Still Working for Allah in the West: Theory and Methodology
Are Elections Haram?
Wa Islamah! And I will tell you why.
Not so long ago, I was shown a rejectionist Fatwa declaring elections to be Haram. If some of you are shocked, so was I. The logic was, I take it, that this was a Kafir concoction, opposed to the pure and divine way of doing things in Islam – whatever that may mean.
Poor Islam! I said to myself, over and over.
Beychara Islam, as they say in Indo-Pak. Or Al-Islamul Madhloom, as you would say in Arabic. Or, as my own heart cries out every time I see or hear one of these things – among so many other things one sees and hears these days: Wa Islamah! And Ya Lal Islam!
It means will someone help me. It means I am in desperate need of help.
My heart cries out Wa Islamah! for what so many non-Muslims are doing to Islam and Muslims these days. And it cries out again saying Wa Islamah! for what so many Muslims are doing to Islam and Muslims – some of them in the name of Islam itself.
Where are we supposed to go and to whom are we supposed to complain? Who would know our pain and help us to deal with it? What source of support can we turn to?
Waj-'al Lana Mil-Ladunka Waliyyan Waj-'al Lana Mil-Ladunka Naseera. Qur’an (4:75).
In our own ranks, who would have the knowledge, background, courage, skill, wisdom and patience to represent the case of Islam against such modern-day attacks and misrepresentations and do so properly? That is what it means to say Wa Islamah and Ya Lal Islam. It is the distress call of a heart in agony, a soul in pain.
So here it goes, even though I am by no means the most qualified person to do it.
What Really Is a Fatwa?
First of all let me make it perfectly clear that a Fatwa is an opinion – presumably a scholarly opinion, often misnamed a religious opinion. If you are a non-Muslim, you can even call it a religious ruling or edict, except that there is no such thing in Islam as a religious edict, and rulings can only come from a duly constituted authority such as a judge.
A Fatwa in Muslim and Islamic tradition and culture is primarily an educational tool. It is generally a considered answer given by a scholar or group of scholars to a question. Generally, questions are in written form. Sometimes, the initiative may come from the scholarly source itself.
Some questions may reflect the actual practical predicament of the questioner. Some other questions may be hypothetical representations of possible scenarios. Questions are taken to be good-faith efforts on the part of the questioner to seek knowledge and enlightenment or practical guidance and direction on matters of personal importance.
As a result, a Fatwa may be helpful to anyone but binding on no one – except the person holding or issuing that opinion, not even on those asking the question.
It is not binding on those asking the question because it does not imply consent or a contract on their part to comply with the answer. Nor does it carry with it any sanction for lack of compliance or the authority to impose the sanction or punishment in the case of failure to comply.
The Fatwa is generally considered binding on the source issuing the Fatwa because if someone arrives at a certain conclusion after carefully studying relevant evidence and arguments, that conclusion then becomes the logical choice for that person to act on. Failure to act on one’s own Fatwa may leave a person open to the charge of hypocrisy and lack of character.
A rejectionist Fatwa of this kind – a Fatwa that considers elections and voting Haram and rejects them as acceptable Islamic behavior – will indicate that those holding this opinion and issuing this Fatwa will themselves stay away from participation in the electoral process in any form. Those who follow them in this are merely camp followers. They have no obligation to do it other than the moral authority or personal charisma of the source of the Fatwa.
REJECTIONISM AMONG MUSLIMS
Dealing with Muslim rejectionism is not a new thing for me. My experience with Muslim rejectionism goes back decades – to the time when I was a mere boy. It goes back to the unlikely time when the Jama’at Islami in India used to hold a rejectionist attitude on Muslim participation in elections.
These were – Allah bless them! – some of the most wonderful people on the face of this earth at that time.
They were some of the wisest and most deliberate and thoughtful of people. They barely spoke anything without supporting it with logic and evidence and with Qur’an and Hadith. They were God-fearing people of unimpeachable honesty and integrity.
And yet they believed it was wrong to participate in elections in Hindu India – they were waiting for their Darul Islam. Having been brought up on logic and evidence and on Qur’an and Hadith, as I was even as a child, Jama’at’s rejectionism did not make sense to me. And I told them so.
In response, they gave me some of their sweetest smiles, kindest words and most patronizing of looks but continued with their own policy of rejectionism. I understand policies of large national-level organizations like the Jam’at in India do not change at the telling of a child.
But as years rolled by, it was not I who changed my position. The Jama’at did. May Allah bless them for doing it.
But regardless of where they were positioned on this issue of voting and elections – whether they were for or against them – the people in the Jama’at in India then were some of the most honest and sincere people I have had the privilege to know in my life. May Allah give Jannah to those who have gone to meet him; and may he fill with blessings the lives of those still surviving in this world.
Anyone who knew these people could tell they were good slaves and Khalifahs of Allah on earth. They were good Muslims, good neighbors and good citizens.
Their lives were a reflection of the lives of our Aslaf in Khiyarul Qurun – Sahabah, Tabi’een and others after them. Islam and Muslim interests were safe in their hands – to the extent they can be safe in any human hands.
REJECTIONISM IN THE WEST
Even here in the West I have been confronted with rejectionist and isolationist issues and attitudes of this kind before. I was forced to deal with one such issue, personal and close, in the early 1990s, as I got a resolution approved from the floor of a national Islamic convention in the Convention Center at Philadelphia condemning the burning of black churches in southern United States.
One of the speakers on the panel I was chairing at the time tried to stop the process in its tracks and proclaimed it Free Masonry for Muslim conventioneers to say “Aye” in support of the resolution. I was so taken aback by this unexpected onslaught that it took me a long time to realize what it was that had really hit me.
To me it was self-evident that burning of a church – any church – was an evil act; that burning of black churches in the United States was a particularly heinous and evil act; and that all decent people should try to stop and discourage such evil however best they can – with their hands if they can; otherwise with their tongues; or at least resent such acts in their hearts.
I saw it clearly as part of Muslims’ duty of Amr bil Ma’ruf and Nahy 'Anil Munkar to do so – as part of Muslims’ divine mission of getting people to do the good and right thing and getting them to stop doing the bad and evil things. As a result, it was clear to me that passing of a resolution condemning these burnings was the least Muslims could do to express their horror and revulsion at these acts.
Evidently, this is not how some others saw it.
QUR’AN AND HADITH IN THE ELECTION FATWA
So, the spirit and the mindset behind the voting Fatwa – and the plethora of social, political and moral questions raised by them – are not entirely new to me. I have been seized of these matters for a very long time and have repeatedly turned to Qur’an and Hadith for guidance in dealing with them.
As a result, if I wanted to, I could enter into a fairly detailed discussion on this subject based on Qur’an and Hadith. But I am hoping maybe the matter could be quieted if not entirely settled without that – without everybody bandying their favorite Aayah or Hadith and stretching it to breaking point to support their opinions and arguments.
Qur’an and Hadith should be above such denigration. Therefore, I really do not want to drag the Qur’an and the Hadith into this. It is disrespectful and it is destructive. It is generally destructive of those who indulge in this dangerous pastime.
Instead, here is a commonsense-based approach that will hopefully spare us the need for invoking the Qur’an and the Hadith directly in what I consider to be a fairly simple and straightforward question: Should we or should we not vote to elect those who would occupy positions of power in our midst? Should we or should we not have a say in placing people in positions of authority over us?
If some people still insist on bandying about the Islamic terminology of Halal and Haram with regard to something as basic and obvious as this, I would like to approach the issue from an entirely different angle.
I would say, instead of asking whether voting and elections are Halal or Haram let us ask some simple real-life questions and see if the resulting answers will show us the light.
VOTING AND ELECTIONS MAY BE FARD, DO YOU THINK?
If I myself were a Fatwa-issuing kind, I might be inclined to call them, as a rule, Fard – not Halal or Haram but Fard. That means to me, at the most basic level, elections and voting are the preferred or required ways of doing business in Islam and Muslim communities – of filling positions of power and authority in Islamic culture.
That also means, full and free participation, involvement and representation are the basis of human affairs in the Islamic way of thinking and doing things. Not authoritarianism; not totalitarianism; not dictatorship; not tyranny; not human bondage of the body, mind or soul; not force; not coercion; not deceit; not manipulation.
The Islamic way to me is the way of freedom; dignity; integrity; honor; consultation; free, willing and informed consent on the part of the governed; and full responsibility, disclosure, transparency and accountability on the part of those in power.
If you really insist – and I shudder to say this – that to me is also the way of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. It is a part of our Islamic heritage, culture and teaching that we Muslims, sadly, have lost sight of over the years, decades and centuries.
Just because the West now has it does not mean we should automatically be opposed to it. There are a lot of things we invented – well Islam gave them to us and we game them to the world – which the world now has. The West has stolen a march on us with regard to many of those things.
We were the ones to preach reading – remember Iqra’? – 1400 years ago. The West now reads and more and better than we do. What are we supposed to do, stop reading?
We were the ones who made pen the basis of human life – remember Allama Bil Qalam? – 1400 years ago. The West now owns the world of computing. What are we suppose to do, stop writing?
We were the ones who invented the concept of Taharah 1400 years ago. The West is now becoming more and more conscious of the importance of Taharah. What are we suppose to do, stop making Wudu?
So also, it was Islam that 1400 years ago taught the world the concept of human equality. The West today calls it one man, one vote. What are we going to do, convert to Brahmanism and divide humanity into different castes?
Do you see how so many of these questions are at bottom not really questions of Islam vs. non-Islam, but rather matters of one cultural experience vs. another?
The whole thing then becomes a question of being able to understand the contemporary culture, idiom and language of the Western world and then being able to translate them into our own traditional Islamic language, culture and vocabulary.
And that precisely is where we have fallen short thus far: in being able to make those connections and transitions between the world of Islam and the West. This was mainly because we fell short of people qualified enough to do the job for us.
We did not have among us an adequate supply of individuals and institutions that were simultaneously literate in both cultures to a point where they had a native command of each language, culture and idiom and as a result were able to interpret one culture to the other with authenticity and integrity.
END OF CHAPTER 33
Still Working for Allah in the West: Theory and Methodology
© 2003 Syed Husain Pasha
Dr. Pasha is an educator and scholar of exceptional
talent, training and experience. He can be reached at DrSyedPasha [at]
AOL [dot] com or www.IslamicSolutions.com.