I have a confession to make; today was my first time ever voting! I have been registered to vote for years, and have even been summoned to Jury duty [which I have yet to do, as logistics have prevented me in the past] as a result of being a registered voter, but today was a first for me. This may be strange to both Muslim and Non-Muslim readers, hearing how a Muslim woke up very early [about 5:30 am], showered and offered morning prayers [Salaat al-Fajr] and walked to a nearby Church with his Hijab-clad wife to cast the ballot.
The actual experience
The Polling station opens at 7:00 A.M., and I was expecting long lines, but we only waited about fifteen minutes, in contrast to reports I have heard from friends and brothers throughout the country, who waited for 2-3 hours in line to cast their votes. It seems that while irregularities have been reported here and there, in general the process has gone smooth across the board.
Why did I vote now?
In the past, I have been had an apathetic approach to politics. While I enjoy its study in theory, I had the belief, as do most Americans [even if they don't admit it] and others in the world [who will gladly admit it if there's not a Policeman nearby] that Politicians are deceptive in general, that the whole system is very corrupt, and that there is no hope of change at all. My vote will not count anyways, I believed, and in addition to this, I have flirted with the view that Voting in such a system may be allowed Islamically, but only by a thin thread.
I voted now because I believe that the conditions are apt for change, because people really want it! With the U.S. engaged in two wars, which benefits only weapon contractors, the economy in shambles, Insurance problems and Credit becoming increasingly harder to obtain, people are finally beginning to feel the pressures that others worldwide feel on a regular basis, and do not wish to continue on this course. Let us hope that our hopes for change are not in vain.
What about Islam: does it really endorse representative democracy?
Before I go into this subject, I think it necessary to add this observation; i.e. that while voting does take place in much of the Muslim world, it is a widely disgraced practice, as there may only be one candidate on the ballot, your 'no' vote to the ruling party magically [Cough, cough] turns to 'yes', and those who dare attempt to vote for another party or candidate will be visited in a day or so by some really mean looking gentlemen wishing to 'enlighten' that disaffected person. So, I believe that with such a background, it is easy for 'Ulamaa residing in the Arab world or in another location to tell Muslims living in the West to not vote. Here are some of the usual arguments:
[A] Islamic law does not endorse decision making by the masses anyways. There is only one law and system, the Shari'ah and/or the Khilaafah! Voting in the US or Britain constitutes Kufr! Allah is the only law-giver, and Muslims should rally around a khalifah!
[B] If we do vote, it should be only with regards to 'Muslim issues', such as Palestine and Iraq! Otherwise, let the Kaafireen worry about themselves! In this connection, I should mention that this position was adopted in Apartheid South Africa by some leading Muslim scholars, and fatawa were issued disowning Muslims in the anti-apartheid movement, on the grounds that the system in place at that time placed no restriction on Muslims offering prayers in the Mosques! In addition, 'working with the Kuffar' was also a catch-phrase accusation leveled at Muslims involved in Anti-Apartheid activities.
There are some other arguments out there, position papers and books detailing these sorts of views, but in general all of them revolve around the points noted above.
[A] The Qur'an has categorically endorsed collective decision making. Believers, we are told, are :
42:38 Those who hearken to their Lord, and establish regular Prayer; who (conduct) their affairs by mutual Consultation; who spend out of what We bestow on them for Sustenance.
The wording "Wamrahoom Shuraa Baynahum" appears here, in connection with prayer, which in many instances is a collective exercise in the Muslim community, and charity, distributed to the needy society. There is no restriction given here about where and how this should be practiced. In other words, just as Jumu'ah prayers are equally valid in San Francisco or Saudi Arabia, participating in the decision making processes are valid whatever the system, as long as there are safeguards to prevent injustices and such. This is not to say that injustice does not exist, we can see this even in systems of government that applies Islamic laws [Taliban in Afghanistan as well as the old Nizam-e-Mustafa system in Pakistan are good examples of misapplication], but it does not mean that just because a system has its origins or popular usage among Non-Muslims that it automatically becomes Un-Islamic or unacceptable to the Muslim community.
As for the wish to have a Khilaafah system, perhaps that may happen in the future, but I won't be holding my breath. It does seem prudent that Muslim nations form something analogous to the European Union [UN], this could be a body Khalifah. Organizations such as the OIC [Organization of Islamic conference] can very well act in this capacity, giving a united voice, free trade, loans and grants to each other, and a variety of other actions that will greatly improve our conditions, but perhaps that is also something that will not happen anytime soon. In any case, it seems that having a figure such as a Sultan or Khalifah for all Muslims is a unrealistic expectation.
Getting back to collective decision making, we are also given in the Qur'an instructions not to allow anyone to feel marginalized, to allow them at least a voice and a seat at the table. See Q 58:11.
[B] 'Muslim issues' is very limited, and actually acts as self-marginalization. Why should we not vote on issues that will affect our health care, local services such as Police, Fire departments, schools etc..? Muslims should have a say on all these issues, at the very least because the Qur'an and Sunnah likewise have something to say about all issues. As the Qur'an says "And we have omitted nothing from the Book" [Q 6:38] as well as "Today have I perfected your religious law for you, and have bestowed upon you the full measure of My blessings, and willed that self-surrender unto Me shall be your religion."[Q 5:3].
Using the example of South African Muslims, the issue of Race discrimination has always been a priority of Islam. Looking at the Qur'an, and seeing the many practical examples from the Prophet's own life. and his final address to the Muslims show us that those opposing Muslim participation in the Anti-Apartheid movement had actually internalized those racial ideas preached by the Racists! Islam is not just applicable when Muslims are a majority, but also while living as a minority! Wherever Muslims live, we should have the light of Islam in our actions and attitude. Our influence will, God-willing, act as a guiding force that will make for positive change and contribution to the society and world we live in. The Prophet Muhammad may be a mercy to believers, but he is also a mercy to all nations [Q 21:107]. The Muslims, his followers, should likewise be the same.
The arguments I have presented here may not be convincing for all, so my advice is this: follow whatever your conscious and your understanding of the will of Allah Ta'alaa is. Just remember that Muslim behavior and ethics can be a light whereever we are, and that the will of Allah cannot be overturned. Allah's promises are true, even though those promises are sometimes hard to recognize.