The question on whether Muslims can participate in elections and vote in elections has often been a contentious issue, with two opposing opinions often presented.
This piece, in a Q&A format seeks to encapsulates answers to the common questions one may have which addresses the root of the issue at hand.
As Muslims living in Australia, we must question our fundamental roles and responsibilities in this country. We must question the source of our identity in this country, and we must certainly question the extent to which Islam and the Muslims can help shape the future of this country. To ensure this discussion proceeds in an enlightened and productive manner, the following points regarding elections are presented to you for consideration.
Why are elections held in Australia every three years? (4 years for state elections)
Australia is a democratic country. In a democracy, the sovereignty ultimately rests with the people. Since it is impractical for the entire population to partake in government, the people select representatives to legislate on their behalf. Elections allow the people to elect representatives who are most closely aligned to their interests, whilst also accounting the existing government by way of the ballot box.
What is the Islamic position on the impending elections?
It is important for Muslims to realise that all their actions must emanate from Islam. As Muslims, we acknowledge by way of reason that Allah (swt) created life and all its elements. As a product of this belief, we appreciate the favour that Allah (swt) bestowed upon humanity by providing eternal guidance through the complete systems of Islam. So before any action is undertaken in life, the Muslim must be thoroughly acquainted with its Islamic ruling prior to its performance.
“Then shall anyone who has done an atom’s weight of good see it! And anyone who has done an atom’s weight of evil shall see it.” [TMQ 99:7-8]
In a democracy, it is the whims of humans that direct the lawful and unlawful. No credence is given to religion, tradition, custom or any other measurement. When elections are held in a democracy, its purpose is not only to elect representatives, but to elect representatives who will legislate on the peoples behalf.
Democracy in the West is underpinned by the secular basis of western civilisation. From the early 15th century CE, Western Europe underwent a revolutionary phase known as the period of enlightenment. In this period, a fierce struggle endured between the people and the clergy, the end result of which was the relegation of the church to the private sphere and the promotion of man’s whims to the public sphere. In this period, a clear line was drawn between religion and politics – a division that remains sacrosanct today.
Islam is a complete system of life. Its codes encompass everything from prayer and fasting to politics and economics. There is no distinction in Islam between the spiritual and the temporal. In Islam, Allah (swt) legislated for all aspects of life. As Muslims, we cannot claim to accept the guidance of Allah (swt) in our personal lives, but reject His (swt) guidance in the public life. Allah (swt) says,
“and We have sent down to you the Book explaining all things, a guide a Mercy and glad tidings to Muslims.”
Moreover, sovereignty in Islam belongs to Allah (swt) alone. It is He (swt) that determines the halal and haram, not the whims and desires of man. We have in the Quran the complete orders of Allah (swt) and in the Messenger Muhammad (saw) the best example by which we implement these orders.
“But no by your Lord they can have no (real) Faith until they make you (O Mohamed) a judge in all disputes between them and find in their souls no resistance against your decisions but accept them with fullest conviction.”
Through this understanding, we can appreciate the inherent contradiction between Islam, Democracy and Secularism. If we were to embrace the western secular creed, then we would be obliged to reject the guidance of Allah (swt) in the matters that encompass the public domain. Similarly, in a democracy, we would be obliged to place the whims of man above the guidance of Allah (swt). How can a Muslim accept any laws to be placed higher than the laws of Allah (swt)? Clearly, directly participating in the elections would be promoting a system that fundamentally contradicts Islam.
Isn’t Democracy like Shura in Islam?
Shura in Islam is the consultative mechanism by which Muslims decide through consensus (by majority or otherwise) upon a given matter. It is important to remember that Shura in Islam is limited to the area of Mubah (permissible matters). There is no Shura in Islam when it comes to the halal and haram, for it is Allah (swt) alone that determines the halal and haram.
It is true that elections are a part of Islam. The Khalifah of the Muslims is elected by the people and the members of Majlis Shura are also elected by the people. Of course, the Khalifah is elected to rule by the book of Allah (swt) and the Sunnah of His Messenger (saw), whilst the Majlis Shura is restricted to addressing matters of the Mubah (permissible).
A democracy is more than an election. Elections are merely one aspect of the democratic process. It is true that representatives in a democracy are chosen through elections, but unlike Islam, these representatives are elected to implement man made laws, not the laws of Allah (swt). We cannot separate the question of sovereignty with the question of representation. Moreover, just because two systems may be similar in one detail do not make both systems equal, especially when they both contradict each other in their fundamentals.
Isn’t there a benefit in participating in the elections?
Indeed there are perceived benefits! The Muslims in this country are strong and determined. Whenever we are confronted with pressing priorities, time and time again we will plan, coordinate and execute any endeavour that ensures the betterment of our communities and wider society.
The elections are no exception. The Muslims have the ability to group for this purpose. We can work with a strong voice and an even stronger agenda. We can influence governments of all persuasion. We can effect legislation to a degree, and we can secure better funding and better resources. There are some benefits to be accrued through the election process.
However, benefit is not the criterion for action in Islam. It is the halal and haram stipulated by the Shariah. When we undertake actions as Muslims, we don’t ask whether there is a benefit or harm, we ask if it is halal or haram. When Allah (swt) asks the Muslims to pray, do we seek a benefit such as improved fitness to justify performing the prayer? If we could not see a benefit, or if we could see a harm, would we then abandon the prayer? Furthermore, are we not convinced that it is Allah (swt) that is in the best position to determine the harm and benefit?
Although there are various gains to be acquired by participating in the elections, the question we must first ask is whether it is permitted by Allah (swt)? We cannot allow our whims to override the decision of Allah (swt). Since the elections are an inherent part of the democratic and secular process, then how can we justify participating in a system that contradicts the very basis of Islam?
What about voting for Muslim candidates?
The reality of Capitalist politics is that every action is driven by benefit. This benefit can either agree with Islam or disagree with Islam. As every candidate in a democratic election is obliged to abide by the secular framework, then a Muslim candidate must be willing to place the rule of man above the rule of Allah (swt). It is one thing for a non-Muslim to implement kufr, but what can be said of a Muslim that does the same? Here, the emphasis in on participating in the legislative process and not whom you elect to do it.
It is argued of course that voting for a Muslim candidate will assist them in their cause. Notwithstanding the arguments surrounding benefit in Islam, we only have to consider the pitiful ineptitude of Muslim parliamentarians in the Islamic world to see the glaring fallacies of this logic. If a majority Muslim presence in the parliaments of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Pakistan, and Indonesia failed to prevent the massacre of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan, then how much influence will one or two candidates in Australia wield?
The reality is that even the non-Muslims have awoken to the fallacies of democracy. Whilst the overwhelming majority of Australians were opposed to the war on Iraq, the government rejected their calls and joined hands with the invaders of Iraq. If the very proponents of democracy have shunned their own system, then why do some Muslims continue to naively prescribe to this utopian view?
But does not Islam advocate the lesser of two evils?
It is rightly stated that there does exist a principle in Islam known as the lesser of two evils. But in order to use this argument, we must first accept that participating in a democratic and secular process is inherently haram, which of course, it is!
But we must also ask two questions: Firstly, what are the options open to the Muslims and are there only two? And secondly who defines the greater or lesser evil?
Is it correct to say that the only two options open to the Muslims are either to vote or not to vote? It could be argued that there are other options such as conveying the message of Islam or even emigrating from Australia.
Conveying the message of Islam when done in an organised manner can, due to the strength of the Deen, create a public opinion in Australia that is more conducive to Islam rather than antagonistic towards it. There is no reason why this work must be performed only within the mainstream political process. We all have the ability to access the influential people as well as the wider society through talks, meetings, publications, conferences, protests and more. The Muslims have established countless mosques, schools and community organisations without compromising their Deen. The end result of all this work would be the alleviation of some of the problems confronting the Muslims as well as the spreading of the noble values of Islam in a Capitalistic-benefit driven society.
Emigrating from Australia is another option available to the Muslims. Australia is certainly in the minority when it made voting compulsory. If the Muslim is sincere in avoiding a haram, and is convinced that the only manner in which to avoid sin of voting is to emigrate, then what is to prevent that Muslim from emigrating to the countless other countries where voting is not compulsory?
So not voting means that the Muslim is in fact preventing himself from committing a clear violation of Islam. Conveying the message of Islam in Australia and speaking out against corruption is something that is clearly recommended in Islam. And to emigrate is permissible and can even be an obligation when a person is forced in a particular land to commit a forbidden act or to be prevented from performing an obligation.
In this respect, participating in the elections is the only action that is evil in origin! Where is the justification then in resorting to the principle of the lesser of the two evils?
As for the question of who has right to decide which of the evils is greater or lesser, is it Allah (swt) that determines the evil or is it the human mind?
Further to this, it cannot be said that by doing evil we are able to bring about a greater good and thus prevent harm. From this point, one could then argue that the Madrid bombings was an evil that brought about the withdrawal of Spanish troops from Iraq, and occupation and killing of Muslims is a greater evil hence this was a justifiable action!
“Say: Shall we tell you of those who lose most in respect of their deeds? Those whose efforts have been wasted in this life while they thought that they were acquiring good by their works” [TMQ 18:103-104]
What about the Shariah of the previous Prophets?
We should be aware of the apparent contradiction in this argument. In the previous point the use of the justification of the lesser of the two evils implicitly accepts that participating in elections is Haram. However, using the story of previous Prophets, such as Yusuf (as), as a justification implies that it is not haram. So either it is permitted by Islam or it is haram? It has to be one or the other!
The proponents who use this argument state that Prophet Yusuf (as) was allowed to enter a non-Islamic government and hence we can also enter such a government. They also state that Prophet Yusuf (as) ruled by non-Islamic laws in a non-Islamic government.
A detailed refutation of this argument is beyond the scope of this piece. However, one must question how can Prophet Yusuf (as) on the one hand call to the straight path away from shirk and yet be of those that implements Kufr? This can never be!
In fact the Prophet Muhammad (saw) and his Sahaba faced countless similar situations as a Muslim minority living amongst the majority Kuffar who ruled by Kufr. Yet when the Prophet (saw) was asked to compromise and work within the system of the Quraysh by offering kingship, women, money and a share in their rule, his response was clear “…By Allah if they were to put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left, on condition that I relinquish this matter, I would not relinquish it until Allah made it dominant or I perish therein”
Similarly Allah (swt) warned the Prophet (saw) by saying,
“So obey not to those who deny (the Truth). They wish that you should compromise with them, so they too would compromise with you” [TMQ 68:8-9]
But isn’t living in the country already participating in the system?
No! This would be analogous to the Prophet (saw) living in Mecca and trading with the Quraysh. We would never say that the Prophet (saw) was implicitly supporting the rule of Kufr by virtue of living and trading there, nor could it be said that he (saw) was implicitly supporting the policy of torture and killing of the Sahabah.
But some parties are traditionally more friendly to Islam and the Muslims
This is a serious point.
We must first understand that Islam is a complete way of life. It is ideological. Islam cannot coexist with Capitalism or Socialism, just as Capitalism cannot coexist with Socialism and vice versa (importantly noting we refer to ideologies, not people). As such, there will always be a struggle between competing ideologies. It is natural and it is to be expected.
Australia is a Capitalist nation. It embraces the Capitalist doctrine that has its roots in the secular creed. Every political party in this country – of every persuasion – adopts and works for the Capitalist ethos. It is the collective role of these parties to ensure the politics of this country function within the Capitalist framework. So every lobby group and every constituency that wishes to be heard by these parties must do so within this framework.
The Muslims in this country are of no exception. If we wish to form a valid constituency by which we exert our pressure on these political parties, then we must do so within the Capitalist framework. For a Muslim this means accepting the imposition of Capitalism, Secularism and Democracy over Islam. At the same time, it means that we must relegate Islam to our personal affairs and not the public domain. In this way, we must accept an authority higher than the authority of Allah (swt) and we must accept a set of laws other than the laws of Allah (swt). Those Muslims who argue for participation in elections should ask themselves the following question: at what cost is the perceived benefit gained?
So the argument over which political party is better for the Muslims is redundant considering all political parties are working to ensure Capitalism prevails over Islam. In any case, it would be naive to think that Islam could be derived through kufr, or that halal could be derived through haram.
But if I don’t vote, how can I counter the threat of voices hostile to Islam?
Firstly, which voice is not hostile to Islam!
It is true that the climate of Islamophobia may intensify in the short term but by no means could this be a justification for committing an act that violates the sanctities that Allah (swt) has laid down.
Secondly, on which basis is it claimed that voting in the elections is the only way to project the Muslim voice?
The only way to remove the anti-Islamic propaganda is to engage with the non-Muslims in the wider society to show and explain the sublime values of Islam thereby removing ignorance and fear of Islam. Unfortunately, we see this as a difficult task to undertake yet our faith is strengthened through struggle and sacrifice.
Thirdly, who said the only two options are to vote or not to vote?
Just because you refuse to engage in the secular and democratic political process does not mean you choose to disengage from the political process altogether. On the contrary, Islam commands the Muslim to carry Islam and enjoin all the good and forbid all the evil. A Muslim could never isolate himself/herself from the wider society. It is that Islam is carried within the bounds of Islam, not kufr.
What is the objective of a Muslim in this country?
In answering this question, it is important that our reality be the subject of thinking rather than its source.
Allah has placed the Muslims as witnesses over mankind. It is then incumbent upon us that we spread the Deen of Allah wherever we may live, ensuring that our Islamic identity is preserved and our conduct be an example for the wider society. The example of our beloved Prophet (saw) should be our only consideration when delivering the call, challenging all that contradicts Islam and presenting the Islamic alternative. In a time when the enemies of Islam are working relentlessly against the Deen of Allah (swt), the Muslims wherever they may be must respond in a way that accords with the Shariah, never deviating from the path of haqq and justice.
A brief look at the reality around us reveals a society whose basis has resulted in epidemic crime levels and a wider social discontent. The Muslim community should aim at becoming the glitter amongst the worn particles, a ray of light that attracts those whom long for tranquillity, contentment and solutions. The Muslims have at their disposal a comprehensive system revealed by the Almighty Creator of the universe. Muslims must generate sincere debate, and present this system using different styles to various aspects of society, individual thinkers, and communities alike.
Most importantly, Muslims must realise that they are not a minority, rather part of a global Ummah whose strength is derived from the Islamic Creed (Aqeedah), and whose destiny is one that The Creator has so willed. A destiny that places His (swt) Deen beyond and above all other ways of life, and a destiny that never allows the rule of man (or any other) to be placed over His (swt) rule.
The advocacy to vote in non-Islamic systems where the justification is benefit for Muslims, is at best indicative of a defeated, secular mentality, and at worst a desire to cooperate in the plan to distance Muslims from the pure and unadulterated Islam. It is thus obliged that the Muslims in this country continue to avoid swimming in a sea of kufr and dive into the cool sparkling purifying waters of Islam, and it is only with this dive that we refuse the crumbs that are offered and we opt for the whole solution.
The Muslims are one global Ummah. The objective of the Muslims living in Australia is the same as every Muslim around the world. We must unite intellectually and work towards uniting politically under Islam. The fate of the Muslim community in this country is inextricably linked with the fate of the Muslims globally. The successes, pains, and tribulations of the Ummah will reach all its members in all corners of the world.
Our problem is none other than the absence of the application of Islam as a complete and comprehensive system. We all have a duty to support and actively work towards the re-establishment of the Islamic state in the Islamic lands, which will implement Allah’s (swt) Deen in totality, unite the Muslims, carry Islam to the world, and defend the lives and honour of every man, women, and child under the protection of the state.
Dear brothers and sisters in Islam, you are invited to raise your vision, break away from the shackles of the status quo, and realise the Ummah is indeed a giant awakening from slumber.
“O you who believe! Respond to Allah and His apostle when He calls you to that which will give you life” [TMQ 8:24]