Islamic Perspectives


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Permissibility of Elections in Islam

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

(1987)


It is an extremely serious matter in the sight of God to say that such and such a thing is Islamic or un-Islamic. In order to make such a statement one must be able to present clear evidence from the Qur'an and authentic Hadith, or, at the very least, be able to quote some recognized Muslim authority. Opinions expressed on the basis of hearsay and vague impressions are extremely dangerous both for the Ummah and for the person who expresses them. They are dangerous for the Ummah because unsubstantiated opinions create confusion and misinformation with all the accompanying harm and they are dangerous for the person who expresses them because if he is wrong, then he may be severely punished on the day of judgment for misleading others.

One of the opinions which is held without evidence and which never ceases to be expressed is that elections are un-Islamic. In this article we present clear evidence that elections are not un-Islamic and so are permissible in Islam. Let those who say that they are un-Islamic present similar evidence. We will Inshah Allah (God willingly) carefully and open-mindedly examine their evidence. But if they have no evidence, then let them not insist on their opinion, so that in this matter double-mindedness among Muslims may be removed.

 

THE VIEW OF THE `ULAMA (Muslim Scholars)

To the best of our knowledge, there is not a single reputed `alim who has declared that elections are un-Islamic. We would greatly appreciate if any of our readers can bring to our attention any such `alim (Muslim Scholar). Whether or not any of our readers can succeed in doing so, one thing is CERTAIN; those `ulama who seriously think that elections are un-Islamic provide only isolated examples, if at all. The predominant view among Islamic scholars is that Islam has not categorically prescribed any definite political system, but given only general principles of government and that a system based on elections is acceptable in Islam. For example, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal concludes that "the basic (political) principle established by the Holy Qur'an is that of elections." Many hold that a system based on elections is not only acceptable but preferable to the military dictatorships and kingships that exist in most of the Muslim countries.

 

MUSLIM PRACTICE

Islamic acceptability of elections is also supported by Muslim practice.

Pakistan: In April 1973 a new constitution came into force in Pakistan. This constitution was drafted and later approved by jami'at-e- 'ulama-e-Islam, Pakistan. This constitution includes among its objectives the establishment of a system,

"under which the state may exercise its authority and powers through the representatives elected by the people."

"under which the principles of democracy, freedom, equality, decency and social justice as prescribed by Islam may be fully put into practice." (Translated from Urdu)

Earlier, when Pakistan came into being the system of elections was adopted in accordance with the views of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Muhammad Iqbal, the two leading figures in the Pakistan Movement. Prominent Islamic scholars never objected to the system. On the contrary, whenever Pakistan has been under military rule, many of them have demanded elections.

Iran: Under the pro-Western shah, Iran was of course a monarchy. But after the Islamic revolution in 1979, it became a republic whose constitution recognized the principle of elections in its Article 6 as follows:

"In the Islamic Republic of Iran, the state affairs shall be administered, as voted by the people, i.e. through elections: election of president, representatives of the Majlis (National Consultative Assembly), members of the councils and the like, or through a referendum as stipulated under other articles of this law."

The 1979 constitution was drafted by a council which included `ulama such as 'ayat Allah' Jannati. It was approved by other `ulama and is still in force.

Egypt: Elections are also held in Egypt although they are held in such a way that the ruling party or president usually wins 99% of the votes. Egyptian `ulama never raised their voices saying that elections are un-Islamic and such orthodox Islamic groups as ikhwan al-muslimin have participated in elections.

North America: Many Muslim organizations of different persuasions in North America hold elections. Pro-Saudi ISNA, and ICNA are run by a system of regular and general elections. Many Mosques and Islamic groups choose its directors by regular elections.

 

IN THE LIGHT OF THE QUR'AN AND HADITH

Some Muslims, blinded by self interests or ignorance, seem to suggest that anything that did not exist in the early days of Islam is un-Islamic. If this were so, then most of the things we do every day would be un-Islamic. Each time we phone someone, each time we sit in a car, train, bus or plane, each time we give adhan (Calling of prayer) or khutbah (speech to the worshippers) in a loudspeaker, each time we go, or send our children to, a madrasah, school, college or university, each time we use a compass to find the direction of the qiblah (Ka'ba), each time we print Qur'an on a printing press we would be doing something haraam (unlawful), if we accept the principle that anything that did not exist in the early days of Islam is un-Islamic.

The truth is that such a principle is nowhere taught in Islam. It is something that our forefathers invented from their own minds without any basis in reason or revelation.

How then do we decide whether a practice that did not exist in the days of early Islam and is therefore not explicitly mentioned in the Qur'an and Hadith is Islamic or un-Islamic? The obvious answer to this question is that we should carefully examine the practice in the light of the Qur'an and Hadith and then reach a conclusion as follows:

1) If the practice violates some laws or principles taught in the Qur'an and Hadith, we reject it as un-Islamic. A particularly clear example would be the use of drugs like LSD, crack, etc. that are not explicitly mentioned in the sources of Islam. These drugs do more harm than good (if they do any good at all) and the Holy Qur'an prohibits alcohol on the same grounds.

2) If the practice does not violate anything taught in basic Islamic texts but is in fact positively helpful in fulfilling the aims and objectives of Islamic teachings, then we consider it not only permissible but also desirable. A particularly clear example would be the use of schools, examinations, awarding of degrees, certificates, etc. for religious and other education, for, although schools, examinations, etc. did not exist in the days of the Prophet, they are helpful in impairing knowledge, acquisition of which is a duty of every Muslim man and woman.

3) If the practice is neither in conflict with Islamic teachings nor is helpful to fulfill their objective, then we simply tolerate it as permissible, neither condemning it nor commending it. For example, playing a sport like baseball as a form of recreation and physical exercise.

If we now apply the above procedure to the system of regular elections, we see that this system does not in itself violate any laws and principles of the Qur'an and Hadith. Rather it is helpful in the fulfillment of many of those laws and principles. For example:

*** The Holy Qur'an says that the believers affairs "are run by shura (consultation) among them." Elections provide a way of conducting shura in the important matter of choosing ul al-amr and then determining whether they have continued support of the people.

*** The Holy Qur'an disapproves of monopolistic control of wealth. In 59:7 it states how to use the wealth that God bestows on the Prophet and then says:

"This is in order that (the wealth) may not become something that goes round and round among the rich in your midst."

Other principles of Islam, such as the principle that land belongs to the tiller and the prohibition against hoarding, usury, etc. also show that Islam does not want wealth to be concentrated in a section of the society. Now elections provide a way of avoiding monopolistic control of political power and since political power and economic wealth tend to go hand in hand in a country, therefore elections tend to help in the wider distribution of wealth which, as we just said, is an objective of many laws and principles of Islam.

*** Humility is one of the most desirable virtues in Islam. Generally leaders chosen according to a system of regular elections tend to be more humble and accessible to the people than kings and dictators who often behave and are treated as Gods. In ancient times kings actually used to present themselves as gods, before whom people had to bow down.

*** Equality of men is another well known and important principle taught in the Qur'an and Hadith. The system of elective government tends to create equality in a society, since every individual's vote counts. In contrast, in societies run by kings and dictators people are treated much less equally. Those able and willing to bribe officials or exert some other influence get away with what does not rightfully belong to them while others cannot receive even their most basic rights.

*** Unity and peace is something that is enjoined in the Qur'an and Hadith again and again. The system of elective government is helpful in this regard too. For, if any section of the society is dissatisfied with the existing government, it can hope to peacefully change things in the next elections. In contrast, in societies run by kings and dictators the dissatisfaction can often be expressed only by violent confrontation with the government, resulting in instability and a split in the society, sometimes even in civil wars and dismemberment of the country.

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