Participation of Muslims in
U.S. Political System
Prepared By: Mohamed Ramadan
In recent months, the coming presidential elections in the United States, scheduled for November 2004, have raised a public debate among American Muslim organizations. Issues such as U.S. support for Israel; the occupation of Iraq; the global war against terrorism; question marks on the human and civil rights of American Muslims; feelings of general hostility towards Muslims by the American public and politicians; and the shutting down of Islamic foundations in the United States, have raised doubts among American Muslim organizations and private citizens, over whether or not the six million member-strong American Muslim constituency should take part in American political life, including the presidential elections. Meanwhile, the general opinion of Muslim leaders in the United States supports the active and intensive participation in the various election campaigns and the political life in the United States.
Is it permissible for Muslims living in a non-Muslim country to vote in elections governed by un-Islamic rules?
Allah (swt) says in the Quran: (and ask the people of knowledge if you knew not) (16:43) (and if they had referred it to the Messenger and to those in authority among them, those among them who can search out the knowledge of it would have known it,) (4:83).
This is the guidance of Islam, which teaches us to seek clarity from the people of knowledge who are specialized in the field in question. It is the same way we seek the advice of a specialist in medicine when we become ill, and the mechanic when our cars break down, we should seek the guidance and clarity from scholars of Islam when we are unsure about a matter in this Deen.
Our intention should be seeking the truth, and following what is right and convincing regardless if it matches what we desired and thought to be true or not. This makes a great distinction between a truth-seeker and that who accepts only what suits his preconception or desire. Allah says: (But no! By your Lord! They do not believe (in reality) until they make you judge in all disputes between them, and find in themselves no resistance against your decision, and submit with entire submission) (4:65).
Here is a collection of answers by various scholars given on this matter. Please do read them with an open heart – may Allah guide us to the truth and that which satisfies him alone.
Yes to participation. On November 1st 2003, the popular web site Islam On-Line published the most recent Fatwah on this issue, by Sheikh Muhammad Al-Mukhtar Ash-Shanqiti, President of the Islamic Association of Lubbock, Texas. The Fatwah was an answer to the following question:
Dear scholars, As-Salamu `alaykum. There is a great controversy among the Muslim communities in the US concerning whether it is permissible for Muslims to participate in the coming elections, its benefits and regulations. Some people say it is essential for the Muslims to take part in the U.S. elections so as to change the extravagance of the current administration, which has started its colonial policies in the Arab and the Muslim World.
On the other hand, another group sees that it is haram (unlawful) to take part in elections in non-Muslim countries, either by voting or being a member of their parliaments. They see that Muslims must keep away from such elections. So, what is the juristic view on the whole issue? Jazakum Allah khayran.
The last ruling is a continuance of the previous one from October 2003, by Dr. Taha Jaber al-`Alwani and Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, two of the leading Islamic scholars in the United States. Dr. Siddiqi, former president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), was answering a question about the participation of Muslims in local elections across the United States. Dr. al-`Alwani, President of the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences and President of the American Fiqh Council, widened the spectrum of this question to the participation of Muslims in the American political system at large. Both these American Islamic scholars support the participation of Muslims in all fields of American political life, and thus simultaneously, pave the way for Muslim candidates to nominate themselves to various elected posts.
The most interesting and important Fatwah in this regard however, was provided in February 2002, by Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi of Qatar. The Arab World and Muslim communities in the West regard Qaradawi as the supreme religious authority of the Muslim Brotherhood of our times. His Fatwahs serve as a basis for many major rulings in cardinal issues, including suicide operations against civilians; Islamic economy; immigration; participation of Muslims in the U.S. military forces in Iraq, etc. The recent ruling, (The Obligation of Muslims to participate in the US Political System) is a continuance of the previous ones by Dr. Salah al-Din Sultan, President of Islamic American University, Professor of Islamic Law, Cairo University
(1) Fatwa of Sheikh Muhammad Al-Mukhtar Ash-Shanqiti
“First of all, I’d like to draw the questioner’s attention to two incidents which deserve deep reflection and which can be taken as the basis and reference of the issue in hand. One of them is mentioned in the Qur’an and the other is reported in the Prophet’s Sunnah.
The first is the story of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph, peace be upon him), as recorded in the Glorious Qur’an. We see that Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him) asked the king of Egypt to appoint him as the keeper of Egypt’s public treasury. Allah Almighty says: “He said: Set me over the storehouses of the land, I am a skilled custodian.” (Yusuf: 55) This shows that Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him) did not pay heed to the fact that the king was disbeliever or despotic. His main concern was the general welfare of the people and their need of a man as knowledgeable and clever as he was to care for them.
The second incident reported in the Sunnah is that of Muslims’ migration to Abyssinia, as recorded in Musnad of Imam Ahmad on the authority of Umm Salamah, Mother of the Believers (may Allah be pleased with her), who was among those who migrated to Abyssinia. It is reported that Umm Salamah, narrating the incident of their migration, said:
“We stayed in his (An-Najashi’s) land, where we were treated with great generosity and hospitality. During my stay there, some people rebelled against him (An-Najashi) and tried to take the hold of the reigns of power. By Allah, we haven’t felt sadness as we felt at that time for fear that such rebellious (ones) might succeed in their scheme, and then a man who does not know the truth of our religion (nor does he observe our right as refugees) as An-Najashi did may be the sovereign. An-Najashi set out to meet the enemy, who was on the opposite bank of the Nile River. Then the Prophet’s companions said that a man of them may cross the river to investigate the enemy intensively.
On that, Az-Zubayr ibn Al-`Awwam, who was one of the youngest among us, said, ‘I will.’ Then they gave him a float and he swam to the opposite bank and investigated the enemy’s preparations for the battle. During this, we observed du`a’ (supplication) heavily for An-Najashi to be victorious over his enemy and he succeeded and stability was achieved again in Abyssinia.” (Reported by Ahmad)
You see, when An-Najashi’s nephew rebelled against him and tried to elbow him out, the Muslim migrants in Abyssinia did not stand as onlookers; they didn’t stay idle because An-Najashi was a Christian and so was the enemy. Rather, they made du`a’ to Allah to give An-Najashi victory over his enemy. They also sent a man from among them to collect information about the battle, and if they had anything more to do, they would have willingly offered it.
That is the way that Muslims living in non-Muslim countries in the West should look upon participation in the political life there. In this context, taking part in the US elections is required, so that goodness may overcome evil and justice would prevail. It is not a sign of affiliation to the polytheists, nor is it a kind of support for the oppressors. Therefore, judging parliaments to be gatherings of disbelief and polytheism is inappropriate, as this does not take into account the complicated nature of such parliaments. The US Congress, for instance, is not a religious organization, as the American constitution neither supports a certain religion nor restricts another. The US Congress is not, thus, a gathering of disbelief, even though its members are disbelievers. Also, it is not a gathering of belief, even if there are Muslim members in it. It is a neutral political body in relation to matters of religion, according to the American constitution.
The US Congress can only tackle issues related to public welfare, which a Muslim is enjoined to participate in achieving, whether for the favor of Muslims inside or outside America, or even in relation to non-Muslims. So, Muslims who participate in the US elections should not have selfish objectives in doing so; that is, they should not aim at achieving the welfare of the Muslim minority only. Rather, they should aim at rescuing the whole American nation from creedal, moral, and social degradation that they suffer from, in the same way that Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him) saved a pagan people from famine.”
Based on the above words of Sheikh Ash-Shanqiti, we can see that there is nothing wrong in Muslims participating in elections held in non-Muslim countries. It may sometimes be commendable for Muslims to take part in the political life of non-Muslim societies, so as to help achieve general justice and welfare for the Muslims and non-Muslims alike, ward off any discriminative schemes, and restore moral life in the society.
(2) In his response to the question, the European Council for Fatwa and Research issues the following Fatwa:
“Before answering this question, we will shed light on the following three aspects: (1) Al-Walaa’ (loyalty). (2) The Prophet’s participation in some activities in Makkan and Medinan societies. (3) The Constitution of Madinah.
A. The first aspect: Al-Walaa’ can be divided into the two sections:
1. Loyalty in religious matters. It refers to creedal loyalty, which lies in believing in Allah and shunning other beliefs that run counter to the Oneness of Allah. This kind of Al-Walaa’ is due to Allah, His Messenger and the believers. Almighty Allah Says: “Your friend can be only Allah; and His messenger and those who believe, who establish worship and pay the poor due, and bow down (in prayer)” (Al-Ma’dah: 55)
2. Loyalty as regards worldly matters: This refers to transactions between people living in the same society or between different societies, regardless the distance and the religion. It is permissible for Muslims to engage with non-Muslims in commercial transactions, peace treaties and covenants according to the rules and conditions prevalent in those countries. Books of Jurisprudence do contain many references about such kind of dealings.
B. The second aspect: The Prophet’s participation in activities in the Makkan and Madinan societies.
Throughout his life before and after the Prophetic mission, Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, participated in many events that took place in the Makkan and Madinan societies.
Following are the most prominent events he participated in before being a Prophet.
First: The Fujjar War
This war was waged against some Arab tribes who violated the sacredness of the Holy Prescient in the sacred months. Hence, the Makkan people had to defend the holy sanctuary; this was a good custom they inherited from the upright religion of Prophet Abraham. This fight lasted for four years, and the Prophet’s age at that time was around 15-19 years. He participated in this war side by side with his uncles. That is, he would defend his uncles against the enemies’ attack. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, did so out of his sense that he should share in defending his homeland and ward off aggression and injustice.
Second: Al-Fudul Alliance
This incident occurred in the house of Abdullah bin Jad`an between the greatest tribes in Makkah. One of the principles they agreed upon was backing up any oppressed person in Makkah, regardless of his origin and the purpose behind his visit; they vowed to help him regain his rights. At the advent of his mission, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, is reported to have said (i.e. while referring to this alliance): “If I am invited to join a similar (alliance) after the spread of Islam, I will, surely, join it.”
Commenting on the aforementioned point regarding the Prophet’s participation in that alliance, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Ghazali stated: “Combating an oppressor however brutal he may be, and supporting an oppressed however low he may be, are consistent with the spirit of Islam that enjoins what is right, forbids what is wrong and calls for abiding by the limits set by Allah.
Moreover, Islam aims at putting an end to injustice whether in the general policies adopted by countries or oppression at the individual level. The Prophet’s participation in Al-Fudul Alliance reveals the positive attitude he took, for he considered himself part and parcel of the Makkan society. Besides, the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was aware of the fact that if oppression or any form of injustice in the society is not eliminated, their ill effects will befall all and sundry.
Third: The Prophet’s Response to SOS Calls
The humanitarian gestures of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, towards the people of Makkah was not confined to the period he spent with them. This noble attitude continued even after emigrating Makkah to Madinah and establishing the Islamic state there, as he rushed to lend the hand of support when calamities befell the people of Makkah.
It is reported that during the time of Al-Hudaibiyah peace treaty, the Prophet was informed that a famine had afflicted the Makkan people. Thus he sent Hatib bin Abi Balta’a with 500 Diners to buy foods for the poor and the needy among the Makkans. You see, he did this despite that it was the same people that drove him out of the city and even hindered him from entering it.
C. The third aspect: The constitution of Madinah
Considering the constitution of Madinah or the treaty held between Muslims, Jews and the Arab polytheists who constituted the population of Madinah at that time, after emigration, one will notice that the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, stressed the importance of showing belonging and patriotism to the society.
Thus, he made it clear that this is a general duty shared by all regardless of religions, races or complexions. The treaty stipulated the following:
1. They (those who sign the treaty) should support one another in combating the attacks waged against any of them.
2. They, together, should back up the oppressed.
3. They, together, should fight against any enemy attacking Yathrib (Madinah).
We deduce from these three aspects that the early Muslims managed to cooperate with people of other religions, living together in the same society of Madinah, in fighting against anyone who tried to bring about sedition among people. Thus, they maintained peaceful co-existence within the same society.
This form of Al-Walaa’ comes under what we term ‘Al-Walaa’ in worldly affairs’. It states that citizens can live together in the same society in spite of their different faiths and religious orientations.
Moreover, the Constitution of Madinah regarded the People of the Book as part and parcel of the first Islamic State.
For instance, some of its articles state:
1. The Jews of the tribe of Banu ‘Awf are part of the Muslim community.
2. Jews have their own religion and Muslims have their own religion.
3. The rest of the Jewish tribes have the same rights as do the tribe of Banu ‘Auf.
Considering the issue of Al-Walaa’, it is evident that there’s nothing wrong Islamically in having some sort of such cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslim as regards worldly affairs. Besides, the Prophetic Biography is abound with fine examples of how the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, dealt amicably with non-Muslims, both in the Makkan and Madinan societies. He shared in many pacts and alliances aiming at eliminating injustice and aggression, in addition, he shared in relieving the impact of adversities and famines.
According to the articles of the Madinah constitution, the residents of Madinah would cooperate in establishing justice, supporting one another in combating aggression and help one another do righteous acts.
So it’s clear that mutual cooperation in worldly affairs goes far to encompass all citizens who share a common destiny, neighbourhood and sometimes kinship. This may be extended to include economic and commercial fields.
In addition, the teachings of Islam, as deduced from the Qur’an and Sunnah, show that Islam is a religion of mercy, justice, goodness. One of the main goals of Islamic law is to achieve benefits and ward off harms, whether at the level of individuals or at the level of society.
Furthermore, elections in the modern world systems have become a means through which peoples choose candidates and judge the programmes they adopt. Muslims living in such societies enjoy rights and are bound to do some duties. If they fail to meet the duties obligated on them, they are no more entitled to receive the rights, for the rights meet the duties.
Thus, Muslims’ participation in elections is a national duty; in addition it falls under cooperation on that which is good and righteous for the society and wording off harms from it, Allah Almighty says: “… help ye one another unto righteousness and pious duty. Help not one another unto sin and transgression…” (Al-Ma’dah: 2).
Therefore, we can say that Muslim’s participating in elections held in non-Muslim societies is Islamically permissible and there is nothing wrong in doing so.
Besides, it is a kind of mutual cooperation with those whom Muslims think as potential candidates who, if they win the elections, will bring benefits for the society in general and Muslims in particular.”
(3) Answering the question in point, the eminent Muslim scholar, Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti, member of the North American Fiqh Council, states:
“Absolutely, it is not a matter of black and white. The structure of society in this country is a very complicated and sophisticated one. Unfortunately, we weigh things as if we were in Makkah, Cairo, or Sanaa. Aspirations of people in Muslim countries are always reinstating Islam to rule government and people. This is why people back in Muslim countries believe that any Member of Parliament or minister of government should work for enforcing Shari`ah as the only law and sovereignty of that country.
In the US, religion is not a priority in politics. On the contrary, politicians are secular in demonstrating what they are targeting. Of that secularism, we have perhaps more than 60% of our welfare and interests to be run through a polling system. Schooling, sanitation, zoning, social services, police, court, medication, finance, business, sports, recreation, etc. are run by people that are elected to office. If you have a vote power, you have the legitimacy to reach and accomplish anything of your needs or goals. Without it, you are a dead battery. Can you tell me where is the Qur’an or hadith that says to me, “Don’t help for these affairs?” Are you going to tell me that I am loyal or giving allegiance to the kuffar (non-Muslims) because I want to lead myself in the way that can get a school for my children, good sanitation for my neighborhood or good cooperation with the police to protect me?
When it comes to making a law by congressman, senators, or any other politician, I should try my best to oppose anything contradictory to Shari`ah. In Fiqh and principles of Fiqh, we know that it is a big step in the right direction to lessen evildoings. They say in Fiqh, ‘Removal of an evildoing is much better than gaining any welfare.'”
(4) In this context, the erudite Muslim scholar of Bahrain, Sheikh Nizam Ya`qubi, adds:
“In the matter of elections and voting we must look at what is in the best interest of the whole community (maslahah) and what is the less of the two evils (akhaff ad-Dararayn).
Looking into the matter from this angle, many contemporary scholars are of the opinion that you should practice your right to vote. If Muslims do not do that and there numbers are constantly increasing they will never have the power of lobbying that other groups have gained. This will lead to the benefit of Muslims in these countries in the future. It must be stated however that voting for a person does not mean endorsing every act or policy of the candidate. These facts are well known in all democratic societies!”
(5) This is clarified in the following fatwa, issued by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi:
“It should be made clear to all people that Islam addresses all aspects of life; political, social, economical and other aspects. Once we claim that Islam has nothing to do with politics, then, it ceases to be a comprehensive divinely revealed course.
As for the claim that Islam deals with political aspects of life, there are two reasons for that:
(1) Islam has a vivid stance on politics and a direct ruling in matters that are considered to be political. Islam is not merely dogmas or acts of worship that has nothing to do with life; rather, it is a comprehensive course of life for man, as highly clarified by Imam Hasan Al-Banna: “Islam is a comprehensive system, dealing with all spheres of life; it is a state and a homeland, or government and a nation; it is a morality and power, or mercy and justice; it is a culture and law, or knowledge and jurisprudence; it is material and wealth, or gain and prosperity; it is Jihad and a call, and finally it is a true belief and worship.”
(2) The true character of a Muslim as required by Islam obliges him to be a man of politics. Every Muslim is required to fulfill the Islamic obligation of commanding good and forbidding evil. Also, it is the responsibility of every Muslim to offer advice to all his Muslim brothers and the leaders of the Muslim nation. We, Muslims are also commanded in surat Al-`Asr to enjoin good and stick to patience. Allah says: “By the declining day. Lo! Man is in a state of loss. Save those who believe and do good works, and exhort one another to truth and exhort one another to endurance.” (Al-`Asr: 1-3)
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) urges every Muslim to fight mischief and combat injustice and never accept oppression. Upon being asked about the best form of Jihad, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The best form of Jihad is upholding the truth before a despotic ruler.”
It is also reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “The master of martyrs is Hamzah and comes after him a man who gets killed just because he stands to a despotic ruler commanding him to do good and give up evil.”
Islam implants in the soul of every Muslim the will and the determination to combat evil and evildoers and fight oppression and oppressors. In urging Muslims to fight for those who are weak and oppressed in the land, the Qur’an says: “How should ye not fight for the cause of Allah and of the feeble among men and of the women and the children who are crying: Our Lord! Bring us forth from out this town of which the people are oppressors! Oh, give us from Thy presence some protecting friend! Oh, give us from Thy presence some defender!” (An-Nisa’: 75)
It is an utter mistake and idle thinking to believe that the domain of prohibition in Islam is confined to committing adultery, drinking wine or the like only; rather, it’s of wider dimension. It extends to all acts that involve humiliating peoples, rigging the votes, oppressing the individuals and casting them in the dungeons of prisons without committing any crime; all these are apparent forms of evil.
Appointing incompetent people and dismissing, without justifiable cause, the qualified ones is surely a sinful act, and, thus, a form of evil.
Thus, it has become crystal clear that evil which should be eradicated and blotted out involves many issues that form the core of politics. How can a true Muslim evade facing all these atrocities and evils, claiming that it falls outside the scope of Islam. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said: “If my followers fail to stand up to an oppressor and say to him: ‘You are an oppressor’, then there will be no good in them” (Reported by Ahmad in his Musnad on the authority of `Abdullah ibn `Amr).
Thus, a true Muslim can never stay idle before evil, be it of social nature, political, economic or whatever. He is to combat it with his hand, if not, with his tongue, if not, then with his heart.
What urges Muslim to engage in politics is the fact that he is required to show care for others and concern himself with the problems of his Muslim brothers, for all Muslims constitute one brotherhood. In the Hadith, we read: “He who does not concern himself with the affairs of Muslim can never be one of them.”
In addition, all Muslims are commanded to combat political oppression in the same way they are commanded to combat social injustice. Both an oppressor and his advocate are punished severely. Allah says: “And incline not toward those who do wrong lest the Fire touch you, and ye have no protecting friends against Allah, and afterward ye would not be helped.” (Hud: 113)”
Thus, in the light of the above comprehensive fatwa, it’s clear that Muslims’ participation in political life of his society is part of what his religion dictates and enjoins. Rather, it is through the political course that he will be able to carry out the function of enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong.
(6) Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, former president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), answers:
“The Shari`ah does not forbid Muslims to live in non-Islamic states. There are more than four hundred million Muslims in the world (almost one-third of the total population) who are living as minorities in non-Islamic countries. Some of them are the natives of these countries and some of them have migrated to these countries for better educational, economic and other reasons.
Most of the Muslim countries today are also not ruled totally by the rules of Allah the Almighty. So what should Muslims do? I think, Muslims are supposed to practice and preach their faith, but at the same time they must protect their lives, their properties and their rights to live in peace. In order to protect their own rights and to promote the good things in the society, if it is necessary for them to participate in the political system of non-Islamic states, then it is their duty to do so. It is in the best maslahah (welfare) of Muslims to participate in the system to safeguard their own interests and to establish good in the society.
In the Glorious Qur’an we have a lesson in the story of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) (peace and blessings be upon him). He was brought to Egypt as a slave and was later imprisoned under a kafir system and a kafir ruler. Then the king of Egypt released him from the prison. As he was very impressed by Prophet Yusuf’s intelligence and knowledge, he offered him Egyptian citizenship (“You stay with us safe and secure.” 12:54). Yusuf (peace be upon him) did not say to him, ‘Thank you very much. But I have to go to my country. I want to be with my father who is a Prophet of Allah and I do not want to live in your kafir system. The only way I can live with you will be if you leave your kingship and make me change your system completely.’
Instead, the Qur’an tells us that Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him) told the king, “Appoint me on the treasures of the land.
I am a capable guardian and know things well.” (Yusuf 12:55) Yusuf (peace be upon him) wanted to help Egyptian people. He wanted to take care of Egyptians’ economic interests. He wanted to implement a fifteen year economic plan to save the country and its people. In the process he also helped his own family and they all moved to Egypt. He slowly changed the conditions and finally he became almost a final authority in the country.
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) also lived in Makkah for thirteen years under the protection of his uncle Abu Talib who was non-believer and who supported him under the pre-Islamic Jahili system of family and tribe.
The Prophet openly criticized the un-Islamic beliefs and practices of his people but he participated in their tribal system and did benefit from it. He lived in that system as long as it allowed him to live there. After the death of his wife and uncle he went to Ta’if seeking the Jiwar (a pre-Islamic custom of protection) of the chiefs of Ta’if. When they refused and it was impossible for him to live in Makkah, then he migrated to Madinah.
It is true that Islam stands for the sovereignty of Allah the Almighty and Allah’s rules are not limited to the acts of worship, they also include social, economic and political matters.
By participating in a non-Islamic system, one cannot rule by that which Allah has commanded. But things do not change overnight. Changes come through patience, wisdom and hard work.
I believe that as Muslims, we should participate in the system to safeguard our interests and try to bring gradual change for the right cause, the cause of truth and justice. We must not forget that Allah’s rules have to be established in all lands, and all our efforts should lead to that direction.” Source – www.islamonline.net