Q. Can this be explained to us: the Islamic perspective on voting, being part of the electoral process, voting for a given candidate, the value of voting from the viewpoint of Islam. Can and should Muslims vote? We are young, we are told by our parents that our votes are wasted, we should not vote…. Then our friends tell us we must vote, it is all so confusing…. Can you help clear our minds?
A. It would be appropriate to discuss the significance of voting in the light of Deen. There are multiple factors which need to be considered when discussing the various aspects of voting in Islam. Scholars who give answers pertaining to whether Muslims should vote usually evaluate and give a ruling upon examining the following key issues: The significance of voting in Islam, the moral challenge facing the voter, does the given vote represent our Islamic values, does the vote comprise a bribe and/or an intercession, is the vote a form of representation, or is the vote casted a consultation (also known as mashewra). In the interest of time and space, I shall only focus upon that which would pertain to Muslim citizens voting in the US.
What does voting signify in Islam?
Voting in Islam functions as a form of testimony (Giving shahadah). By voting for a candidate or party, the voter is testifying as to the credibility of a given candidate or party. This vote functions as a testimony that a given vote would help in delivering that which would represent Islamic values and ideals. That a vote should represent the belief means an attempt is made to stand firm on the preservation and survival of our core beliefs, laws, and norms and that our values would be upheld. This vote should also represent that the candidate or party will not interfere with our beliefs and places of worship in an adverse manner. We will be given the freedom and right to implement rulings and judgments in religious issues as to the extent that the law allows other faiths. The vote should be able to uphold Islamic values such as eradicating oppression and fostering good character, peace and harmony amongst all people, regardless of race, color, class or religion.
The moral challenge a voter is faced with
Often, people feel they are faced with a situation that has been termed as lesser of the two evils. More often, we are faced with a situation where all the parties are non-Islamic (or in some cases, even if they are Islamic), and these parties are not able to guarantee all our Islamic requirements. In modern times, it would be naive to expect that a party will guarantee a group all their preferred rights. Should this be the case, the voter could then opt for a decision which would be least detrimental to his/her faith. Rasulullah (SAW) has said:
He who is confronted with two crucial decisions, (such a person) should opt for the decision that is less (least) detrimental. (Asraarul-Mar-fooaah, Mulla Ali Qari 323)
Can we vote for a party we know would not represent our values?
Voting for a party which refuses or is incapable of fulfilling the rights of Muslims while yet having at its core the need to attract Muslim voters would be considered a breach of trust (amanah) in Islam. This would also apply for us Muslims giving a vote to a Muslim candidate who presents hate for Muslims and non-Muslims, because voting functions as a testimony (giving shahadah). Voting also requires being aware that a particular party will be more willing to fulfill our Islamic rights, and not vote for a party that will function as a breach in the eyes of Muslims and the Shari’ah. Voting for a party that is less sympathetic to the Islamic values would not only mean giving false evidence (which is a sin), but it could also mean becoming an instrument and tool of ensuing havoc, and corruption caused by that party in as far as the complete disregard of Islamic values and ideas is concerned.
Voting as a form of seeking intercession
In this situation, the voter or a block of voters intercede for a certain party to come into a position where it can exert enough power to acquire religious and other basic rights for the masses. Regarding intercession Allah (SWT) states: “Whoever recommends and helps a good cause becomes a partner therein: And whoever recommends and helps an evil cause, shares in its burden: And Allah has power over all things.” (4:85)
From the above Ayah, we learn that the ideal intercession would be in the interest of safeguarding Islamic rights in particular and human rights in general. Incorrect and misleading intercession would mean voting and interceding for a party that would be unsympathetic to the tenets and requirements of Islam. For instance, it would not be permissible to vote for a party that shows complete indifference to humanity and clings to the medieval policies of discrimination on the basis of color, race, etc; such policies and doctrines are in total conflict with Islamic teachings. Interceding for such a party would mean becoming a tool of oppression and injustice.
Voting must not be an aid to injustice
Allah (The most High) says in the Qur’an: I do not wish to be an aid to the wrong-doers. (28:17)
Commenting on this verse, Allahmah Qurtubi writes in his tafseer: “Ataa (may Allah be pleased with him) has stated regarding this verse that it is not permissible to render assistance to a tyrant and an oppressor.” Alamah Ourtubi (may Allah be pleased with him) thereafter quotes Rasulullah (SAW) to have said:
Whosoever walks with an oppressed person in order to assist him with his problems, Allah (SWT) will, on the Day of Qiyamah, keep the feet of such a person firm on the Pul-Siraat while the feet of others will be faltering. On the other hand, he who walks with an oppressor in order to assist him in promoting acts of injustice, Allah (SWT) will cause his feet to falter on the Pul-Siraat on the Day when other feet will also falter.
After quoting this Hadith, Allahmah Qurtubi (may Allah be pleased with him) states: “Merely walking (or talking and negotiating for that matter) with an oppressor is not in itself a crime and sin (especially when the motive is to steer the oppressor away from actions of oppression); but it becomes a sin when one begins to assist him in spreading oppression and tyranny because this constitutes a flagrant violation.”‘ (Tafseer-e-Qurtubi Volume 7, 4979).
Voting as a form of representation
Voting is also attached to the principle of representation. By voting for a certain party, one is in essence appointing that party as a representative for one’s Islamic and human rights. Here too, extreme caution has to be exercised. Only that party which can strive for the implementation of our Islamic rights should be considered eligible for representation . Incorrect representation will ultimately lead to corruption, and depravities will not be confined to mere individuals, but will have a broader effect on the Muslim community as a whole.
Voting as a form of consultation
Shura means to give counsel. Thus, a prospective voter is offering his/her suggestion as to whom, in their opinion is the most entitled to receive the vote. The Quran recommends the Shura system of seeking opinion, so long as the participants are aware of the religious implications of that which they are discussing or voting for, and have the betterment of Islam and Muslims at hand, without sacrificing core Islamic Principles.
Hopefully, this article will be a means by which you can begin to understand your role as a conscientious voter.
Allah certainly knows best.