In the name of Allāh, the Most Merciful, the Most Compassionate, and may He (glory be to Him) send His utmost peace and blessings upon His final and most beloved Prophet, our Messenger Muhammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam).
As most of us are aware, the United Kingdom will have its general election on the 12th of December 2019 (God-willing) to select the next Prime Minister of the country, and today is the final day to register to vote. Amongst Muslims, the topic of voting has many different perspectives and is often a misunderstood and controversial topic. I hope that this article, through the help of Allāh, can shed some clarity on this topic by discussing the ruling of the scholars regarding voting, the benefits of it, and why Muslims should vote.
What is voting?
Voting simply means to select, or to make a choice or expression of a preference. In our scenario, it is a legal right guaranteed by the British government to its citizens to select the next Prime Minister of the country. It is used in many countries across the world as a method to select a leader, a party, or a government. It must be noted that voting for a party or a candidate for Prime Minister does not mean you endorse or agree with all their views or decisions. Rather, voting gives you an ownership on the decision of who should lead the country. In our situation, voting does not mean that we are supporters of man-made laws over divine laws, but in our current situation it is the only option we have to influencing a change on choosing a lesser harm for people. By abstaining from voting, we are still allowing the results to be in favour of a situation that might not be suitable for all.
Muslims in the UK
Islam is the second-largest and fastest-growing religion in the UK.[i] Muslims have settled in the UK since the 16thcentury[ii] and make up a beautiful, strong and diverse community that originates from different ethnic groups: Asia, Turkey, the Middle East, Africa, and the UK itself. We have settled and have now become a generation that contributes to this country. It could be argued that the Muslim community here is the leading Islamic community in Europe that other European Muslim communities look up to and follow. We must therefore not underestimate the great position that we hold. Regardless of the challenges we have faced and constantly face, Muslims are not a group of people that can be ignored in this country. If this is the case and we identify that this is our country, what comes after is our responsibility. By our very nature, we Muslims are righteous leaders that benefit and serve others. Due to our noble message and religious teachings, Muslims should be the ideal role models that others look up to, especially since we are the largest followers of the Prophets (Peace be upon them), who were all leaders.
وَجَعَلْنَاهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا وَأَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْهِمْ فِعْلَ الْخَيْرَاتِ وَإِقَامَ الصَّلَاةِ وَإِيتَاءَ الزَّكَاةِ ۖ وَكَانُوا لَنَا عَابِدِينَ
“And we have made them leaders, who (are guided and) guide others by our command, and we have inspired them to do all types of good deeds, establish the prayers and to give the Zakat and they were to us (Allāh alone) worshippers.”[iii]
These should be some of the attributes of the believers, who worship Allāh, do righteous deeds, pray, and give charity. Muslims should be the light that people want to come close to and benefit from. Muslim should be the first to partake in good and should be the furthest from evil. This also means that we should have a role and a voice in political matters that concern the benefit and the welfare of the people around us.
Voting from an Islamic perspective
No clear Islamic text indicates how a ruler should be selected. This is an ijtihādi matter (subject to scholarly interpretation) that has been left for the scholars. This subject falls under the science of al-Siyāsa al-Shari’ah (Islamic politics/governance), which is one of the large chapters of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). Some of the key foundational principles of this subject include al-Masālih wa al-Mafāsid (benefits and harms), Sadd al-Darā’ih (preventing the means to harm), ‘Urf (customs), and many others. A number of scholars mention that voting is not a matter of ‘aqīdah (creed), where you believe in the legitimacy of the ruling belonging to other than Allāh. Rather, it is only a selection process to choose the more qualified and suitable person for the position.
I would like to present a number of scholarly opinions regarding the ruling behind voting as well as the political participation of a number of contemporary leading Islamic scholars.
1) Sheikh Ibn Uthaymīn (May Allāh have mercy on him) was asked during his trip to America if the Muslims in the US are allowed to vote for an American president. He answered by saying it is permissible to vote for the one who would be more beneficial for the Muslims. The sheikh further said there is no problem in this, and then quoted the verse from Surah al-Rūm:
الم (1) غُلِبَتِ الرُّومُ (2) فِي أَدْنَى الْأَرْضِ وَهُم مِّن بَعْدِ غَلَبِهِمْ سَيَغْلِبُونَ (3) فِي بِضْعِ سِنِينَ ۗ لِلَّهِ الْأَمْرُ مِن قَبْلُ وَمِن بَعْدُ ۚ وَيَوْمَئِذٍ يَفْرَحُ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ (4)
1. Alif-Lām-Mīm. 2.The Romans have been defeated. 3. In the nearer land (Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine), and they, after their defeat, will be victorious. 4. Within three to nine years. The decision of the matter, before and after (these events) is only with Allāh, and on that Day, the believers Muslims] will rejoice.[iv]
These verses describe the victory of the Romans over the Persians, which the Muslims were delighted about. The sheikh explained that this was between two non-Muslim groups, and that the reason for the rejoice of the believers was because the Romans were a lesser evil than the Persians. Similarly, elections should be used to select someone who is a lesser evil for the Muslims.[v] On another occasion, the sheikh was asked on the ruling of elections. His reply was as follows: “I think that elections are obligatory. We should appoint the one who we think is good, because if the good people abstain, who will take their place? Evil people will take their place, or neutral people in whom there is neither good nor evil, but they follow everyone who makes noise. So we have no choice but to choose those who we think are fit.”[vi]
2) Sheikh Abdul Rahmān Sālih Al-Mahmūd mentions that if the scholars see that through political participation there will be an Islamic benefit – such as countering falsehood or lessening it – then there is no problem in it. He also advises the scholars (of that country) to guide the people towards selecting the better candidate, or the one with less evil.[vii]
3) Sheikh Abdul Muhsin Al-Abād (teacher in the Prophet’s mosque for the last 35 years) was also asked about voting. The sheikh said that there is no problem in it if you are selecting the person who is better than the other. By doing so, you are following the lesser evil, an Islamic principle in fiqh. Through voting, you are playing a part in countering or removing the candidate with policies that are more harmful. The questioner then asked for a response to the people who state that this method is an innovation in the religion. The sheikh replied that this is what the people are tested with today (i.e. the reality of their situation) and it is upon them to choose the lesser harm. This is similar to the delight of the Muslims for the victory of the Romans over the Persians.[viii]
4) Dr Mushīr Al-Masri quoted some of the evidences from the Qur’ān and Sunnah which are used to support the permissibility of participation:
ادْعُ إِلَىٰ سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ ۖ وَجَادِلْهُم بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ ۚ
“Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and good instruction, and argue with them in a way that is best. Indeed, your Lord is most knowing of who has strayed from His way, and He is most knowing of who is [rightly] guided.”[ix]
Reason for using this as evidence: Participation of the Muslims might help in aiding them to be able to give Da’wah and to have easier means to fulfil their religious and worldly duties.
قَالُوا يَا شُعَيْبُ مَا نَفْقَهُ كَثِيرًا مِّمَّا تَقُولُ وَإِنَّا لَنَرَاكَ فِينَا ضَعِيفًا ۖ وَلَوْلَا رَهْطُكَ لَرَجَمْنَاكَ ۖ وَمَا أَنتَ عَلَيْنَا بِعَزِيزٍ
They said, “O Shu’ayb, we do not understand much of what you say, and indeed, we consider you among us as weak. And if not for your family, we would have stoned you [to death]; and you are not to us one respected.” [x]
Reason for using this as evidence: Having power and establishment means the people will hear our voices more.
Abu Sa‘īd Al-Khudri (may Allāh be pleased with him) said: I heard the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) saying:
من رأى منكم منكرا فليغيره بيده ، فإن لم يستطع فبلسانه ، فإن لم يستطع فبقلبه ، وذلك أضعف الإيمان
“Whosoever of you sees an evil action, he must change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then (he must change it) with his tongue. If he is not able to do so then (he must change it) with his heart and this is the weakest (manifestation) of faith.”[xi]
Reason for using this as evidence: The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) ordered us to remove an evil, and political participation can be a means to removing evil in our society.
From the evidence he also uses is Hilf al-Fudūl. This was a pre-Islamic treaty between the people of Mecca to unite upon aiding the weak and oppressed person from the oppression of any tribes. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was present in the treaty and said: “Indeed I have witnessed it in the house of Abdullāh Ibn Jad’ān, and if it existed during the time of Islam I would have also attended.” (Ibn hajr al asqalani, fath al bari ibn hajr, 3/553.)
Reason behind using this as evidence: This is a co-operation and an agreement between diverse people upon a common good. Similar results can also be achieved through political participation and voting.
5) The Muslim World League Fiqh council stated, “It is permissible for a Muslim who enjoys the rights of citizenship in a non-Muslim country to take part in elections and the like because it is more likely that his participation will bring benefits such as presenting a true picture of Islam, defending Muslim issues in that country, supporting the rights of religious and other minorities, strengthening their role in circles of influence, and cooperating with reasonable, fair-minded people on a basis of truth and justice.”[xii]
6) Sheikh Salman Al-‘Awdah (may Allāh hasten his release) issued a fatwa saying that participation in politics can be a means to ‘reducing suffering’ of Muslims: “I believe participating in elections will, in any way, reduce evil and be a forum for countering bad policies and exposing their deficiencies, as well as being an opportunity to present proposals of a different kind that may help people.”[xiii]
7) The European Council for Fatwa and Research met in Istanbul in 2006 and presented a number of research papers on the topic of political participation in Europe. The council, which was headed by Sheikh Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, concluded that Muslims should participate with the goal of defending rights, good values, and establishing the presence of Muslims in these lands. Participating in politics in its original ruling is permissible but can shift between permissible, encouraged, and obligatory. This is based on the following verse:
وَتَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْبِرِّ وَالتَّقْوَى وَلَا تَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ
“Cooperate upon goodness and piety and do not cooperate upon sin and hostility.”
8) Sheikh Abdul Karīm Zaydān, one of the greatest scholars and thinkers from Iraq, and former minister of Awqāf in Iraq in 1968, issued a fatwa encouraging Muslims to choose who will bring more benefits to the nation. [xiv]
9) Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani regards political participation tantamount to personal ‘ibāda. In his book Asre Hadir Mein Islam Kaise Nafiz Ho, he writes: “The lack of interest towards elections is due to the fact that people have linked Dīn (religion) only to prayer and fasting, and they consider politics and economics as totally ‘foreign’. This is why we see many in their private capacity dedicate and devote themselves to prayer but are quite reckless as far as other dealings are concerned… such are the people who regard elections as merely something of the Dunyā having no connection to Dīn, and have introduced into Dīn various evils.”
There are many examples from the Qur’ān and the Sunnah, such as the story of Prophet Yusuf (ʿalayhi al-Salām) and others that time and space does not allow us to dwell on. There are also other fiqh principles some scholars use, such as Maslaha (the greater benefit) and al-Barā’a al-Asliyya (the origins of the rulings are permissible unless there is a clear evidence that forbids it) to use as an evidence to support the permissibility of voting and political participation.
Sheikh Abdul Rahmān Abdul Khāliq said, “The statement on the permissibility of political participation through elections is an opinion held by many contemporary scholars, and from them are Sheikh Ibn Bāz, Sheikh Ibn ‘Uthaymīn – who gave rulings on these matters with knowledge of the reality of the situation of the current ummah…” He then started to mention the opinions of a number of other scholars such as Sheikh Abdulrahmān ibn Nāsir al-Sāi’di in the same matter.[xv]
It is important that Muslims have a good relationship with the politicians in order to have more support for our community’s necessities and ambitions. The support of the politicians to the Muslim community can help us reduce injustice, spread good, and give us the freedom to openly teach the public about Islam. Muslims are also community leaders that are concerned about the social issues we see around us, such as the increase in the number of homeless people, youth gangs and crimes, knife stabbings, poor NHS and policing services, as well as increased unemployment. A better government can help open doors for many noble causes for the Muslim community, such as building mosques, protecting the rights of Muslims, Islamic finance-based services, housing, and many more important matters. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said: “The best of people are those who are the most beneficial to others.”[xvi] It is from the way of a Muslim to help others and remove difficulties from the people. Our teaching is to establish happiness for humanity and improve people’s living standards. Therefore, it could be that by selecting the party that will benefit people more, we can have a share in that reward. Muslims can play a role in creating more jobs for people so they can spend on their families as well as improve important services such as hospitals. Whoever gets elected next month (God willing) has an impact on these matters. We must remember that we are British Muslims that should be recognised like other citizens with rights. If we do not vote, it could mean that our views and positions are not considered by the people in power. It could also allow the wrong government to make decisions on our behalf without any courtesy. It is important that Muslims have a role in their society and the future of the world. Voting is by all means not the end but one small but crucial part of the process. Being politically aware, engaged, and involved is just the start.
Click here to register to vote now.
[i] According to the 2011 UK census
[ii] Narrated by Ahmad (Brotton, 2016 )
[iii] Al-Qur’ān 21:73
[iv] Al-Qur’ān 30:1-4
[viii] Private gathering in the mosque of the Sheikh on 29/12/1427 – 19/01/2007
[ix] Al-Qur’ān 16:125
[x] Al-Qur’ān 11:91
[xi] Muslim, Kitāb Al-Imān (Book on Faith), Hadith 49/78
[xv] Al Mushāraka fi Al-Barlamān Wa Al-Wizāra, Dr Muhammad Al-Sharīf
[xvi] Recorded in Al Tabari and authenticated by Sheikh Al-Albāni.
Ustadh Omar is one of the Imams at WLICC in Parsons Green. Originally from Jaffa, he was born and raised in the UK. He studied Anthropology in university in the UK and Shariah in the Islamic University of Madina. He has been involved with a number of well-known Islamic organisations including Al Jumuah Magazine, Al Muntada Al Islami, FOSIS and MRDF. He has led on national pro-justice campaigns in the UK and is the founder and director of Yaseen Youth Tours.