To vote or not to vote: that isn’t the question
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاءَ لِلَّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالْأَقْرَبِينَ إِن يَكُنْ غَنِيًّا أَوْ فَقِيرًا فَاللَّهُ أَوْلَىٰ بِهِمَا فَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا الْهَوَىٰ أَن تَعْدِلُوا وَإِن تَلْوُوا أَوْ تُعْرِضُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا
O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Do not follow low desires, lest you deviate, lest you swerve, and if you distort or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do
The Command of Justice
The aforementioned verse setting out the command to stand firmly for justice is clear and unambiguous. Tempering any notion that one would use that for personal aggrandisement, the verse itself keeps those who believe in check. Along with other textual evidences, standing for justice against oneself, should ensure that one is humble, not conceited; self-critical and reflective, not arrogant. Writing in his acclaimed exegesis, Ibn Kathir commented upon this verse with the following:
Allah commands his believing servants to stand up for justice and fairness and not to deviate from it, right or left. They should not fear the blame of anyone or allow anyone to prevent them from doing something for the sake of Allah. They are also required to help, support and aid each other for the sake of Allah. [Tafsir Ibn Kathir, (English, abridged] Vol. 2, p. 606].
There was once a time when engaging in politics meant standing for justice in accordance with this verse; holding fast to high ideals and championing lofty principles. The fruit of this can be seen in the substance of what was reported upon the authority of the companion Ubādah bin aṣ-Ṣāmit (may Allah be pleased with him). During his pledge of allegiance to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), he recounts that this included the duty to hear and obey, whether in times of difficulty or in prosperity; whether under hardship or at ease, and to speak the truth wherever he was and not to fear the blame of the blamers (reported by Bukhāri, Muslim, Nasā’i and others).
One can only lament at the chasm that now exists between the time of Ubādah bin aṣ-Ṣāmit (may Allah be pleased with him) and now. Often in political discourse Islam has become nothing more than a convenient label, a badge to harness support and a mask to hide behind where criminality has been uncovered.
With the announcement of another parliamentary general election to be held in the UK on the 8 June, the strange sense of ritual amongst Muslims begins to resurface. Tired ill-conceived arguments about the necessity of participation are reiterated, as are the so-called ‘Islamic opinions’ which purport to explain the lawfulness (or on bizarre occasion, obligation) of voting for the establishment’s status quo political parties. Yet absent from the discourse is any mention of the command to uphold and adhere to justice as per the Qur’ānic verse.
A disingenuous justification
There are many statements that are put forward and circulated from scholars which purport to put an ‘Islamic justification’ or premium upon voting for the establishment political parties. More often than not, this is nothing more than a thinly-veiled mask that is used to encourage votes for the Labour Party. Using the words ‘argument’, ‘justification’ at times though does seem a step too far. A common thread running through all these points, is a complete lack of any judicious study of the British political system, let alone any understanding of what a representative democracy even is.
Whether these statements mention ‘the lesser harm’; ‘the law of the previous Prophets’; ‘elections are just a selection’, or even just the politics of fear-mongering, each of them is intellectually bankrupt and devoid of any sound Islamic reasoning. Worst of all are the banal statements designed to enforce servile compliance and not critical questions: ‘the scholars have said’, ‘all the scholars have said’, and even ‘our great scholars have said.’ No one likes to mention that these same ‘scholars’ have on more than one occasion justified the positions of monarchs, tyrants and dictators across the Muslim world. The fact that every ‘Muslim country’ has brazenly overturned the Qur’ānic prohibition on usury in its financial/monetary system, is an uncomfortable point conveniently overlooked.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) forewarned against justifying the lies and oppression of rulers who would come after him:
حَدَّثَنَا هَارُونُ بْنُ إِسْحَاقَ الْهَمْدَانِيُّ، حَدَّثَنِي مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ عَبْدِ الْوَهَّابِ، عَنْ مِسْعَرٍ، عَنْ أَبِي حُصَيْنٍ، عَنِ الشَّعْبِيِّ، عَنْ عَاصِمٍ الْعَدَوِيِّ، عَنْ كَعْبِ بْنِ عُجْرَةَ، قَالَ خَرَجَ إِلَيْنَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَنَحْنُ تِسْعَةٌ خَمْسَةٌ وَأَرْبَعَةٌ أَحَدُ الْعَدَدَيْنِ مِنَ الْعَرَبِ وَالآخَرُ مِنَ الْعَجَمِ فَقَالَ اسْمَعُوا هَلْ سَمِعْتُمْ أَنَّهُ سَيَكُونُ بَعْدِي أُمَرَاءُ فَمَنْ دَخَلَ عَلَيْهِمْ فَصَدَّقَهُمْ بِكَذِبِهِمْ وَأَعَانَهُمْ عَلَى ظُلْمِهِمْ فَلَيْسَ مِنِّي وَلَسْتُ مِنْهُ وَلَيْسَ بِوَارِدٍ عَلَىَّ الْحَوْضَ وَمَنْ لَمْ يَدْخُلْ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَمْ يُعِنْهُمْ عَلَى ظُلْمِهِمْ وَلَمْ يُصَدِّقْهُمْ بِكَذِبِهِمْ فَهُوَ مِنِّي وَأَنَا مِنْهُ وَهُوَ وَارِدٌ عَلَىَّ الْحَوْضَ
[Sunan Tirmidhi] Ḥarun ibn Isḥāq al-Hamdāni narrated to us Muḥammad bin Abdal-Wahhāb narrated to me from Mis’ar from Abi Ḥuṣayn from ash-Sha’bi from ‘Aāsim al-‘Adawi from Ka’b bin ‘Ujra, he said: The Messenger of Allah peace be upon him came out to us, we were made up of nine; five and four. The first of the numbers for the Arabs, and the latter for the non-Arabs. He said:
Listen, have you heard that after me there will be rulers: whoever enters upon them and condones their lies and supports them in their oppression, then he is not from me and I am not from him. And he shall not drink with me from the Ḥawd. And whoever does not enter upon them, nor help them in their oppression, nor condones their lies, then he is from me and I am from him, and he shall drink with me at the Ḥawd.
‘Speak for us’ and represent ‘our interests’
Are Muslims in the UK who vote in parliamentary elections really analysing an Islamic justification before they vote for the Conservative, Labour or Liberal Democrat parties? It seems highly unlikely. Most vote for one of these three (the vast majority Labour) for other reasons and justifications. It is only in recent years that ‘Islamic-coated statements’ have been presented as an afterthought to try and justify what is already common practice.
One strand within this subject, purports to assume that there is a common ‘Muslim interest’ that needs to be represented by someone. But that idea seems to be more fanciful than based upon any conceivable reality. The notion of a ‘Muslim community’ being a homogenous bloc with a common interest is a serious misnomer. Muslims within the UK are geographically dispersed. They are very often split along ethnic, sectarian and theological divides. Coupled with that, there is no unanimous consensus as to what the role or indeed place of a Muslim is within a predominantly non-Muslim society.
Seizing upon this, successive governments have focused attention on the need for integration to provide such sense of place, however ill-defined that concept itself may be. Compounding the government’s position is the fact that very often the most vocal Muslim proponents of this ill-defined ‘integration’ are those that mask the fact that their own close family members cannot speak English, let alone the fact that they are not ‘allowed’ to marry outside of their own ethnic group.
Are Muslims in the UK so incapable of articulating themselves that they must always look for someone who they think can represent them? Are Muslims in the UK completely incapable of translating the precepts to stand as witnesses for justice for where they are? Is the society in the UK so completely harmonious to obviate the need to speak the truth, even if it is bitter, and to call for justice?
Harsh political realities
An absence of considerations of justice doesn’t merely exist on this level either. There are very difficult political realities that Muslims in the UK must eventually face up to. Though this may well be very unpopular to say, the track record of Muslims in both local and national government falls far short of any resemblance to the Qur’ānic verse cited at the beginning of this piece. One can legitimately argue, based upon the existing evidence, that they have instead caused incalculable damage to Muslims nationwide and even beyond.
It is not necessary here to recount each of the damning facts, allegations and reasons that led the government to intervene against the local authorities of Rotherham and Tower Hamlets. That is already a matter of public record and the toxic fall-out from this continues.
Given this, one may legitimately ask: was the word ‘Islam’ in both these instances, used as anything more than an empty political cloak? As a convenient excuse to tour mosques to gather support and votes? For anyone reading the verse [4:135], can it reasonably be said that the principles of justice were at the forefront of those politician’s minds when they were standing for office and thereafter engaging in criminality? To take a very simple example, if bribery occurred, did the curse that the Prophet (peace be upon him) spoke of readily spring to mind?
حدثنا أحمد بن يونس حدثنا ابن أبي ذئب عن الحارث بن عبد الرحمن عن أبي سلمة عن عبد الله بن عمرو قال لعن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم الراشي والمرتشي
[Sunan Abu Dāwud] Aḥmad bin Yunus narrated to us Ibn Abi Z’ibb narrated to us from al- Ḥārith bin Abdar-Raḥman from Abi Salama from Abdallah bin ‘Amr, he said:
The Messenger of Allah peace be upon him cursed the one who bribes and the one who takes a bribe.
Those who have stood as Members of Parliament haven’t fared that much better either. Here again, Islam is nothing more than a convenient label to describe one’s background – not something that has to be diligently adhered to. ‘Muslim’ members of Parliament didn’t escape being embroiled in the expenses scandal, that still continues to reverberate. Neither has their voting record within Parliament been anything good to report either. All have acted dutifully to their chosen party, voting as asked by their whips. Today’s politicians, and Muslim politicians are no different, are far more interested in a glittering career path; furthering the networking and money making opportunities that a career in politics can offer. They have aligned themselves to maintaining the status quo and are dutiful servants of the establishment who therefore act accordingly. Standing out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, is something of an alien notion to those subsumed by the materialism of the world.
(Right) Sajid Javid MP (Con), Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
To vote or not to vote…
It has not been our intention on this occasion to critically assess all the statements that are commonly presented and used to try and justify those who wish to vote for the established parties at the forthcoming general election. Perhaps that can be revisited at a later date, when judgements are not clouded and opinions heated by the course of events.
Neither has it been the express intention here to seek to convince those who routinely vote in parliamentary elections to act otherwise.
Whether this particular piece is read widely or ignored altogether, the words of Allah the exalted and majestic as set out in the verse [4: 135] will endure. The verse will continue to act as a reminder against all, of just how far short we collectively fall in relation to upholding the truth and the justice that Islam has commanded us to be witnesses of.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ لِلَّهِ شُهَدَاءَ بِالْقِسْطِ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَىٰ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
O you who believe! Be upright for Allah, bearers of witness with justice, and let not hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably; act equitably, that is nearer to piety, and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; surely Allah is aware of what you do. [5: 8]