Whilst this article was originally posted in relation to the 2005 General Election in the United Kingdom, its principles and teachings are still relevant today. Some small changes have been made to the text as a result.
Advice to British Muslims regarding Elections
With the Name of Allah, and in Him we seek assistance, and the praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds. I testify that there is no deity worthy of worship besides Allah alone, without any associate, and there is nothing comparable to Him. And I testify that Muhammad is His servant and final Messenger.
In the current climate, many brothers and sisters in Britain have become preoccupied with the issue of the coming elections and debating the question of whether Muslims are allowed to vote and which party is most deserving of our vote. In reply, I would like to present the following clarification and advice.
It is clearly evident to any Muslim who possesses a basic understanding of Islam that the greatest and most important aim of Islamic law is the deterrence of evil or the reduction of harm, and the attainment of good or its increase. The establishment of a harmonious and successful way of life depends upon this principle. This is why the Islamic law - that is, the law of Allah - is never contrary to the basic needs of humanity, or establishes anything in contradiction to sound logic.
Subsequently, it is an obligation upon every Muslim to achieve this aim, whether in part or in its totality. However, it is apparent that it is virtually impossible to attain this objective in its absolute sense, in the majority of cases; yet, in spite of this, the Muslims must endeavour to carry out the necessary means that enable them to achieve this objective.
Based on this, it is obligatory for those Muslims living under the shadow of man-made law to take all the necessary steps and means to make the law of Allah , the Creator and the One who sustains, supreme and manifest in all aspects of life. If they are unable to do so, then it becomes obligatory for them to strive to minimise the evil and maximise the good.
In democratic countries which are ruled by man-made law, candidates from the various parties compete to attain power. Some of these parties or candidates are working against the benefit of humanity (i.e. against the law of the Creator), while the policies of others are less detrimental. Therefore, it is obligatory on the Muslims to utilise all means to promote the candidate who will best ensure the welfare of the people according to Islam, the law of their Creator, to be elected to the decision-making posts.
With regard to the upcoming elections in the UK, the Muslims are recommended or even obliged to vote for the party who will be of most benefit on a national and international level, who will increase upon that which is good, or at the least, lessen the extent of the current evil prevalent in the world today. At the same time, the Muslims should exert the utmost effort to oppose those whose policies are against the welfare of humanity.
Allah, the Exalted, says:
"Help you one another in virtue, righteousness and piety; but do not help one another in sin and transgression."
The final Prophet, Muhammad, peace be upon him, said:
"Whoever sees an evil, he should change it by his hands; if he could not do so, then he should change it by his tongue; if he could not do so, then he should do that by his heart, which is the least of faith."
The Prophet, in this hadith (saying), did not allow the Muslim to remain idle and incapacitated when witnessing injustices while he is able to change them.
It is by the grace of Allah that British Muslims demonstrated a keener interest this year (2004) to participate in the elections, which reflects an improvement in their state, namely a more acute understanding and greater awareness amongst them.
Is it true that voting is an act of kufr (disbelief)?
On the other hand, those who consider such participation to be an act of kufr reached their conclusion based on two factors:
First: The inability to distinguish between establishing a democratic system in which people vote for one of a number of systems, and voting to select the best individual amongst a number of candidates within an already-established system imposed upon them and which they are unable to change within the immediate future. There is no doubt that the first type is an act of kufr, as Allah says:
"Legislation is for none but Allah. He has commanded that you worship none but Him."
And He says:
"And whosoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed, such are the kafirun (disbelievers)."
Secondly: Not realising that voting for a candidate or party who rules according to man-made law does not necessitate approval or acceptance for his method; this is a crucial point. It is clearly apparent that individuals are sometimes placed in a situation in which they are compelled to make decisions which may normally be deemed unacceptable or which may be far from their liking, due to the fact that it is the best available option open to them. For example, a sick person might be forced to do many things that he dislikes, such as taking particular kinds of medication or treatment, or even giving his consent for one of his limbs to be amputated – not because this is to his liking or acceptable to him, but because he simply does not have any other choice, or since it is by far the best alternative available for him at that time. The shar'iah allowed, or even obliged, the starving person, fearing death to eat un-slaughtered meat in order to preserve his life. No one can argue that he would customarily deem it acceptable or that he inclines towards that. For this reason, we caution our brothers and sisters from hastily passing judgements on such complicated issues based on the apparent situation, without possessing the deep understanding and powers of analysis that they require.
It is also pertinent at this point to remind my brothers and sisters here that we should participate in voting, believing that we are doing so in an attempt to minimise the evil, while at the same time maintaining that the best system is the shar'iah, which is the law of Allah.
Which party deserve our votes?
Finally, to address the most pressing question which remains outstanding: which party deserves our support in order to attain the aforementioned objectives?
The answer to such a question requires a deep and meticulous understanding of the political arena. Consequently, I believe that individuals should avoid involving themselves in this process and rather should entrust this responsibility to the prominent Muslim organisations that have sufficient experience and ability to determine the issue according to the interests of the Muslims.
Meanwhile, such organisations should agree upon a certain policy with regards to voting. For example, they can agree to vote for one or more parties or individuals.
It is upon the remainder of the Muslims therefore to accept and follow the decisions of these organisations. The basis for my statement is that firstly, unity among Muslims is obligatory. Among the many evidences for this is what Allah says in the Qur'an:
"And hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah (i.e. this Qur'an or the guidance of Allah), and be not divided among yourselves ... "
And the statement of the Prophet, peace be upon him:
"Adhere to the jama'ah (community), and avoid division, for Satan is closer to the lone individual and is far from a group. Whoever seeks the expanse of Paradise should stick to the jama'ah."
This unity in light of the current situation is a cohesion based upon 'strategic decision making' in order to have the greatest impact for the community of the Muslims. Such a uniform opinion regarding the elections cannot be attained unless the Muslims follow the conclusions, arrived at by the leading, experienced Muslim organisations, as described previously. This is the sole means to avoid disagreement, since the opinion of Muslims in this ijtihad matter differs widely and thus they will be in great opposition to one another. The impact and influence of our vote will be greatly diminished if we fail to vote as one voice, and instead each opts to follow our personal judgement.
Secondly, voting itself is not obligatory or recommended according Islamic law, rather the aim behind it is to achieve the greatest benefit for Muslims or avoiding evil. This cannot be achieved unless the Muslims agree on one voice or one strategy by which they can influence other parties. If this is missing, then they will have no weight and no such influence. So if this is the case, the whole objective in voting is lost and there is then no benefit in participating in voting.
Based on this, I advise my brothers and sisters to forsake their individual opinions in favour of the opinion of the collective.
Before I conclude, I would like to mention some related advice. Some Muslims might come to the conclusion that abstention from the electoral process is better for Islam and the Muslims. If this is what an individual believes, then he should not impose his opinion upon other Muslims, by preventing them from voting or insisting that they abandon voting by arguing that it is an act of kufr. This would be tantamount to injustice and oppression.
Muslims should not turn their mosques into forums for political campaigns. This act may reach the level of prohibition if it leads to disagreement, dispute, and aggression. Allah, the Exalted, forbade the latter when it came to religious matters, so consider then the prohibition of this in anything other than religion. Allah, the Exalted, said:
"And be not of Al-Mushrikun (disbelievers in the Oneness of Allah, polytheists, idolaters, etc.); of those who split up their religion (i.e. who left the true Islamic Monotheism), and became sects."
Once the Muslims have agreed on a particular candidate or party, then they should vote for him without becoming preoccupied with this issue to the extent that they leave their primary obligation in the West as a result, and abandon calling people to Islam and clarifying the widespread misconceptions about the religion, for Allah says:
"And who is better in speech than he who says: 'My Lord is Allah (believes in His Oneness),' and then stands straight (acts upon His Order), and invites (men) to Allah's (Monotheism), and does righteous deeds, and says: 'I am one of the Muslims.' "
Muslims should not rely heavily upon elections and voting to expedite major changes, particularly with respect to foreign policy. The wider political game is beyond the direct influence of political parties or politicians. Muslims are participating endeavouring to minimise the evil, at least in terms of the internal policy.
In closing, I have come to the conclusion that the major Muslim organisation concerned about politics in UK so far is the Muslim Association of Britain. They have done a great service by preparing a list of candidates whom they believe will best represent the interests of Muslims in the event they are elected. For example [SunnahOnline.com: the examples given here are no longer relevant given when they were made and so have been removed from the article]. Therefore, we advise our brothers and sisters to visit their website for more information on which candidates are being forwarded in their respective localities.
We ask Allah to guide us to the right path and to grant victory for law of our Lord, Allah in the UK and in other parts of the world.
Originally posted on the website of the Islaamic Network (no longer available)