Dr Abdul Wahid: When much of Britain has Voter Apathy, why then are some Muslims so bothered?
The 2015 UK elections are nearly upon us yet trust in the political system appears to be at an all time low. Many people, from high-profile celebrities to the common person, appear to have lost trust in the system. Others simply participate because they feel there’s no alternative.
Why is there a lack of trust in the system?
There have been examples of political corruption – from the MPs expenses scandal to ‘cash for access’ scandals. Individual wrongdoing can exist in any system, but it is more likely to happen in a society that encourages a ‘WIFM’ (‘what’s in it for me’) culture. However, I believe the reasons are however more systemic.
Firstly, in a capitalist state, the system serves small elite and rich corporations rather than the ordinary people. Big businesses, lobbyists, relations between politicians decide law and policy. Lord Halisham once described the system as an ‘elected dictatorship’. The most obvious example of this in recent years was that all the main parties agreed for the ordinary taxpayer to bail-out the banks to the tune of billions of pounds; banks who had been made insolvent by bankers who got to keep their millions. Tax laws, employment laws, licensing laws are all rigged to favour big business, often at the expense of the ordinary citizen. As more people realise this they lose trust in the system.
Secondly, even when sincere politicians engage in the system, the system forces them to change to serve interests that may go against their personal principles, the wishes of those who voted for them and on occasions even their own party’s policies and values. Prior to the last election, Nick Clegg was seen as someone offering voters an alternative to the main parties. However, his spell in government is proof that he sacrificed his party’s policies and principles once in office. Other politicians have done the same in the past – including Muslim politicians.
Thirdly, most people see that the main parties have very little difference in their policies. This could not be clearer when it comes to policies affecting Muslims – whether wars in Muslim countries supported by all the main parties – or policies like ‘Prevent’ or the recent CTS act that clamps down on Muslims expressing their beliefs and any dissenting political opinions.
So, why are some Muslims so keen to rally Muslims to engage?
There are Muslims who are sincere in wanting to do something – anything – to win influence and benefit their community. In the past, some Muslims thought they had to be in the system to get their fair ‘share of the cake’ – just as the other religious communities appeared to have done. However more recently, with the rise of anti-Islamic feeling in Europe, they feel it is necessary to engage in order to try and mitigate this harm. For this reason, participating in this system is sometimes championed as the answer to all problems: from Islamophobia to the well being of Muslim children!
However, I disagree with this approach for several reasons:
- Islamic Principles – Whilst elections to appoint a ruler – or to appoint a representative (wakeel) in a certain matter – is something well understood in Islam, the rules of representation (wakala) do not allow someone to appoint a representative on their behalf in something that contradicts Islam – such as appointing someone to represent you making laws from his own personal choice, even if they happen to agree with Islam. This is because the Law-Giver is Allah Ta’ala alone. What is worse is when Muslim politicians make or endorse laws that contradict Islam, something we have seen all too often.Despite reasons for arguing engagement in this system is acceptable, even a child with a rudimentary understanding of their deen could appreciate a view that participating in a system that permits riba, economic exploitation, gambling, alcohol, the bloodshed and occupation in Muslim lands, oppressive anti-terror and anti-‘extremism’ laws, all supporting the Zionist state – even if they promised some benefits to Muslims – is not permitted by Islam. Indeed, even those who aren’t Muslims can understand why a Muslim would put personal principle above pragmatically seeking benefits for oneself or his community – so it is strange that sometimes Muslims do not appreciate this.
- Failing to publically acknowledge the negatives of the system can lead ordinary Muslims to believe the system is Islamic. Some Muslims push this agenda in a way that portrays it as a vital issue to secure our community and even the welfare of our children! But we do not hear them point out the limitations of the system or its shortcomings. They are silent on the many compromises that are expected of anyone who engages in the system. Hence, it is as if they are preaching to our community that this is the ‘silver bullet’ to deal with ‘Islamophobia’ – or that if only Muslims were better coordinated, they would secure more Muslim-friendly MPs.This seems like an act of desperation – for it is promoting an argument that many in the West have learned is false after having been recurrently failed by the political system. Moreover, it fails to educate our community about the real nature of the system, leaving them ever-hopeful, like beggars. Moreover, it is strange that some extend the opinions from some scholars who might say tactical voting for an MP is something acceptable and use it as a justification for actually becoming paid-up members of the secular political parties and plunging headlong into the system that consumes them.
- Tactics disconnected from a purpose or vision – Even if someone saw a purpose to tactical voting – it seems bizarre that all so often, talk of political engagement is void of any obvious vision or purpose, beyond some partial or short term benefits for Muslims – or being allowed to stand at the door of politicians. All too often this participation divides Muslims along party political lines.It is imperative that Muslims think first about what is their purpose or role in this society. Our vision should not be to ‘assimilate’ into the dominant secular liberal values and capitalist system – which the political system in Britain is built upon – and which causes so much individual and societal harm to ordinary people. Muslims who do will go the way of other secularised religions and divorce themselves from a part of Islam itself – from the political, societal and economic. This would make our community no different from others in the West, without a distinct example or ideas to offer those suffering family breakdown, sexual anarchy and social chaos.I recognize that many in the Muslim community might have already succumbed to these problems, but many have not. It is precisely because so many Muslims try to adhere to Islamic values that there is a pressure to integrate and assimilate.
- Distracting people from real engagement in their communities to realize our vision, our politics – I believe Muslims should be engaged in their communities – as they have done for decades. Rejecting of ‘assimilation’ and participation in a flawed process does not mean ‘desiring isolation’. Indeed, one cannot ‘uphold Islam’ through isolation. We must interact with others and wider society, to present and clarify the Islamic message. But this ‘interaction’ with others should be on an unambiguous basis:
- It should be an Islamic basis – not contravening Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala‘s laws.
- It should be upon a unified basis – for without a unified voice on key issues, our community couldn’t have an effective voice.
- It should be part of our mission to uphold Islam and our identity – united towards ends that worship Allah, enjoin good and forbid what is wrong in a confident and forthright manner where necessary – making a convincing argument – all in order to gain Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala‘s Help and Mercy.Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala says: “The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.” [Translated Meaning Quran Surah Al Tawbah 9:71]
- Political engagement and cooperation can exist with others on issues, but should not contradict Islamic values. Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala says: “And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and transgression. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is severe in penalty.” [Translated Meaning Quran Surah Al Maidah 5:2].
- Muslims should continue to build their community to serve these ends, but on a self-reliant basis and working towards upholding Islam, protecting our identity and offering the best invitation and examples to those around us. He Subhanahu wa Ta’ala “And who is better in speech than one who invites to Allah and does righteousness and says, “Indeed, I am of the Muslims.” [Translated Meaning Quran Surat Fussilat 33]
I would urge Muslims to hold fast to Islamic values and follow a political path based upon Islam and unity of the Muslim community – enjoining the good and forbidding the munkar – and resist the false promises of influence in this secular system at the price of losing our Deen. Only Islam gives this community dignity and ‘izzah and if we lose that, no amount of political activity could ever deliver meaningful results.