Seeking The Middle Ground

// September 10th, 2007 // Blog

[Warning: another entry inspired by Facebook!]

I recently joined a new group on Facebook, titled: “A Muslim dummies guide to British political parties and what their policies actually mean for Muslims“. The aim is – and i quote:

“A sort of comparison site for each of the parties in terms of where exactly they stand on specific issues compared to the others. If rumours of a snap autumn election are to be believed then we need to be paying much more attention to all the new policies appearing each week. It is getting quite tough to compare on many issues, so please help fill in the missing info so we can fairly show what each party is doing in specific areas of concern to us.”

I welcomed the creation of such a group. Even though i am not in a position to contribute much to the discussions, at present, i am all for learning new things, especially that which concern me as a British citizen. However, i do have one niggling worry in the back of my mind. Whenever Muslims start discussing politics, and especially party politics, it is almost guaranteed that the same old, fiery debate will kick in: to vote or not to vote? That is the question (apparently).

The purpose of this entry is not to state my opinion on the whether i believe voting to be permissible or impermissible, in Islam. For one, my opinion in this issue doesn't matter, and for two, i don't have one. I really am one of those incredibly annoying people who can't make it black and white. I am the grey pebble in the shoe of the firmly opinionated. I sit on the fence, watching both sides slog it out, wondering when they're going to realise, “Hellooooo? We're on the same team, people!”.

I think debate is necessary, but we, the common people, lack the manners to debate politely, and on the whole, lack the self-control and intelligence to debate rationally. This is applicable to all spheres of Islam, and is something that i am only beginning to realise wrt my own behaviour. This is an extremely important issue – is it something that the Islamic scholars of the West are prioritising? If so, why is it that every time election season comes round, the exact, same discourse is regurgitated again, and again? Sometimes, i feel like this Ummah is running on a treadmill, expending lots of energy on going nowhere, fast.

One thing i would like to do in this entry, is try to explain both sides, and why it is that i am so undecided on this matter, lest it seem that i don't care.

Firstly, it is important to clarify the problem at hand. The issue is not with voting, and not even with Democracy. So all those people who claim that Islam is pro- or anti- democracy, really need to stop wasting their breath. DEMOCRACY IS NOT THE ISSUE. The issue is: is voting for a non-Islamic government, that is, a government that does not rule according to Law that is based upon principles and rulings found within the Qur'an, and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, tantamount to an act of kufr (disbelief)?

Some claim the answer to be “yes”, and i have seen this Qur'anic verse quoted as supporting evidence [5:44; translation of the meaning by Yusuf Ali; emphasis mine]:

It was We who revealed the law (to Moses): therein was guidance and light. By its standard have been judged the Jews, by the prophets who bowed (as in Islam) to Allāh's will, by the rabbis and the doctors of law: for to them was entrusted the protection of Allāh's book, and they were witnesses thereto: therefore fear not men, but fear me, and sell not my signs for a miserable price. If any do fail to judge by (the light of) what Allāh hath revealed, they are (no better than) Unbelievers.

I am not sure if there are other relevant verses, or Prophetic narrations (hadith) that deal with the subject. But the basic reality is, there is good reason for any God-fearing Muslim to be concerned about voting for a government that does not rule by the Qur'an and Sunnah. None of us can ignore the very disturbing possibility that such an act may nullify our faith, no matter what our intentions for voting are.

Now, to the other side of the argument. There is another principle in Islam that states that in extreme cases, the impermissible may become permissible, when dealing with a matter of two “evils”. That is, when the believer is faced with a situation where he is damned if he does, and he is damned if he doesn't, he should choose the lesser of the two evils, and he will not be blamed for doing so, God-willing. Some scholars (and many lay people) have claimed that voting in this day and age is a “necessary evil”, for those living in the UK, because of the dangers the Muslim community are facing, wrt our civil liberties, and more importantly, our ability to worship freely, and also, wrt foreign policies that are destroying the lives of our brothers and sisters in Muslim countries. If we don't take political action, we face the possibility of bigots, such as the BNP, coming into power, and making our lives, and the lives of those others who are not-whiter-than-white, quite hellish. Can we stand by and let this happen, when we have a weapon, in the form of the “free” vote, available to us? Won't we be accountable in front of Allāh for not reducing the harm in the society that we live in?

So, hopefully, you can now see the dilemma that i, and many other Muslims, face, on a regular basis. We urgently need the scholars to get their act together, in this regard. And we urgently need experts in the fields of Political Science, to advise them.

In the mean time, while we wait, i have one request, and one suggestion:

First, i ask the Muslims who have already made up their minds on this issue, to be patient with one another. To the pro-voters: understand the fear that the anti-voters have for the sanctity of their own faith, and in turn, for the sanctity of yours. Inshā’Allāh, their hearts are in the right place, even if their tongues are not. And to the anti-voters: understand the fear that pro-voters have, for their accountability in front of Allāh, for not taking action against those who wish our community harm. God-willing, their hearts too, are in the right place, even if their tongues are not. To both sides: do not think that you are more God-fearing than the other, or more concerned for the welfare of the Muslims, than the other; recognise that, at the end of the day, you both want to please Allāh and avoid harm.

Secondly, my suggestion is for us to seek the middle ground between the two camps, which IMHO, is the political process known as lobbying. Now, don't ask me for exact details on how this is done; it is something i am eager to investigate myself. How is it that there are these powerful groups that exert such great influence on so-called “democratic” governments, without the need for elections? This is definitely something we, as a community, have little idea about, which is really sad, because i do believe that it is a permissible means of achieving change, as long as it does not involve bribery and corruption (though one has to wonder if that is even possible?). In theory, it should fall under the banner of enjoining the good, and forbidding the evil, without going so far as to officially validate the governing body, in the manner that voting has been accused of doing. However, I could be wrong, and Allāh knows best.

So, going back to the group that inspired this entry. I do think it is a good idea to have such a discussion, because we need to know what our future leaders have in store for us, even if we don't want to play a direct part in bringing them to power. I also think we need to think more locally. Imams, and citizens from each constituency have to study their own candidates, and decide what is best for themselves. Maybe a one-size-fits-all fatwa just won't cut it. For example, if you have an area where there is a real danger of the BNP gaining a seat, it might be a duty of the Muslims OF THAT AREA, to organise their vote to help keep them out. But in another area, where the candidates are pretty similar in their overall level of good/bad, and thus, where voting may not bring any benefit, it is best for the Muslims OF THAT AREA, to not engage in voting.

Yes, i'm sure that it is way more complicated than that – and that is why i'm going to leave it to the professionals (i.e., scholars & political scientists) to argue it out. I just pray that the other members of the group are willing to do the same.

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