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Can you ‘Disbelieve’ by Voting?

There is a feeling amongst some quarters in the Muslim community here in the UK, and indeed the world at large, that it is kufr and thereby haram for Muslims to take part in elections where governing by Islamic law is not a possibility. This is a legitimate concern held by sincere people who have a deep love for the sacred law given to us by Allah (the Most High).

I empathise with this view as I myself used to claim that taking part in such a process was explicitly forbidden believing that voting was tantamount to supporting the act of non-divine legislation. However, it was only until I was introduced to a number of principles held by orthodox Sunni scholars that I realised that my previously held opinion appeared to ignore a number of tools that the shari’ah itself provides in order to operate in non-Muslim environments.

First of all, there is a principle agreed upon by the scholars of the past regarding minimisation of evil/mischief called taqleel al mafaasid. Where there is inevitable evil/harm in all options then it is not only permissible to opt for the least haram thing but may even be obligatory. The Qur’an tells us to “fear Allah as much as you are able”, and “Allah does not hold a person to account in more than he can bear.” Therefore, we are commended on doing the best that we possibly could in circumstances where the divine injunction could not be fulfilled in its entirety.

Ibn Taymiyyah declared scholarly consensus on taqleel al mafaasid stating: ‘the shari’ah was revealed for the attainment and perfection of al-masalih (benefits) and the prevention and reduction of al-mafasid (evils) – this means suppressing the lesser of two benefits in order to attain the better of the two, as well as acting in accordance with the lesser of two evils and harms whilst also suppressing the worst of the two.’ He also said, ‘it is not rational to merely know the good from the bad, but it is incumbent to know that which is best and that which is most evil. One must also know that the shari’ah is built upon the obtainment and perfection of al-masalih and the prevention and reduction of al-mafasid. Otherwise, the one who is unable to weigh-up committing an action or leaving it, against (Islamic) legal benefits and harms will inevitably abstain from obligatory acts and commit those that are impermissible.’ Similarly, Ibn Nujaym stated that if one is faced with two evils that cannot be avoided the individual is to turn away from the greater evil by committing the lesser one.[1] Ibn Al Qayyim said, ‘…the (shar’ii) rule is to oppose the greater harm by considering the lesser one.’[2]

A person would need to be an appropriately qualified jurist in order to be able to discern between two evils. The eminent companion, ‘Amr ibn Al ‘Aas, said, “A jurist is not one who knows the good from the bad, but instead the jurist is one who knows the better of two goods and the worst of two evils.”

Many scholars have commented on this noble principle when discussing the hadith “Whoever from you sees iniquity should seek to change it with his hands, and if he is unable to, he should change it with his tongue, and if he is unable to then he should at least feel it in his heart as that is the lowest level of faith.”[3]

In his explanation of the hadith, Imam Nawawi quoted various scholars who elucidate on the principle of ‘diminishing harm’ via the context of this hadith. One of the scholars he quotes, Al Qadi Iyad, the prominent Maliki jurist, stated that if an individual believes that changing something with his hand will cause greater harm, such as either being killed or causing the death of another, then he should abstain from physical involvement, and such is the case with attempting to bring about change through one’s speech – this being the point of the hadith.[4]

Commenting on the same hadith, Al Qadi Abu Bakr ibn Al ‘Arabi said that if it is possible to remove the evil by the tongue of the objector then he should do so, otherwise he should resort to the use of physical force. However, if it is not possible to remove this evil except by taking up arms then such a strategy should be abandoned given that the taking up of arms between people may eventually lead to widespread civil discord – a greater harm than letting the relatively lesser evil persist.[5]

Other examples of the application of this principle are:

  • Uprising against a Muslim ruler since it leads to widespread bloodshed which is worse than the ruler’s oppression. Scholars state that even if the ruler becomes an apostate and it is likely that trying to remove him from office by force will cause greater tribulation, then he is not to be fought against.
  • When the Prophet (peace be upon him) conquered Makkah, he wanted to rebuild the Ka’bah based upon the foundations set by Abraham, but refrained from doing so based on the discord it would cause.
  • The Prophet’s (peace be upon him) refraining from killing or harming the chief of the Hypocrites, Abdullah ibn Ubayy ibn Sulul, as people would have accused the noble Messenger (peace be upon him) of killing his own followers.
  • The Prophet(peace be upon him) would refrain on sentencing soldiers until the army had returned since their punishment would have driven them to join the opposition and potentially leak information to the enemy.

A later example of diminishing harm is when the Tartars invaded Muslim lands and Ibn Taymiyyah gave a verdict to refrain from stopping the Tartars from drinking alcohol (despite the obligation of forbidding this evil) since their drunken state would prevent them from slaughtering people and raping women. Another example is where Imam Al Nawawi allowed recourse to non-Islamic law in the case of there being no other alternative to attain justice. None of this should be surprising given that no one would ever assert that if a serious crime occurred to a Muslim and there was no way of getting some form of justice except by taking the matter through a non-shari’ah system then this would be seeking a ruling of taghoot (non-divine legislation/judgement). Does this means that freeing Babar Ahmad or Aafia Siddiqui by going through Western secular courts is an act of apostasy and the families of these people are also apostates as they sought the ruling of other than Allah? Such an assertion is of course ridiculous. What if the house of a Muslim was burgled with the police later catching the burglar, would we have the charges dropped as this would mean taking the matter to taghoot?

It is clear to see that this level of involvement with the criminal justice system of a non-shari’ah governed country involves much more participation when compared with people putting a cross on a piece of paper to go into a ballot box. None of these actions imply that one is giving preference to man-made legislation and law over the shari’ah. The shari’ah provides us with many principles dealing with inevitabilities. It is inevitable that a non-Muslim, at least for the foreseeable future, will become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. If there was an Islamic party then it would be an act of kufr for Muslims vote for a secular party instead. But where there isn’t such a scenario, if minimisation of harm/evil could occur by voting for the candidate most friendly towards legitimate Muslim interests then this is clearly allowed and perhaps even obligatory. Again, when a person votes, there is nothing to suggest that he is for democracy or that he even agrees with the party of the candidate. This is understood even by non-Muslims who themselves may be disillusioned with their own system but vote anyway. So the argument which states that a person voting is buying into the democratic system is a false one especially as one could argue that by holding citizenship of a country you have agreed to be governed by man-made laws when you could have migrated to a country where there is more of the shari’ah being implemented.

Even Allah (the Most High) differentiates between disbelievers (who represent various degrees of evil) in this life and the Hereafter. Abu Talib (the Prophet’s uncle) will only have his feet in the Fire whereas the Hypocrites will be flung into the lowest pit of hell. The Companions rejoiced at the defeat of the Persians at the hands of the Romans during the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him). This shows that lobbying a non-Muslim or being pleased at his victory (over other non-Muslims) is fully in line with al wala’ wal bara’ (allegiance and disavowal) as allegiance is based on how close a person is to imaan (Islamic faith).

Most (if not all) renowned contemporary scholars from varying groups and movements have stated that taking part in elections is allowed, subject to the conditions discussed above. As for the discussion concerning how useful it is to vote or who to vote for, then this is not the scope of this argument. The purpose here was simply to deal with the misconception that allowing Muslims to express their concerns and interests by taking part in this year’s election is an act of compromising a fundamental tenet of Islam.




[1] Ibn Nujaym. Al Ashbah wa Al Nazaa’ir. Chapter 98.
[2] Ibn Al Qayyim. I’laam Al Muwaqqi’een 2/6
[3] Sahih Muslim, on the authority of Abu Sa’eed Al Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him).
[4] See the explanation of this hadith in Al Nawawi’s Shar’h Sahih Muslim.
[5] See: Abu Bakr ibn Al ‘Arabi. Ahkaam Al Qur’an.


About Saleem Chagtai

Saleem is a Muslim Chaplain, with a rich background in Islamic knowledge including Islamic Creed, Principles of Islamic jurisprudence and Principles of interpreting the Qur'an. Saleem has been very active in the field of dawah ranging from grass-roots dawah stalls to delivering lectures at Universities and also internationally, such as at the prestigious American University of Beirut (Lebanon). Saleem is a regular participant on radio phone-in debates and has presented numerous television shows on channels such as Islam Channel and IQRA TV, explaining Islam in a positive light to the general public. He also serves as Imam and khateeb at a number of Mosques in London. Saleem is a great defender of Islamic orthodoxy and believes Muslims should derive inspiration from their long scholarly tradition. Currently he is a lecturer and trainer for iERA and is Head of Communications.


    This is a good article, and am well impressed by the sophistication of the answer.
    British Muslims must vote for a party which can unite their voices on the national level to move into the foreground, where their voices and sentiments will be given weight.
    The Islamic Party of Britain is in my pov the perfect candidate for this great task. Too bad it suspended its political activities, in the face of general Muslim apathy.

  2. another Lesser evil fatwa
    Im sorry, but this long winded peice of drivel is written by one not able to look at deleel, just filled with some small amount of information on salafi usool. The whole lesser evil argument is ridiculous even rationally in our situation as we can see from a tertiary study of the british democracy that it is a corporate driven, media assisted leadership which will make central decisions about foreign policy and home policy towards the islamic civilisation no matter what man or party is “in power”.

    This is blindlingly obvious to even the smallest study by any impartial scholar muslim or non muslim on the way the UK conducted itself around the world over the last 100 years.

    This ability to take one strand of usool apart from the main body of any one particular madhab, and use it out of context, and WITHOUT any textual backing is exactly what allows modern muslims who mascarade as scholars to change the basic fundamental principles of fiqh and islam itself.
    Inshallah their voices will always be confined to small government funded websites and books, only appreciated by those who have the inclination towards what they incline towards. And allah is our protector over us.

    • Zulfiqan Shah

      Assalamalaikum and Jazakullah Khair for such an excellent and clear summary of this issue. I often wondered why for myself I use my local hospital, pay taxes and even claim benefits but it was kufr for me to have any say on the people that decide how all those things work. Even at work once we were voting on who should be in charge of our negotiation proceedings for the employees and I suddenly had a doubt that I shouldn’t vote as my workplace doesn’t follow sharia law! How ridiculous and that got me thinking that if I can make a small difference there then why not try as local councillors, representatives and even MPs have a huge impact on how things are even in my local area. Someone even mentioned that even Prophet Yusuf (AS) worked as a treasurer within a government that was not following Islamic law – amazing! (please check this out yourselves for correctness though).

      I used to say that I shouldn’t vote but in reality I just didn’t know how to vote or who to vote for and I was just too plain lazy to take on the responsibility for figuring this out. Pure bakwas to be honest! May Allah forgive me. Now I find organisations like MEND ( to be extremely informative on this kind of thing.

  3. A far better piece of research than this weak piece…
    Can be found at:

    It goes through the entire argument, including the misunderstandings of voting/democracy, the evidences and which scholars around the world say what and finally, the politics involved in the current debate that are pushing it towards getting muslims to submit to democracy.

  4. It seems to me that…
    …many of the people commenting almost inanely can’t distinguish between Democracy/Secularism (I.e. they are tying them completely) as a system of taaghoot designed to sideline Allah’s shariah, and voting as a means of selecting a leader.

    It’s no wonder that when the topic is voting that they are posting a bunch of general fatawaa on Democracy.

  5. The lesser of two evils

    See link for an article concerning this point brought up in the comments

  6. Brother Saleem Chagtai you MUST respond
    I agree with totally with brother/sister jo blog. Mashallah well said jo blog and good evidences from reality and a wake up call to our scholars!!! Having being a flag bearer of ‘you can vote to minimize harm or lesser of to evils’ I have changed my view that you can only vote if your life is at threat (hihrah is best!!). I changed because I have looked into voting over a week and the evidences provided for pro-voting were generic ones which do not answer the specific and are very fragile and out of context. The ‘fatwas’ by the likes of Haitham al-Haddad and Abu ‘Eesa Niamutallah are not convincing at all.
    The fatwas fall flat on the first premise if you are faced with evil choose lesser of the two (or x election part!!) – you are not forced to vote!!! Abstain because all parties have proven to lie, are not trustworthy and go against their covenants after being elected.
    Also we can eat pork in a life or death situation – how can this be analogised and reconciled towards voting? The Muslims rejoiced when an enemy of my enemy got defeated – how can that be analogised and reconciled. I love England to beat Pakistan in cricket – can I use that to reconcile towards voting?
    Don’t forget brother Saleem, the examples you have used for example are for a specific singular incident in a hadith (or ayah) and not to with law making.
    When you state, “Ibn Taymiyyah gave a verdict to refrain from stopping the Tartars from drinking alcohol (despite the obligation of forbidding this evil) since their drunken state would prevent them from slaughtering people and raping women”
    I would agree it is the wise and correct thing to do.
    But by voting any – any party, they go on to cause corruption by making halaal what is haraam and vice versa for years and years- so surely by voting you have aided and abetted them! This is different to one off incidents like the examples you have given.

    Can I use this principle of attaining benefit via haram means in everything now?
    Can I go to a pub and drink alcohol with people and play poker so to stop them going out and stealing from other people or even worse?

    Can I now go and make 4 girlfriends in that way it will stop these girls from sleeping with other men (or women) but I won’t be sleeping with them but chatting and holding hands only in the hope they may accept Islaam and I can marry. Well I can marry them anyway if they are People of the Book!!
    Get my logic?

    Finally if they make voting obligatory or threaten your life to vote (really do you think so??) the answer is in the Quran…

    Verily! As for those whom the angels take (in death) while they are wronging themselves (as they stayed among the disbelievers even though emigration was obligatory for them), they (angels) say (to them): “In what (condition) were you?” They reply: “We were weak and oppressed on the earth.” They (angels) say: “Was not the earth of Allah spacious enough for you to emigrate therein?” Such men will find their abode in Hell – What an evil destination!

    ( سورة النساء , An-Nisa, Chapter #4, Verse #97)

    Sister Fatimaa has interesting list!

    May Allaah guide our ummah to the truth of the western democratic voting and safe us from harm and maybe even shirk!

    Those who oppose democracy and participation therein have cited the following: Dr Asrar Ahmed (Pakistan), Hamood bin Uqlaa ash-Shu’aibee (Saudi Arabia), Ahmed Muhammad Shaakir (Egypt), Muhammad Qutb (Egypt), Bakr Abu Zayd (Saudi Arabia), Jafar bin Muhammad al-Kataanee (Morocco), Umar Abdur Rahman (Egypt), Muhammad Naasir-ud-Deen al-Albanee (Syria), Muhammad bin Ibraaheem Aal-(Saudi Arabia), Abdur Raazaq Afeefee (Egypt), Muhammad Ameen ash-Shanqeetee (Morocco), Muhammad Haamid al-Faqee (Egypt), Muhammad Khaleel Haraas (Egypt), Muqbil bin Haadee al-Waad’ee (Yemen), Ali bin Khudar al-Khudayr (Saudi Arabia), Abdul Qaadir bin Abdul Azeez (Sayid Imaam ash-Shareef) (Egypt), Abdur Raheem at-Tahaan (Syria), Abdul Hafeedh al-Doosaree (Saudi Arabia), Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisee (Jordan), Ahmed bin Hamood al-Khaalidee (Saudi Arabia), Rifaa’ee Suroor (Egypt), Mustafa Shaamiyaah (Egypt), Abdul Kareem bin Saalih al-Hameed (Saudi Arabia), Omar Bakri Mohammed (UK/Lebanon), Abdul Hakeem Hasaan (Egypt), Ahmed as-Sabeyahee (Egypt), Haamid bin Abdullah al-Alee (Kuwait), Naasir bin Fahd al-Umar (Saudi Arabia), Hamid bin Abdullah al-Hameedee (Saudi Arabia), Yusuf al-Uyayree (Saudi Arabia), Abdul Azeez bin Saalam al-Umar (Saudi Arabia), Ahmed bin Saalih as-Sanaanee (Saudi Arabia), Hamid bin Hameed ar-Ras (Saudi Arabia), Abdullah al-Ghunaymaan (Saudi Arabia), Muhammad Abdus Salaam Faraj (Egypt), Umar Mahmood Abu Umar (Palestine), Muhammad Ismaaeel al-Maqdam (Egypt), Sayid Saeed al-Ghabaashee (Egypt), Abdul Aakhar Hamaad (Egypt), Muhammad al-Ghazaazee (Morocco), Muhammad Mustafa al-Muqree (Egypt), Haanee as-Sabaa’ee (Egypt), Muhammad bin Sulaymaan al-Sameyaee (Egypt), Saalih al-Awfee (Saudi Arabia), Abu Hafs al-Mureetaanee (Mauritania), Khaalid Fakree (Egypt), Ahmed Yusuf (Egypt), Abd al-Majeed al-Shaadhalee (Egypt), Abdul Majeed al-Faqee (Egypt), Khaalid al-Faqee (Egypt), Muhammad Taamir (Egypt), Muhammad Sharif (Egypt), Ahmed an-Najaar (Egypt), Jamaal Abdul Haadee (Egypt), Usaamah Mansoor (Egypt), Abdul Munim Haleemah (Syria), Abul Hasan al-Qaaree (Egypt), Mujadee Kamaal (Egypt), Muhammad Jameel Ghaazee (Egypt), Mustafa al-Adwee (Egypt), Usaamah Abdul Adheem (Egypt), Mustafa Kaamal (Egypt), Usaamah Haafidh (Egypt), Fawzee as-Saeed (Egypt), Shareef Hazaa’e (Egypt), Ja’far Idris (Sudan), Saeed bin Zu’ayr (Saudi Arabia), Abdullah ar-Rashood (Saudi Arabia), Taqi al-Din al-Nabahaanee (Palestine), Abd al-Qadeem Zaloom (Palestine), Ahmed ad-Da’oor (Jordan), Ustaadh Mahmood Abd al-Kareem al-Hasan (Lebanon), Ahmed al-Qasos (Lebanon), Ali Saeed Abul Hasan (Sudan), Haafidh Saalih (Jordan), Ataa’a Khaleel (Jordan), Isaam Ameerah (Palestine), Imam Anwar al Awlaki (Yeman), Abdullah Khaatar (Saudi Arabia), Abdur Razaaq bin Muhammad al-Hamid (Kuwait), Taariq Abdul Haleem (Egypt), Ahmed Fareed (Egypt), Muhammad Yaaqoot (Egypt), Abdul Qaadir Arnaoot (Syria), Shu’aib Arnaoot (Syria), Abu Abdullah Abdul Fataah al-Afreeqee (Nigeria), Abd al-Azeez al-Badree (Iraq), Imran Nazar Hosein (Trinidad), Abd al-Qaadir ibn Abd al-Azeez, Badee al-din, Ubayd al-Jaabiree, Yahya al-Hajoree, Ahmed bin Yahya al-Najmee, Abd al-Azeez Bur’ee, Saalih al-Fawzaan, Abdullaah al-Ghudayaan, Abu Nasr Muhammed ibn Abdullah al-Raymee, Badiuddin Shah al-Sindhi, Imran Nazar Hosein, Rabee, Muqbil bin Haadee, Fez Mohammed, Ustaadh Kamal Abu Zahra (UK) and Shahrul Hussain al-Azhari (UK).

  8. some one realy got it wrong
    i wouldn’t even know were to start. I understand the principle, but i think some people don’t understand the the condition attached to these principles. for example the principle or the lesser of two harms, has the condition of TOTAL removal of the particular harm, for example, the eating of swine is permitted in Islam if there is no food available to you. but the condition is that there is no other food available and not eating will CAUSE DEATH, and also that the swine you eat must remove the hunger from the person. so as for Voting – it is not a life and death situation, i have not voted for the last 10 years and i am still alive. it is not a law that you have to vote and there is no penalty or punishment from the laws of the country for not to vote. Allah has and the most important point is that by voting it will not 100% Guarantee the removal of harm(evil).

    so then the question comes to mind what do we do for our rights?

    we`ll in the uk alone the muslim community, for 30-40 years have been able to make mosque, and maintain mosque WITHOUT PARTICIPATION IN THE NON ISLAMIC SYSTEM.

    They were able to provide halal food, Islamic burial services all this WITHOUT PARTICIPATION IN THE NON ISLAMIC SYSTEM.

    they made islamic school( madrasas )
    community center to help muslim areas etc all WITHOUT PARTICIPATION IN THE NON ISLAMIC SYSTEM.

    SO this is just, ONLY JUST 1 of the meny hundreds of reason of not PARTICIPATION IN THE NON ISLAMIC SYSTEM.

  9. Tempted
    I am tempted to read into what you wrote but could you please clarify your point as I dont want to argue on the basis of me getting the wrong end of the stick.

  10. lesser of 2 evils or is it 3 evils
    The first half of your article asserts that one should choose the lesser of evils when faced with it. The problem is that those who disagree with voting will say there are 3 choices:
    1. Commit kufr by voting for candidate A
    2. Commit kufr by voting for Candidate B
    3. Don’t vote and don’t commit kufr
    Thus option 3 minimises the evil. How can we respond?
    You might use the babar ahmad argument but personally that doesn’t cut it for me. We know that the shariah allows us to commit kufr when there is a risk of loss of life or torture as in the Babar Ahmad case – thus believing voting in elections is kufr doesn’t prevent us from courting the system to try and release babar ahmad? your thoughts?

  11. anon
    God bless you for writing this article so coherently and completely. May all those people with qualms about striving for change and goodness amongst the human race using Islamic principles, overtly and invertly, rest assured and change their ways to what is clearly more Islamic. ameen

    Yet, what your article does highlight, is how prevelant this primitive way of thinking is. The argument is a good 800 years old from the times of ibn Taymiyyah, yet a significant majority are still lurking in the isolationist tendancies of Islamic sectarianism.

    Whilst this article is crucial as a proof of principle, may more and more Muslim brothers and sisters raise the bar of the discussion, and stop questionning whether it is halal to get involved, but rather start seeking for the best METHOD to get involved amongst activities of our non-Muslim population, using examples from Quran and Sunnah.


  12. wow!
    Well as the above are just opinions of scholars.
    I would like to share one with the best of scholars.
    ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr reported that the prophet said: “How will it be with you if you are left amongst the scum of people whose covenants and trusts are loose and who will differ and become like this”, and he interjoined his fingers. He asked: “What do you order me to do?” He said: “Keep to what you know, and reject what appalls you, and mind your own affairs and beware of public affairs.” (Tirmidhi)

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