On April 22nd, British born radical cleric, Anjem Choudary declared Muslim MPs and voters to be “apostates” since he believes voting to be a “sin” against Islam. Allah, Mr. Choudary states writing on Twitter, is “the only legislator.”
This is not the first time that the extremist preacher, who has headed banned groups including Islam4UK and al-Muhajiroun has stoked controversy. Following the attacks on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in January this year, Mr. Choudary referred to the drawing of the Prophet on the cover of the magazine’s first edition after the shootings an “act of war” that would be punished by death in a Sharia court.
The almost hubristic conviction with which Mr. Choudary issues such fatwas would not only make a strong case for his credentials as a leading Islamic scholar but paradoxically also confirm the status of the Quran as outdated and belonging to the realms of antiquity. However, both premises are false for different reasons: Mr. Choudary, who trained as a solicitor has no formal training in Islamic law or jurisprudence and hence has little authority to chime spirited declarations on such points. It follows that the image of the Quran conjured through such reckless and baseless assertions is also ill informed and untrue.
Does Islamic law really deny a right to vote? Ironically, even an elementary reading of the Quran reveals that voting is expressly mentioned as an institution in the Quran. Chapter 4, verse 59 reads, “Allah commands you to make over the trusts to those best fitted to discharge them.” Accordingly, voting is not merely a right but an obligation – a trust – to be discharged in the best possible way.
Hence, Islamic law makes the voter not the master of his vote, but a trustee – who must discharge his trust as equitably and fairly as possible. Moreover, while no political system is mentioned in the Quran as the only valid system against all others, democracy appears to have been preferred. In the context of the governance of societal affairs the Quran states, “…whose affairs are governed by mutual consultation.” (Chapter 42, verse 38)
Hence, it is axiomatic that the freedom to vote is concomitant with Islam and Mr. Choudary’s claim that voting is prohibited under Islamic law is in fact antithetical to its teachings. According to a 2001 census, forty three percent of Britain’s Muslims are of Pakistani origin, a country where religious minorities are routinely marginalised and persecuted. It is unsurprising therefore that certain Muslim minority sects residing in Britain, particularly the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community – who are effectively disenfranchised in Pakistan and unable to vote as “Muslims,” have routinely underscored the importance of exercising this fundamental right.
The leader of the Islamic State (Isis), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who refers to himself as a caliph and of whom Mr. Choudary is an ardent supporter, last year proclaimed holy war – jihad – against the West boasting that Muslims shall eventually “destroy the idol of democracy.”
In contrast, the Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Masroor Ahmad whom Ahmadi Muslims believe to be a caliph as well, has continuously called on his followers to adhere to the Islamic teachings of loyalty and love for one’s nation. He has also encouraged his Community to partake in the democratic process and “make them selves heard by voting at the ballot box.”
Paradoxically, Britain’s liberal regime of free speech laws means Mr. Anjem Choudary can carry out a systematic campaign to indoctrinate and radicalise impressionable youngsters from within the Muslim faith and has been blamed for encouraging a large number of young British Muslims to join Isis’s forces in Syria. In this climate, it is imperative for Britain’s moderate Muslims to exercise their freedom of expression to ensure that their voices are heard and echoed more loudly and emphatically than those of the likes of Mr. Choudary.