Why Should the Muslims Participate in Elections?
Power of votes and the old debate
A debate on election has divided the already divided Muslim community in the UK. Some groups have labelled it haram – a divine prohibition. They have proclaimed fatwas that any participation in elections is shirk. Their central point is based on the argument that Allah (SWT) is the only lawmaker, and so Muslims cannot take part in forming a parliament that is not based on his laws. To them, it is not only haram in a non-Muslim country like UK, but also in any notionally Muslim country like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, Turkey, Indonesia and others. So the question arises, should the Muslims survive as mere observers of politics, as is the norm in many autocratic Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and others? Ironically, most of the people propagating this fatwa, are born in those middle-east countries and are more in tune with the autocratic legacies. Rather, the ulamas in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, Turkey, Indonesia, India, Sudan and Algeria are not only participating in elections, but also are taking part in forming governments.
These anti-election proponents possess little experience in how the right to vote empowers people to shape the policies and destiny of their country. The same voting power in parliament and in the streets blocked the US military advance to Iraq through Turkey, which could not be said by the dictatorial regimes of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar. As a result of their oppressive regimes, even the ulamas could not show any visible protest against this crime, which even the common men and women in the UK could do in millions. It is important that the Muslims must not live as mere political spectators, rather must influence the politics, religion, culture, economy and law of the country where they live. The question of how to exert such influence would depend on circumstances. The democratic election indeed opens the door to exert their rights.
Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him) joined the ministry of Pharaoh in Egypt to shape its economy and politics. The circumstances did not help him implement sharia or islamise the whole Egypt, but at least he could help his people to peacefully settle in that country. In modern times, voting is a powerful tool of exerting political influence. During the days of Prophet (peace be upon him), it is true that there were no elections. However, it is also true that in those days there were no peaceful means of changing society or saving Muslim lives either by going to the polling booth. War was the only option. The Prophet (peace be upon him) could not peacefully propagate Islam even in front of the house of Allah (SWT) in Makkah. But now, the situation has changed. One can preach Islam, even in front of 10 Downing Street or the White House. Since the current context and opportunities are different from those in the past, the strategies of defending Muslim interests cannot be similar either. The Muslims must make use of the new opportunities. Voting indeed provides such a valuable opportunity.
Power of votes and the Indian example
The Muslims in India did not fight a war to remove the communal Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from power in 2004. Voting did the job very peacefully. In modern times, India is the best example that how the Muslim votes can influence politics and save Muslim lives in a non-Muslim country. During BJP rule, a planned genocide was launched to cleanse Muslims especially in Gujarat. Thousands of Muslims were killed, Muslim women were raped and many were burnt alive. Their business and industries were looted and destroyed. The helpless victims could not punish the killers in courts, but could punish them in election. Indeed, this is the power of voting in a democratic society. In several Indian states, the Muslims are in significant numbers. In Assam, it is 36 percent, in Kerala about 30 percent and in West Bengal 28 percent. Only by taking part in election, they can keep anti-Muslims political parties away from power. It will be incredibly foolish not to use such a powerful tool to establish the safety, dignity and rights of Muslims in any non-Muslim country of the world. The issue is not of establishing shariah or khilafa in India or any non-Muslim county through voting, but it is, in some cases, an issue of life and death. As was the case in Gujarat, the issue of saving Muslims men and women from mass-slaughter, rape, torture and total annihilation was the reason for voting. If the Indian Muslims are told that voting is haram, it will be very difficult for them to contain their anger against such thoughtless naivety. In fact, only the enemies of Islam and the Muslims will celebrate their non-participation.
The Muslim votes in the British politics
In a democratic country, parliament is not only a law making institution but it frames policies. While drawing such policies, it cannot ignore the political, cultural and social needs of its people. Every vote and opinion in that process makes a positive influence. Two millions Muslims living in the UK, therefore, should no longer be an insignificant influence in British politics. They could only be insignificant or ignored, if they remain aloof from voting or withdraw from democratic institutions. This way they would only descend to the status of second-class citizens. Is it wise that two million Muslims of UK should accept such a passive status in this country? The aim of voting in the UK is not to establish sharia or khilafa as mentioned above. The purpose is to protect Muslim interests and make our opinions and concerns heard. The illegal war on Iraq has already killed more than 100 thousand people and maimed more than a million. British Muslims have not been able to punish these killers in courts, but they can punish them in the election, via the ballot box. At least in some constituencies, they have the required power and potential to make these people pay a political price for ignoring the views of their Muslim constituents. There are about 25,000 Muslims voters in Blackburn where the foreign secretary Jack Straw, one of the most consistent warmongers, won the last election with a majority of only 9,249 votes. Therefore, Muslims can easily punish this killer by electing Craig Murray – one of the most powerful advocates of antiwar camp, as MP for Blackburn in his place. He lost his job as British Ambassador in Uzbekistan for protesting against war on Iraq and revealing the atrocities of the Uzbek president – a strong ally of Bush-Blair’s war campaign. The Muslims of Bethnal Green and Bow can also punish another warmonger like Oona King. She supported the war whole-heartedly and without any remorse. Some people argue, why should Muslims vote for a non-Muslim? The reason is simple. MPs are the people’s advocate in the parliament and their duty is to effectively plead the case for the members of their constituency. While selecting an advocate, people do not look at the language, religion or skin colour of the person but rather they consider their professional skills and commitment. Therefore, to win a case for jilbab in the court, a Muslim would not hesitate to take a non-Muslim advocate, as long as they can do the job that they are hired to do. This is equally true in elections.
The Muslims of the UK now need effective advocates for their case. They need someone who will argue against the current government line, to stop killing Muslims in Iraq. They must fight against the unjust detention of Muslims in Guantanamo, Belmarsh and other British or US prisons. They should have the moral strength to support the just cause of Palestinians and other subject to illegal occupation around the world. Can Oona King plead such issues in British parliament? Does she have the moral strength and commitment to stop deaths in Iraq or the illegal occupation of the Palestinians? The answer is an emphatic no. In fact, she has been consistently pleading the case of the killers, liars and warmongers. She not only voted for the Iraq war in parliament but still persists to be a committed warmonger. Like Bush and Blair, she also wants to make the Iraq war an issue of the past, and wants to move forward. However, Muslims’ minds are still with the innocent deaths of more than a hundred thousand Iraqis. Muslims should rejoice that one of the most articulate and experienced British parliamentarians, George Galloway, has come forward to represent this Muslim dominant constituency of Bethnal Green & Bow at the next election. He has put his career at risk by protesting against war in Iraq and he has also been a staunch supporter of the Palestinians in their just cause. He is also very vocal against the torture and persecution of Muslim prisoners like Babar Ahmed and others in British and the US jails. It will bring shame and disgrace to the Muslims of this constituency if such a politician is defeated, and much joy and amusement in the Bush-Blair camp. Friday 30.05.2008.