By Qasim Rashid
With so much at stake in this election season there has never been a more prudent time for Muslims to exercise their right to vote. But many question whether our votes matter, or whether Islam recognizes secular and democratic election processes?
In the years since the horrific 9/11 attacks the political climate has become increasingly hostile towards Muslims. With tens of millions spent to promote anti-Muslim sentiment, a significant portion of the American public has become suspicious of Muslims. It appears to have become politically acceptable to use harsh language against Muslims--language that would be unacceptable against many other minorities. Political candidates have gained notoriety by suggesting that the rights of Muslims should be more limited than other religious communities and that law enforcement should profile and target us.
Muslims have long debated whether the western style democracy is compatible with Islamic teaching, or whether Muslims should participate in the electoral process of non-Muslims. Meanwhile, more than half of the world's Muslims live in countries that have some form of democratic process. But perhaps more significantly, when we examine authentic Islamic sources such as the Qur'an, the Prophet Muhammad, and his Companions, we see a clear and decisive verdict on what role the democratic process plays in Islam.
The Qur'an, as Islam's primary jurisprudential authority, establishes a basic form of democratic process in Chapter 42 Verse 39, "And those who hearken to their Lord, and observe Prayer, and whose affairs are decided by mutual consultation, and who spend out of what We have provided for them."
Here the Qur'an mandates to Muslims that consulting with others is an obligation when making decisions that affect the community around us. This fundamental requirement of mutual consultation provides the very basis for building a democratic form of government because it embraces mutual accountability. It serves to eliminate the idea of an authoritarian form of government, rejects unilateral decision making, and demands the participation of the people. Perhaps most significantly the Qur'an does not say "mutual consultation of Muslims," but instead states the broader "mutual consultation," recognizing the secular form of public governance involving Muslims and non-Muslims. Chapter 4 Verse 59 reaffirms this point declaring, "Verily, Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those entitled to them, and that, when you judge between men, you judge with justice." Verse 60 further adds, "Obey Allah, and obey His Messenger, and those who are in authority among you."
Notably, Verse 59 does not say "judge with Islamic Shariah" or any other religious code. Rather, it admonishes to judge with absolute justice, which is the essence of secular government. Verse 60 then identifies three sources of obedience--God, Prophet Muhammad, and "those in authority among you." Once again, no religion is ascribed to those in authority, reaffirming that Muslims should not find any conflict in their personal moral obedience to God and Prophet Muhammad while obeying the secular government in authority over them.
We know this interpretation of the Qur'an is correct because more than mere words on Scripture, Prophet Muhammad manifested this Qur'anic guidance with action throughout his life.
Aisha, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad reported that, "The Holy Prophet was most solicitous in consulting others in all matters of importance.'' For example, when Prophet Muhammad immigrated to the city of Medina, a government was established based on a secular constitution that included the various tribes of the city, and that included multiple faiths. Each tribal group had semi-autonomous authority to manage their own local affairs. Inter-tribal affairs would be handled by mutual consent. When it came to national defence the Prophet was in the habit of consulting with the various leaders to discuss strategy for the defence of Medina. With issues that affected the Muslim community alone he would often consult with his followers placing great value on their opinions. This secular constitution guaranteed religious freedom, equality of all citizens regardless of faith, and forbade dictatorships or religious oppression. At a time when Prophet Muhammad had political power over non-Muslims, the citizens of Medina were judged with absolute justice, not theocratic law.
Likewise, upon the victory at Mecca in a bloodless siege, Prophet Muhammad refused to compel Islam on anyone. Rather, as even Islam's most ardent critics acknowledge, he offered amnesty to the entire population of Mecca on the single condition that they recognize universal freedom of conscience. His example surpassed his lifetime. When Prophet Muhammad passed away the question of leadership came to the forefront. A group of the companions came together and consulted with one another, in line with the practice of the Prophet, and eventually decided that Abu Bakr would become the Khalifa, or successor. This was the usual process for electing the Khalifa in the early years until the office was usurped by hereditary rule. The second Khalifa, Umar, was reported to have said "There is no Khalifa without consultation." The eventual dictatorial rules that emerged centuries later in Muslim majority nations were in spite of Islamic teachings, not because of it.
In today's political climate where Muslims are used as a scapegoat to rouse the anger of voters, the need for Muslims to vote and express their opinions is stronger than ever. Donald Trump has suggested a discriminatory immigration policy barring Muslims for immigrating to the US. He has suggested that Muslims should have Special ID's, databases be kept to monitor Muslims, and even shutting down mosques. Other politicians have even gone to cite the example of internment camps during World War II. This hateful rhetoric has, in part, helped skyrocket the number of hate crimes against Muslim Americans by an astounding 89%.
With all this at stake it's hard to imagine why Muslims would not want to vote. Why would we not want our voices to be heard?
We are being given an opportunity, even as a minority, to contribute to the future direction of our nation--not unlike the opportunity that the Prophet Muhammad afforded religious minorities in his time. We should not be fooled into thinking that our votes do not matter. We needn't even look to 1400 years ago--just recall the few hundred votes that decided the 2000 presidential election. Back then George Bush won nearly 80% of the Muslim vote. Local elections have been decided by even less. The US Constitution grants us this right to come forward and help determine the future direction of our nation, and the Qur'an commands us to judge with justice and embrace our responsibility to assert our voice.
Therefore, as American Muslims, we have a responsibility both civically and Islamically to step forward and give our contribution in service of this nation--of our nation.
Rasheed Reno is the Vice President of the Seattle chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.