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British Muslims, To vote or not to vote...

Trends Magazine, Vol. 7 Issue 3

The 1997 Elections and the British Muslims

Rizwan Syed examines whether British Muslims should participate in the General Elections.

The 300,000 strong British Jewish community has 21 MPs representing them in Parliament. The 2,000,000 strong British Muslim community has none!

List of Jewish MPs (Pre 1997 General Election)

Member of Parliament



Batiste, Spencer Elmet Conservative
Carlile, Alex Montgomery Liberal
Cohen, Harry Leyton Labour
Fabrikant, Micheal Mid-Staffs Conservative
Gordon, Mrs. Mildred Bow & Poplar Labour
Hodge, Margaret Barking Labour
Howard, Michael, Q.C. Folkestone & Hythe Conservative
Janner, Greville, Q.C. Leicester West Labour
Jessel, Toby Twickenham Conservative
Kaufman, R.Hon. Gerald, P.C. Manchester, Gorton Labour
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Burton Conservative
Oppenheim, Philip Amber Valley Conservative
Patnick, Irvine Sheffield Hallam Conservative
Rifkind, Rt. Hon. Malcolm, P.C. Edinburgh, Pentlands Conservative
Roche, Barbara Hornsey & Wood Green Labour
Sheldon, Rt. Hon. Robert, P.C. Ashton-under-Lyne Labour
Steen, Anthony South Hams Conservative
Steinberg, Gerry Durham City Labour
Stern, Michael Bristol, North-West Conservative
Sumberg, David Bury South Conservative
Winnick, David Walsall North Labour

Obtained from the Jewish Year Book 1997.

With the date for the next general election most likely to be the 1st. of May, election fever is bubbling up and political hearts are palpitating. While most people are debating which parry to vote for, and the politicians are intensifying their school-boy taunts and jests, the Muslim community in Britain once again faces its own debate - a debate which is no less fevered than that of mainstream society - the question: to vote or not to vote. In previous years, the issue has prompted thousands of leaflets of every colour and title, mostly reminding us how "Haram" voting is. This year, the issue seems to have revved up a further gear with one group, UKACIA, espousing, refreshingly, the need for Muslims to participate in the electoral process.


One argument that is put forward against participating in the government of a non-Islamic state is the Prophet's rejection of power when it was offered to him in Makkah, because it would mean continuing the same old Jahili and polytheistic traditions, and not ruling by Islam. But was this really why he refused? No! For the Quraysh to invite their worst enemy to be king there had to be a steep condition attached: and this was that he must stop preaching! Naturally that would defeat the Prophet's very raison d'étre which was to convey the Message of Islam. It was for this reason in fact that he, being a Divine Messenger was forced to say 'no'.

A stronger argument that is employed is Allah's saying "judge between them by what Allah has revealed and follow not their vain desires..." (5:49) and other verses in the same vein. Clearly, if we choose to reject the laws of Allah (Shari'ah) and implement instead 'vain desires' i.e. what politicians simply 'feel' or 'think' is right, then this is Haram.

No one can deny that Muslims should serve under an Islamic State - a State whose every motion conforms with Divine Law - the Shari'ah. If we have the choice and the resources to establish a government and to run it as we please, then we must rule according to the clear laws and rules laid out in the Qur'an and Sunnah.

The problem is that we have no choice. Today, we cannot dictate our system of government - not even in 'Muslim' countries, let alone Britain, where we are a minority community. As a threatened minority we need to have political influence - this necessarily entails voting. But our vote will give support to a candidate who has 'vain desires'. He will not vote bills in Parliament on the basis of what Allah has revealed'. And ultimately, in a very small way, by voting we are contributing to the running of a non-Islamic government. Should we then ignore this need for political influence, and just concentrate on Da'wah (the call to Islam), waiting for the establishment of an Islamic State here, even though we cannot realistically expect one soon?

The Divine Guidance is for all times and so it must necessarily cater for exceptional circumstances and occasions of constraint. Even during the lifetime of the Prophet when unusual situations presented themselves, appropriate exceptions were revealed. Just because you are too ill to do Wudhu (ritual ablutions) you cannot forget about prayer. Instead, do Tayammum, then pray. If there is no food except pork or no drink except wine, don't starve or die of thirst: accept as much as will keep you alive.

"But if one is forced by necessity, without wilful disobedience nor transgressing due Limits, then he is guiltless" (2:173).

Scholars in the past have studied such laws in depth and have concluded that there is an order of priorities in the Shari'ah. Imam Shatibi listed five: the preservation of faith, life, progeny, wealth and mind. A study of the Shari'ah led Imam Shatibi to the conclusion that "it was only set up to serve the interests of man. This is a conclusion which no one can dispute..." (al-Muwaffaqat). Similarly, Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah wrote:
"The Shari'ah accepts and supports all that which is right and opposes and rejects that which is bad or corrupt. This is one of the most important and useful fundamentals" (A'lam al-Muwaqqi'in 4/375), He also said:
"When the signs of justice appear and its face is shown in any way, that is where the law of Allah and His religion are found." Ibn 'Aqil defined Islamic policies as: "The actions which bring the people closer to good and distance them from evil even if such action's were not advocated by the Prophet (s.A.w.) or revealed, from the heavens."

The purpose of the Law is to benefit humans. In situations where there is no clear ruling, the path accruing the most benefit, or least harm, is the truly Islamic path., even if it involves a little unpleasantness. For example, there are many Hadiths about tolerating an unjust ruler, so long as he does not demand un-Islamic deeds from you.

The scholars have deduced general rules, which are used to find Islamic solutions in non-ideal situations. They centre on 'the Roles of Compromise'. According to Ibn Taimiyyah:

a) It is not permissible to command or forbid a course of action without thorough investigation.

b) If the right is preponderant it should be command, even if it results in a lesser wrong.

c) If the wrong is predominant, it should be forbidden, even if it entails the loss of a lesser right.

d) A wrong should not he forbidden if doing so entails the loss of a greater right.

e) If the right and wrong are equally balanced and inseparable, it is neither to be commanded nor forbidden. (Al-Hisba fi al-Islam.)

These rules are responsible for the other well-known rule - "Necessity dictates exceptions." and the Qur'an contains many examples of this rule.

It should now be clear that voting in a non-Muslim country is a compromise. But Islam is a living, practical and dynamic religion and so endorses compromise, when necessary. A clear need, therefore, must be demonstrated before we can choose to vote. And this need cannot be solely personal but must be an 'Islamic' one i.e. one that will satisfy Islamic interests. But what are these 'Islamic interests', today, in Britain? Islam exists to serve mankind, with or without an Islamic State. In Makkah, countless verses were revealed on feeding the poor and freeing slaves. These were not necessarily Muslims, they were humans.

Therefore our Islamic interests include

i. The preservation of Islam - it is Britain's only true hope.
ii. Preservation of our rights - so that we are not discriminated against due to our faith
iii. Concern for the morals of the country
iv. Concern for the welfare of the country (e.g. health, education, economy)
v. Lobbying to protect Muslims and activists abroad - from a crooked foreign policy.


There are numerous Islamic examples of Muslim involvement in non-Muslim governments. The most beautiful is that of the Prophet Yusuf (s). In the words of Shaykh Rashid al-Ghannoushi:
"It is worth noting that this young man who was imprisoned and mistreated, seized the moment when it was right and expressed readiness to take charge of the most important office in the Pharaoh government, believing it was his duty to rescue many nations threatened by famine and drought. He did not wait for the Egyptian people to renounce paganism and embrace his unitarian religion so as to form the foundation for an Islamic government. What that young man had in mind was the fact that religion has come to serve the people and fulfil their essential needs. Yusuf had the conviction that rescuing the people could not wait. He saw that he was able to help, and he did help."

There are many Islamic revivalist movements around the Muslim world today. And they live in the midst of great scholars who are no less aware of the verses on 'ruling by Islam' and 'non-Islam'. The general inclination amongst the revivalist movements is to adopt the concept of the 'purposes' and 'interests' of Islam. Consequently, most of these movements have, to greater or lesser extents, recognised the necessity for power sharing with non-Islamic governments.


Our chosen candidate in the General Elections while possibly supporting some Islamic interests will inevitably harbour numerous un-Islamic views and support un-Islamic policies, e.g. homosexuality. So voting can only be justified if on weighing the harms and benefits, the balance is likely to weigh towards a benefit. And even then our involvement should be limited to the extent that it remains overall beneficial. This requires careful thought and assessment. Voting is undoubtedly a difficult compromise.

Here are some of the questions a Muslim will have to consider:

What are their Islamic and un-Islamic opinions, e.g. about foreign policy, abortion, etc? Has he/she made any promises to their local Muslims? Is there a unified Muslim lobby in support of this candidate? Which party does the candidate support? What are the policies of the candidate's party? Is their parry likely to win? These are just a sample of the questions which our Muslim voter needs to consider before he or she puts the cross by a name.

Whatever you decide on polling day, keep in mind the words of Rashid al

"What is most important is that a Muslim must remain positive and actively engaged in the effort to implement the revealed laws of Allah, whether partially or in their totality depending on circumstances and resources. The essence of Allah's laws, 'for which all Divine messages were sent, is the establishment of justice for mankind.

"We sent aforetime our Messengers with clear signs and sent down with them the Book and the Balance, that men may stand forth in justice." (57:25)"

© Copyright 1998 Trends Magazine, UK.

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