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Voting: an Islamic view

By Amine Dagher

The elections that took place in the United States between the Democrat Obama and the Republican Romney, brought to light the issue of voting. In this respect, an article published on the website OnIslam.net discussed voting from an Islamic perspective.

In his article “Voting Values: A Muslim Perspective”, Dr. Wael Shihab, Head of Shariah Department in Al-Azhar University, gives an overview on voting explaining that it is the practice of choosing a political leader or representative which some still refrain from practicing. However, “Muslims, whether in West or the East, should actively and faithfully participate in the political life. They should care for the public interest of their communities. Voting for candidates should be based on qualifications and eligibility for the public service and betterment of the country.”

Dr. Shihab defines voting is a form of testimony that a Muslim should honestly bear. As mentioned in the Quran, one must be a fair witness: “O you who believe! Be upright for Allah, bearers of witness with justice, and let not hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably; act equitably, that is nearer to piety, and he careful of (your duty to) Allah; surely Allah is Aware of what you do.” (5:8)

Clearly, voting, as a type of testimony, must be fair and just. “Favouritism and bias are not Islamically justified under any pretext. Muslims, therefore, should vote for the most capable and eligible candidates irrespective of their cultures, beliefs, races, or gender.”

In addition, Dr. Shihab highlights the importance of bearing testimonies when required. As mentioned in the Quran: “then he who is trusted should deliver his trust, and let him be careful (of his duty to) Allah, his Lord; and do not conceal testimony, and whoever conceals it, his heart is surely sinful; and Allah knows what you do.” (2:283)

The characteristics of the political leader or representative are a point of high value. “When voting, a Muslim should look for the most capable, qualified, and eligible candidates irrespective of their backgrounds or gender. People’s choices of representatives should be based on qualifications and eligibility, not on personal or private concerns. The Quran, in more than one place, instructs a Muslim to choose the most qualified and trustworthy person for the public services of people. For instance, we read in the Quran, when narrating the story of Prophet Yusuf (a.s): “He said: Place me (in authority) over the treasures of the land, surely I am a good keeper, knowing well.” (12:55).

When Egypt was struck by a drought, Prophet Yusuf (a.s.) offered his services to run the safety treasure of Egypt. His intention was to save the country in the time of an overwhelming crisis. The Prophet (a.s.) had all the qualifications that made him the most eligible ruler of that time.

“One of the important lessons of the above Quranic verse is that a Muslim should never hesitate to nominate himself or herself to serve and represent his or her community as far as he or she is eligible to. Moreover, people should vote for and choose their representatives on the basis of qualifications and eligibility.”

Dr. Shihab continued to explain that it is very important that Muslims give priority to public interest rather than private or personal benefits. “The interest of the community takes precedence over the interests of the individuals” and “the permanent benefit takes priority over the temporal one.” Therefore, Muslim voters should be more interested in the candidates who are more eligible to secure the public interest of the country.

He concludes: Ethical voting in free elections is one of the essential steps towards freedom, justice, and change to the better. Every voter shoulders the responsibility of reforming his or her country; everyone should therefore vote for the most qualified and eligible candidates.

In accordance to the religious view of His Eminence, the late Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah, voting is not about a person trying to occupy a position in the legislative body to approve and ratify people’s laws, pacts and treaties with others. According to the elector, election resembles a proxy where candidates assume the role of the agent who represents and manages the affairs of those who authorize him. Nevertheless, although it is like a proxy, it also embraces the meaning of a pledge because whoever pledges absolute allegiance to a person, he would be authorizing him to handle the absolute rule. So, when the elector authorizes the candidate to manage the rule unconditionally; he would be then authorizing him to make, on his behalf, all the decisions he deems necessary and to sign whatever treaties and agreements related to people’s public life.

It is important to note that if the majority expresses what is right and fair, this does not mean that it represents legitimacy. However, when the purpose is to discover people’s opinions and public interest lies in taking people’s decisions into consideration, the majority might prove to be the best choice in the absence of another alternative.

Regarding Muslims who want to join the parliament of a secular state, which does not comply with Islam and its ruling system, his answer, was as following: In such case, the Muslim must find out if his presence in the said parliament could redound to the supreme Islamic interest. He must learn if the Muslims who live in that region need someone to represent them, to look after their affairs, to pursue their cases and to make sure not to allow the enactment of any legislation that could constitute an element that thrust persecution upon them, etc­ So, if there is a supreme Islamic interest in having a person or more in that parliament, his participation would be justified.Nonetheless, when the Muslim becomes a member of such parliament, he must observe God’s law in all the laws he is approving and voting for or the laws he opposes and endeavors to preclude. Being a member in a non-Islamic parliament does not justify the fact that a Muslim votes for and supports a rule that God does not deem legitimate. So, according to the general binding interest governing his behavior in that parliament, he could renounce a certain law, he could refuse to vote, and so on and so forth. And it ought to be mentioned that he will not be held responsible for the non-Islamic legislations that are enacted by that parliament without him voting for it.