Scholar’s corner: why it’s perfectly Islamic to vote

The divisionary tactic of discouraging Muslims from participating in the upcoming General Election demonstrates how certain literalists are simply religiously illiterate.

Certainly, a number of Muslims do believe that voting is against their religion, but that exists in the minority. Despite his ardent campaign, many Muslims in Britain simply ignore the ramblings of Anjem Choudary and his ilk. Nor is political disengagement a ‘Muslim-only’ problem. Look how Russell Brand used apathy to speak directly to a similarly disengaged audience (until he recently endorsed Labour).

It would be ignorant to deny the existence of Muslims who do not vote on religious grounds (no matter how small). Choudary benefits from this disengagement and from sections of the media amplifying his message.

But is there any theological justification or any sound theological argument that lend support to his claim?

One of the primary sources of Islam is the Qur’an and the authentic Hadith. As far as the latter is concerned, there is no so sound Hadith that prevents Muslims from voting. But individuals like Choudary use three Qur’anic verses to prevent Muslims from voting and demonise them as Kufar (disbelievers):

“Those who do not judge by the laws of God are disbelievers” Q. 5:44

“Those who do not judge according to what God has revealed are unjust” Q.5: 45

“ Those who do not judge by the laws of God are evil doers” Q. 5:47.

Armed with the above quoted verses, Choudary holds God as the only legislator and Shariah the only valid law. Any man-made law is Haram (forbidden) and carries no legitimacy whatsoever.

Therefore, any person who votes is challenging Allah’s law i.e. Shariah. The latter according to Choudary is only law that Muslims and non-Muslims alike ought to be governed by; and he believes that Shariahwill come either by embracing Islam because it is the fastest growing religion in the country, or by an Islamic country conquering Britain”.

Beside his ignorance, the sad reality is that Choudary’s literal interpretation of the Qur’anic texts follows the logic of those who behead and burn people alive under the banner of ISIS.

But such literalistic approach is not exclusively Islamic. In the U.S. one merely needs to look at the reaction of some extreme right-wing Christians to abortion clinics.

How many have suffered, for example, due to narrow and literalistic interpretations of religious texts, which prevented the spread of contraception or justified the dispossession of land?

There is a Christian saying that: “any text without a context is a pretext”. Choudary ignores the very basic element of the science of the exegeses- asbabu al-nuzul (the occasions of the revelation) which requires the interpreter to be aware of the context in which a particular verse was revealed.

It is imperative that any verse in the Qur’an is understood through studying the circumstances of revelation. However, since Choudary is not at home with Arabic, which helps shape our understanding of revelations, he disregards this important rule.

Choudary’s Islamic scholarship is very questionable – as he sees Shariah as a ready-made law and reduces it to a very narrow set of punitive rules.

For example, Choudary is ignorant to the basic element of ShariahAl-Maqasid Al-Shariah (the principles and objectives of Sahariah). But here he is not alone. Many people are taken aback when the word Shariah is evoked.

If one is to consider Shariah in its original and spiritual definition, it becomes obvious that many aspects are already practised and wholly compatible with some British values.

Linguistically, Shariah means a road that leads into Spring Water, which is nothing but to live in peace and harmony. Amongst the principles of the Shariah is to preserve and protect life, intellect, property, honour, lineage, and religion.

Today across the country, whether you are Muslim or not, your life is protected and the same is true with your property under British law. As a Muslim one can practice their faith without restrictions.

Nor is it hard to find a mosque or halal option in this country, which helps enable Muslims to fulfil their religious obligations. All of which constitutes a part of the Road into Spring Water – as the main purpose of Shariah is to ‘facilitate the improvement of individuals and communities’.

Sadly, this spiritual definition of Shariah is hijacked by the literalists who manipulate the religious texts to subjugate woman and in some cases deny them even the right to drive a car; and in worst cases stoning people to death in the name of Shariah.

It is high time that Muslim scholars (particularly those in the West) reclaim the authentic definition of Shariah and bring back its humanistic element. Until then though, whenever Anjem Choudary discouraging the use of ‘man-made laws’ simply reply: “Don’t stop at red light because it is man-made rule.” His stance is really that ludicrous.

Imam Dr Mamadou Bocoum is presently head of the Library and a lecturer at the Muslim College, London and a Chaplain at Ford Prison, Sussex. Dr Bocoum holds a BA in Arabic Language and received his certificate in Imamship in 2004. In 2009, he completed his PhD in Islamic Studies. Dr Bocoum is keen on interfaith work and assisting Tell MAMA with outreach.