Home / Analysis / “Vote Today; Be Kafir Tomorrow”: The Issue of Voting

“Vote Today; Be Kafir Tomorrow”: The Issue of Voting

 That season of jostling for space to express a view on voting has once again descended upon the population here in Britain and I (I should add quickly) am no exception to that. I too have a view and in the democratic spirit feel it my right to speak it. You on the other hand, dear reader, have the right to ‘turn the page’. I hope, however, that you will not; for I promise (on my part) to not bore you with a simple treatise on the virtues or pitfalls of voting. That, unfortunately, has become the ho-hum tune of much of the discourse on the issue. Instead, I shall like to forward a metaphor to short circuit the dichotomies so easily set up when it comes to the subject of voting.

The dichotomy that animated many Muslims many years ago and continues to do so for some even today, is one framed in the language of theology. I remember distinctly, for instance, walking out of Whitechapel station some years ago on a rainy afternoon and finding a leaflet thrust into my hand by an overzealous brother who, much like a member of a canvassing politician’s publicity team, was shouting slogans along Whitechapel road. In this case though, the slogans proclaimed the superiority of shari’ah and the ‘haraam’ involved in taking part in a ‘kufr system’. There was something in the demeanour of the brother that made me think it probably wasn’t a good idea to point out that there was a difference of opinion on the matter of voting. Any sense of scholastic subtleties though soon turned to horror when I read the leaflet in my hand: “Vote Today; Be Kafir Tomorrow”. As I caught the 25 bus to ride down to East London Mosque (it’s not a long walk, but I’m terribly lazy) I couldn’t help but hope that by ‘today’ they really did mean today, given that I had already voted the day before.
Such a dichotomy in which voting is simply either halal or haram has not completely disappeared unfortunately. It does still exist though I do wonder whether it has less power than before given that many mashayikh have helped clarify the theological stance on the matter. They have explained, for example, that voting in a system that is premised on the near absolute sovereignty of the people is permissible in matters of ‘maslaha’, whereby a lesser evil may be permitted in order to avoid some greater harm. There are some who still feel unconvinced by this reasoning and a recent example can be seen in video responses to a promotional video in which certain well known Muslim personalities encouraged other Muslims to vote. One video in particular caught my attention because it played parts of the ‘go out and vote’ video followed by counter-reasoning as to why the speaker/s is/are deluded or making nonsensical statements (in their opinion), ‘some foolish people are not content with their own misguidance they wish to mislead others also…’ I laughed out loud when, following a brother telling viewers that he will vote because he has always voted, the rebuttal on the screen came as the following: ‘It is not befitting a Muslim reveal his sins’!
The people who produced the second video and its like – the ones rebutting the effort to encourage people to vote – are not entirely without humour though this is the way they sometimes appear. Another video parodied the one endorsing voting in albeit amateurish style. Nevertheless, such people are hung up largely on a dichotomy which on the one hand is more easily challenged because the matter of voting is an issue of ikh’tilaf and therefore the real task is to contain passions and insist upon following the Islamic etiquettes regarding differences of opinion. But on the other hand, it is a dichotomy that is harder to tackle because it has a metaphysical dimension which amplifies the anxieties and disagreements that gather around the topic.      
We have, nonetheless, a response ready for those who insist upon this first type of dichotomy. A second, however, has also emerged recently for which we have a less well articulated response, and this time the register of the dictum is socio-political. Fahad Ansari’s article entitled The Muslim Vote: Time for an informed debate is an example of the emergence of this more recent dichotomy. Fahad quite rightly puts forward the argument that one ought to be cautious of placing faith in voting and the political system it is a part of because voting for an MP does not secure you the position of influence that may at first seem obvious. Inside the Houses of Parliament an arrangement centred on party Whips maintains conformity and practices considerable control. MPs, Fahad tells us, are rarely free to vote on matters as they or their constituents feel. Instead, on crucial matters the party (through the Whips) persuades and cajoles members of the House to toe the party line.
Fahad too was inspired to write as a response to the video promoting voting and, together with others, felt it was unwise to present voting as a simple solution for the problems faced by Muslims especially in terms of their power to influence agents/agencies of power. What lets Fahad’s argument down are two things. Firstly, he takes exception to two categories of people, one of whom ‘sincerely believe that voting and electoral participation is the primary, if not only, way forward for Muslims in Britain to substantially change their condition’, while the other is made of those who ‘promote voting…to empower the Muslim community’. In neither case does he provide examples of who these categories of people actually are. And although his descriptions do tally with my own experience of some actual individuals pedalling the ‘go out and vote’ agenda, if his article really does aim to engage in a debate, perhaps one ought to stay on the issue of ideas and here is the second shortcoming to his argument.
Essentially, Fahad is gravitating around a polarity of voting in national elections as a solution or non-solution. Though he is careful to nuance his stance by adding provisos such as, ‘I am not against voting per se’ and ‘block (Muslim) voting can be both a source of empowerment and very effective’, his assumption remains that those who promote voting are naive in failing to understand the limited nature of voting in regards its ability to make adifference for Muslim communities. So as not to paraphrase him incorrectly, here is what Fahad writes:

Leaving aside the issues of whether or not such actions are permissible according to the shari’ah (something the writer is in no way qualified to comment upon), one cannot help but observe a certain level of naivety among some of those who believe that voting in parliamentary elections can make a difference to the situation of Muslims today.

Later on in his article he says, ‘I am not against voting per se but Muslims must not be so naive as to believe it is the answer to our problems.’ Neither those who took part in the video nor those whose brainchild it was would (I suspect) accept this charge and in this regard Fahad’s article is instantly pulled up short. To be fair though, Fahad’s advice about block voting, the benefits of voting in local elections and being fully aware of the nature of parliamentary elections is not that of a novice. Nonetheless, his arguments do not detract from those who are calling for Muslims to vote if they simply assert (in contradistinction to him) that they have never claimed voting as ‘the’ answer.
Fahad’s reservation, however, may be more subtle than even he managed to articulate and I will come back to this below. Before that though, I want to pick apart Fahad’s article a little more in the spirit of engaging the ‘debate’ his title alludes to. Let me start by insisting that even though he does a good job of hiding it, his article does rest on a dichotomy of voting as solution or non-solution. The reason for this is because, in the new socio-political dictum of which Fahad’s article is an example, the value of voting becomes tied very closely to ‘the’ Muslim community. ‘The message coming out from both camps’, Fahad writes, ‘[…] is that by voting, we can select someone who will represent our interests in parliament’ (my emphasis). But who constitutes this ‘our’? The answer seems obvious: the Muslims. But if that is the case, what are our interests? Towards the end of his article he says:
In conclusion, when it comes to parliamentary elections, and in certain constituencies, voting has its benefits whereby MPs known for their anti-Muslim views can be punished by a block Muslim vote. However, in all but a minority of cases, Muslims should not believe that the MP they actually vote for will represent them in lieu of their party when it comes to issues which really matter.
Again, which issues does Fahad have in mind? He gives us a hint a little earlier when he mentions the extradition law and the way in which Jacqui Smith (the then Chief Whip) sat outside the meeting held to discuss the law in order to intimidate attending MPs. While extradition should indeed be a matter of concern for all Muslims, why is it – or for that matter the Iraq War (emotions aside) – the only point/s worth thinking about? What of Muslim parents who may not want sex education thrust upon their 5 year old children? If a party on this matter and other national matters has positions in tandem with an individual Muslim’s interests why can this not be grounds upon which to vote? At this point, the debate either collapses back into its earlier dichotomy of ‘halal’/‘haram’, or underscores the assumption in Fahad’s article that voting in national elections is only encourage-able if it is a solution to ‘our’ collective ‘political’ Muslim identity, otherwise it is – presumably – incorrigible! Yet on this latter point, can one not say that Muslims do operate with other markers of identity outside that of their religio-political identities. There are Muslim doctors, teachers, lawyers and low wage workers not to mention, patients, parents and Britons with families abroad who look to immigration policies that will not affect them adversely.
Fahad’s article therefore is uneven. It is very good in educating us about the shortcomings of the electoral system, something which I wholeheartedly agree with, but premised on an unarticulated dichotomy nonetheless. What this does is it undermines his own article because though he wishes to weaken the logic of those who encourage Muslims to vote, by premising his article on the solution/non-solution dichotomy he makes himself vulnerable to the rebuttal that (1) no one has stated it is ‘the’ solution and (2) we can encourage Muslims to vote in order to hold off damage to their individual interests.    
With this sudden and seeming collapse of his objection/s we should start to appreciate the trouble with thinking in dichotomies. Either voting is halal or it is haram; either voting is the answer or it is not the answer; the allure of all dichotomies is the exclusion of any middle ground and in social reality there is almost always some ‘middle’. What is more, a dichotomy is always vulnerable to being organised differently so as to suddenly appear less grounded in a simple binate mathematics that guarantees one’s certainty of reality (it is either like this or then it is like that).
I was speaking to a brother recently on the topic of voting and democracy, and though he was careful not to pass a judgement as to whether voting in particular was halal or haram (‘I admit’, he said, ‘there does seem to be a difference of opinion on this matter’) he tried to reason his own reservation. He suggested that getting involved ‘in’ a system led almost always to a corruption of the individual (in this case, Muslim MPs) because the ‘inside’ had its own norms and values which it was very difficult to resist or avoid. To be ‘inside’ meant invariably to play by the rules and (broadly speaking) the ideological ‘map/s’ already in place. He therefore was an advocate of working from the ‘outside’. When I asked him what constituted this ‘outside’ he quickly suggested lobbying and working in the way pressure groups do. What we had here therefore was yet another dichotomy – albeit one that offered an alternative avenue for achieving changes. Yet as I suggested to him, the confidence he had on this binary description was vulnerable to someone coming along and reorganising the coordinates of his argument. For instance, I said, what seems to you to be the ‘outside’ can be argued as constituting another type of ‘inside’. Lobbying and pressure groups are an assumed feature of democratic politics; the healthy functioning of a democracy involves so called ‘outsiders’ since their presence and engagement constitutes Democracy’s ideological assertion that in a democratic society people have recourse to addressing agents of power and that this ‘addressing’ has power (of influence and demand) itself. Suddenly then, the ‘outsiders’ in one sense become ‘insiders’ because they are part of the system and can be limited by it as little or as much as those initial insiders – the MPs. According to this “new” way of looking at the situation, to be truly ‘outside’ the system one would have to become a terrorist, since their position, it seems at least, constitutes a truer outside given that they wish to blow up the very system itself!
Dichotomies therefore are limited – the inside/outside dialectic may be short circuited through a re-description; the halal/haram binary collapses because scholars dispute it and thus render the topic as one upon which there is a difference of opinion; the solution/non-solution classification can be easily dismissed if one insists on a non-absolutist vocabulary. Fahad’s article is caught up in this problem of dichotomous thinking because the issue of voting itself amongst Muslims is cognized in this way. What is needed is a new way of thinking which enables us to avoid falling into simple oppositions that then inevitably lead to fortifying unhelpful polarities. It is in this sense that the metaphor of the jigsaw is helpful. What this metaphor foregrounds is the notion that social change never occurs through a singular mode of action. Instead, it is through the coming together of multiple modes of action, on and from multiple sites, and in a multitude of configured ways (that change depending on where one is standing, so that one cannot simply infer a singular formula from any one configuration) that the phenomenon of social change occurs.
Voting, seen in this way, is merely one mode of action. It may well be limited, as Fahad so studiously argues, but it is an avenue open to the social activist and cannot be dismissed simply on grounds of being limited because all actions (as conceptualised through the metaphor of the jigsaw) are limited. Indeed, it is precisely the fact that every method is limited that activates the metaphoricity of the jigsaw because a jigsaw only ‘works’ – so to speak – when multiple parts are brought into play together.
The bigger challenge to this line of argument and indeed the metaphor is what I believe lies behind Fahad’s article and the reservation of those who, while not pushing the simple theological dichotomy (halal/haram), are unsure nonetheless about the promotion of voting. Such a point of view questions whether in promoting voting the Muslim community is not being influenced (indirectly at least) to accept tenets of national ideologies within most liberal democracies. These individuals see voting as being promoted primarily in mechanistic terms (that is, ‘voting is perfectly agreeable as a mechanism‘) but foresee a problem of misrecognition whereby a simple appreciation of voting as mechanism slips into a vision of voting as part and parcel of the wonder of liberal democracy as system. What this means is people becoming beholden to specific conceptions of say, freedom, commercialism and religiosity that are borne out of liberal democratic principles.
This reservation cannot just be dismissed for it poses a different type of challenge than does the type of dichotomous thinking mentioned above. It asks us to think harder about the possible repercussions that actions can have and, in the preference of some people who express this view, insists that certain actions be stalled in favour of caution. I would argue however that the metaphor of the jigsaw can adequately respond to this reservation in two steps. Firstly, we can acknowledge the concerns expressed but insist that it does not naturally follow that to abstain from voting or indeed promoting it is the only option. Rather, by extending the ‘spirit’ of the metaphor of the jigsaw we can say that what is needed is a commitment to a multimodal approach on the part of those promoting voting.
A multimodal approach involves using various mediums to echo a more nuanced message. It cannot be expected that a two minute video designed to entertain and encourage people to vote be also the means to propagate the idea that voting is merely a mechanism available to the Muslim community to secure its interests and limit the threats that it faces. To ask the video to do this is to burden it unfairly. Instead, what should occur is a multimodal approach in which articles, videos, talks, leaflets, and posters – to name a few different modes of cultural production – are employed to promulgate the more complex and sophisticated message about the reality of voting in social change.
The metaphor of the jigsaw, then, is helpful to organise our thinking in many ways. It helps us break out of cognizing social issues in a simple dichotomous fashion and also foregrounds the need for our activities to be underpinned by a multimodal approach. Such is the affective and generative quality of this metaphor. Its use, however, points us in particular to a crucial problem at the heart of Muslim social activism in the West. What is more, in alerting us to this central problem it also highlights its own insurmountable limitation given that the metaphor of the jigsaw itself cannot resolve the problem it helps us identify.

When we begin to use this metaphor as a way of thinking about our social reality and social activism, what is immediately clear is that every jigsaws needs to have a denotive referent against which its different pieces are laid out. What is missing from the Muslim social activist scene is this important denotive referent. Whereas for all movements throughout history there has been a central gravitational point – take civil rights in the Civil Rights movement, female suffrage for the Suffragettes, or the abolishment of slavery for the Abolitionists – Muslim social activists lack this cohesive centre. The jigsaw in this regard helps us resolve some of our challenges in the present, but also annunciates one of the major challenges facing Muslim social activists in order to move into any kind of future. Nevertheless, in our search for social change the jigsaw is an indispensable fulcrum to thinking. 

An addendum

Having read Fahad’s article one more time, I think he also overstates his case by choosing to highlight the shortcoming of voting via the route of the Whipping system. By aligning these two things together he makes an error of comparing two different modes of action. Voting is bound to a singular moment in time and space while the Whipping process is punctuated over a period of time. By imagining social change as made up of singularities, Fahad comes close to mischaracterising the broader point of which a call to voting may be embedded in. Voting is merely one possible action open to ‘the’ Muslim community; what is truly needed is a longer term commitment to action on the part of agencies within ‘the’ Muslim community who can monitor the political process and provide important information – like who to ‘punish’ by bloc voting, what issues may be particularly salient for Muslims living in this country – as well as sending letters of disapproval to MPs who vote on different issues in ways damaging to ‘Muslim interests’ (broadly imagined) advising them of strong future campaigns against them if they do not better reflect their constituents.
Of course a singular action of casting a vote cannot face alone the longer more punctuated pressures within Westminster. Our short coming – and this includes Fahad, those out there promoting voting and myself – is that we only seem interested in thinking about social change when the politicians come knocking at our door.





About Syed Haider

A PhD candidate at SOAS and English teacher.


  1. Peace be upon you,

    Besides the shirk aspect of voting…

    The other point most people don’t mention is – who in the world should you vote for?!

    Even entertainers like Russell Brand and George Michael realise the foolishness of voting because all political parties (except perhaps the Green party or Respect), they are all the same, same lies and promises, and when they’re in power, they do anything that they desire (or rather, anything that they are paid to do (by multi-national corporations)). Thus Russell Brand actually tells his followers not to vote!

    George Galloway said it best when he said the 3 parties were basically “twiddle dee, twiddle doo, and twiddle dum” – they are all the same.
    And Galloway said it best when he compared Labour and Conservatives as “two cheeks of the same bum!”

    As Russell Brand said, it’s pointless to vote until we have a revolution!

  2. Jeremy Boulter

    As a white convert, married to an Arab, I realise that issues raised about immigration do concern me through her. Harking back to the mid 20th century, I recall (as a non Muslim) that my main political drive was to support “freedom”: Freedom of expression, freedom of action, freedom of displacement. In a sense, I wanted the individuals in this world to be free to chose for themselves what they were, what they did and who they associated with.

    I still feel freedom is the key, and still believe that is the central principle to campaign upon: Freedom to manage inter-Muslim affairs through shar’iah compliant arbitration; freedom to attend religious services that are mandated (such as the Friday Sermon); freedom to wear faith compliant clothing, freedom to “conscientiously object” on the grounds of religion; freedom to choose how our children should be educated; freedom from being racially profiled by authorities and law enforcers, and so on.

    I have been speaking from the point of view of individual freedom, rather than collective freedom, yet I feel the same freedoms should be allowed within the collective intra-Muslim community: Freedom of informed choice within the community, even within the family; freedom is a pillar of Islam – a choice to conform and belong, accept and submit to Allah, and to obey His messenger – or a choice to exclude and reject, be proud and stand back, and disbelieve in the Messenger and disobey the source of the Messenger’s message.

  3. To Ash
    I suspect the reason for limiting ‘our interests’ to the trio of immigration, halal food, sex ed and their like is because many of these are specifically ‘ours’ such that no other group will campaign for these since they are not affected by them (though you may disagree – case in point: Sex ed and immigration are after all topics of interest to others beyond the Muslim ‘community’) Nonetheless, the perception at least is that the other interests you point out are on the agenda for many non-Muslim org. and NGOs so we start to think in very narrow terms when it comes to ‘our’ interests. This of course does not excuse our lack of attention to these other points, but may go to some extent in explaining the mechanics of their being overlooked. I don’t think it is a conscious oversight nor simply a case of forgetfulness; rather, it is a subtle cognitive de-prioritisation. But thank you for drawing this to my/our attention.

  4. A very sensible article. In particular the section describing frames of reference for being “inside” or “outside” the system is a compelling arguement.

    Regarding what “our interests” are, I would go further than the author and point out that Islam calls for a society that is free of corruption, that looks after the environment, that takes care of the less well off, that looks after the disabled, that ensures education for all children, that encourages research to understand the world around us, that values politeness, that has the self restraint to queue, that has the rule of law, where citizens are not routinely arrested and tortured.

    I cannot understand why our leaders limit “our interests” to small set of issues (e.g. immigration, halal food, sex education) and ignore all of those listed above.

  5. KAfir
    do we see “muslim” countries as kafir? , do they represent us they way this country does? no. if you continually believe this is kaffir country then leave it, its tiner than most any muslim country. you can treat a christian as a dwimmi there. Or are these stances really informed by how much money someone has or how much we can make here? people are not treated with disrespect in muslim countries if theyre loaded. What does this mean you have to ask yourself.

  6. Ahmed Al-Muhajir

    This should clarify the doubts inshallah: –

  7. …make dua Allah doesn’t send a punishment down on us tommorow!
    In the name of Allah The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful!
    …has the Ummah of the Prophet Mohammad (SAW) really come to this should we not avoid shirk and everything close to if as much as possible, who held a gun to our heads and said “Vote”, we have choice(The ONLY Party that was worth (ofcouse nothing is worth even come near to commiting shirk for!) voting for if ones intension is purely to save the Muslim lives in iraq etc (the “greater evil”) etc, was the BNP as they were the only one and Allah knows best sinicerly promising to leave iraq etc ASAP(also willing to help/pay us to go to Muslim lands n seem to be the most honest about thier intention subhanallah).
    “Sex-education” This is the lesser of the Muslims worries. I can’t believe this, no wonder the kufr don’t take “Modrate” Muslims seriously(Are muslim actually planning to spend thier lives here being “British”, can they not see the whole world is United Agaist them all, can they not see the kufr spend £000000000+++ just trying to change Islam!)…
    Just wait until tommorow when this is a land of religious discrimination and consentration camps filled with “Modrate Muslims” cry to the Kufr UN and depending on the religion of Democracy (which not even many non-muslim honestly have ANY trust/faith in what-so ever), May Allah spear us from that. Remenber Bosian, why let the kufr treat us like hypocrites wannabe-dogs who will jump and defend it for alittle bone, if even that… I only warn you for the sake of Allah!
    Inshaallah read:
    Its not that thier arn’t scholars talking agaist it in GREAT detail… And Allah knows best

  8. As Salaamu Aleykum
    [quote]What exactly is haraam in the current system of English govt.? [/quote]

    Astagfirullah how my dear brother you dare to ask this kind of a question? The English government is governed by man-made laws how can you ask What exactly is haraam in the current system of English govt.?
    [i]This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.[/i] [Ma’idah 3] From this ayah we understand that other shariah than Allah’s shariah is refused. And how you dare to ask that question my dear brother. We must fear Allah and we must stay distanced from the this “Democratic” elections, because this has not to do with muslims there are other methods for establishing shariah in this Earth but I am for sure that one of the methods is not participating in kufr government. As Salaamu Aleykum we Rahmatullahi we Bereketuhu.

  9. Mohamed Z. Rahaman


    Prophet Yusuff (as) became an advisor to the Pharoah. Did he not? This is according to the Glorious Qur’an.
    Now, whose version of Shariah should we accept as legit.. teh one according to teh Saudis or Iran? How about the Taliban or the one in Sudan? Or we can follow the one in Nigeria or for that matter the law according to the Somalis.
    What exactly is haraam in the current system of English govt.?
    My Brothers and Sisters, most, if not all of you who object and find teh system haraam does not seem to have a problem accepting the benefit that comes with it.. like law and order or a better justice system that you will find in any so called “Islamic” country that is goverened by Shariah. If you don’t like it.. you have a choice.. move to a Muslim country.

  10. إِنَّ ٱلشِّرۡكَ لَظُلۡمٌ عَظِيمٌ۬
    I’ve always adopted the opinion that voting for non-Islamic law as Shirk and Kufr based on the evidences in the Qur’an and the Sunnah. However, most Muslims would think this is only the opinion of certain groups. I’m not affiliated with any group but seeing the evidence it clearly outweighs the opinion of those who say is permissible.
    It is a very detailed topic and would take awhile to discuss, but the main issues with voting are:
    *Attribute of Allah (swt) i.e Al Hakim.
    *Shirk of allowing others to make law.
    *Making Halal Haram and vice versa.
    *Limiting Allah’s (swt) Legislation to time and place i.e. During the time of the Prophet (saw) and companions, only in Muslim lands.
    *Allah (swt) puts in authority whom he wills (evident from Qur’an and sunnah) voting can not change Allah’s (swt) decree.
    *Political parties policies against Islam and Muslims.

    If I was to vote I believe I would be accountable on the Day of Judgment for the above points I made.

  11. I’m voting for BNP, as I believe they represent muslims needs the most especially on the issue of walaa wal baraa

  12. I will not vote for kufr!!!


  13. Is the dichotomy being presented even understood?
    I am not sure brother S seemed to have even understood brother F’s article. Just from the first qoute he used it is clear that brother F. is warning people from believing that voting is either a solution or not a solution. The target audience it seems is those who believe along dichotomous lines. So brother F. says to the one who believes it is a complete solution…’here is the weaknesses of such a belief… your vote will not close down Guantanamo, don’t be fooled it will provide a complete solution and bring back the khalifah’ and if it seems he is aiming it at certain people as if he is assuming they hold the belief that it is a solution, then maybe it could be seen as an advice, be careful how you promote it making it seem as if it is the complete solution… for that is the way it is protrayed. With certain esteemed persons who are promoting voting… though they themselves don’t believe it to be a solution but as a means to damage limitation, they are not seen doing enough to add warning labels. So whereas you might be in a situation where you need to eat a bacon sarnie to survive, one should be warned that 1) eat only enough to survive and 2) do your best to find your way out of the situation so that you don’t have to do it anymore. Because if you don’t provide this warning label, an individual may say bismillaah, slaughter the pig, stick it on a roast and gorge himself silly, and then decide to dig the foundations for a villa with outdoor swimming pool and all the amenities money can buy (except halal food) and settle down. And that is the reality.

    Wallaahu A3lam

  14. Smart people
    Wow, you guys are really smart. I can even string 5 sentences together!! It’s people like you that do us proud.

  15. Another positive contribution to maturity on the ‘voting issue’
    Salam br Syed.

    When I read br Fahad’s article, I found it very timely and welcomed it as an extremely worthwhile contribution to the Muslim community’s still budding relationship with this voting issue. While I agree with the general advice that Muslims should vote (especially in our area in East London) I did feel that there was indeed a disproportionate interest and some falsified hopes being circulated in political participation through voting. And while the more educated advocates of voting may not believe it so, there is an emerging group of Muslims who are beginning to perhaps ‘rely’ on it too much. I also still think there needs to be some discussions on how to engage in voting while not psychologically and spiritually disengaging ourselves from the concepts of haakimiyyah and disavowal of shirk via legislation. It can be done – hence the fatwa – but in practice there are pitfalls and dangers and maintaining the two in parallel is looking to be tricky. Thus, I believe br Fahad’s contribution (as well as your’s to an extent) was a wise wake-up reminder for Muslims to remain cautious and nuanced in their approach to voting.

    At the same time, I also believe your response is a similarly positive contribution to the whole matter. The Muslim community is still maturing in this field and it takes this discourse and sharing of views to propel that maturity further and stimulate a deeper and mutlti-faceted understanding of the matter at hand. It may be true that br Fahad’s article and similar views pushed our pendulum-of-understanding in one direction, while your one helps to bring that pendulum back slightly. The result is that we understand (or those who were able to understand what your were saying given that some do not)both your case as well as br Fahad’s, appreciating both while acknowledging limitations, leaving us with a more whoelesome picture of this issue.

    Finally, the above comment perhaps serves to highlight your point of the limitations of thinking in absolute dichotomies; i.e. the belief that somehow br Fahad’s case was in direct opposites to your case, and it was either this or that. A more sensible approach would be to put the two together to arrive at a deeper perception of the matter.

    Again, these discussions are healthy in ensuring that our growth and maturity occur properly, so jazakumullahu khairan. It should also be said that the atmosphere of debate between colleagues and acquaintances in the respectful manner as seen is admirable and an example of the adab of ikhtilaaf which is required amongst Muslim activists today on non-definitive issues like these.


  16. I don’t believe I’ve read a more tedious piece of twaddle in my entire life! Sorry Syed, Fahad’s argument is about fifty times more compelling- and at least a hundred times less alienating- than yours.

    [b]A part of this comment has been deleted after further deliberation. We would like to remind those who post their views to adhere to correct etiquette in discussion and abstain from nonsensical comments.[/b]

  17. Realpolitik?
    Thank you Asim for your comment – I am actually busy writing an essay about Obama following your article on CiF and so was not able to respond to your comment as quick as I would have liked. That said, here goes:

    1)The reality of voting is precisely what is up for debate therefore there is no singular reality of voting, only our descriptions of it. Fahad provides a compelling description about its limitations but concedes, as do you, that in certain contexts (where there is a large Muslim population and perceived harm) voting becomes advisable. Hence the reality of voting depends entirely on the contextual and descriptive frames we adopt to cognise the picture confronting us. What does this therefore mean? Well, for one thing, thinking about voting as a dichotomy is unhelpful, since it is predicated on singularities – either it is a solution or it is not a solution. This descriptive frame is not only unhelpful but meaningless, esp. within the boundaries of realpolitik, a lack of reference to which you feel is the shortcoming (ironically) of this article. If realpolitik is how you think we should really understand the framework then surely it is part of realpolitik to draw out of the system the maximum benefit we can (on the understanding that all our demands are unlikely to be met). If that is true, then how is NOT voting a strategic-realpolitik position? But perhaps you’re saying that it is precisely because the framework is realpolitik that our engagement with it (through participating in national voting) is incorrect implying that our position is ideological – meaning, we are fundamentally (and from a position of fiqh) opposed to voting in liberal democracies. But if this is the argument, then it has collapsed once again into the haram/halal dichotomy which I think ought to be made clear by anyone writing from your/Fahad’s position. I won’t push this point any further.
    2)I must admit I do not understand the Guantanamo point and your assertion about working within frameworks and not ‘within the framework that we like believing that somehow we will affect change’. What does this mean, and how have you come to interpret my point as somehow erecting an illusory framework and then deluding oneself (this is what I think your words are implying) into believing that it will affect change. My point is neither particularly philosophical nor particularly illusory. In fact, I think it is rather plain and on some level self-evident. The jigsaw approach and its multimodal connotations seem to me to be perfectly straightforward – how is it that you come to believe this is working outside a ‘real world scenario’?
    3)The only conversation I have mentioned happens to be about the very common understanding many Muslims have about the certainty of lobbying as constituting an ‘outside’ and becoming MPs as amounting to going into the ‘inside’. What is more, since this part of the essay takes up one paragraph in an essay with some 22 paragraphs, how can you use the phrase ‘the extent to which you rely on personal experience/conversations’ to characterise this one use of an anecdote. As for the anecdote about the brother on Whitechapel road, well that was just for comic effect, but to be fair his argument (halal/haram) is overlooked by me given that people like Sheikh Haitham have shown the topic of voting to be an area of ikhtilaf. Hence I did not engage directly with it. Furthermore, I wanted to focus on Fahad’s article and the socio-political dictum that it is partially representative of. Still, I fail to see how this article becomes guilty of “subjectivity” based on one conversation I engaged in and happen to cite.

    Anyway, love to get that phone call bro – in fact you should come round for dinner! Got to talk to you about your book too, the review for which by the way is almost complete 🙂

  18. Aasim Qureshi

    Don’t agee…
    Assalaamualaykum Syed

    Jazakallahkhayr for taking the time to write this piece, however I must disagree.

    Fahad’s piece is far closer to reality and that is where your article falls short. Indeed, it is the reality of the situation in relation to voting that has convinced many of us – particularly those of us using the system to make a difference – that voting is an activity that has taken too much of Muslim time and energies.

    I understand that what you are trying to do is to set a more philosophical framework for how Muslims should understand activism or indeed engagement. Maybe the alternative is too pessimistic for you accept, however the reality is that we are forced to work within a certain framework and understand how to manouevre around that. Just because everyone disagrees with Guantanamo’s existence, that does not necessitate that it will continue to abuse the rights of individuals – there is still a real world scenario that we need to negotiate when dealing with it. We cannot simply work within the framework that we like believing that somehow we will affect change.

    What is also interesting about your article, is the extent to which you rely on personal experience/conversations to understand the value of an argument, that in itself lends to a subjectvity which somewhat betrays inexperience with dealing with the actual political process.

    What is indeed more interesting, is that both Fahad and I have a great amount of dealing with parliamentarians and have a great deal of respect for many, however, for us the the Muslim candidate or indeed the Muslim vote is something which is a bit of the red herring.

    I have always supported Shaykh Haitham’s initial fatwa about strategic voting, particularly in areas where there is a high Muslim density and there is an immediate harm that can be perceived by not voting – something which I would I like to see more real world examples of. To extend that, however, to say that all Muslims must vote is something that I think exists beyond the realms of reality.

    BMI recent publication of its list of suggested candidates proves the fallacy of talking about the Muslim vote. Some may argue that we are still too politically naive to actually get ourselves together properly, however, I would argue that their list is an example of how realpolitik is really how we should understand the framework.

    Sorry – really dont have more time to write on this as got many other things on – inshallah I will call you and we can speak in more detail. However it is interesting to note for on a personal level, that one of the most well connected activists I know regarding the whole Muslim vote issue over the last ten years has given up on the concept – speaking to him really made me realise that personalities change, policies dont.



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