In the run up to the General Election, Mazin AbdulAdhim, explores whether there are legitimate Shari’ah “exceptions” that allow Muslims to participate in the secular democratic process.
To vote or not to vote? Why does this topic warrant such heated and repeated discussion? Is it more than just placing a tick mark into a box? Is there something deeper at play? Let’s take a look.
To begin, let us be clear: we are Muslims, and Islam is our reference point. We abstain from whatever Allah (swt) has made forbidden (Haram), and we implement whatever Allah (swt) has made obligatory (Fard). This is the simplest basis that all Muslims agree upon and implement in our daily lives. We abstain from Haram actions such as eating pork or drinking alcohol, and we implement the Fard actions, such as our five daily prayers and obeying our parents.
And these things – the Haram and the Fard – are determined by the texts of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Allah (swt) has been merciful to mankind and revealed to us guidance on how to best manage all areas of life: Allah (swt) says “And We have revealed the Book to you as a clarification of all things,” [16:89] and “Today I have completed your Deen for you…,” [5:3] and “We have not missed anything from the Book…” [6:38].
And we have been instructed to first check the ruling of Allah (swt) before taking an action, as Allah (swt) says, “But no, by your Lord, they do not believe, unless they refer to you in all their disagreements…” [4:65] and Rasool Allah (saw) said, “Any action that is not taken from our Command is rejected” [Al-Bukhari].
The premise of taking our laws only from the Qur’an and Sunnah is the foundation of Islam. If this foundation is shaken, the entirety of Islam is shaken. Previous nations changed their religion by introducing laws based on seeking “benefits”. They made the Halal into Haram and the Haram into Halal, and the people accepted these changes, as Allah (swt) says, “They took their rabbis and monks as gods in the place of Allah” [9:31], meaning they took their rabbis and monks as legislators in the place of Allah (swt).
It is important to note here that this is not a discussion regarding whether voting as a means in general is permissible or not; rather this is a discussion about whether it is permissible or impermissible to vote for someone to become a legislator in the place of Allah (swt), which is the case in secular democratic elections.
What is most interesting about this debate is that both sides already agree on the answer. No scholar, Shaykh, Mufti, etc, has said it is Halal to elect someone to implement other than Islam. All opinions are in unanimous agreement that it is Haram, as it is known in the Deen by necessity. But those who say it is permissible offer exceptions to the rule. This is why we find words such as “necessity” and “lesser of two evils” used in their fatwas (religious edicts). And since these “exceptions” are the basis for why they deem it permissible to vote in secular democratic elections, we need to look at these exceptions one by one. If they are valid, then it is permissible to vote in this system, and if they are invalid, then we fall back to the default ruling of impermissibility.
“Lesser of two evils” or أقل الضررين
This is a principle used in Fiqh to assist Muslims in navigating situations where it is impossible to choose a Halal option. An example of this is a man noticing a bikini-clad woman drowning; either the man leaves her to drown, which is Haram, or he saves her, but that means he must look at her and touch her. Both options are Haram, and there is no Halal alternative. In this case, the lesser of two evils is chosen, which is to save her.
The primary condition for this principle is that there must be absolutely no Halal option.
In the case of voting in a secular system, “Party A” is presented as less evil than “Party B,” and therefore we are told to choose the lesser of two evils. But this is a false dichotomy, since there is a Halal option, which is to abstain from choosing either evil. Some might argue that not voting will allow those who do vote to control the politics, but that is similar to saying “not participating in a genocide allows those who do participate in a genocide to control the city,” which, while true, is not how a Muslim thinks; the ends do not justify the means in Islam.
Therefore the premise of “the lesser of two evils” does not apply in the situation of voting in a secular democratic system, since there is a completely Halal option available: to not vote.
“Necessity” or الضرورة
The principle of necessity in Islamic Fiqh is well-known and widely used, and offers an exception for Muslims to undertake an action that would normally be considered Haram in order to remove a serious harm. But this principle has strict requirements.
The first requirement is that it must be an Islamic legislated necessity (Dharoorah) taken from the texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah, and not some “want” based on human desires. Examples of this are starvation, as mentioned in the Ayah, “And whoever is forced (to eat Haram meat) due to severe hunger with no inclination to sin, then indeed Allah is Forgiving and Merciful” [5:3], or imminent torture, as mentioned in the Hadith regarding Ammar bin Yasir (ra) uttering words of Kufr under torture: “If they returned (to torturing you), return (to what you said),” [Ibn Hajar], or serious illness, such as in the Hadith where Rasool Allah (saw) indicated that the man who had his head wrapped due to a severe cut should not have been told to remove it to perform Wudu.
The second requirement is the existence of the necessity must be immediate, and not simply “possible.” Therefore it is permissible to eat pork if one is starving and on the verge of death, but one cannot eat pork today if one thinks he might not find food next week.
The third requirement is that the solution chosen must directly and most likely remove the harm, and certainly cannot be something that has been repeatedly proven to not remove the harm.
When applying these requirements on the issue of voting in a secular system, we find that while it is perceived that voting for a particular party might affect foreign or domestic policy in favour of Islam and Muslims, the reality is that voting has rarely – if ever – brought about any positive results. The examples of voting for Bill Clinton, who killed half a million children in Iraq due to 10 years of sanctions, or George W Bush, who killed over a million Muslims through multiple invasions, or Barack Obama, who followed the example of his predecessors are clear for all to see. This also applies to the elections in the UK and Canada, where those governments consistently follow the American foreign policy every step of the way. Even domestically, voting for one party or another has not offered a shred of relief. The trajectory of aggression against Muslims is linear, regardless of who is elected into office.
Therefore, the excuse of “necessity” does not apply to this situation, as the political parties have shown aggression regardless of who is in power, and voting has proven itself to be totally impotent in removing their oppression.
“Higher aims of the Shari’ah” or مقاصد الشريعة
The classical scholars discussed the topic of the aims of the Shari’ah, referring to the fact that Islam aims to protect specific aspects of our lives, including the protection of the Deen (Islam), the self, the mind, lineage, and wealth.
It must be understood that these aims are determined by Allah (swt) and not by the human mind. These higher aims are realised after deriving the ruling of Allah (swt) from the texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah, then applying it, which then allows us to witness the higher aims of the Shari’ah. It is incorrect to start with these aims, sidestepping the texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah entirely, and use our human perception of what “needs to be protected” in order to determine the ruling of Islam, as doing so would mean using our own “wisdom” of how to protect these things, rather than the wisdom and guidance of Allah (swt).
Therefore, the “higher aims of the Shari’ah” are not a basis to make Haram into Halal, because the fact that something is Haram is itself how Islam protects us. To override the legislation of Allah (swt) is to remove that protection. We are reminded in the Qur’an “And it may be that you dislike something and it is good for you, and it may be that you like something and it is evil for you; and Allah knows and you do not know.” [2:216]
“Benefits of the revelation” or المصالح المرسلة
This topic is similar to the “higher aims” mentioned earlier in point 3. Islam was revealed to bring us good and provide us benefits, but this good and these benefits are determined by Allah’s (swt) wisdom, which we determine from the laws found within texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah, not from our human desires.
Therefore, we cannot use our own perception of benefit and harm to override what is clearly Haram in the texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah.
“Minority Fiqh” or فقه الأقليات
This “Fiqh” was invented recently to identify the fact that Muslims live as minorities in the West, and are therefore offered certain permissions due to this reality. The problem with this “Fiqh” is that those who look deeply at the texts of Islam will find that they address human beings as human beings, and do not address people as minorities or majorities. Additionally, Rasool Allah (saw) and the Sahaba (ra), as well as the later generations, all lived as minorities in many circumstances, yet no Ayat or Ahadith were revealed regarding it, nor was any “Fiqh for minorities” ever formed related to it.
The invention of a “minority Fiqh” stems from the influence of the West’s view that all laws and systems are determined by the majority, which places the minority at a disadvantage. Islam, on the other hand, does not suffer from this flaw, as the laws are determined by the strongest evidences found in the Qur’an and Sunnah, regardless of minorities or majorities.
Therefore, this newly invented “minority Fiqh” is invalid from its very root, and cannot be used as a basis to override the clear texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah.
“Yusuf’s (as) participation in the system of the King”
The example of Prophet Yusuf (as) and his participation in the system of the king is presented as an example of participation in an unIslamic system, where he became an advisor to the king and was placed over the storehouses of the land.
Any confusion in this matter is resolved by simply looking the verses in Surat Yusuf, where we find that none of those verses indicate or even imply that he (as) took a position of legislator. Yusuf (as) says “Appoint me over the storehouses of the land. Indeed I will be a knowing guardian” [12:55], which is clearly a position of resource management, not legislation. Yusuf (as) also mentions twice that “The right to legislation belongs exclusively to Allah” [12:40 and 12:67]. How can this possibly be used as an evidence to permit someone to legislate with other than what Allah (swt) has revealed?
Therefore, the example of Yusuf (as) in the Qur’an cannot be used as a basis to permit taking a position of legislator in the place of Allah (swt.
From all the above, it should be clear that these exceptions either do not apply to this specific situation, or are simply invalid from an Islamic legislative perspective.
Why is the pro-voting opinion so widespread?
One of the reasons is that only a few Mujtahideen (scholars capable and qualified of deriving Islamic laws) have stated that it is permissible to vote in secular democratic elections, offering the above exceptions as their basis for permitting it. Everyone else – scholars, speakers, da’iees, and so on – are simply following their opinion (Taqleed) and spreading it.
The other reason is that the way of thinking that dominates the world today is the Capitalist way of thinking, where laws are legislated based purely on human perception of harm and benefit. This thinking has influenced the minds of our Ummah and caused us to believe that Halal is what we find benefit in, and Haram is what we find harm in. But this perception is incorrect, because, as the Qur’an reminds us, our judgement is flawed, and liable to bias and corruption. We can only determine what is good for us by seeking the ruling of Allah (swt) found in the texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah.
In conclusion, it should be clear that none of the above exceptions override the clear impermissibility of electing, appointing, or delegating someone to legislate or rule by other than what Allah (swt) has revealed.
And we must remember that this world is a minefield of tests. It is not a place of seeking our personal comforts at any cost, especially not at the cost of abandoning the instructions of the Qur’an and Sunnah.
“Do people think that they will be left to say, ‘We believe’ and they will not be tested?” [29:2]