To Vote or Not to Vote : Learnings from Abyssinian migration of Muslims
প্রকাশিত হয়েছে : ১২:১৬:২৯,অপরাহ্ন ২৯ নভেম্বর ২০১৯
Naufal Zamir : It is a contentious debate if Muslims can participate in the secular western political system. Participation can be direct or indirect. The fact that a person takes upon British or US citizenship and conducts his daily life through living in the west and incidentally pays tax, travels using a western passport, accepts and abides by the rules and laws of the land, he/she is participating indirectly in the non-Muslim society. On the other hand, to vote for the parliamentary or the local govt. election is to choose who the ruler should be either locally or nationally, or to be a candidate for parliamentary election would be direct political participation or we can term it positive participation.
Most of the scholars and Islamic organisations are explicit that it is permissible to participate in western or secular politics through voting or being a member of the parliament. In the UK, Muslim organisations such as The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), the UK’s largest and most diverse Muslim umbrella organisation with over 500 affiliated national, regional and local organisations, mosques, charities and schools, is quite explicit about positive participation in the British political system. Many famous scholars and ustadhs in both sides of the Atlantic namely Shaikh Yasir Qadhi, Ustadh Numan Ali Khan, Shaikh Haitham Al-Haddad, Omar Suleiman gave qualified opinion about positive participation in the western secular political system. Qualified meaning, not a blank cheque of what can be done, but they all qualified the boundaries of what can be done and cannot be done.
Assembly of Muslim Jurists was held in Montreal, Canada in 2010, scholars from all around the world attended. The assembly opined that it is ok to endorse a candidate i.e. to vote but not endorse all of their views. The example given was that of Yusuf (AS). The parallel drawn was that Yusuf (AS) participated as an administrator under Azeez (ruler) of the land without claiming to establish a Khilafah. It follows that Muslims should engage to support the Muslim cause i.e. choose a candidate who is more favourable to Muslims or oppose a candidate who is Islamophobic.
Amongst those who completely negate direct participation, noteworthy is the pan-Islamic movement or party Hizb-ut-Tahrir (. This group is most thorough in bringing forward its arguments. Their primary objection to using the example of Yusuf (AS) they claim is that the issue has been looked at from a ‘pseudo-Islamic’ viewpoint i.e. the example of Yusuf AS has been brought forward because “from the outset those thinkers looked, not from the perspective of Islam, but by assuming that engagement within the Western system was the only practical means for Muslims to engage in non-Muslim countries – just as others had previously assumed that political engagement in Muslim countries could only practically be done by engaging in the kufr systems that exist there. These Muslims were not necessarily insincere, but misguided.” (The Ruling on Muslim Participation in the Political Life of the West Issued by Hizb ut-Tahrir – Europe 2003 from HT website).
The major arguments given by the group in their detailed reasoning can be summarised as follows:
- The ruling is for Allah alone, i.e. no other authority can be accepted other than the sovereignty of Allah.
- Those who rule other than with what Allah has revealed are disbelievers, oppressors and transgressors and that Muslims ought not to follow them as they may seduce Muslims from some part of that which Allah has revealed, as enumerated in verses 45 to 49 of Sura Al-Maeda.
- To be part of the enactment of the laws of the parliament would be shirk because of the explanation given by Prophet (PBUH) of verse 31 of Sura At-Tawba as to how the Jews & Christians took their rabbis and monks as their lords.
Due to the brevity of this article, I cannot give a full account of all the citations and explanations done by the group, neither is it possible to explain these concepts in detail. Suffice to say no knowledgeable Muslim can disregard the strength of these arguments and the basis of the position of Hizb-ut-Tahrir. The group also goes at-length to rebut why the example of Yusuf (AS) cannot be used.
However, one extremely important point has been raised in the discussion of Seerah of Prophet (PBUH) by Shaikh Yasir Qadhi. In the video 15 & video 17 of his 104-part YouTube lecture, Shaikh Yasir Qadhi introduces an element which has not been dealt with by proponents of abstinence from political participation in the west. Perhaps this argument has escaped their attention or not been argued to them. I implore every concerned Muslim to watch the two lectures (video 15 and 17) of Shaikh Yasir Qadhi’s Seerah series and indeed all the 104 lectures are a must-watch. My description of his comment hereafter fails to do any form of justice to his eloquence & passion.
Shaikh Yasir Qadhi explains the details of the lives and affairs of the Muslims who migrated to Abyssinia at the time of Prophet (PBUH). The sahabas who migrated were not only living in Abyssinia under the ruling of Negus (Najashi/Ruler) while the persecution of Muslims was ongoing in Makkah, but they continued to live in Abyssinia well after the Prophet (PBUH) established the Islamic State in Medina.
This then undoubtedly establishes that the Fiqh of Minority i.e. Islamic ruling in relation to those living in a non-Muslim land can be deducted from the great sahabas, whom Prophet (PBUH) himself sent to Abyssinia and allowed them to stay in Abyssinia, how they conducted their lives and affairs under the Abyssinian ruler. What were they doing? How did they feel? How they took part or did not take part in the governance of Abyssinia?
The model of Abyssinian Muslims can be used in the current time by those who are living in a non-Muslim country i.e. living as a minority, obeying the laws of the land, can be emulated by the Muslims in the USA or Europe. Those who have doubts if it is allowed to live in the west can be assured that it is perfectly acceptable under Islamic laws to live in a non-Muslim land as long as they have the freedom to worship Allah. Muslims in Abyssinia lived there for 12 years, till 7th Hijri. Only after the battle of Khaybar Prophet (PBUH) sent them a letter to return to Medina. This shows that there was a community in Abyssinia living while Khilafah of Prophet (PBUH) was up and running for around 7 years. How could it be wrong to live in a non-Muslim land today when there is no Khilafah? Muslim countries are as secular and as capitalist as the west, aren’t they?
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) sent 11 men and 4 women to Abyssinia around the 6thyear before hijra in the first Abyssinia migration and around 80 Muslims took part in the 2nd Abyssinia migration. Rasool (SW) ordered the hijra on the basis that the ruler of Abyssinia i.e. Negus or Najashi was a ‘Just Ruler’. It has been recorded that Prophet (PBUH) given two criteria why Najashi was a just ruler, firstly: he does not persecute his subjects & secondly: he does not interfere in their religion. Therefore, simply because Islam is not the rule of governance does not necessarily mean it cannot be ‘just’. If according to Prophet (SW) a non-Muslim Christian ruler can be a ‘just king’, it follows that it could not be restricted to a Christian ruler only. As Christianity did not come with rules of governance, it was the Najashi who was laying down the laws of Abyssinia as an individual. That is to be no different to present secular society of the UK or USA, the rule of human as opposed to the sovereignty of Allah Subhanahuwataala. How then could we apply the general principles to the situation of the Muslim minority living in the west as applied by Hizb-ut-Tahrir?
Shaikh also draws a conclusion from this that not all the non-Muslim lands are the same. As long as Muslims can live in a land where they can perform their religion i.e. freedom to worship Allah is allowed. He analyses in lecture video 17 how Jafar ibn Abi Talib (RA) took the lead and used the existing system of governance to establish the case for Muslims.
Shaikh comments: “One of the most important lessons we learn from the whole story is that the sahabas used the system of the time to fight the oppression of the time…. I say this because there are some scholars left….I being a part of them many, many years ago, this-ultra conservative vision of Islam, that’s not going to be realistic or practical. There are still people say you are not allowed to be a part of the system; you are not allowed to be a part of the democratic process…. There are still some minority of scholars who say this….before it used to be much more common… giving fatwa is it halal or haram to vote? Here we find that Jafar Ibn Abi Talib(RA) using the system of the land to fight against oppression and to fight for his freedom, is he not?… Nobody is saying the ways of Najashi is kufr, no….You have no choice. You have to use the resources given to you depending on the land. Jafar (RA) had no qualms using the system. So, we will do the same thing in this land, we shall fight against oppression through the courts, through the media, through the public pressure, the same opportunity everybody has, we too have them. And we must do so like Jafar Ibn Abi Talib (RA) did.”
The lessons do not stop there. While the Muslims were in Abyssinia the Najashi faced a rebellion. There was a battle for the throne. Another member of the royal family was the opposition and there was a civil war. Umme Salama (RA) (later to become the mother of the believers) narrated that the Muslims were scared that Najashi could be defeated and the enemies would come to power. All the Muslims were praying to Allah to help the Najashi to win the battle. Shaikh makes an important point; the battle was pure politics and not a religious fight or fight for wrong or right. Muslims sided with Najashi because Najashi would give Muslims protection. Muslims did not or could not join the fight because Muslims were not citizens of Abyssinia. Muslims of Abyssinia did not know Najashi has become a Muslim through a private letter to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Shaikh extrapolates that “there is nothing wrong when there are more parties in the land and one of them is more sympathetic, that you want that sympathetic party to win. Had the Abyssinian Muslims been in a position to help the Najashi, do you think they would not have helped him?……… when you have an opportunity to defend your right and defend your freedom, you must do so.”
He analyses how in the USA politics there is a party which is Islamophobic. The point is that the Muslims in real life, and indeed it is an Islamic duty that we must help the righteous amongst the contenders to the government. Muslims could not fight because they were not citizens, they were on visa status, it was not their war to fight. Would they have sat on the fence if they were citizens? Shaikh asks.
We have some types of similarities here with the situation with the UK election. Even the least knowledgeable person knows which party in the upcoming election is Islamophobic. On the contrary, we have another party whose leader has a history of fighting throughout his life for justice for the Muslims and against oppression in the matters of Palestine and South Africa. Labour party has put it in their manifesto that the UK will recognise Palestine if Labour forms the government. Labour party members have condemned Indian action against Kashmir unanimously.
What else would it take for a Muslim to wake up and vote for Labour? How else could a Muslim vote other than the Labour Party in the upcoming election is beyond my limited understanding of politics and Islam. Vote for Corbyn, vote for a just ruler.
Naufal Zamir, Socio-economic and political commentator. Barrister, Journalist, Entrepreneur. @NaufalZamir