Permissibility of Elections in Islam
Dr. Ahmad Shafaat
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
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
Islamic acceptability of elections is
also supported by Muslim practice.
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.
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
"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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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