The Concept of Bid’ah in the Islamic Shari’ah

The following is the text of a talk given by Shaikh Nuh Ha Mim Keller at Nottingham and Trent University on Wednesday 25th January 1995.

In the name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate

There are few topics that generate as much controversy today in Islam as what is sunnah and what is bid’ah or reprehensible innovation, perhaps because of the times Muslims live in today and the challenges they face. Without a doubt, one of the greatest events in impact upon Muslims in the last thousand years is the end of the Islamic caliphate at the first of this century, an event that marked not only the passing of temporal, political authority, but in many respects the passing of the consensus of orthodox Sunni Islam as well. No one familiar with the classical literature in any of the Islamic legal sciences, whether Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir), hadith, or jurisprudence (fiqh), can fail to be struck by the fact that questions are asked today about basic fundamentals of Islamic Sacred Law (Shari’ah) and its ancillary disciplines that would not have been asked in the Islamic period not because Islamic scholars were not brilliant enough to produce the questions, but because they already knew the answers.

My talk tonight will aim to clarify some possible misunderstandings of the concept of innovation (bid’ah) in Islam, in light of the prophetic hadith, “Beware of matters newly begun, for every matter newly begun is innovation, every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in hell.”

The sources I use are traditional Islamic sources, and my discussion will centre on three points:

The first point is that scholars say that the above hadith does not refer to all new things without restriction, but only to those which nothing in Sacred Law attests to the validity of. The use of the word “every” in the hadith does not indicate an absolute generalization, for there are many examples of similar generalizations in the Koran and sunna that are not applicable without restriction, but rather are qualified by restrictions found in other primary textual evidence.

The second point is that the sunna and way of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) was to accept new acts initiated in Islam that were of the good and did not conflict with established principles of Sacred Law, and to reject things that were otherwise.

And our third and last point is that new matters in Islam may not be rejected merely because they did not exist in the first century, but must be evaluated and judged according to the comprehensive methodology of Sacred Law, by virtue of which it is and remains the final and universal moral code for all peoples until the end of time.

Our first point, that the hadith does not refer to all new things without restriction, but only to those which nothing in Sacred Law attests to the validity of, may at first seem strange, in view of the wording of the hadith, which says, “every matter newly begun is innovation, every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in hell.” Now the word “bida” or “innovation” linguistically means anything new, So our first question must be about the generalizability of the word every in the hadith: does it literally mean that everything new in the world is haram or unlawful? The answer is no. Why?

In answer to this question, we may note that there are many similar generalities in the Koran and sunna, all of them admitting of some qualification, such as the word of Allah Most High in Surat al-Najm, “. . . A man can have nothing, except what he strives for” (Koran 53:39),

despite there being an overwhelming amount of evidence that a Muslim benefits from the spiritual works of others, for example, from his fellow Muslims, the prayers of angels for him, the funeral prayer over him, charity given by others in his name, and the supplications of believers for him; Or consider the words of Allah to unbelievers in Surat al-Anbiya, “Verily you and what you worship apart from Allah are the fuel of hell” (Koran 21:98),

“what you worship” being a general expression, while there is no doubt that Jesus, his mother, and the angels were all worshipped apart from Allah, but are not “the fuel of hell”, so are not what is meant by the verse; Or the word of Allah Most High in Surat al-Anam about past nations who paid no heed to the warners who were sent to them, “But when they forgot what they had been reminded of, We opened unto them the doors of everything” (Koran 6:44), though the doors of mercy were not opened unto them; And the hadith related by Muslim that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “No one who prays before sunrise and before sunset will enter hell”, which is a generalised expression that definitely does not mean what its outward generality implies, for someone who prays the dawn and midafternoon prayers and neglects all other prayers and obligatory works is certainly not meant. It is rather a generalization whose intended referent is particular, or a generalization that is qualified by other texts, for when there are fully authenticated hadiths, it is obligatory to reach an accord between them, because they are in reality as a single hadith, the statements that appear without further qualification being qualified by those that furnish the qualification, that the combined implications of all of them may be utilized.

Let us look for a moment at bida or innovation in the light of the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) concerning new matters. Sunna and innovation (bida) are two opposed terms in the language of the Lawgiver (Allah bless him and give him peace), such that neither can be defined without reference to the other, meaning that they are opposites, and things are made clear by their opposites. Many writers have sought to define innovation (bida) without defining the sunna, while it is primary, and have thus fallen into inextricable difficulties and conflicts with the primary textual evidence that contradicts their definition of innovation, whereas if they had first defined the sunna, they would have produced a criterion free of shortcomings.

Sunna, in both the language of the Arabs and the Sacred Law, means way, as is illustrated by the words of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace),

“He who inaugurates a good sunna in Islam [dis: Reliance of the Traveller p58.1(2)] …And he who introduces a bad sunna in Islam…”, sunna meaning way or custom. The way of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) in giving guidance, accepting, and rejecting: this is the sunna. For “good sunna” and “bad sunna” mean a “good way” or “bad way”, and cannot possibly mean anything else. Thus, the meaning of “sunna” is not what most students, let alone ordinary people, understand; namely, that it is the prophetic hadith (as when sunna is contrasted with “Kitab”, i.e. Koran, in distinguishing textual sources), or the opposite of the obligatory (as when sunna, i.e. recommended, is contrasted with obligatory in legal contexts), since the former is a technical usage coined by hadith scholars, while the latter is a technical usage coined by legal scholars and specialists in fundamentals of jurisprudence. Both of these are usages of later origin that are not what is meant by sunna here. Rather, the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) is his way of acting, ordering, accepting, and rejecting, and the way of his Rightly Guided Caliphs who followed his way acting, ordering, accepting, and rejecting. So practices that are newly begun must be examined in light of the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his way and path in acceptance or rejection.

Now, there are a great number of hadiths, most of them in the rigorously authenticated (sahih) collections, showing that many of the prophetic Companions initiated new acts, forms of invocation (dhikr), supplications (dua), and so on, that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) had never previously done or ordered to be done. Rather, the Companions did them because of their inference and conviction that such acts were of the good that Islam and the Prophet of Islam came with and in general terms urged the like of to be done, in accordance with the word of Allah Most High in Surat al-Hajj, “And do the good, that haply you may succeed” (Koran 22:77), and the hadith of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), “He who inaugurates a good sunna in Islam earns the reward of it and all who perform it after him without diminishing their own rewards in the slightest.”

Though the original context of the hadith was giving charity, the interpretative principle established by the scholarly consensus (def: Reliance of the Traveller b7) of specialists in fundamentals of Sacred Law is that the point of primary texts lies in the generality of their lexical significance, not the specificity of their historical context, without this implying that just anyone may make provisions in the Sacred Law, for Islam is defined by principles and criteria, such that whatever one initiates as a sunna must be subject to its rules, strictures, and primary textual evidence.

From this investigative point of departure, one may observe that many of the prophetic Companions performed various acts through their own personal reasoning, (ijtihad), and that the sunna and way of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) was both to accept those that were acts of worship and good deeds conformable with what the Sacred Law had established and not in conflict with it; and to reject those which were otherwise. This was his sunna and way, upon which his caliphal successors and Companions proceeded, and from which Islamic scholars (Allah be well pleased with them) have established the rule that any new matter must be judged according to the principles and primary texts of Sacred Law: whatever is attested to by the law as being good is acknowledged as good, and whatever is attested to by the law as being a contravention and bad is rejected as a blameworthy innovation (bida). They sometimes term the former a good innovation (bida hasana) in view of it lexically being termed an innovation, but legally speaking it is not really an innovation but rather an inferable sunna as long as the primary texts of the Sacred Law attest to its being acceptable.

We now turn to the primary textual evidence previously alluded to concerning the acts of the Companions and how the Prophet, (Allah bless him and give him peace) responded to them:

(1) Bukhari and Muslim relate from Abu Hurayra (Allah be well pleased with him) that at the dawn prayer the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to Bilal, “Bilal, tell me which of your acts in Islam you are most hopeful about, for I have heard the footfall of your sandals in paradise”, and he replied, “I have done nothing I am more hopeful about than the fact that I do not perform ablution at any time of the night or day without praying with that ablution whatever has been destined for me to pray.”

Ibn Hajar Asqalani says in Fath al-Bari that the hadith shows it is permissible to use personal reasoning (ijtihad) in choosing times for acts of worship, for Bilal reached the conclusions he mentioned by his own inference, and the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) confirmed him therein.

Similar to this is the hadith in Bukhari about Khubayb (who asked to pray two rakas before being executed by idolaters in Mecca) who was the first to establish the sunna of two rak’as for those who are steadfast in going to their death. These hadiths are explicit evidence that Bilal and Khubayb used their own personal reasoning (ijtihad) in choosing the times of acts of worship, without any previous command or precedent from the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) other than the general demand to perform the prayer.

(2) Bukhari and Muslim relate that Rifa’a ibn Rafi said, “When we were praying behind the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and he raised his head from bowing and said , “Allah hears whoever praises Him”, a man behind him said, “Our Lord, Yours is the praise, abundantly, wholesomely, and blessedly therein.” When he rose to leave, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) asked “who said it”, and when the man replied that it was he, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “I saw thirty-odd angels each striving to be the one to write it.” Ibn Hajar says in Fath al-Bari that the hadith indicates the permissibility of initiating new expressions of dhikr in the prayer other than the ones related through hadith texts, as long as they do not contradict those conveyed by the hadith [since the above words were a mere enhancement and addendum to the known, sunna dhikr].

(3) Bukhari relates from Aisha (Allah be well pleased with her) that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) dispatched a man at the head of a military expedition who recited the Koran for his companions at prayer, finishing each recital with al-Ikhlas (Koran 112). When they returned, they mentioned this to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), who told them, “Ask him why he does this”, and when they asked him, the man replied, “because it describes the All-merciful, and I love to recite it.” The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said to them, “Tell him Allah loves him.” In spite of this, we do not know of any scholar who holds that doing the above is recommended, for the acts the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) used to do regularly are superior, though his confirming the like of this illustrates his sunna regarding his acceptance of various forms of obedience and acts of worship, and shows he did not consider the like of this to be a reprehensible innovation (bida), as do the bigots who vie with each other to be the first to brand acts as innovation and misguidance. Further, it will be noticed that all the preceding hadiths are about the prayer, which is the most important of bodily acts of worship, and of which the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Pray as you have seen me pray”, despite which he accepted the above examples of personal reasoning because they did not depart from the form defined by the Lawgiver, for every limit must be observed, while there is latitude in everything besides, as long as it is within the general category of being called for by Sacred Law. This is the sunna of the Prophet and his way (Allah bless him and give him peace) and is as clear as can be. Islamic scholars infer from it that every act for which there is evidence in Sacred Law that it is called for and which does not oppose an unequivocal primary text or entail harmful consequences is not included in the category of reprehensible innovation (bida), but rather is of the sunna, even if there should exist something whose performance is superior to it.

(4) Bukhari relates from Abu Said al-Khudri that a band of the Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) departed on one of their journeys, alighting at the encampment of some desert Arabs whom they asked to be their hosts, but who refused to have them as guests. The leader of the encampment was stung by a scorpion, and his followers tried everything to cure him, and when all had failed, one said, “If you would approach the group camped near you, one of them might have something”. So they came to them and said, “O band of men, our leader has been stung and weve tried everything. Do any of you have something for it?” and one of them replied, “Yes, by Allah, I recite healing words [ruqya, def: Reliance of the Traveller w17] over people, but by Allah, we asked you to be our hosts and you refused, so I will not recite anything unless you give us a fee”. They then agreed upon a herd of sheep, so the man went and began spitting and reciting the Fatiha over the victim until he got up and walked as if he were a camel released from its hobble, nothing the matter with him. They paid the agreed upon fee, which some of the Companions wanted to divide up, but the man who had done the reciting told them, “Do not do so until we reach the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and tell him what has happened, to see what he may order us to do”. They came to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and told him what had occurred, and he said, “How did you know it was of the words which heal? You were right. Divide up the herd and give me a share.”

The hadith is explicit that the Companion had no previous knowledge that reciting the Fatiha to heal (ruqya) was countenanced by Sacred Law, but rather did so because of his own personal reasoning (ijtihad), and since it did not contravene anything that had been legislated, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) confirmed him therein because it was of his sunna and way to accept and confirm what contained good and did not entail harm, even if it did not proceed from the acts of the Prophet himself (Allah bless him and give him peace) as a definitive precedent.

(5) Bukhari relates from Abu Said al-Khudri that one man heard another reciting al-Ikhlas (Koran 112) over and over again, so when morning came he went to the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and sarcastically mentioned it to him. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “By Him in whose hand is my soul, it equals one-third of the Koran.” Daraqutni recorded another version of this hadith in which the man said, “I have a neighbor who prays at night and does not recite anything but al-Ikhlas.” The hadith shows that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) confirmed the persons restricting himself to this sura while praying at night, despite its not being what the Prophet himself did (Allah bless him and give him peace), for though the Prophets practice of reciting from the whole Koran was superior, the mans act was within the general parameters of the sunna and there was nothing blameworthy about it in any case.

(6) Ahmad and Ibn Hibban relates from Abdullah ibn Burayda that his father said, I entered the mosque with the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace), where a man was at prayer, supplicating: “O Allah, I ask You by the fact that I testify You are Allah, there is no god but You, the One, the Ultimate, who did not beget and was not begotten, and to whom none is equal”, and the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “By Him in whose hand is my soul, he has asked Allah by His greatest name, which if He is asked by it He gives, and if supplicated He answers”. It is plain that this supplication came spontaneously from the Companion, and since it conformed to what the Sacred Law calls for, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) confirmed it with the highest degree of approbation and acceptance, while it is not known that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) had ever taught it to him (Adilla Ahl al-Sunna wa’al-Jamaa, 119-33).

We are now able to return to the hadith with which I began my talk tonight, in which the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “. . . Beware of matters newly begun, for every innovation is misguidance”. And understand it as expounded by a classic scholar of Islam, Sheikh Muhammad Jurdani, who said: “Beware of matters newly begun”, distance yourselves and be wary of matters newly innovated that did not previously exist”, i.e. things invented in Islam that contravene the Sacred Law, “for every innovation is misguidance” meaning that every innovation is the opposite of the truth, i.e. falsehood, a hadith that has been related elsewhere as: “for every newly begun matter is innovation, every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in hell” meaning that everyone who is misguided, whether through himself or by following another, is in hell, the hadith referring to matters that are not good innovations with a basis in Sacred Law.

It has been stated (by Izz ibn Abd al-Salam) that innovations (bida) fall under the five headings of the Sacred Law (n: i.e. the obligatory, unlawful, recommended, offensive, and permissible):

(1) The first category comprises innovations that are obligatory , such as recording the Koran and the laws of Islam in writing when it was feared that something might be lost from them; the study of the disciplines of Arabic that are necessary to understand the Koran and sunna such as grammar, word declension, and lexicography; hadith classification to distinguish between genuine and spurious prophetic traditions; and the philosophical refutations of arguments advanced by the Mu’tazilites and the like.

(2) The second category is that of unlawful innovations such as non- Islamic taxes and levies, giving positions of authority in Sacred Law to those unfit for them, and devoting ones time to learning the beliefs of heretical sects that contravene the tenets of faith of Ahl al-Sunna.

(3) The third category consists of recommended innovations such as building hostels and schools of Sacred Law, recording the research of Islamic schools of legal thought, writing books on beneficial subjects, extensive research into fundamentals and particular applications of Sacred Law, in-depth studies of Arabic linguistics, the reciting of wirds (def: Reliance of the Traveller w20) by those with a Sufi path, and commemorating the birth (mawlid), of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) and wearing ones best and rejoicing at it.

(4) The fourth category includes innovations that are offensive, such as embellishing mosques, decorating the Koran and having a backup man (muballigh) loudly repeat the spoken Allahu Akbar of the imam when the latter’s voice is already clearly audible to those who are praying behind him.

(5) the fifth category is that of innovations that are permissible, such as sifting flour, using spoons and having more enjoyable food, drink and housing. (al Jawahir al-luluiyya fi sharh al-Arbain al-nawawiyya, 220-21).

I will conclude my remarks tonight with a translation of Sheikh Abdullah al-Ghimari, who said: In his al-Qawaid al-kubra, “Izz ibn Abd al-Salam classifies innovations (bida), according to their benefit, harm, or indifference, into the five categories of rulings: the obligatory, recommended, unlawful, offensive, and permissible; giving examples of each and mentioning the principles of Sacred Law that verify his classification. His words on the subject display his keen insight and comprehensive knowledge of both the principles of jurisprudence and the human advantages and disadvantages in view of which the Lawgiver has established the rulings of Sacred Law.

Because his classification of innovation (bida) was established on a firm basis in Islamic jurisprudence and legal principles, it was confirmed by Imam Nawawi, Ibn Hajar Asqalani, and the vast majority of Islamic scholars, who received his words with acceptance and viewed it obligatory to apply them to the new events and contingencies that occur with the changing times and the peoples who live in them. One may not support the denial of his classification by clinging to the hadith “Every innovation is misguidance”, because the only form of innovation that is without exception misguidance is that concerning tenets of faith, like the innovations of the Mutazilites, Qadarites, Murjiites, and so on, that contradicted the beliefs of the early Muslims. This is the innovation of misguidance because it is harmful and devoid of benefit. As for innovation in works, meaning the occurrence of an act connected with worship or something else that did not exist in the first century of Islam, it must necessarily be judged according to the five categories mentioned by Izz ibn Abd al-Salam. To claim that such innovation is misguidance without further qualification is simply not applicable to it, for new things are among the exigencies brought into being by the passage of time and generations, and nothing that is new lacks a ruling of Allah Most High that is applicable to it, whether explicitly mentioned in primary texts, or inferable from them in some way.

The only reason that Islamic law can be valid for every time and place and be the consummate and most perfect of all divine laws is because it comprises general methodological principles and universal criteria, together with the ability its scholars have been endowed with to understand its primary texts, the knowledge of types of analogy and parallelism, and the other excellences that characterize it. Were we to rule that every new act that has come into being after the first century of Islam is an innovation of misguidance without considering whether it entails benefit or harm, it would invalidate a large share of the fundamental bases of Sacred Law as well as those rulings established by analogical reasoning, and would narrow and limit the Sacred Laws vast and comprehensive scope. (Adilla Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jamaa, 145-47).

Wa Jazakum Allahu khayran, wal-hamdu lillahi Rabbil Alamin.



Participation of Muslims in U.S. Political System

Prepared By: Imam 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 –

Participation of Muslims in U.S. Political System

By Dr. Taha Jaber Al-Alwani

I addressed the issue of whether Muslims should participate in the American political system in a previous article entitled “An Introduction to Minorities’ Fiqh,” in which I base my answer to this question on the following considerations:

(1) Mankind comprises one family, all from Adam, and Adam is from the earth. Mankind is divided into two nations: a missionary nation and a receiving nation.

(2) In considering the earth as an arena for Islam, Allah has promised its inheritance to His righteous people, and He has promised that Islam will prevail over other religions.

(3) The Qur’anic message is universal, and does not exclude any nation.

(4) The Islamic Ummah is a positive Ummah; it serves as a witness for other nations, promotes what is good and prevents what is evil.

(5) We should adopt the principle of being fair to non-Muslims.

(6) We should not prescribe to classifications such as “Dar Al Islam” and “Dar Al Harb.” There is no Qur’anic substantiation for these concepts. They are inapplicable to international relations in modern times.

(7) We should base our judgments on the general principles of Islam and its universal message.

(8) We should regard the presence of Muslims in any country as necessary and coinciding with the universal nature of Islam’s message.

(9) The contemporary world is borderless.

(10) Muslims can employ international agreements regarding human rights in the service of Islam. For example, Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “Each individual has the right to participate in the management of public affairs either directly or indirectly.”

(11) Abiding by principles of justice is in accordance with such legislation, which itself is aligned with Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) Farewell Speech. We should utilize or participate in all activities that sustain justice. Political participation is one of those activities.

(12) We can benefit from looking at the experiences of the early Muslims – particularly, experiences such as their migration to Abyssinia.

(13) We should abandon passiveness, and strive to be positive and active members of society.

Peculiarities of the American Situation

The American situation involves special circumstances that need to be addressed in order to reach a conclusion regarding this issue:

(1) America is a nation composed of immigrant communities from all over the world. Its population is not limited to one ethnic or cultural group as is the case in most European countries, which often exclude ethnic minorities.

(2) America is still a young country; hence, it is open to the influences of Islam and Muslims. Its youthfulness provides Muslims with a huge opportunity to contribute to its growth.

(3) It is a country that constitutionally respects the right of all religious groups to exist, despite the shortcomings in the practice and enforcement of this right.

(4) Relatively speaking, Americans are typically less racist than people of many other nationalities because of their average higher intelligence and the country’s historical experience. This is particularly true of Protestants.

Based on these considerations, I have reached the following conclusions regarding the participation of Muslims in American politics:

I. First, it is incumbent upon Muslims to actively participate for the following reasons:

(1) In order to protect our rights as American citizens, we must be involved in politics.

(2) Our involvement can facilitate our support of our fellow Muslims around the world.

(3) Our interaction with non-Muslims and our involvement will help to spread Islam’s message.

(4) It helps to convey the universality of Islam.

Our participation is an obligation in Islam, and not merely “a right” that we can choose to forfeit at will.

It affords us the opportunity to protect our human rights, guarantee the fulfillment of our needs, and work for the improvement of living conditions for Muslims and non-Muslims in America and abroad.

II. Whatever helps us to achieve these noble goals becomes Islamically obligatory. This includes:

(1) Nominating qualified Muslims for public offices (as mayors, governors, Congress members, etc.) and supporting Muslim candidates in an effort to promote good and to forbid and prevent evil for the welfare of our society.

(2) Individual Muslims nominating themselves for such offices.

(3) Supporting (both politically and financially) those non-Muslim candidates whose beliefs and values are most compatible with ours as Muslims, and who most address and support our issues and causes.

(4) Pursuing American citizenship because it is the basis by which we can exercise our rights.

(5) Registering to vote and then voting. Although separate acts, they are both an essential part of the electoral process. Our participation in that process is mandatory.

Requirements for Implementing the Above

In order for American Muslims to obtain their full rights as citizens, exercise those rights in their entirety and be effectively involved in the American political system, we must:

(1) Consult with one another and come to a mutual agreement on the main principles of Islam, and excuse and overlook one another on our minor differences. The righteous companions of the Prophet set the example for this hundreds of years ago when they met to determine the best response to the situation necessitating their migration to Abyssinia.

(2) If we are concerned that our interaction with non-Muslims will lead to concessions that are not in accordance with Islam, we are in need of strengthening our belief, and enhancing our Islamic culture. Again, the refusal of the Companion, Jaf’ar Attyar, to cower down to Annajashi, King of Abyssinia, provides a good example of the possible outcomes of our faithfully professing and acting in accordance with our beliefs as Muslims.

(3) We are in need of being able to accurately and eloquently convey the message of Islam to non-Muslims. We must seek to practice the humanitarianism inherent in Islam, and to manifest its eternal values in the best manner, as Jaf’ar did in his speech before King Annajashi, when he stated the principles of Islam and explained the difference between Islam and darkness. In doing so, we will not only gain the support and cooperation of others, but we can influence them to follow the path of Islam.

(4) Muslims in America should become skillful in the arts of communication and public relations. Again, Jaf’ar’ provided an excellent example for us when he ended his speech to the king by saying, “We have come to your country. We have chosen you among kings; we seek out our neighbors, and we seek not to be dealt with unjustly.”

Objections Offered by Muslims to Political Involvement

The objections raised by Muslims to our political involvement can be classified into five points:

(1) Our participation is contrary to the principles of Islam – particularly, as it establishes loyalty to non-Muslims, which is prohibited in the Qur’an.

This is an inaccurate understanding of the prohibition of loyalty. The pragmatic aspect of a creed differs from the creed itself. Fair treatment of and cooperation with non-Muslims are not synonymous with loyalty. Rather, they are pragmatic methods for promoting good and fighting evil. As well, there is a distortion in the understanding of loyalty by some who expand its meaning to include cooperation. The type of loyalty the Qur’an warns against is that when a Muslim favors non-Muslims over Muslims in granting them love and support.

This issue is clarified in several Surah in the Qur’an. Allah (SWT) says in Surah 3:28, “O ye who believe! Take not for friends unbelievers rather than believers.” And in Surah 4:138-139, “To the hypocrites give the glad tidings that there is for them but a grievous penalty. Yea, to those who take for friends unbelievers rather than believers. Is it honor they seek among them? Nay, all honor is with Allah.”

In his explanation of these verses, Attabari said that they prohibit Muslims from being like non-Muslims in their morals and values, and from preferring non-Muslims over Muslims. He added that loyalty means supporting non-believers in their efforts against Muslims, such as spying on Muslim countries to the benefit of their rivals and enemies. This type of loyalty is at the expense of Muslims. There is a big difference between this and cooperation in the interests of Muslims and for our collective well-being.

(2) The second objection that is offered is that our participation is a kind of inclination towards non-Muslims, prohibited by the following Qur’anic verse (11:113): “And incline not to those who do wrong, or the fire will seize you; and ye have no protectors other than Allah, nor shall ye be helped.” According to this understanding, this verse would prohibit all types of cooperation with non-believers.

“Inclination” here means the acceptance and support of the Unbeliever’s actions. Attabari explains inclination as returning to disbelief, being loyal to Unbelievers, and accepting their behavior.

I don’t see any of these actions in political participation. They differ significantly from cooperating with non-Muslims for the sake of safeguarding our rights and protecting ourselves and our fellow Muslims from the injustices of Unbelievers, and from taking actions that may help non-Muslims find the right path.

(3) Some believe that our political participation helps to maintain the status quo in non-Muslim countries, and we are required to change the status quo rather than be a part of it. This is an upside-down understanding. It is the isolation and withdrawal of a society’s citizens from public life that leads to the maintenance of the status quo. Participation is an attempt to change such conditions. Our positive participation seeking to express Islam’s morals and values resists the status quo – not our boycotting elections and withdrawing from society.

(4) Participation within America’s political system will cause us to neglect working to establish an Islamic system. This objection encompasses two misinterpretations.

First, we have to consider two possible scenarios – one where Muslims are a majority, and the other where we are a minority. There is a great difference between the two situations. It is incumbent upon Muslims to establish the Islamic system in Muslim countries; however, it is not required when Muslims are a minority. Furthermore, it is logically inconceivable in America today. What is required is enhancing our presence through our active participation in public life, and working to strengthen our community and to Islamically influence others.

Then, we can consider the establishment of an Islamic system – a task that may take centuries. This has been the path of the prophets throughout history.

The second misinterpretation inherent in this objection is that it limits the definition of an Islamic system to the arena of politics; however, any activity that enhances the implementation of positive and moral values in our society should be promoted whether it is of a political nature or not. Activities that oppose crime, abortion, drugs, etc. are important, and they strengthen the good in society and work to prevent evil.

(5) Political participation contradicts the goal of residing only temporarily in a non-Muslim country. This objection is based on an inaccurate understanding of the historical concepts of “Dar Al Harb” (war) and “Dar As Silm” (peace), which, as mentioned earlier, do not apply to contemporary world affairs. It also contradicts history in that the first Muslim community was established in a place where the Prophet (SAW) and the Muslims had migrated temporarily. It was not established in the land of revelation, Mecca, but rather in Madinah.

The Obligation of Muslims to Participate in U.S. Political System

By Dr. Salah al-Din Sultan

President of Islamic American University, Professor of Islamic Law, Cairo University

In the Name of Allah the Most Merciful the Most Gracious, Peace and Prayers of Allah be upon the Prophet Muhammad, his Household, Companions, and those who follow His guidance until the Day of Judgment.

It is well known, as stated in the Muwfaqaat of Imam Ash-shatibi, that a fatwa is not valid unless it has been issued by a qualified scholar who is equipped in the art of understanding the Shar`i texts and rulings. In addition to this, he should know how to apply those text and rulings properly in the environment that he is living. Therefore, when discussing an issue, we should present the information from the correct angles. Thus, it enables us to come to a correct and sound ruling. Yet, some Muslims discuss the issue of participating in the American elections only from the viewpoint of permissibility or non-permissibility; however, there are many different points that should be brought up and thoroughly discussed. I wish that people would ask how to participate and how many Muslim candidates should there be! It is a wonder that Muslims live in US communities and are completely unaware of their political requirements related to: decision making, laws mechanism, and so on.

First: Reality and Statistics

There are many examples representing Muslims all over the world should be taken in consideration. They are as follows:

* Muslims of Germany are more than four millions; even though there is no Muslim representative in the Parliament. On the other hand, there are only 800 Jewish citizen and 9 reprehensive in the Parliament.

* Muslims in Britain are about 3 millions and still have only 2 representatives out of 659 while the Jews are no more than 5.000 but they have 20 representatives in the parliament.

* Though Muslims of Michigan, Dearborn are more than 75% out of the total number of the population, the Muslim candidate Abd Humud could not win the election because of the absence of Muslims. Generally, Muslims in America surpass the Jews in number, but, unfortunately there is no even one Muslim representative while most of US Congress members are Jewish.

The fact is that Muslims should interact with all the political and internal policies in their countries to help improve and guide that community; we have such a constructive ideology that enables us be effective and impressive in all fields of life. We should defend political Muslims’ rights and do our best to guarantee freedom to people to practice their religion. These are the points we would cover in this research.

Second: The Obligation of Election Participating and its Shar`i Proofs

I think it is obligatory to take part in the election. This opinion is supported by the following proofs:

1. The Shar`i Rulings

First Shar’I Ruling:

Whatever Leads to Mandatory Is Mandatory as well.

It is well known that there are many benefits cannot be attained if Muslims do not participate in the election either that of Congress or the senator assembly.

For example:

* They do not have any law making authority and others will control all their affairs.

* The beautiful image of Islam which has been distorted could not be corrected, nor could Muslims who are a very civilized community of 8 millions defend their right without a political supporting power. Most of Americans, nearly 95% out of them, as stated by Paul Findly and the late President Nixon, do not know the reality of Islam. If Muslims remain out of the political circle, they will not be able to secure their civilian rights, if not deprived of them.

* Muslims will not get benefit from the financial aid allocated to the non-profitable associations if they do not have a powerful impact in the election process.

The Second Shar`i Ruling:

To Prevent Harm with a Lesser One.

There is no doubt that taking part in the election causes some sort of harm as the candidate for Congress or Senate will agree or theorize laws that do not move in parallel with Islamic law. However, if Muslims play a part in the election process or not, then, these laws will be run. But if Muslims contribute to the process and make their voices heard, they may prevent the harm afflicted on Muslims in USA, refute the malicious fallacies schemed against Islam, and help Muslims practice Islam freely.

In this way, we may prevent a major harm with a minor one.

The Third Shar`i Ruling: To Prevent Harm and Get Benefit

So long as the Muslims refrain from voting or practicing their right in electoral process, their right will be open to aggression; that is why we should do our best to insure Muslims’ rights and preventing harm for them.

This aim surely will not come across if the Muslim fail to get involved and influence the major decision making bodies in their countries.

The Forth Shar`i Ruling: Works Are Measured by Goals Behind Them

Basing on this ruling, jurists permit a Muslim to learn Medicine, Computer sciences, and Languages under the supervision of non-Muslims scholars to assist the Muslim Ummah in general and help make progress in some critical fields.

This ruling covers the area of elections also; this will help enhance Muslims’ position in society and grant them more and more rights.

Thirdly: Making Analogy between Election and the Case of Setting the Prisoners of War Free

Al-Bukhari reported that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “Give food to the hungry, pay visit to the sick, and release the captive.” Imam Malik said, “Muslims have (Must do everything in their power) to release those (Muslims) who are in captivity even if they pay all their wealth.” Abu Yusuf reported that `Umar ibn al-Khattab said, “Verily, it would be more beloved to me than to possess the Arabian peninsula if I saved a Muslim from the unbelievers” Furthermore, There are many scholars like Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi in al-Mughni, Ibn Taymiyah in Majmu` al-Fatawa, Al-Bahuti in Kashf Al-Qina`, Ar-Ramli in Nihayat Al-Muhataj, As-Suti in Al-Ashbah wa Nazair, Ibn Rajab in al-Qawa`id, and Ibn Salmon al-Maliki in al-`Iqd al-Munazam lilhukkam- they hold it mandatory to set the captives free and pay the ransom from the Muslim Treasury.

Knowing that it is permissible to pay ransom and give money to the Unbelievers to set the Muslim captives free, it is permissible to spend money for the election campaign of non-Muslim candidate as this may prevent harm and draw benefit to Muslims in general. We do not pay money in the hope of helping non-Muslim go against Islam but we assist those who may support the Muslims and defend their rights.

The well-known scholar, Imam Al-`Izz ibn abdilsalam mentioned that “It is permissible to help others get something wrong so long as it is the only means to attain a public interest; this is like the amount of money paid to the unbelievers to set free Muslim prisoners.

It is also permitted to pay money to the one who may kill you if you refuse to give him money.” Accordingly, it is permissible to assist a non-Muslim candidate if we are sure that he will enhance Muslims’ interests and help them come across their issues.

Fourthly: Fatwas Issued by Some of Ummah Scholars in Regard to Elections in West Countries.

1- A Fatwa Issued by Sheikh Jadul al-Haqq `Ali Jadul al-Haqq, the Late Head of Al-Azhar.

He permitted Muslims to take part in the political process and involve in elections so long as the Muslim candidate has an impressive personality, is a good believer, enjoys a strong determination, and will help the Muslim minority and defend their rights.

2- A Fatwa issued by the Shar`a scholrs of North America in November at Detroit city, MI.

There were more than sixty scholars headed by the well-known scholar sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi permitted Muslims to take part in the election carried out in the West.

3- A Fatwa Issued by the Eruption Council for Fatwa and Research

The council issued a fatwa permitting Muslims to participate in the election of non-Muslim countries so that Muslims can defend their rights and present their cultural project.

4- A fatwa Issued by Sheikh Al-Qaradawi

Sheikh Al-Qaradawi said that it is a religious duty to vote in elections; and whoever refrains or neglects this duty causing the non-qualified person to win and the one who highly qualified to fail- does not follow the Divine Order in regard to offering the testimony; Allah Almighty said, And if one of you entrusts to another let him who is trusted deliver up that which is entrusted to him (according to the pact between them) and let him observe his duty to Allah. Hide not testimony. He who hides it, verily his heart is sinful. Allah is Aware of what ye do” (Al-Baqarah: 283)

5- A Fatwa Issued by Sheikh Faisal Moloy

He said that it is a duty upon a Muslim to call others to Allah, spread right, forbid wrongdoing, and participate positively in all activities that bring about progress to his community wherever he lives regardless of the community he lives within; he should offer solutions for the problems facing his community according to the viewpoint of Islam. Thus, if there is a chance to participate in the elections, he should make use of it; since this will help block some evildoings, spread goodness, and keep people’s rights. But if a Muslim lags and hesitates to participate in this election, he will be responsible for not following the hadith in which the Prophet, peace be upon him, says Whoever sees an evil (being carried on) should prevent it with his hand, if he could not, then he should prevent it with his tongue…” To change or prevent the Munkar (Evil) with a tongue means to condemn and disapprove this munkar (Evil). This matter is attained most effectively when the speaker is a representative in the parliament who is welcomed by the media. On the other hand, Da`wah in such non-Muslim countries needs the approval of the governments of these countries that give the Da`wah more freedom and help those who convert to Islam get their human rights. Thus, if the laws in countries permit minorities to practice voting even for non-Muslim candidates who may stand for Muslims’ rights and have influence upon the elected government, then it would be a shar`i necessity to be involvement in voting and support a Muslim candidates or a non-Muslim candidate who can support Muslims’ issues.

6- The Fatwa issued by Dr. Nasr Farid Wasil The Mufti of Egypt

Dr. Nasr Farid permits the involvement in election even for women. He said that the Egyptian council for fataw holds the opinion that it is permissible for women to participate in an election and be a candidate for the parliament as well. This right is given to Muslim women since they participated in the convenient of `Aqaba; Islam therefore, does not overlook the woman’s role in life nor prevent her from playing an effective role in all spheres of life. A society is based on male and female; Allah Almighty says, O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! The noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware” (Al-Hujurat: 13)

7- A fatwa Issued by Sheikh Muhammad Saleh Al-Munajid

He said that there may be a shar`i interest in voting and participating in the elections so as to lessen harm and prevent evil. For example, if there are two non-Muslims candidates but one of them does not hate Islam so much, thus, we should vote for this one to help him overcome the other who absolutely hate Islam and Muslims; we should choose the lesser of two evils. The final and main motive should be the interest of Muslims since the Early Muslims of the Prophet’s time were happy with the victory of Roman over Persian People, and with the victory of Ethiopian king.

The fulcrum of this issue is the Public Interest; thus, the learned scholars of Muslim community should be consulted.

8- A Fatwa Issued by Dr. Abdul Karim Zidan

He said: Participating in the elections is permissible in non-Muslim Majority countries so long as there is an interest for the Muslims of this country. He quoted the following evidence:

1. The Prophet, peace be upon him, accepted the principle of protection of the Non-Muslims so as to save the Muslims from their hurt.

2. On the base of making analogy it is permitted to vote for non-Muslim to remove harm as well as to utter a word of shirk to save the self.

Fifthly: Restrictions for participating in US elections

1. The benefit should be more expected than a harm so as to follow the Shar`i ruling saying “Harm should not be removed by procedure of an equal harm nor more harmful”

2. The elected candidate should be highly recommended and selected by the leaders of Muslim Minority on the base of Shura among them.

3. The elected persons should be known be loyal and not to hate Islam nor Muslims.

4. The aim behind participating in elections should be achieving a public interest and not a personal benefit.

Finally, I hope I offered my best and get the happy medium in covering the issue. I implore Allah accept this work, forgive my sins, and grant me doubled reward.


I would like you to take following points from this presentation

  • Religious rulings should be left for qualified, learned, and experienced scholars.
  • In their desire to achieve correct religious rulings (fatwas) Muslims must present and look at the variables from the correct positions.
  • Muslims have only looked at political activity in the United states from a very limited perspective, that being from the position of Halal or Haram.
  • Muslims must strive to find the correct means and limitations with regards to political activity in the United States.
  • Inactivity in the political field will cause Muslims to face immense problems in the future, and keep them from utilizing their rights as citizens
  • The Islamic principles of Jurisprudence support and offer a great wealth of support for working in a non-Muslim political environment. Some of these principles are:
    • Whatever Leads to Mandatory Is Mandatory as well.
    • Works Are Measured by Goals Behind Them
    • To Prevent a Harm with a Lesser One.


  • Muslims scholars from such countries as Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and the Untied States have issued fatwas supporting political activism in non-Muslim lands.


  • Muslims working in non-Muslim lands must observe important principles before doing so.


  1. Qualifications: Religiously and intellectually
  2. That benefits will be greater than the harms
















An interview with Jamal Badawi on Muslim participation in North American politics conducted an interview with Dr. Jamal Badawi, a leading North American Islamic scholar, professor and author, on the issue of Muslims and electoral politics.

The interview was conducted by Itrath Syed and Samana Siddiqui.

SS: Assalamu alaikum wa Rahmatullah Br. Jamal

JB: Walaykum as Salam

SS: Welcome to We’re going to be discussing Muslims and the political process, something which is very relevant, especially in the United States with the presidential elections coming up in the fall, Insha Allah. My first question is should Muslims even participate in the voting and political process in general in North America?

JB: For the sake of clarification, I’d like first of all to say that Islam by its very nature is a complete, comprehensive system or way of life. I don’t like the term that some people use, ‘political Islam’. There is nothing called ‘political Islam’ there is Islam that includes politics, economics, social structure as part of its teaching. It’s a complete way of living in that sense. That’s one point.

Based on that, I must say that the issue of participation in the political process is contingent on at least three different situations I could think of. One is to participate in a Muslim country which is ruling according to the law of Allah and applying it in full. And by in full I mean not only in the matter of criminal law but in terms of economic justice, in terms of Shura, consultation on the political level. That would be one case. Obviously in that setting participation is a duty on every Muslim.

Second situation would be a Muslim country that does not rule according to the Islamic law, to the rule of Allah and in some cases may be even a secular country that is forcing secularism on it’s Muslim population. That could be another difficult setting.

A third one which I suppose you might be focusing on in the context of Muslims in North America, is to participate in a country that is not Muslim and obviously of course does not apply the law of Allah, is it possible or not?

My answer to that basically, is that, while the Muslim population in North America is at least familiar that there are two views. There is no secret to that.

There are some people who oppose it and some even say it is unlawful, and there are those who say under some qualification it is permissible. But if I would put it very briefly, instead of just saying ‘this opinion says that, this opinion says that’, or dismiss one or the other, I’m always trying to look for the common ground that all Muslims should agree upon. That much I think is summarized in the following two points.

One: if a Muslim believes that there is any human being who has the right to make laws other than Allah then obviously this is total divergence from the path of Islam.

Or any person who believes that secularism is superior to the law of Allah, he’s violating the basic Quranic tenets (WA man ahsan min Allahi hukmun li qawmi yuminu) ‘who is better in giving us the rule in judgment than Allah, Our Creator’. That’s one issue that all Muslims should agree to.

The second point that if a person participates in an activity or process which is completely opposed to the foundations of Islam in its basic beliefs then of course that would be also totally out.

I would just like to add one more observation on that second point. The danger we find is to adopt the way of thinking of the Kharijites, the Khawarij, who, whenever they had a small difference in nonessential aspects of Islam, like they call it Furu’u branches, they blew it out of proportion to make it a matter of Iman (faith) and Kufr (disbelief) and those who did not agree with them and their particular interpretation on this minor issue, they put it in the context of even diverging altogether from Islam.

Other than these two points, the discussion as to whether it is permissible or not, is an area where there is room for different interpretations. It falls within what the Muslim jurists call as Siyassah Sharaiyya which means just to look after the affairs and benefits of the Muslims which are subject to interpretation within the basic boundaries and rules of Islamic law.

SS: So based on what you’re saying then, how does a Muslim find out what is Halal and Haram in terms of participating in the political process? When we’re talking about methodology, how do we come to an understanding from a purely Islamic perspective based on the Quran and Sunnah.

JB: I think that’s a very good question, I appreciate it because a lot of times people keep arguing about small details and magnify the differences without even being clear as to what methodology they are using to come up with this understanding. If you’re asking about methodology, I’d say at least four points.

First of all, that all Muslims are supposed to agree on the primary authoritative sources of Islam and it is known there are two primary revelatory sources: the Quran, the Word of Allah, as well as the sound or authentic Hadiths of the Prophet salallahu alayhi WA Sallam (peace and blessings be upon him). This should be the foundation for all. That’s one.

A second point is that even in the Quran and in authentic Hadiths, the Ulema or the scholars also make a distinction between things that are definitive or ‘Qati’ so clear, like for example, Muslims are supposed to pray or pay Zakah. There is no dispute; there is no room for a differing interpretation on one hand.

And the things that are probabilistic, they’re called ‘al Thanni’. In other words, the texts that are clear, yes, are authentic, but may be subject to more than one interpretation. That is second. And in fact, in Islamic law, there is a whole area of this probabilistic type of interpretation in nonessential or basic things.

A third issue on methodology: that even when we differ or debate on the interpretation of the probabilistic text, there are certain requirements also. At least I could think of four.

One: that all parties should have the sincere intention to seek the truth. In other words not just quote text, that a person would be fully convinced of one idea and going backwards to the text of the Quran and Sunnah just to try to justify their position or to support one party or one group of people.

A second requirement: there are also certain essential rules of exegesis or interpretation, understanding of the language and its uses, the occasion of revelation of some verses or Ayat in the Quran or possibly some Ahadith to keep in mind that after all, we cannot isolate one text in the Quran and Hadith and build a theory on that because Quran explains itself and is explained by Sunnah, so you need a more comprehensive view of all the text that relate to one particular subject.

A third requirement in interpretation that there should be respect also of specialization: We do respect specialization in chemistry, physics, and everything else. Why can’t we also respect specialization in the matter of Shariah, rules of Shariah, or interpretation that we refer to people who are more knowledgeable on that.

I would like to say in the very beginning that I’m not giving any Fatwa (Islamic legal ruling) or verdict but I am simply referring to the works which are done by very competent Islamic scholars on this subject.

For example, there was a publication by Al Majlis Al Shari’I al Ilmi, that’s the, you might say, supreme Shariah council composed of specialized scholars in Lebanon. Dr. (Yusuf) Qaradawi, Dr. Manah el Qattan, Maulana Mawdudi, Kamel Bahnasaoui, Dr. Salah El Salb, there have several specialized scholars who examined that particular issue. As you will see later, that they all agreed with participation under certain circumstances so that’s the third condition.

In other words, I’m just trying to avoid a situation where somebody who read a couple of books on Islam and he starts giving verdicts and accusing specialized and more learned scholars of not knowing what they are talking about. Respect of specialization.

The fourth aspect which I think is very important that all Muslims who are debating that issue, whatever opinion they adopt is fine, but the etiquette of differences should be there. And one of those etiquettes has been symbolized by Imam Shafi’i who very humbly said, ‘my opinion is right, that could be proven wrong. And the other opinion is wrong, that may be proven to be right.’ By that I mean, okay, if a person is more convinced of one argument or the other in matters where there is interpretations, that’s fine.

But one should not belittle the other opinion or show any disrespect to other people who came up with a different opinion or follow a different opinion. And worst of all of course is to consider them deviant from Islam, worse even, that they are even outside of the boundaries of Islam altogether.

My final first point on this issue of methodology is a repeat of one thing that I also mentioned in the answer to the first question. That if indeed the participation in the political process in a non-Muslim setting means that one believes that there is any system superior to the system or teaching of Allah, then of course this is totally out.

So my conclusion is that since there is no definitive, direct, underline direct text in the Quran and Sunnah that does not specifically answer the question of the setting here in North America, there are texts that could be interpreted to relate to that, then the issue is not really an issue of the foundation of faith, it is an issue, like I indicated earlier, of as Siyassa Shariah, it’s a matter of running and conducting the affairs of the Muslim Ummah depending on the particular circumstances.

SS: So would you say there are some rules or some boundaries perhaps in Islamic jurisprudence which could help us find an answer to whether or not Muslims should participate in the political process in our context of a non-Muslim society? Particularly, I mean those Muslims who object to participating, and scholars who object often argue that number one, not only is it a non-Islamic state but this non-Islamic state often makes policies and perpetrates policies against Muslims in other parts of the world. I think the sanctions on Iraq, for instance, in the case of the United States, is a very good example. How can we reconcile, for example participating in the political process of a state which is enforcing a deadly embargo on fellow Muslims?

JB: Without going into detail listing this issue. These issues are covered, of course, in texts that deal with the so-called Usul al-Fiqh or the roots of Islamic law.

But just to get a sample of the broadness of Shariah that people sometimes apply ideas in a very narrow perspective that are much broader framework within which interpretations really should be made.

Example of this: there is no denial on the basis of the Quran and Sunnah that one has to weigh the harms or benefits just like when the Quran speaks about drinking or intoxication. Wa ith ma huma akbaru min naf ayma. There is benefit, there is harm, but the harm is greater than the benefit.

So the idea of weighing harms and benefits of any particular decision is a very legitimate rule of Shariah. To give a little bit more detail on that: what happened when one thing has to take place, in other words, you’re given two choices. You have no third choice. One of them would bring more harm. The other would be harmful but the harm would be less.

Obviously, the sensible rule of Shariah here is to accept lesser harm to end a greater harm.

What happens if you have two choices, both of them are good, one of them would bring greater good than the other? Again you find that the rules of Shariah are very sensible. Obviously, you take the one that gives greater benefit. But then, you run into a situation where a decision might have something positive but something negative. How do you decide?

And there are also detailed rules of how to approach that. For example, if the benefit that’s to be achieved is very minor as compared to the harm, get my point then you don’t necessarily take, adopt that particular benefit. You can sacrifice that benefit. You might purge a minimum harm in return for achieving greater benefit.

It’s just like when you say ‘okay if the government expropriates a house or something in order to expand a highway, there is harm, some harm that’s being done but there is a huge benefit also that will be achieved.’ So things are really controlled by very sensible frame of comparison. That’s one.

Even a rule that should have been mentioned even before that, that the rules of Shariah, Islamic law, ultimately, are intended to achieve the benefit of people so long as there is no sin or deviation from the foundations of faith.

Muslim jurists, based again on the Quran and Sunnah, the Quran and Hadith, the teaching of the Prophet alayhis Salam (upon him be peace), they came up with the conclusion that there is hardly anything that is required by Islam or forbidden except that it falls within five broad objectives of Islam or Shariah. One is to safeguard faith, second to safeguard life, third to safeguard mind, fourth to safeguard honor, and fifthly, to safeguard wealth or property.

So the bringing of benefit to people, in other words, to be religious doesn’t mean that you live in a miserable state of affairs. Shariah also looks after even the mundane as well as the spiritual aspects of the life of individuals so this jal bull man fa’a as it is called, to bring benefit and to remove harm are actually guidelines in making any interpretation.

A third one which is very important I believe, like Dr. Qaradawi keeps emphasizing this, that we have also to understand the Fiqh or understanding of comparisons between priorities. In other words, at a certain point in time, a certain thing might take greater priority than the other. It is not enough to know the rule of Shariah. More important among the specialists is the skill as to how to apply those broad rules on a given situation. This is known in the Usul, the roots of Islamic law as isqatil hooqq isSharii’ alal waqil amali. How do you apply a verdict or rule of Shariah in a particular situation in the context of a given situation.

I hope I did not sound to be too abstract in this respect but just to give you one simple example on that issue. I think that might exemplify some of those rules and bring it home.

One of the great scholars of Islam, actually many give him the title of Shaikh ul Islam Ibn Taymiyya rahim Allah (may Allah have mercy on him), while some people might consider him to be conservative on some issues, in fact he has been so open-minded to the point that he gave a verdict when he was asked.

He said suppose the enemies of Islam invade Muslim lands and rule according to their own law. In other words, they frustrate the application of Shariah, and they’re ruling according to their own secular non-Islamic or maybe anti-Islamic type of laws. And then they go to a Muslim to serve as a judge: Should he accept the position or not? I would not tell you how Ibn Taymiyya answered that question, but I can tell you what some people today might say. What do you think they would say?

They would say how come? If he accepts, he would be a Kaffir. He would be outside of Islam. Why? because he accepts to be the implementor as a judge of a law other than the law of Allah, knowingly. He should refuse.

But do you know what Ibn Taymiyya said? He said that he should accept. Do you know the reason he gave?

He said, all right, under the circumstances, the presence of a Muslim judge who fears Allah, even though he cannot control, of course, the law, that’s beyond his ability, but his presence in his position, is more likely in comparative terms, to bring greater justice because you know any judge can use his own judicial discretion. There is some area of flexibility. He can use his judicial discretion to achieve the greatest amount of justice as compared to a non-Muslim or a person who does not believe in Shariah or does not fear Allah he could be an oppressive judge following the system fully and wholeheartedly, who would even bring greater harm to people.

In fact, some scholars even refer to an interesting situation at the time of Prophet Joseph alayhis Salam (peace be upon him). You know Prophet Joseph was in Egypt. He was not a lawmaker yet he was the one even who offered to be in charge of the distribution of food supplies before the famine started.

Some scholars comment and say there is no question that Joseph was occupying this high ministerial position in the state position of power under a system that was definitely contrary to the teaching of Allah. There’s no question. He was ruling or taking authority and control in a system where he could not stop, for example, the Pharaoh and other chieftains from getting more than their fair share.

Yet, still, his fear of Allah, his wisdom and the position of power that he occupied enabled him to serve masses of people who otherwise could have starved from not doing that. That’s basically the reasoning given by Shaykh ul Islam Ibn Taymiyya on this issue.

Just giving an example on the surface, superficially, it sounds like it’s totally out and it’s a matter of principle, you should never touch it, you should never get close to it but that’s not how the learned scholars look at it. They have to look at it in a more comprehensive and more discerning manner.

SS: I understand that you said you did not want to give a Fatwa (Islamic legal verdict) of any sort but can you perhaps share your understanding, very briefly, going back to the original question, more specifically: a. should Muslims vote b. should Muslims run for political office and c. should they support candidates, Muslim or otherwise in the current political system in North American, in the US and Canada?

JB: On the first question I don’t need to give verdict because many scholars, like the names I mentioned earlier, are of the opinion that if a person is doing that within the boundaries and the precautions that you can speak about then there is no harm if indeed it falls within these basic rules of Shariah. That the voting is likely to bring greater benefit or remove greater harm.

I’ll just give you one specific example. Suppose you have two candidates for president, for example. Both of them might be not even sympathetic to just Muslim causes, suppose. In most cases that is actually the situation.

However, in terms of relative harm and benefit which is a rule of Shariah it may be the collective wisdom, for example, of Muslim voters that one of them would do even greater harm to Muslim causes than the other. Do you see what I mean?

Well in that case, obviously, the lesser of the two harms, i.e. electing or voting for someone who will do less harm to Muslims obviously would be much better than sitting on the sidelines and just criticizing both and doing nothing about it. Having no clout or no use of the Muslim voting power to minimize the harm that is being done to Muslims whether in North America or overseas.

By the way, it’s not all a matter of overseas. Suppose two presidential candidates who are hostile, even, to Muslim candidates but one of them may be more inclined on the basis of the principles of democracy and American constitution to repeal the Secret Evidence Act which has terrorized many innocent people, for example, I’m just giving a practical example of the things that are current even in the news.

Is it better to try to remove some of that harm than just sitting there and being totally apathetic to what is going on? So yes, in terms of our best judgment, if that is beneficial, yes we can vote, no problem.

Your second question running for office, that’s a little bit critical because if you run for an office, for example, you might be part of legislation which is not necessarily Islamic.

But that issue again has been addressed by learned scholars. Even though they address the issue in some Muslim countries, it is applicable as well here because as I mentioned earlier if you remember in the first question, I said the difference between participation in a country that applies Islam versus a Muslim country which is not applying Islam or not applying it fully, so that’s somewhat similar to the situation we have and there are many Muslim countries which fall in that category.

And in fact the verdict that the scholars gave that, yes, it is possible for Muslims to run for political offices even in legislative assemblies like in Egypt, for example, when some of the Islamic leaders were nominated and elected like the late Shaykh Salah Abu Ismail, Raheem Allah and others. And they were elected in the Egyptian equivalent to parliament. Even though they were a minority. Even though we know of course what happened in this election that may not necessarily be representative of the populace, even though they knew that they will be in no position to change the situation.

But suffice as they understood to communicate the message of Islam, to present their argument, to remove any excuse for anyone who opposes the implementation of the law of Allah even though they did not necessarily succeed or may not necessarily succeed in doing this.

So that issue again is a matter of judgment. It’s not Iman or belief or non-belief type of issue. It’s an issue again of best judgment as to whether running is just for your own sake, for your own ego, or is it something that might serve some purpose even though you may not reach the ideal, that you’re looking for.

And then your third question was on what, on support? Should Muslims support candidates?

Again if the support of that candidate would remove or lessen harms to Muslims or bring benefit, why not?

A practical down to earth example: you know the problem that many Muslim communities face when they apply for zoning or rezoning so that they can build an Islamic center or mosque? Now, we know that a great deal of decision-making power is in the hand of the aldermen, the people in the city council, okay.

Now, for example, many of those candidates have been hostile to Muslims and there are other candidates who are reasonable, decent, they may not be Muslims even, but they are reasonable, fair and decent people who support the right of people to build their places of worship as a principle.

Voting for them and supporting them in elections is not necessarily an agreement with everything that the law, by way of laws and regulations. But at least it would be for that particular, limited purpose.

So in any of these three categories, I cannot claim to say that there is any agreement among all scholars that there is a definite no or a definite yes. But it is a matter of judgment so we can say yes, it is open for debate.

SS: So in the case of those who, for example, those scholars who are of the opinion that it is permissible to at least participate in a political system which is not 100 percent Islamic, what kind of risks should Muslims be watching out for? What are some things they should be considering, areas of caution, for instance, that need to be examined before Muslims decide to participate in politics, whether it’s by voting or running for office or any other kind of political involvement?

JB: Actually more than one scholar who even gave their opinion that it is possible to participate, they did also address those precautions. So that’s different from people who just say ‘all right, since it’s permissible, there is no qualifiers.’

Actually they were quite cautious and one of those risks that you’re asking about is to get so involved in the political process to the point that it affects your work and your activity as a Muslim.

The Muslim’s main concern is to establish Deen (Islamic way of life) on earth so there is a broader perspective, one should never forget that bigger picture.

By that, I mean if someone spends all of his time or her time for the support of political candidates and getting into party machinery to the point that there is hardly any time for any other Islamic work.

And secondly, in some situations, the risk is that there could be some, not debate or honest difference of opinion, but split within the Muslim community on the local or other levels just on the issue of (whether) to participate or not to participate and I do believe that the Islamic manners of debate and differing in opinion and clarification and referring to the scholars could lessen this kind of split or argument that could arise, so instead of Muslims being united and facing the challenges, they turn against each other, whether we participate or not. That’s one risk.

A third risk is that to participate, obviously, may not necessarily be the ideal situation but that could be tolerated on the basis of the rules we discussed before.

But there is fear also that you get into a process of gradual concession after concession after concession and compromise. Well, to compromise on something in terms of benefit or something which is not very essential might be understandable but the fear here is to keep pushing, making compromises on something that really Muslims should draw a line (on). So there has to be a bottom line.

And the Quran actually warns us, ‘waddu laou tudhinu kama yubhiyuna’ as we find in Surah al Qalam for example, that some of the unbelievers were wishing that the Prophet would be relaxed a little on the matter of belief so they find also excuse for that. So this is something that we have to keep in mind, that the line should be drawn as to what would be the bottom line beyond which a Muslim can never give any more compromise.

In conclusion, really, if I want to sum it up, again many scholars have spoken to this to emphasize again, number one, Muslims who are involved in the political process should never forget that they are people of Dawa (invitation to Islam), the people of invitation of all of mankind to the message of Allah subhana wa ta’ala.

And any argument, any position they take, whether it’s election or voting or support must be weighed according to the scale or the criteria of Shariah and on the basis of not just partisan kind of argument but on the basis of real competent scholars and people who can really give an opinion, even though they might differ themselves, but at least it should be based on profound knowledge .

Secondly, that for other Muslim groups or parties, for all parties actually, not one or other, for all of them, they should be very careful not to judge their brothers and sisters with just a primitive or preliminary, superficial, hasty judgment and make accusations against them that is not necessarily to be justified. They could be good intentioned. There could be a foundation, whether you agree with it or not, that attitude really should be avoided.

And finally, we cannot also blame those who are spending more effort because of their specialization or their competence and understanding how the system operates.

We cannot blame them that if they keep at least their minimum obligations as Duaah (callers to Islam) that they are not doing this or not doing that because of course, these are some areas where duties have to be distributed. So there could be complementary roles played by Muslims with a minimum which all of them have to keep in mind.

SS: Is there anything you would like to add Br. Jamal?

JB: I think at least in terms of basics we seem to have covered that in fact, Insha Allah, I’m scheduled to speak on that issue in some more detail in the New England conference that’s coming up in early October where I go into more detail of the specific evidences or arguments from the Quran and Sunnah given by both views you might say on participation which would be of interest of course, we didn’t have time in a short program like that to get into that but other than that I think that seems to be the basic outline.

SS: Jazak Allahu Khayran.

JB: Wayakum

SS: Assalamu alaykum wa Rahmatullah.

JB: Walaykum as Salam wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu.