Home / Analysis / The Muslim Vote: Time for an Informed Discussion

The Muslim Vote: Time for an Informed Discussion

Voting and electoral participation has always been a controversial topic amongst Muslims in Britain with an increasing number of Muslims now adopting the position that voting is not harām, with some yet considering it an obligation. It is no surprise then that with general elections around the corner, there has been a recent flurry of emails, blogs, websites and even YouTube clips in circulation encouraging British Muslims to play their part and make sure they use their vote.

Also read:
Is Voting Really Haram?  |  Shaikh Haitham on the 2015 elections  | More

Leaving aside the issues of the permissibility of voting according to the Sharīʿah (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. Those who promote voting can generally be divided into two camps: firstly, they are those who sincerely believe that voting and electoral participation is the primary, if not only, way forward for Muslims in Britain to substantially change their condition. Should we not embark on this journey, we are doomed to drown in the ocean of oppression we are currently struggling in. On the other hand, there are those who promote voting with their primary focus being to empower the Muslim community and assist it to emerge from the ghettoised Islamic ideal that its imagination fanaticises about incessantly, with no tangible action ever being taken to fulfil that ideal. This camp believes that participation can achieve a positive change for the situation of Muslims and the societies we live in, albeit a very slight one. The key objective for them is empowering the Muslim community.

Although both sides have differing primary objectives for promoting electoral participation that are laudable in the sense that both intend to bring about good for the community and society, both make the same error in failing to inform, educate, and enlighten their target audience about the drawbacks of such participation. The message coming out from both camps, directly or indirectly, is that by voting, we can select someone who will represent our interests in parliament.

But isn’t this what democracy is all about?

Maybe not. To fully appreciate this, one must have a working knowledge of the inner mechanisms that operate in parliament, such as the ‘whipping’ system – and yes, it is as graphic as it sounds. The Government Chief Whip is a political office entrusted with the task of administering the whipping system that ensures that members of the party attend and vote as the party leadership desires. The Government Chief Whip is assisted by the Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, and Assistant Whips. Other parties have their own respective whips.

Every week, the Chief Whip sends a circular (“the whip”) to all the MPs in their party informing them of the schedule for the days ahead, and includes the sentence, “Your attendance is absolutely essential” next to each debate in which there will be a vote. This sentence is underlined one, two, or three times depending on the consequences that will be suffered if they do not turn up. Three-line whips’ are imposed on important occasions, such as second readings of significant Bills and motions of no confidence. Failure by MPs to attend a vote with a three-line whip is usually seen as a rebellion against the party and may eventually result in disciplinary action, such as suspension from the parliamentary party. In essence, the ‘three-line whip’ means that not only must the MP attend the vote, but he must vote with the party and against his own beliefs (if he opposes the party line) and maybe even those of his constituents. If he does not, he will effectively be thrown out of the party. This means that very rarely does an MP disobey a three-line whip, because to do so would be to sabotage your career beyond repair.

Furthermore, the actual direction of the MPs vote is communicated in the chamber by hand signals during the division when the time to vote comes. Even though it determines the outcome of the votes crucially far more than the debate, neither these instructions, which are visible to everyone in the chamber, nor the “whip” letter at the start of the week are recorded in Hansard as they are considered an internal matter of the political party.

MPs are bullied to vote in line with the wishes of their party leadership. They often vote for a motion with only the very slightest idea of what it entails. This is evidenced by those MPs who do not attend a debate (usually over 80% of the total) but are at another meeting within the Division Bell area, and who suddenly have to rush to vote. They will often admit that they have little idea about the substance of the motion on which they are voting. Almost all of what is approved by Parliament is now just a rubber stamp of what has been decided by a Government department.

But surely my MP will represent me and not buckle under the crack of the whip?

Although MPs are sometimes allowed a ‘free vote’, which means they can vote according to their own opinion, this is the exception rather than the rule. Jeremy Paxman once described this relationship,

‘For the average backbencher, the whip is the street-corner thug they need to get past on their way home from school. Treat him with respect, and life will be fine. If you cross him, watch out’.

The consequences for defying the party whip can be career ending, depending on the circumstances, the importance of the outcome, and how close it will potentially be. Although allowances can be made for MPs on certain occasions, including where issues are a matter of conscience, the general rule is that whips will resort to a mixture of promises, threats, blackmail, and extortion to force an unpopular vote. So through this mixture of threats to expose your MP’s personal and financial affairs or promises of promotion, offers of places on select committees, and trips abroad, the whips exercise far more control over your MP’s vote than you do, the individual who voted him/her into office. For example, in November 2008, it emerged that the then-chief whip, Nick Brown, proposed that any Labour MP who had voted against the government in the past year would not be recommended to sit on all-party parliamentary select committees.

Another clear example which is of direct effect to all Muslims in Britain is the manner in which amendments to the Extradition Act 2003, under which British citizens can be extradited to countries such as the US without the need to show a prima facie case, were voted on in 2006. There have been a number of British Muslims facing extradition to the US under this Treaty including Babar Ahmad. On 24 October 2006, the House of Commons voted on amendments to the Police and Justice Bill which would have allowed a court – in a case where the alleged crime partially took place in the UK – to determine whether trial in the state requesting extradition would be in the interests of justice. On 19 October 2006, Parliamentarians received a letter from a coalition of civil liberties organisations, lawyers and corporate industry lobby groups requesting their support for the amendments. Opponents of the Treaty also lobbied their elected MPs to vote for the amendments. On the day of the vote, a drop-in briefing for MPs on the issue was held in a committee room in the House of Commons. One of the lawyers present reported how the Government Chief Whip at the time, Jacqui Smith, sat outside the committee room monitoring and recording which MPs attended the meeting as a means of intimidating them into not attending.

The impact of such a system is strongest on younger MPs who tend to see the select committee system as a route to ministerial office rather than a chance to carve out a career as an independent-minded expert. Veteran MPs such as Clare Short and Robin Cook, who have stood by their principles in opposing the Iraq war, are few and far between, and have suffered for their independent minds, effectively causing their departure from the party.

Although it is true that there is an increasing number of Socialist Labour MPs who consistently rebel against the party (such as Jeremey Corbyn and John Mcdonnell), it is still a tiny minority.

In light of the above, it is worth noting the origin of the word ‘whip’ within Parliament. According to the Houses of Parliament website, the word has its roots in the 18th century hunting terminology ‘whipper-in’. It refers to the huntsman’s assistant who drives straying hounds back to the main pack using a whip. How appropriate; the MP you campaign, canvass, and vote for is at his most powerful a mere stray hound who can be whipped back to the main pack by his/her master.

I am not against voting per se, but Muslims must not be so naive as to believe that it is the answer to our problems. Voting in local elections is completely unlike Parliamentary elections. In the former, we can achieve some sort of direct benefit to the societies we live in. In the latter, we are dependent on how much fortitude our MPs exhibit in the face of the whip. Of course, there must be (and probably are) limited ways to overcome this hurdle but these must be discussed and debated. By failing to even mention the hurdle, we allow our community to blindly run straight into it and cause enough injury to force an early retirement.

Furthermore, block (Muslim) voting can be both a source of empowerment and very effective as was the case in the 2005 election when the Muslims of Bethnal Green & Bow displaced pro-war Labour MP Oona King with George Galloway. In such circumstances, Muslims should use their block vote to chastise MPs for their anti-Muslim policies. It is criminal that the Muslims in Blackburn had not used their vote to oust Jack Straw for his pro-war policies, for example. Will the Muslims of places like Blackburn use their block vote to punish such MPs? Similarly, the block Muslim vote should be utilised to reward MPs who have supported causes of justice and opposed oppression. However, once again, those who promote ‘the Muslim vote’ fail to offer strategic advice as to which MPs Muslims should vote for, and instead, abandon them to make their own democratic choices. This effectively dilutes, if not destroys, the very essence of ‘the Muslim vote’.

At the same time we must be realistic. The Muslim vote is not likely to prevent the Far Right from winning seats in Parliament. By its very nature, the Muslim vote can only be effective in constituencies where there is a Muslim majority. It is highly unlikely that the BNP will even try and field candidates in such constituencies and are more likely to invest resources running their candidates in winnable seats such as Barking, where ‘the Muslim vote’ is virtually non-existent.

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 reproved 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. These MPs have taken a pledge of allegiance to the political party they represent and it most certainly trumps the wishes of their constituents.

By failing to inform and educate the masses about the dangers within the system, both of the camps that promote voting fail to do justice to the objectives they seek to attain. Their actions are similar to a surgeon encouraging a patient to undergo a certain operation without advising him as to inherent dangers involved, or, about any adverse effects that could occur as a result. It is time that we stop playing reactionary politics where we are seen as swinging from one end of the spectrum to the other, but let us have an open and mature discussion about participation, warts and all. Or is there room for some censorship in a democracy?


About Fahad Ansari

Fahad Ansari is an Immigration and Human Rights Solicitor, Writer, Activist. He has also authored a number of articles and reports on international human rights, social discrimination and anti-terrorism legislation to mainstream papers and policy makers.


  1. I wish I had seen this post before, because the subject matter goes to the heart of democratic government and minority representation.

    Unfortunately the writer misses completely the vacuum at the heart of the British electoral system, which is the reason for the feelings of disenfranchisement of so many people. “What’s the point of voting? Nothing will change. My vote won’t make any difference.”

    If every vote counted and was guaranteed to elect a member of the voter’s party, in proportion to the votes won by that party, then everyone would have representatives in Parliament in proportion to the vote. This is PR.

    For the last nearly hundred years, since the formation of the Labour Party, only Labour and Tories have formed the government, and before that only Tories and Liberals.
    At the last election UKIP got more votes than the Greens, Scots. Nats. and Liberals combined, but only one MP. The Liberals got seven, the Greens one, and the Scots. Nats. fifty seven!! Nearly two-thirds of the electorate were unrepresented.

    If the Muslims formed their own party to represent their interests, for example the adoption of Sharia law into British law, under PR they WOULD get some representatives in Parliament in proportion to the 3% or so Muslims in the UK.
    I don’t like voting on religious lines, not least because I don’t have any religion, but for that matter I don’t have any political allegiances either. I’m independent.

    There are no doubt plenty of prospective “Muslim Party” MPs and no doubt some of them would be corrupt, just like other MPs, but at least there would be real power to influence law making outside of the two duopolistic parties.
    I hope the religious leaders don’t see this as a challenge to their traditional pastoral power over their congregations. Heaven forbid!

  2. Voting is a strategic tool. When we live in an Islamic state, there will be no need for it. Remember, even in an Islamic state the caliph can be an evil, twisted guy (there have been many), and then some means of diposing him will be saught. Only the early caliphs and the odd few were honorable. But that is another debate for another day.

    Right here, right now, its a strategic tool. Sit on the sidelines and more laws that bring about depravity and immoral lifestyles get promoted – eroding society further, this is bad for mankind. Muslims have never been encouraged to take an “ostrich” view of their community.

    Opting out of strategy is child like, letting the grown ups run the show. Yes, we are small in numbers but we shouldnt sit and watch society erode.

  3. asalamualaykum

    I admire Islam 21c for publishing this article and further more the author for writing it.

    Much needed as I am one that has and still does continually sit on the fence regarding the subject of voting.

  4. I just want to say for people who say its allowed to vote, are their verdicts based on what these politicians say? If so how can we base a ruling on the fact that it is a known fact that politicians are liars. So i am expected to put the power of benefiting the muslims into the hands of known liars?? How can Shariah be used to say its betterment for muslims based on a ruler or potential rulers who are known liars. That is like me saying that there is a thief who constantly thieves but i will give him my posessions to look after.

  5. Because of the voting issue there has been division among Muslims. Some Muslims who say voting is shirk wont even study under Muslim Scholars or Talib ul ilms who say you can vote.

  6. Nassir Hussain

    Don’t vote and let facists in – less of the two evils.

    Allaho A’allum

  7. wondefully expressed!
    assalamulaikum brother

    your article has been really well expressed and enlightening. i am personally against voting in the parliamentary elections due to my islamic views; as to me its nothing but a ‘taaghut’. although voting in referndums or anything to do with matters that directly affect us i.e. transport, constructions issues where our vote could really make a differnce and ofcourse not be against the rules of our almighty.

    truly this article is clear and full of truth and this is exactly what i discovered in my government and politics A level, that on the whole mp’s have to simply toe the line they are merely puppets, when it comes to global/international issues, and now with the EU their powers are being reduced even more; so yeah right our muslim vote will really make a difference, in fact it shows our support and co-operation. not to vote shows our clear stand that the government does not stand for us, it is criminal with the blood of iraqis and afghans on their hands not to mention palestine to name just a few of it victims

  8. kthere should not be any doubt about democracy, it is known by necessity that the ideal is kufr and participation in the farse is kufr. anyone who believes that voting for a party in the uk will effect the crusade that has been openly stated by al mela of the uk and us is either living in a bubble or part of the crusade. that much is absolutely clear and has been for 1400 years. the only people who argue the point are those defending wealth position or this or that opressor in the middle east. mullar umar would have any of them put to the sword,as would any decent khalifah.

  9. Shana Shivkinski

    Why are muslims so paranoid ?
    Honestly u guys – peace out :D, dis is jus ur right 2 vote demonctratcaly all da partyz want da bes’ 4 us. Just chooz nearest 2 ur beleifs.

  10. Voting is written in the Protocols of Zionism
    I guess it is Haram for Muslims to vote because Election or voting is an idea of Zionists to control the masses. Unless the Zionism is totally eradicated, that’s the time to determine the necessity of election amongst the Muslims. Right now, election or voting is irrelevant.

  11. Problems??
    Brother Ibn Siraj, the author clearly stated what this article would be about and that it wasn’t talking about the legality of voting which would require ayaat and ahadith.

    It’s an article talking about political strategy. Not every article will have the quotes of the type you’ve mentioned, due the nature of the topic being discussed.

    Different muslims have different specialties, and as much as it’d be great, not all will be ulamaa’.

  12. Problems with these articles
    Everytime I read a article on this site about a contraversial issue all i see is a lot of speech and words and hardly any ahadith, quranic ayath, statements of the salaf and statements of well known scholars.

  13. An extremely important article that deals with the overlooked dimension of strategy
    Salam br Fahad,

    I firstly thank you for balancing the debate with these insights. The community is still relatively new in this regard and will inshallah learn as it grows in experience. As so far we’ve looked at the voting matter in theological terms, it is high time that someone had to look at it in realistic and strategic perspectives.

    I totally understand what you said about the whip system and how this would certainly be an issue with major parties. But would you say the same for the smaller parties who’s party policies are more closer to Muslim ones? I mean of course the Respect party who’s ‘whip’ if they had one would ensure people support positive policies (mainly, obviously they have their issues too hence why they aren’t an ‘Islamic’ party)?

    Secondly, is there any such board or think tank that provides strategic guidance for Muslims? Your everyday Muslim is pretty clueless on politics and how the system works etc. so someone else will need to do do the strategic guiding. Scholars can’t do it to the required detail as it’s not their field – unless they’re experts in British politics – and they’ve provided us with the service on the theological dimension. We need those who have expertise to provide the strategic guidance with a UNITED voice, not lone and split voices that will just serve to make this an even more convoluted topic than it already is. Perhaps you could pursue something like this unless something already exists?


  14. Tbh the whipping system is only the beginning of the problem for Muslims to influence the political process. 1. There is the selection of parliamentary candidates who are selected in two ways the first is through the local party members who’s shortlist is approved by party central. Secondly through the party central directly appointing the party candidate for the area. Hence safe seats are reserved for prominent candidates in the party. Therefore candidates to be selected have to prove themselves as well as having key support within the party and secondly with outside benefactors ie rich businesen or support from big businesses and trade unions. Furthermore is the mp does vote against party whips then they can be deselected or moved from their constituency.

    Then we have we have party connections to big businesses and this plas out in two ways firstly is the campaign contributions given directly to the party. This has to be announced but if they are loaned the money which is cancelled later on then this doesn’t have to be announced. Business leaders and businesses wouldn’t give money if they didn’t expect a particular return through influence or particular policy pledges they find favourable. Secondly is that mps can be employed as consultants for multinational corporations this allows an informal method of lobbying. An example of this is the close association jack straw has with bae system ad other military corporations. Jack straw lobbyied on their behalf to prevent the govt from bringing in a cap on arms trade, he also lobbyied for the sfo case to be dropped against bae systems. Also we saw his pro war stance no doubt it’s corporations like mds and bae that beneft from war as these make hefty profits in arms trade and arms contract to uk govt.

    Finally partys depend on policies designed for them by consultants. These consultants are either academic from uni departments, part of various policy think tank or senior civil servants. As for the first two types they depend on grants either by the party themselves who get the money from big business contributions or directly from businesses thus polcies are designed by think tanks funded by big businesses. Furthermore in a capitalist society laws and policies will inevitably focus on increased economic output. Therefore the laws will naturally incline towards business interests. As lord palmerstone stated Britain doesn’t have perpetual friends nor perpetual enemies but perpetual interests.

    This hasn’t even attempted to look at how Muslims represent only 3% of British population and the realistic ability to make any changes nor has it looked at the process of legislation and how private member bills are rarely passed. I could also discuss the negative potential backlash of Muslim bloc voting on wider society as it maybe seen as entryist and tryig to exert undue influence by minorities. Ie look at the backlash over perceptions that immigrants are more likely to get housing above indigenious population

  15. Query

    I’ve always wondered whether any well-known contemporary scholar has opined that voting in democratic elections is Kufr/Shirk as oppose to Haram or Permissible etc. Perhaps someone could share a scholarly opinion about voting being an act of Heresy.


  16. Voting
    Assalamu Alaikum,

    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.

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