As election season kicks in to full gear, I find myself interested in not just what the candidates are saying and doing, but also what ordinary American Muslims are saying and doing in response. The American Muslim community has a long and proud legacy of shooting itself in the foot when it comes to participating in the political process and gaining clout as a result.
To illustrate this point, I look no further than a recent exchange on a MAS e-mail group. The debate was not centered on which candidate offered a better hope for the future, what the best avenues were for civic involvement, or what campaign issues deserved our utmost attention. Instead, the debate centered on whether it was even permissible, or halal, to participate in the American political system. It seems every election cycle, there are those in our community â€“ many of whom were born here and have benefitted mightily by the decisions that have come out of that political system â€“ who argue that our religion forbids political involvement in America. As someone who is building toward a career in politics, this to me is not only categorically absurd, but it also challenges the very livelihood I seek to pursue later in life.
Muslims who think it is impermissible to be involved in politics argue that we should refrain from voting because â€œwe will be taken to account in the Hereafter for choosing to support the killingâ€ of fellow Muslims. They argue that because Allahâ€™s system is perfect, we should only operate under shariah and call others to it instead of operating under the system of â€œnon-believers.â€ These arguments, taken at their core, make it impossible to live in any country not governed by Islamic law.
As Muslims, we do indeed believe that Islam is the best system. But we do not live in a Muslim country, nor do we live in a theocracy. When you have Muslims living in a non-Muslim country, Islam does not preclude Muslims from getting involved in the affairs of that country for the betterment of that society. This is, actually, a form of daâ€™wah because as more Muslims become involved in society, the misconstrued images and stereotypes that some Americans have in their minds about Muslims will begin to be eradicated. We will not succeed in attracting people to Islam if we stay stubborn or arrogant by saying, as someone on the MAS e-mail list suggested, â€œOur way is the best way. Follow us because you are all drowning in quick sand.â€
Islam very clearly states that there is no compulsion in religion. Americans have the right, and Senators Obama and McCain have the right, to choose not to be Muslim. This does not mean, however, that we as Muslims are not supposed to associate with them or work with them because they made that choice. We have proof, in the example of the Prophet (s), to support this claim. Islam did not preclude Muslims from making treaties with the kuffar. It did not preclude the Prophet (s) from defending a group of idol worshippers with whom he had made a treaty. It did not preclude the Prophet (s) from sending his people to a country governed by a Christian king to seek his protection.
Sure, the system we currently employ in this country is flawed. Senator Obamaâ€™s campaign, and every campaign that came before him, has been predicated on the idea that the system is not perfect and that we must come together to achieve certain goals in order to turn our country into a â€œmore perfect union.â€ Even though he and 99% of all other politicians in this country are not Muslim, they still share with us a common humanity, and it is that common humanity that binds us together.
People who claim political involvement is haram do a disservice to all the Muslim men and women who are working diligently to make the kind of progress and take the kinds of strides we need to take in order for our voices and opinions to carry more weight in this country, our country. It is fine to believe that perfection can only come through faith in God. But because the system is not perfect does not in any way mean that we should be exempt from the responsibility to engage it, operate under it, and seek to improve it for the betterment of humanity. If we cannot even move past the permissibility of participating in a government not governed by Islamic law, then we will without question fail in our goals of improving the image of Islam in the eyes of non-Muslims and improving the plight of everyone in this country â€“ rich and poor, Muslim and non-Muslim. One who feels it is against his or her religion to participate in the electoral process in this country cannot in good conscience continue to live in, prosper, and benefit from that same electoral process which has produced legislation making their education and success in this country possible.