British Muslims and the Coming General Election

British Muslims and the Coming General Election

By David Rosser-Owen


British Muslims, in common with everybody else in the kingdom, will soon be placed in a pickle: whether to vote or not, and if so, for whom?

There are, of course, those who for whatever reason failed to register as electors by the deadline. For them, naturally, the voting problem doesn’t exist.

The British Muslim will also, uniquely, be presented with another dilemma.

This is the quandary generated for him or her by certain gurus, pontificators, and political figures about whether voting, or participating, in the British political process is in fact permissible. And thus, by extension, in those of its derivative cultures in the Crown Dependencies, the Republic of Ireland, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the countries of the Commonwealth.

This matter is usually couched for him or her in rather extreme and emotive language: voting (or participating) is haram – which the gurus et alios often choose to spell ‘haraam’; that democracy is unIslamic (usually without any definition or understanding of the political term ‘democracy’); that it is forbidden to participate in ‘kuffar’ politics (without considering just what is ‘kufr’); that to do so is a rebellion against the expressed Will of the Almighty, and in consequence is an act of apostasy; and so on.

Were this not so important in its consequences, it could be simply dismissed for what it is: a crude anti-Westernism, or more particularly anti-Britishism, born of a rather infantile and unnecessary post-imperial inferiority complex.

Let us take as a given the problematic choices facing all electors which are shared throughout the kingdom: flawed political parties with near identical manifestoes whose trustworthiness if elected to office to abide by their promises is highly questionable; the corruption of the government process through the rise and development of a Gaetano Mosca-esque classe politica; the cupidity and venality of many politicians, which can be attributed in many cases to the emergence and membership of this political class; the conscious subversion of the British Constitution and with it of the independence of the Civil Service, the Judiciary, and Her Majesty’s Forces; the mendacity, criminality, and outright treason involved in joining the USA in its illegal wars of aggression against two sovereign states that had not in any way harmed its and, more important, British interests; the burgeoning and serious problems deriving from the European Union; the destruction and curtailment of the ancient customs and usages of the British people, and the attempted replacement of the British concept of the Common Law being the Natural Law that inheres the subject with his or her God-given rights and liberties with the European Hegelian notion that these “rights” and “liberties” are granted to the citizen by government as a reward for dutifully obeying its diktats. And so on.

The ‘voting is haraam’ fraternity has been suitably addressed by many learned scholars. As “Abu Eesa” wrote on his blog

“The Big Voting Debate: Actually, is there really still a debate? Haven’t we dealt with all this before?

The answer: yes. Emphatically so. (please read all the articles in the link carefully because 99% of all queries have been dealt with therein)

I’m not one to waste my time re-hashing old arguments and arguing just for the sake of arguing with mostly young and new Muslims who perhaps weren’t around 4-5 years ago, and for them now the “voting is shirk” slogan fits their age and experience in Islam. Read: little.” []

That it continues to be a problem is a sign of the times: ignorant people, largely young, will not be instructed by those who are there to inform and guide them and all too often insist on following ignorant demagogues. There is a famous Tradition that begins yarfa’a-Llahu fi-l Akhiri-z Zaman sittati ashya (God will raise up – i.e. remove – at the End Time six things). One of the six is hurmatu-l ‘ulama (reverence of the learned).

The authoritative norm for Quranic exegesis is the Arabic text in which it was revealed. Translations will always be someone’s approximation, and with the depth of meanings inherent in any given Quranic text relying on a translation is hazardous at best. Yet, I have seen in the last couple of weeks the English statements “legislation is only for Allah” as an authority for the rejection of positive law and thus to deny legitimacy to elected governments because they will enact such laws; and “whomever does not rule by what Allah has revealed is a kafir” to demonstrate that the British system is “kuffar” because it doesn’t do that.

The second of these is demonstrably wrong. Although the Divine Law that underpins it is being progressively – and intentionally – eroded with time; nevertheless, as late as the 1980s Lady Thatcher as Prime Minister could still state that the twin values of the Conservative and Unionist Party were “belief in God” and “the preservation of the family”. It would be the duty of Muslims to fight against this programme of erosion.

The ‘nay sayers’ will claim that this is not “revealed law”. Yet the verse they quote, however, doesn’t actually say ‘revealed’. The Arabic is “wa man lam yahkum bima anzala-Llahu fa ula’ika humu-l kafiroun”. The two operative terms are “yahkum” (‘governs’ or ‘rules’), and “anzala” (‘sent down’): ‘sent down’ is taken by scholars to include what was given to the Christians, Jews, and Magians (cf Quran, al-Shoura, 42:13 cited below), and what the learned and pious have received by inspiration (ilham or ilqa)(which include inductive and deductive reasoning). It is the basis of the Shari’ah known as qiyas, or analogy – specifically with what contemporary Christian societies have done in analogous circumstances and under similar stimuli.

And the first of the quoted statements above reads “inna-l hukmu illa li-Llah”: ‘governance is only with God’ – ‘governance’, not ‘legislation’. Anyway, it is generally agreed that positive law is provided for in the Islamic system.

The former State Attorney General of Singapore, Professor Ahmad Muhammad Ibrahim, wrote in his work Islamic Law in Malaya, “The word Shari’ah is the name given to the whole system of the law of Islam, the totality of God’s commandments. Each one of such commandments is called hukm (pl. ahkam). The Shari’ah is defined as “that which would not be known had there not been a divine revelation”. This definition is wide enough to include all the divine revelations, including those made by the Hebrew Prophets and Jesus, but the divine revelations through Muhammad are considered as confirming the earlier revelations, and therefore constitute the Shari’ah in its purest and final form. Only what is expressly stated in the divine revelations or as may be inferred from them properly comes under the Shari’ah. The Shari’ah embraces all human actions; it is, therefore, strictly not law in the modern sense but might be regarded as a guide to ethics.

The Muslim term which corresponds more closely to law is fiqhFiqh is defined as “the deduction of the Shari’ah values relating to conduct from their respective particular (tafsili) evidences.””

Tamara Sonn, Kenan Professor of Humanities at the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Virginia, America’s oldest university of which HM Queen Elizabeth II is Patron, elucidated this when she was interviewed on 24 February 2005, “Fiqh is the effort of human beings to understand and implement divine will through legal codes – jurisprudence – not the divine will itself. Unlike shari’ah, which is eternal and changeless, legal codes can be adapted. Built into the roots that guide Islamic law is a method, called ijtihad, or intellectual ijtihad, to rethink and change these legal codes as circumstances demand.

The world is changing rapidly and legislation needs to keep up with it. The goal of legislation is to guide human life, so legislation has to keep up with human life.”

The links that Abu Eesa and others take one to are mostly deductions from the time of the salaf (the three generations of the Prophet and his Companions, the following generation, and the generation following that). Because of the influence of the Wahhabis and Deobandis, among other like-minded people, many like to speculate from these early sayings and practices but ignore much of the scholarship and experience that has intervened between then and now.

However, there is much from these of direct relevance to our present circumstances. There are three periods in particular: that in the Levant and Mesopotamia during and immediately following the Crusades and Mongol invasions; Islamic Spain between the 11th and 15th Centuries; and the Ottoman Empire. For example, referring to people living under the pagan Mongols, Imam Mawardi held that the ruler was to be obeyed as long as he permitted the prayer to be said – this has been interpreted to mean the Friday Prayer specifically. In each of these Muslim, Christian, and Jewish populations lived together in mixed societies – or, in the terms of Islamic Spain, a convivencia.

Generally, according to Shaykh Michael Mumisa, it is held that Muslims may participate in a system provided certain conditions are met: the state is committed to the establishment of peace and justice; the system guarantees freedom of religion; and allows for the participation of all citizens in decision-making.

He wrote in 2005,

“…there is no explicit textual evidence either from the Qur’an nor sunna… that can be used to substantiate the view that Muslims in Britain should not vote or that participating in voting is an act of apostasy” (“Muslims in Britain and the Elections: What does the Shari’a say?” p 2).

In other words no one can state that it is haram (or haraam) – the most that could be claimed for their position would be that it is tahriman makrouh, and that is not haram. And they would have to justify that stipulation very carefully because it is a principle of Islamic jurisprudence that everything is permitted unless it is specifically prohibited.

Both Mumisa and Hizbu-t Tahrir Britain have drawn attention to the work Al-Muwafaqat fi Usouli-sh Shari’ah (generally known as Al-Muwafaqat) by the Spanish scholar Imam Abu Ishaq Ibrahim bin Mousa bin Muhammad al-Shatibi al-Gharnati, who is usually known as Al-Shatibi and clearly from his name was from a family originating from Xàtiva (Játiva) and living in Granada where he died in 1388.

What is particularly interesting, and relevant, is that he was reinterpreting the bases of Islamic jurisprudence (usoulu-l fiqh) and the higher objectives of Sharia (maqasidu-sh shari’ah) against a contemporary context where major population centres of Spanish Muslims were now ruled by Roman Catholic Christians, and had been for around 300 years in some cases. For example, Toledo (Tulaytulah) had fallen in 1085, Zaragosa (Saraqustah) in 1118, the Caliphal capital Cordova (Qurtubah) in 1236, his home town of Jativa (Shatibah) centre of paper manufacture of mediaeval Europe in 1244, Jaen (Jayyan) in 1246, Seville (Ishbiliyyah) in 1248. Granada (Gharnatah) itself didn’t fall for another century after Al-Shatibi’s death. What was the legal standing of these Muslims, and what was the extent of their participation in the societies they were now involved in?

As Mumisa wrote,

“Al-Shatibi argues that the universal principles [kulliyyat] such as our knowledge that justice is good and injustice is wrong, the protection of people’s property and life, among others, are found in every religion because of the Qur’anic verse, “the same religion has He established for you as that which He enjoined on Noah – the which We have sent by revelation to thee – and that which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses, and Jesus” (Quran, Shoura, 42:13). The details of law (juz’iyyat) such as penal laws of Islam, the laws of inheritance for men and women, and other laws governing the individual and society as explained in the Qur’an or other religious texts differ from one religion to another, just as they differ according to time and space. Since such juz’iyyat are based on time and space, they should accept abrogation, revision, and change according to the needs of each society. In other words, the interests of society can override such juz’iyyat but they cannot override the kulliyyat. Simply put, the kulliyyat are the goals (or maqasid) of the Shari’a while the juz’iyyat are the means to those goals. The purpose of Shari’a is not to cut people’s hands or stone them to death (focusing on the juz’iyyat) but to establish a just society (focusing on the kulliyyat). If suspending the juz’iyyat (specific legal rulings) will ensure the realisation of the kulliyyat (universal principles), then such a suspension (naskh) will be legitimate under Shari’a.

“With the concept of maqasid al-shari’a (intent and motive of Islamic Law), it becomes possible to apply the Qur’an to changing times and changing conditions in society, so that the data revelata remain dynamic and creative, always applicable and always invigorating society. Unfortunately, due to the development of legalism in Islam, the focus has shifted from the kulliyyat to the juz’iyyat. Under correct interpretations of law in Islam, the change and the modification of juz’iyyat is acceptable in order to meet social change as long as such change does not undermine the kulliyyat.

“Therefore, any political and legal system that fulfils the kulliyyat is acceptable and considered as fulfilling the requirements of the Shari’a. The question is, do the British legal and political systems fulfil the kulliyyat as required in Islam? It is my opinion that the British legal and political systems as they stand at the moment meet the goals of the Shari’a.” (op cit p 3).

The verse cited above is, in transliteration, “shara‘a lakum mina-d dini ma wassa bihi nouhan wa-lladhi awhayna ilayka wa ma wassayna bihi ibrahima wa mousa wa ‘isa…”. The ramifications of it are extensive and important, as have been sketched out in the context of Islamic Spain above but many of which are not strictly relevant here.

Of equal relevance, and probably of greater immediate importance to the United Kingdom and Crown Dependencies and its derivative political cultures is the Ottoman Empire. This held the most recent manifestation of the Caliphate.

The late Dr Said Ramadan once wrote in an Editorial in the magazine Al Muslimoun that without a Caliph the Muslims are like orphans. It would seem to be apparent that encompassing the downfall of the Ottomans, the destruction of its society, and the removal of the Caliphate was a primary aim of forces driving the Great Powers during the final decades of the 19th Century until these nefarious designs were more or less achieved at the Treaties of Sèvres (1920) and Lausanne (1923). There the principal Ottoman negotiator General Ismet Pasha (later calling himself Ismet Inönü) shamed himself by showing indecent haste to sign away everything without making any serious attempts to negotiate anything; which makes one wonder just to whom he owed his loyalties.

In 1924, Lt Col Mustafa Kemal Bey, by then having removed the Sultanate in 1921 and made himself President of a new militantly secular Turkish Republic modelled on French lines, followed this abject procession by “abolishing” the Caliphate and sending Sultan Abdul Majid II Khan into exile and banning the Imperial Family from the realms. Legally, however, no matter how much it might offend against the amour propre of lieutenant colonels of infantry of obscure origins and doubtful loyalties the world over, the Caliphate is only in abeyance. The decisions it took still stand, have contemporary relevance, and may well still have force to this day. This especially applies to those of its learned and progressive Office of the Shaykhu-l Islam.

There is a well-known Tradition (hadith) that states that whomever has died without giving fealty (bay‘ah) to a Caliph has died the death of the Jahiliyyah (‘Age of Ignorance’).

This has been interpreted as meaning that a fealty to an authorised deputy or substitute of the Caliphate would suffice in lieu of one directly to the Caliph where that is not physically feasible. In the absence of the Caliphate, this would become the default situation, and so it would become urgent to find a political or religious figure who derives his or her authority of office from one endorsed by the Caliph. This is particularly relevant to subjects of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

It is a truism to say that the British political system as it stands today is largely a product of the late Victorian and the Edwardian periods, certainly since the premiership of Benjamin Disraeli (earl of Beaconsfield) and that of the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury who followed him. It is this, in a mutated form, that is staging the General Election 2010.

As a kind of ‘punch line’, as it were, to the quandary concocted for the Muslims in the context of the United Kingdom and Crown Dependencies, and the successor states of the British Empire, there is the matter that that British system as it existed at the end of the 19th Century and first two decades of the 20th, was endorsed by the Caliphate through the cordial relations between the Queen-Empress and Sultan Abdul Hamid II Khan (jannat makan). These were formalised in their political realities for the governance of Muslims by the recognition of Queen Victoria as a beylerbeyi of the Caliphate (a separate legalism from the Devlet-i Âliye-yi Osmâniye or Ottoman Empire) by Sultan Abdul Hamid.

To the extent that it still preserves this nature, it maintains this endorsement. This would apply, too, to those successor states that acquired their independence from the United Kingdom and British Empire after the Sultan-Caliph’s recognition. A particularly important local one would be the Republic of Ireland.

It would, therefore, be a requirement of this endorsement to participate in the political cultures of these states. So, the proper questions for consideration for Muslims would be ‘what were the elements of that British political culture?’ and ‘to what extent have political realities preserved or fallen away from those that were endorsed by the Caliphate?’

It is my contention that, as it affects the United Kingdom today, although decadent and subverted the British political system is still to a large and demonstrable extent that which applied at the turn of the 19th Century and during World War 1 despite constant erosion by liberal-minded politicians and activists.

The significant elements that should concern British Muslims are that this is a Constitutional, or Limited, Monarchy headed by a direct descendant of HM Queen Victoria who swears an oath at the Coronation to rule according to the Laws of God; that the basic legal code is that of the Common Law which has always been regarded as Natural Law (that is, divinely inspired law), and – as Chief Rabbi Sacks stated in his 1990 Reith Lecture – the overarching public culture is that of the Church of England; that all the political parties claim to be Christian in their motivation as they recognise that this is still a Christian country.

Muslims should work actively to preserve this system, and resist further secular erosion.

Legally everyone who is resident in this country is deemed to owe allegiance to the person of HM Queen Elizabeth II. It is, in effect, a presumption of fealty. For some, who serve in Her Majesty’s Forces (and certain other activities, such as Members of Parliament, the Magistracy and Judiciary, and the Police Services), a direct Oath of Allegiance is administered which begins “I, (name), do solemnly swear that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to our sovereign lady, Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors…”

Both of these, whether by presumption or oath-taking, would count as a bay‘ah under the above quoted hadith placing Muslims subjects of the Queen – whether in the UK and Crown Dependencies or elsewhere in the Commonwealth – in a favourable position.

It is, therefore, not merely permissible for Muslims to take part in the UK political system – and in the immediate situation – to vote in the May 2010 General Election but their duty to do so in obedience to the umour (commands) of the Caliphate, the Traditions of the Prophet, and the authority of the Quran.

wa Allahu a’lam bi-s sawab.
London 30 April 2010.

© David Rosser-Owen 2010 All Rights Reserved

Related articles