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Voting and abstention are both choices with consequences


18 June 2015

I have long been aware that some Muslims do not vote because they believe that democratic government is un-Islamic. The most extreme proponents of this view are Hizb ut-Tahrir. I have previously offered "A strategy for dealing with Hizb ut Tahrir."

The Conservative Muslim Forum also has a useful document on its website "Does Islam allow British Muslims to vote?" by Michael Mumisa; the conclusion is an unequivocal yes.

I recently received an email raising a different objection. This page shares the question and my response.

Incoming question

I receive an email question summarised below at the Conservative Muslim Forum email address:

I would like your views about something that I struggled to really engage with effectively during campaigning in the recent election.

Many practicing Muslims did not vote. The reason they give is that if a Muslim votes for a candidate or party in the full knowledge that they will legislate for laws or bring in policies that go against Shariah and the basic tenets of Islam or harm Muslims then that person is accountable and will be held accountable on the Day of Judgment even more so than the candidate (who may not be Muslim and hence may not be bound by Shariah, Islamic doctrine etc.)

Many examples were cited: e.g. voting for a candidate who promotes in homosexuality, same sex marriage, discriminates against Muslims etc.

I welcome your views.

My response

I realised that the questioner is making a significant but unstated assumption. He is assuming that he is only accountable for what he does, but not for what he fails to do.

Accordingly, I replied as follows:

I never give religious advice to others. However I am always willing to share my own views, which others are free to reject. I look at it as follows.

As a citizen, I have three choices (to simplify, as there are actually more than two political parties):

  1. Vote for candidate A.
  2. Vote for candidate B.
  3. Not vote.

As a Muslim, I am answerable to God for whichever of the above choices I make. Once you think of it this way you see that the supposed religious analysis of others is quite superficial. Not voting is itself a choice and you are responsible for whatever happens as a consequence of your not voting.

I believe that God requires me to analyse and choose the wisest of the three options.

Abstention will almost never be the right choice, because one of candidate A or B will normally be better than the other. Both will always be imperfect human beings, because it is in the nature of man to be imperfect. Only God is perfect.

I have also written on my website about the proper boundary of political Islam.

Concluding comments

The fact that doing nothing is also a choice needs to be considered in almost every decision situation. Failure to take that into account almost always leads to sub-standard decision making.

For example, if you don't like any of the candidates standing in an election, you should still vote for the candidate you dislike least. Abstention is only justified if you are genuinely completely indifferent between all of the candidates. That will rarely be the case in reality.


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