entering a market with a spear, he should ensure that it is covered so that he does not injure anyone and so on. These types of evidences collectively point to the principle of preventing harm.
Let us examine the counter arguments against participation. In general, there are two arguments; one is based on the Quranic texts of ruling and the second is extracted from the life of the Prophet.
• The counter argument against participation is primarily construed from the basis that Muslims are prohibited from endorsing and participating in a system like democracy, where man is sovereign as they are the legislator. It is correct, Islamic law categorically orders the believers to rule by Islam; the right of legislation belongs to the creator. However, that assumes the believers are in a position of authority setting up the government or functioning within an existing one. Indeed, without power, how can you implement laws and issue judgements?
The reality is - the vast majority of the Muslim community have migrated to democratic countries like UK, where the infrastructure of ruling already exist. The same argument applies to those who are born here. That leaves two choices: you fight to change this system or you live here as law abiding citizen accepting the framework in place. It is clear from the conduct of the Muslim community they have adopted the latter position.
There is consensus, that it is permitted to live under the authority of non-Muslims, then how can you cite verses of ruling by Islam as a point of non-participation, since you accept that you are not seeking to apply Islamic laws here? Rather, under such a framework, you need to find ways of ensuring that your rights are upheld, and not eroded through adverse legislation.
• The second argument is construed from the life of the Prophet, and the claim is he never participated in the political process with the pagan Arabs (Quraysh) in Mecca. This is fundamentally flawed, as one has to prove that the Prophet abstained from participation despite opportunities, because it was not permitted in general, rather than not applicable for Him as a Prophet due to the unique and specific circumstances he faced.
On the point of opportunity, in the tribal society of Mecca, there is no formal legislative process other than abiding by the existing customs and the decree of the tribal leaders. In the early phase of revelation, there was hardly any laws issued, revelation was in progress with a small number of converts, largely from the lower echelons of society, so why would the Prophet need to seek political authority in the first place.
The Prophet was not offered a position to become the leader of a particular tribe, the only offer made in the early phase was refused, since there was a condition attached to it, which would nullify his role as a Prophet.
In the later phase of Mecca, he was seeking to establish the rule of Islam, he was given an offer to rule alternate years by Islam. However, this is in the course of establishing Islam, rather than a situation of accepting to live under the authority of non-Muslims, as we are doing in the UK; hence, the example is not applicable to our situation.
Moreover, the Prophet had a decisive mandate, which was to give birth to an Islamic society that should be sovereign, and commonsense tells us that he could not accept that offer.
In addition to the principle of preventing harm as stated earlier, there is direct textual evidence that suggest Prophets of God, living under the authority of unbelievers, resorted to actions that contributed to the change of laws to prevent harm. Consider the following examples:
• Musa (as) asked the Pharaoh to lift the ban on his people, so they could leave Egypt. As he got Pharaoh to change the law, he effectively asked the King to exercise his legislative powers, thus the Prophet was complicit in the act. This is evidence that we can participate in the more elaborated legislative processes of today to prevent harm. Some will dispute this, as they will argue the opinion that Sharia of the previous Prophets in general is abrogated by the Sharia of Prophet Muhammad. However, this is a minority opinion; the majority scholars are of the position that Sharia of previous Prophet is only abrogated only if specific texts exist in the Sharia of Prophet Muhammad.
• Another example is the lifting of ban imposed on the Prophet and companions, in Mecca, by three non-Muslims. Although, there is no direct evidence to suggest that the Prophet induced them, but it is reasonable to assume there was some sort of engagement from the Muslims to lift the ban facing hardship, especially in the sacred Months when the ban was suspended. Thus, collectively they got the tribal leaders to use their legislative powers to reverse the ban and permit the Muslims to operate normally in society.
• We can also consider the example of Abyssinia where Negus was a King with legislative and judicial powers, as the absolute ruler, his judgment become law in the land. If we take the premise that, the Muslims led by Jafar prevented their extradition from Abyssinia, by persuading Negus to use his ‘legislative powers’ in the land; then it is another example of the permit to participate in the system living under the authority of non-Muslims to prevent harm.
How do we participate?
There is consensus that Muslims do need to engage the system and stop hostile laws that continues the persecution of Muslims, in line with the fad of war on terror. The Muslims are permanent citizens in UK, not temporary refugees similar to the early companions who went to Abyssinia. We cannot ignore our situation, on the basis that we will one day migrate back to the Muslim countries where the situation is worsening in relative terms, nor can we live in a bubble that the Caliphate is coming back in our lifetime to rescue us. A prophecy might become true tomorrow or in a thousand years times.
Those who argued against participation are caught by their contradictory statements. One the one hand, they say do not get involved in legislation and yet concede, there is a need to halt these adverse laws somehow. Therefore, they say, we will demonstrate, hold conferences, and talk to the MPs to convince them to do the right thing, meaning we hope the MPs will exercise their powers in the Parliament correctly. Yet, they continue to make the absurd assertion that they are not getting involved in legislation, even though all these acts are done with a view to bring about a change in law! This is either Realpolitik or simply being in denial.
In any legal system, if you persuade someone to kill, you are complicit. Likewise, persuading a Member of Parliament with a view that the individual will exercise his powers in the Parliament accordingly, makes you complicit in terms of getting involved in legislation; this is an axiom.
If you are of the opinion that you should not get involved in man made legislative system, then you should abstain from any contact with MPs, in case you contribute to the MPs action of exercising their powers in Parliament. Your engagement should only be confined to calling the MPs to embrace Islam and advise him to resign from the parliament.
Whatever the arguments, ultimately it will mean getting involved in some way or another to stop laws that persecute the Muslims.
Yamin Zakaria (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Published on 22/05/2010