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Apathetic Muslim?

It’s that time again…

Parliament has been dissolved. Political parties are in full-blown campaign mode. Mud is being slung, promises are being made, battle lines are being drawn. Over the next few weeks leading up to the 2015 general election in May many people will be talking about who to try and get elected and who to try and avoid getting elected. Many people will be discussing policies, manifestos, the future of the NHS and Britain’s future in Europe and beyond. Most Muslims, however, will probably not. If previous elections are anything to go by, for most of us it will be business as usual, and those who will be aware of the looming election, a significant portion of us will be distracted with doubts and confusions about whether or not it is even permissible.

However, this time might be different. We have seen a number of significant breakthroughs in the Muslim community vis-à-vis civic and political engagement in recent years, partly due to the explosion in anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic rhetoric in the political and media establishments. Whilst these will be discussed in due time (if Allāh wills), an important pre-requisite awakening is needed in the hearts of the Muslim community in general. We must recognise that Muslims do not enjoy the luxury of the heedless people around us, going about their daily distractions, consumed by the need for worldly materials and temporary enjoyment. Ignorance is not bliss for the believer; they cannot bury their heads in the sand, but must strive to be a cut above the rest when it comes to awareness of and impact upon events that are occurring around them, if they are to truly succeed.

Promote Virtue, Prohibit Vice

Not unlike other peoples or religions Muslims believe they are the best nation. However unlike other peoples, they cannot be under the wishful impression that this is due to being born to a Muslim household or having the blood of a particular lineage flowing through their veins. The followers of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) have been stated as being the best nation for one simple reason:

You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and have īmān in Allāh… [1]

Our worth as a people has been attached to our actions, namely of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, as well as having īmān in Allāh. This comprehensive ethos is woven into the fabric of a Muslim society; not only is it a praiseworthy quality but it is an obligation which protects us and its abandonment is explicitly threatened with punishment. Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) says,

And your Lord would not have destroyed the cities unjustly while their people were reformers. [2]


Cursed were those who disbelieved among the Children of Israel by the tongue of David and of Jesus, the son of Mary. That was because they disobeyed and [habitually] transgressed. They used not to prevent one another from wrongdoing that they did. How wretched was that which they were doing. [3]

In fact Banī Isrā’īl are a pertinent example to highlight the dangers of failing to enjoin virtue and forbid vice. Many people know of the story mentioned in Sūrah al-A’rāf, where a group from amongst the children of Israel attempted to circumvent a commandment concerning the Sabbath, after which they received a humiliating punishment. It is well known that Allāh saved those amongst them who spoke out against the transgression that they witnessed their brethren doing:

And when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We saved those who had forbidden evil and seized those who wronged, with a wretched punishment, because they were defiantly disobeying. [4]

However, what is not very well known is that among those who were punished were those who, though they did not breach the Sabbath themselves, did not speak out against those who did. [5] There are countless evidences from the Qur’ān and the sunna that Muslims cannot be completely inactive when they see wrongdoing happening around them. In fact, special attention was given by Allāh and His Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to make it crystal clear that the path to servitude of Allāh and salvation for the umma of Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is unlike the ancient hermitic nations.

The best people are the useful ones

Being influenced by the multitude of cultures and religious traditions that we have come into contact with, Muslims may tend to believe in the ‘ideal’ religious person being someone who has taken to a life of monkish seclusion and ritual devotion. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,

“The believer who mixes with people and bears their annoyance with patience will have a greater reward than the one who does not mix with people and does not put up with their annoyance.” [6]

He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) likewise said:

Whoever meets the needs of his brother, Allāh will meet his needs, and whoever relieves a Muslim of some distress, Allāh will relieve him of some of the distress of the Day of Resurrection. [7]


“The most beloved people to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) are those of most benefit to others, and the most beloved actions to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) are pleasure and happiness that you cause to enter the heart of a Muslim, or to solve one of his problems, or to pay off his debt, or to prevent him from being hungry, and working to help my Muslim brother is more beloved to me than making I’tikāf in this masjid for a month…” [8]

In fact one of the first, if not the first, public statements that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) made upon entering Madīna as its new leader, was:

“O people! Spread the Salāms, feed people, strengthen the ties of kinship, and be in prayer when others are asleep—you will enter Paradise in peace.” [9]

Notably, three out of the four commands required actively going out into society.

Books have been written on individual narrations such as these, but the purpose of mentioning them here is simple: the followers of the Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) are not able to sit at home without being involved in bettering their surroundings. Inaction is not an option. However, naturally Shayṭān will try and dissuade the Son of Ādam from taking his role as Allāh’s khalīfa on earth, feeding us excuse upon excuse not to go out and attempt to make a difference.

“But what can I do? I’m only one person!”

The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) in a remarkable ḥadīth made clear the universal obligation of every Muslim to make a difference:

Whoever among you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand. If he is unable, then with his tongue. And if he is unable, then with his heart, and that is the weakest of īmān. [10]

In other words, absolutely no case exists where a believer sees an evil that he or she should not at least wish to change with their hearts. Many people may have a defeatist, pessimistic mind-set, causing them to complain that they cannot change something. There are at least two dangerous mistakes in this complaint.

Firstly, it is known as the Perfectionist’s Fallacy to abandon something just because you cannot fully perfect it. This is similar to the ancient maxim of the scholars of usūl: ‘That which cannot be attained completely must not be left completely.’ Secondly, and more importantly, this complaint ignores the primary reason for changing an evil in the first place, instead focusing on worldly consequences and output. The reason why a believer should strive to change an evil is not merely to seek the change, but the striving itselfThis is what Allāh wishes to see in His slaves – since He is able to carry out any change that He pleases, often through a completely unexpected agent.

Another extraordinary ḥadīth shows this fundamental truth from a different perspective, where the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said: One dirham outstripped one hundred thousand.” The companions asked how one dirham could be more beloved to Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) than one hundred thousand. He (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) responded, “A man had two dirhams, he gave one away in charity. Another man went to a [smaller] portion of his wealth and took one hundred thousand dirhams.” [11]

What this ḥadīth highlights is a fundamental principle in Islām: Allāh does not judge us based on material effects and absolute quantitative output. Allāh (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) judges us according to what He has given us; according to our potential. Therefore we should never belittle anything. As the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, “Fear [or protect yourselves from] the fire! Even if with half a date!” [12]

It could be that the only action in one’s capability is, for example, to sign a petition, or write a letter to one’s MP or complain to Ofcom about some inaccurate Islamophobic headline. Allāh will not ask that person why he did not overthrow the entire corrupt system nor will He (subḥānahu wa taʿālā) judge that person unfairly; rather Allāh will ask and judge him according to what actions were within his means and capabilities. We all criticise prime ministers and kings for not doing what is in their capacity—liberating Palestine, unifying the Muslims, protecting the weak of the umma. If however we fail to do those ‘minor’ things that are within our grasp—attend demonstrations, write letters, unify our local communities, helping the weak around us—we could be just as bad or worse than them in the Sight of Allāh.

Apathetic person | A pathetic person

There is never a situation where a believer is permitted to sit back and do nothing when he sees an evil. Even if it is the minimum required level for īmān—sincerely wishing to change an evil with our hearts—it requires us to be cognizant of the evils around us and beseech Allāh sincerely to help us to change them for His sake. The coming elections are not the be all and end all; however the campaigns, hustings and debates going on around us represent an opportunity for us to recognise the problems in our societies. The first step to changing them is to recognise our immense responsibility as custodians and representatives of Allāh on His earth.

Activism without Islām is foolishness or hypocrisy, and Islām without activism is impossible. There is no such thing as an apathetic Muslim.



[1] Al-Qur’ān, 3:110

[2] Al-Qur’ān, 11:117

[3] Al-Qur’ān, 5:78-79

[4] Al-Qur’ān, 7:165

[5] Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr

[6] al-Tirmidhi (5207) and Ibn Maajah (4032)

[7] Redacted from ḥadīths in Bukhārī and Muslim

[8] Albani

[9] Al-Tirmidhi

[10] al-Nasā’ī, Ibn Dāwūd and others

[11] al-Nasā’ī

[12] al-Nasā’ī

About Dr Salman Butt

Salman studied Biochemistry at Imperial College London followed by a PhD in Chemical Biology, carrying out research into photosynthesis. During his years at university he became involved in Islamic society da'wah and activism, and general Muslim community projects. He is the Chief Editor and a regular contributor at Islam21c, and also has a blog on the Huffington Post.


  1. My experience (as a non-Muslim Nationalist and former member of both the Conservative Party and the British National Party) is that Muslims in Britain generally have a poor knowledge and understanding of politics and the British political system and process. There is also far too much of a pack mentality when it comes to voting where Muslims are pressured to vote according to parents, community elders, and mosque committees who are often elderly foreigners who do not understand Britain or the needs of the younger generation. Neither can many think of voting anything beyond Labour because it’s what they have always voted or to keep the Conservatives out. As a result Muslims are discouraged from finding out who is standing for their constituency and their policies and voting according to what they personally believe in or is best for their family and community. Experience also tells me that a sizeable proportion of Muslims aren’t even aware that Britain is divided into constituencies and they erroneously believe that votes are all piled up nationally and the party with the most votes wins the election. Therefore they treat the election like a horse race more than anything else.

    I’m not a Green Party supporter at all but why does the Green Party not even appear on the radar of Muslims? The Green Party opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; they will terminate the Special Relationship with the United States and withdraw Britain from NATO; they are tough on Israel and Zionism; they recognise Palestine as a sovereign nation; they are opposed to the war on terror and will repeal almost all terrorism legislation passed since the Terrorism Act 2000; they will scrap the controversial Prevent strategy and all the spying on Muslim communities by the police and intelligence services; they will close the counter terrorism units of the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, and Thames Valley police forces and cut back that of the Met. You won’t get any of that under Labour and Respect has nothing to say on the war on terror or the Prevent strategy because Galloway and his commies know nothing about it. Despite this I suspect that fewer than 10% of Muslims will vote Green despite there being a candidate for every heavily Muslim constituency in England except Blackburn.

    If the existing political parties do not appeal to Muslims then what is stopping them from contesting elections as independent candidates or forming political parties to represent the interest of Muslims? The political argument is polarised between abstaining from voting or contesting elections on the basis that democracy is haraam or no party represents the interests of Muslims, or working through existing secular political parties – usually Labour and the Lib-Dems. This third option of Muslims contesting elections as independent candidates or establishing political parties to represent Muslims is not even looked at or put forward for debate.

    In the meantime have a look at to find out who is standing for your constituency. I have been informed that some Muslims have made a decision to back candidates from small parties including Yorkshire First, National Health Action Party, Communities United Party, and Rochdale First Party because their policies are closest to what they personally believe in even though it is unlikely that the candidates will win.

    • That’s a very interesting perspective, thanks.

    • “then what is stopping them from… forming political parties to represent the interest of Muslims?”

      There was an attempt to do that:
      It was not very successful.

      • You have to ask yourself the question why the Islamic Party of Britain was unsuccessful. The main reason was that it was launched prematurely before there was any significant demand for a party to represent the interests of Muslims. The 1990s was a much more benign era for Muslims in Britain who generally felt that they could achieve what they wanted through the existing secular political parties or outside of the political system. The world has changed beyond recognition since then starting with 9/11 which led to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, followed later by the war on terror. The second reason for the failure of the Islamic Party of Britain was that its leadership was not up to the job of running a political party. By the late 1990s it had become little more than a think tank with its members making little attempt to actively involve themselves in the local Muslim communities and neither did the party bother contesting council elections which would have given it a toe hold in politics. The Islamic Party of Britain deregistered as a political party in 2006 at the time when it would have been most useful although the party website is still active.

        • The main reason they were unsuccessful was that they knew hardly anything about Britain or even British muslims. They didn’t try to represent the interests of Muslims by getting laws that suited muslims and other people wouldn’t object to much. They wanted an islamic state at once and they really thought they could get one.They really did believe that most muslims would favour a muslim state based on their own idiosyncratic interpretations and that most nonmuslims would think muslims were such obviously good people they’d like to be ruled by them.
          One of my colleagues at work was an ardent supporter and it was interesting and entertaining to see how little people who thought they knew each other well actually know of each other. He really did believe that if we understood what he believed most of us would say “Hallelujah” – or the muslim equivalent – and join up. He hadn’t actually noticed that a colleague was ostentatiously gay. Equally, the rest of us were astonished to learn that an apparently rational and sane person actually and literally believed in flying horses and that all you had to do was mutilate or stone to death enough people and every human problem would be solved.

          • you’re right. logic and reason is not enough to change a person’s lifestyle because people are inherently irrational sometimes. ESPECIALLY when it comes to vivid emotions like horror and xenophobia. Most of the struggle of presenting Islam is breaking down the fairytales that people believe whilst knowing deep down that they’re bulls**t, but MANY people will still happily continue to support what they know to be myths because the ruling classes have scared them sufficiently into the horrors of life without pyramid power structures (that just so happen to serve them).

            • “Most of the struggle of presenting Islam is breaking down the fairytales that people believe whilst knowing deep down that they’re bulls**t”

              You mean things like riding a horse to heaven and back in a night?

              • Aww, bless your simplicity, I admire it! I was actually referring to foundational presumptions beyond the TV slogans, which you (like most others) probably don’t even recognise are dogmatic assumptions instead of gospel truths…such as the belief that free markets can regulate themselves. Or, that a billion years of evolution took single celled organisms to the 21st century Anglo/American caucasian man—no peaks or troughs in-between (the myth of progress). That mankind is collectively marching towards salvation through Christ/post-enlightenment imperialist propagandised slogans like ‘reason’ (depending on whether one is a Christian or atheist fundamentalist).

                But let us even take the simple examples the ignorant and foolish white supremacists use to mock – the prophetic ascension into the heavens (although not on a horse btw but out of this world nonetheless). Although I do believe on average people are getting thicker, nonetheless deep down any of these poor ignoramuses that offer such deflections deep down MUST realise in their heart of hearts that they don’t have an intellectual leg to stand on, that deep down they recognise it’s just a series of compounded logical fallacies only offered by the ignorant to try and use the emotional/potentially mockable nature of an example in order to ignore the intellectual foundations of such claims. No wonder Abu Bakr al-Siddīq’s (radiyAllāhu ’anhu) response to them in this case was to wake them up from such foolish “arguments” –

                “usaddiquhu fī mā huwa a’jabu min dhālik,”… in other words, I believe him in a matter which is far more astonishing and impressive than that (travelling to jeruselam in one night on a horse) – that he receives revelation from the creator above the heavens.

                Unless and until we try and wake the innate reasonable, sensible minds deeply hidden by ignorance, propaganda and slogans in people, and get them to see sense, then I’m afraid you’re going to keep hearing them offer up thick excuses like those. It’s only natural for them to try and justify their falsehood by attempting to attack Islam from such tertiary angles—the sooner we bring their short attention spans to the primary angles and claims to divine origin of Islam, the sooner they will be forced to accept it if they have any sense left within them. If they don’t, then leave them to their distractions.

                • ” I believe him in a matter which is far more astonishing and impressive than that (travelling to jeruselam in one night on a horse) – that he receives revelation from the creator above the heavens.”
                  So, You think two preposterous claims are more convincing than one?
                  In fact, they are absurd in different ways. Riding to heaven (or Jerusalem) on a flying animal requires the contradiction of verifiable and testable factors of biology and physics. Someone who claims that he “receives revelation from the creator above the heavens” is making an unverifiable claim about a hypothetical and possibly metaphorical being. William Blake, Lodowicke Muggleton and Emmanuel Swedenborg – and thousands of others – made the same claim, with equal verifiability. Finally, the test of a supposed revelation is not its supposed source but the revelation itself and the reasons for accepting it.

          • “The main reason they were unsuccessful was that they knew hardly anything about Britain or even British muslims. They didn’t try to represent the interests of Muslims by getting laws that suited muslims and other people wouldn’t object to much. They wanted an islamic state at once and they really thought they could get one.They really did believe that most muslims would favour a muslim state based on their own idiosyncratic interpretations and that most nonmuslims would think muslims were such obviously good people they’d like to be ruled by them.”

            I would be inclined to believe much of this if they had made a serious effort to engage with local communities and regularly contest elections, including council elections as well as Westminster. The fact is they didn’t which resulted in the party being little more than a think tank.

            The Islamic Party of Britain was a minor curiosity that has little bearing on today’s political situation and I would be surprised if anything more than a couple of thousand Muslims in Britain have even heard of it. No Muslims round my way are even aware that the Islamic Party of Britain existed at all. Therefore there is no good reason to even mention it in debates about modern day politics. Writing off the concept of political parties to represent the interest of Muslims because of the failings of the Islamic Party of Britain is disingenuous to say the least.

            • “Writing off the concept of political parties to represent the interest of Muslims because of the failings of the Islamic Party of Britain is disingenuous to say the least.”
              Why? The Islamic Party represented the ultimate logic of a party to represent the interests of muslims. By representing the interests of muslims exclusively it alienated most of the people who came across it – including most muslims. Where the interest of muslims and a large proportion of nonmuslims coincide then political parties that serve the interest of muslims can succeed, but they nearly always serve the interests of muslims as members of a larger community, not the interests of muslims as muslims.

              • “The Islamic Party represented the ultimate logic of a party to represent the interests of muslims. By representing the interests of muslims exclusively it alienated most of the people who came across it – including most muslims.”

                Your argument is that the Islamic Party of Britain failed because of its policies. You are just plain wrong as you look at the party in isolation and completely fail to take into account the political climate of Britain during the 1990s. As a person with decades of political experience under my belt I will tell you that no small party – whether it be left, centre or right; radical or conservative; secular or theocratic – could have picked up any significant amount of public support during the 1990s and made political inroads. The Green Party nearly died during the early 1990s after their disastrous performance in the 1992 general election, and didn’t begin to experience a revival until after electing MEPs the 1999 Euro elections. UKIP trudged along as a small and insignificant (and largely unheard of) party receiving poor results in both the 1994 Euro elections and the 1997 general election, and didn’t begin to seriously take off until after their surprise victory in the 1999 Euro elections. The BNP was a fringe party with about 300 members in 1996 that didn’t become a proper political party until after Nick Griffin took over in 1999 and implemented drastic reforms to the way the party operated. Jimmy Goldsmith’s Referendum Party was the only party that could be viewed with hindsight as a serious challenger to the Lib-Lab-Con establishment during the 1990s. There just simply wasn’t the consumer demand for small parties during that decade. Some political analysts argue that the rise of the Lib-Dems under Paddy Ashdown was the alternative to Labour and Conservative back then.

                Muslims were no exception to the rule and Lib-Lab-Con appeared to satisfy their demands. Tell me, if the Islamic Party of Britain failed because of its policies then why were no other Islamic parties established that served the interests of the wider communities? The answer goes back to the aforementioned lack of consumer demand for small parties during the 1990s. I cannot think of any type of party that could have won a significant amount of public support during the 1990s that was not created back then.

                The war on terror since 9/11, and intensified since 7/7, has been a game changer as far as Muslims are concerned. They are now identified by the political establishment, the media, and mainstream society as a unique group of people rather than just lumped in with Asians and blacks as they were prior to 9/11 because the war on terror does not affect non-Muslim blacks and Asians. In fact a sizeable fraction of non-Muslim blacks and Asians support the war on terror, the Prevent Strategy, and also backed the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. The term black and minority ethnic, or BME, that was so ubiquitous during the 1980s and 90s looks dated and vaguely quaint nowadays. Due to the conflicts of interests between Muslims and non-Muslims I seriously doubt that any political party can simultaneously serve the interests of both Muslims and large numbers of non-Muslims. The Respect Party tried to play this game of appealing to Muslims and non-Muslims simultaneously but ended up with derisory election results in areas with very few Muslims, and even in heavily Muslim areas, the Muslims cherry picked the Muslim candidates on the ballot slips and shunned the non-Muslim candidates.

                My own political experience tells me that the working and lower class white British people – the sort that the far left have been trying to win the support of for decades – are amongst the most stubborn, conservative, narrow minded, inwards looking, and intolerant people in Britain. They hate Islam with a passion both because it goes against their own values and way of life and because of scathing reports in the mainstream media. A pack mentality exists amongst the working and lower classes where questioning, free-thinking, and individualism are frowned upon. In the light of this, a party designed to simultaneously appeal to the Muslims and individualistic free-thinking comfortably well off middle England who live in the suburbs and shires will be more successful than a party designed to simultaneously appeal to Muslims and the bottom rungs of British society.

                A similar situation exists with Muslims and non-Muslim ethnics who have their own domestic and international interests which are different from those of the Muslims. Non-Muslim Asians no longer play the race card like they did in bygone decades and even blacks aren’t playing it anywhere near the number of times they used to. When I was in the Conservative Party during the 1980s it was almost completely white and British and still haunted to a degree by Enoch Powell (who grassroots members overwhelmingly thought of as a hero or the best PM Britain never had) and the Monday Club was an influential force in steering party policy. Today’s Conservative Party is filled with thousands of non-Muslim Asians and an increasing number of non-Muslim blacks. They are mostly unpatriotic people who despise Enoch Powell and wouldn’t have been popular with the rank and file Conservatives of the 1980s but more often than not they hate Islam and think of Theresa May as a hero. The small l liberals who still believe that ethnics can be united by their foreign origin and skin colour have failed to latch onto this. I also predict that many times more non-Muslim ethnics will vote UKIP than Green and far left combined in the general election this year.

    • Hi, thank you for your post.

      I live in Southampton, and I am thinking of voting for Greens because they expressed disappointment about Southampton Uni cancelling the “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism”.

  2. Salaam

    I would generally say Labour but depends on the individual candidate, how candidates fare against the Muslims manifesto drawn up by MEND is a place to start

    Until political parties take the Muslim vote seriously they are unlikely to promise/deliver much to the Muslim community, so at this stage just need to demonstrate that we aren’t apathetic.

    Getting political representation doesn’t happen overnight so need to plan for the long term.

    We just need to get the ball rolling (and not stalling by wasting your vote) and leave the rest to Allah

  3. Assalam aleikum

    It is all well and good writing these kind of aticles, but seriously, is there a “muslim friendly” party out there? lt was under Labour the UK invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and we all know the hostility of Cameron and his cronies. Ukip…?? Lol. But seriously, who is the lesser evil of the 2 parties? Forget Lib Dems they just comedians on the side line. We have 2 parties and both are anti Muslim…??

    And no Im not a pessimist just a Muslim sister trying to get on with my life, wearing a niqab, earning a living and going about my business. Lets face it, we are not welcome here, unless we lose our Islamic identity. Don’t get me wrong, I would like to vote, but who……?? Beats me!

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