When we discuss the issue of voting, or any other (contemporary) issue of a similar nature, we should try to understand its reality before forming a conclusion regarding its ruling, a phenomenon termed fiqh al waqi’ (knowing and understanding the environment and factors surrounding the topic of concern). Ibn al-Qayyim considered one of the prerequisites of the mufti alongside fiqh al mas’alah (possessing proper perception of the issue at hand and its related rulings) as being fiqh al waqi’, given that it is also necessary in order to arrive at a legal opinion about a certain issue of concern.
Let us commence by considering the following scenario: There is, in a faraway land, a ruler who lives alongside his subjects. The ruler, in formulating his governance, leaves the matter to the people offering them two choices: they may choose either the law of God or secular law. This situation involves the following three parties:
Firstly, for the ruler who offers the implementation of the law of the Creator (Sharīʿah) and questions or debates between people; there is no doubt that this ruler has committed an act of kufr (disbelief) for he is obliged to rule by the law of the Creator. Allāh says, “Legislation is for none but Allāh. He has commanded that you worship none but Him.” To him this ayah is addressed, “And whosoever does not judge by what Allāh has revealed, such are the Kāfirūn (disbelievers).”
Secondly, as for the subjects who are requested to select between the Sharīʿah and secular law; of course, it is incumbent upon them to opt for the Sharīʿah. The mechanism of choosing the Sharīʿah may take various forms such as voting, demonstrations, or lobbying through correspondence. No doubt, people must do their best in order to bring about the implementation of Islamic law, and thus, can anyone argue that it is impermissible for people to vote to choose the Sharīʿah since voting is an essential part of democracy which in turn is kufr? If such a claim were to be posited then it becomes evident that we have proved unable to conceptualise the issue at hand. To claim voting is an act of kufr is extremely inaccurate and, as a point in case, take the situation where a person is consulted (as happens in some countries including the UK) as to whether he would opt for a Sharīʿah court or a court that will rule on the basis of secular law. Should this person, in view of the aforementioned erroneous argument, declare that he refuses to choose since choosing is voting which in turn is part of democracy, a system of kufr?! What should such an individual do? Should he abstain from doing anything? What if the constitution states that the judicial system is to remain secular unless the person opts for the Sharīʿah? Can we say in this case that this person is obliged to vote or choose the Sharīʿah court? Can we also say that abstention from voting means that the person has implicitly accepted secular law as the basis of the judicial system which is an act of kufr?
From this discussion we can conclude three important points:
- Voting, in many cases, merely means choosing or selecting.
- Participation in a kufr system does not necessarily mean participation in kufr itself. It depends on the nature of such participation.
- Abstention from voting sometimes causes more harm than voting itself.
Thirdly, the people who want to be part of the legislative executive are like those who want to be members of parliament. This issue requires a separate detailed study and is beyond the scope of this discussion.
Another important scenario which must be highlighted is when the inhabitants of a country who have the Sharīʿah as the dominant system want to choose a leader – they employ elections as a mechanism selection; can we say this is democracy and thus an act of kufr?
From the above discussion we may conclude that it is absolutely wrong to generalise the ruling by saying that democracy is an act of kufr. Instead we should say things that makes sense to people and reflects our correct understandings. We should be extremely careful in accusing individuals of kufr. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, “The one who accuses his brother of kufr then surely one of them is as has been claimed.”
The word democracy was originally coined to mean the rule of the people, however, these days it has various connotations where it can be used to merely mean a selection mechanism. That is why we see the introduction of the term liberal democracy. Some observers believe that this new term was introduced in order to emphasise that Muslim countries should be democratic in their selecting rulers as well as constitution. So from this perspective, a liberal democracy entails that the constitution itself has to be subject to selection through a democratic mechanism.
Muslims living under a Kufr system
Muslims living in a liberal democracy should understand their situation in all of its various facets. Muslims believe that ultimate justice, peace, and reason cannot be achieved unless the divine system is dominant. In many cases they are unable to achieve this in the foreseeable future. So what should they do until they reach this stage?
Abstinence from voting will not realistically lead to change and any sane person would say that abstaining from selecting the least evil option would only leave room for the more evil option to win.
Here I would like to respond to the various arguments posited by those brothers who are against selection through voting. What is important is that we identify why we are against voting, is it because it is an act of kufr or because it is harmful and damaging for Muslims? Having responded to the first claim let us now focus on the second. It may be argued that:
“Selecting one of these parties ultimately endorse their policies that are based on man-made laws (kufr law).”
This is not necessarily the case for the following reason: choosing an option means that you endorse it only if there are better options offered. But if the other choice is worse, then you are actually endorsing the difference between this option and the one that is less harmful. Take for example eating un-slaughtered meat for a starving person, he is allowed (or even obliged) to do so, yet does that mean that he is endorsing eating un-slaughtered meat? Of course not; he is endorsing the difference between these options which, in this case, is saving his life. Saving his life by eating un-slaughtered meat is better than starving to death. That is why this is an agreed upon principle. So quoting each party’s statement that they are going to do so and so if they win separately and without comparing this with what other parties say is not a very honest approach since it does not give the audience the full picture. This becomes worse when the alternative presented is just a hypothetical solution.
So I urge the brothers and sisters not to accuse anybody of kufr or sins just because they vote for one of these parties in such a situation. Such accusations reflect ignorance as well as naivety in comprehension.
“By voting you are involved in the political system – a step towards integration which ultimately results in the loss of Muslim identity whilst living in western countries.”
I agree that integration in its wider meaning leads to the loss of Muslim distinctiveness and it is a hidden agenda by the enemies of Islām to deceive Muslims so that they lose their identity. However, this is not necessarily an implication of voting. I agree that full political participations might lead to major problems for Muslims and we have to be very careful when stepping into this arena. However, ticking the box for one of the candidates in no way qualifies as full political participation.
I would like to mention here that I also advise our brothers who are involved in leading Muslims in terms of politics to be aware that some Muslims might understand that voting means full involvement in the game of politics, a realm that is full of deception and cunning, a fact realised by many non-Muslims themselves. So they should use cautious language when encouraging Muslims to vote. Statements such as “voting is the only way for Muslims in this country”, “voting is the lifeboat”, “voting is part of our belief”, “voting means citizenship” and so on should be avoided. Such emotional and excessive statements lead to contrary statements and reactions that are equally emotional and extreme.
“It is not true that we do not have another option. We have to strengthen our Muslim community and work hard for our independence.”
I think all agree that the Muslim community needs to strengthen itself and its own organisations. However, this is not an option that is incompatible with having party A, B or C in power. We can vote to select the best option while we are working for our community and our future.
“We are not going to get anything by voting while it might be impermissible so it is better to abstain from it.”
It is not easy to come up with such a conclusion. We need a thorough analytical study that can confirm that all parties are nothing but different faces of one coin. I agree that voting is not the lifeline for Muslims in this country as represented by some Muslims and I have asked parties on both sides of the voting argument to come up with an academic study to prove their points. However, it is difficult to say that all parties are exactly the same in internal and external policy. Logically, not all non-Muslims are the same, even the kuffar of Makkah were different. Abū Ṭālib, the uncle of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), was completely different from Abū Jahl. Abū Ṭālib helped the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and sheltered him while the other uncle would torture the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and his companions. Should we not do our best to choose the one that is less evil and better for humanity? Indeed, abstention from voting is essentially indirect voting. Let me explain this by the following example:
Imagine that 6 people were to vote for two parties named A and B. A states in his manifesto that he will legalise pornography, ban faith-schools, kill 1000 Muslims, and prevent Muslims from adorning the hijāb. B states that he will legalise pornography but allow faith schools and kill 500 Muslims. 3 of us vote for A and 2 votes for B and I, in believing that voting is kufr, abstain from doing so. What will happen?
Inevitably, A will win, but if I vote for B, then no one will. So by participating I lessen the evil. Let us now say that we have 2 more people, either they vote for B or abstain. Abstention will not change the situation while encouraging them to vote for B, who will do all these filthy things, will mean that A will lose which means that we saved the lives of 500 Muslims and had a chance to have faith schools and practice hijāb! So whether we vote or not, we actually vote since we are part of the population. This is how the system works, at least in Britain. If someone disagrees with this then they should provide proof bearing in mind that they should be systematic in their approach and clear in presenting their case. In his abstaining to vote he has implicitly accepted the principle of voting when it is proved that abstention from voting is indirect voting.
“If we vote we will not bring any Muslim to power.”
It is indeed correct, but who said that our aim (in the near future) is to bring a Muslim into power. Our realistic aim in the near future is to have a better person with a better system in power. It is impractical to think of having a true Muslim leader in the near future in most non-Muslim countries. Our ultimate aim is to help those who are better than their co-politicians.
“Boycotting elections is better for Muslims since it sends a strong message to the politician that we are not happy with them and their system. Moreover it will show the ineligibility of this round of elections.”
This might be true but as I said earlier we need a deep study and understanding of the complicated political situation to confirm such conclusions. I urge those brothers who believe in this to produce a provisional work proving this point. In the meantime we should know that such boycotting will not be effective unless all Muslims do so. That is why, before we arrive at such conclusions a deep discussion with all Muslims involved in politics and other related fields should take place. It should not be an individual opinion of a single party. However, we should bear in mind that if a decision were taken to boycott elections, then we should be clear why we do so. Is it because of the original ruling of voting and elections or because of the impracticality of it?
I would like to conclude by urging the community to be united in their decision. Such unity is the only way for their voice to be effective. Unity here means following one strategy whether we decide to vote or boycott elections. Once we decide to vote, which in the UK is the decision at least for the moment, we should appoint one main body to lead us in the political process.
 Al-Qur’ān, 5:44