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General Election 2017 – To Vote or not To Vote – That is the Question!

I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t politically active.

In my house, not voting was never an option. The one phrase guaranteed to infuriate my late father was “I can’t be bothered to vote”. My family came to the United Kingdom in 1965 and I cannot recall a local or general election taking place in which my father didn’t vote. He would say that if you cannot be bothered to vote, you do not have the right to complain about anything, whether that’s the state of the roads or how often your bins are emptied. He would remind us of how, in countries across the world, people are prepared to give their lives in order to have a say in how they are governed.

I was reminded of this particular comment of his when, many years later, I was waiting for children to arrive at a session I was running for Muslim youth. One of the parents, an Iraqi mum, came bounding towards me on her arrival and as she got closer, I noticed she was shaking her finger at me. As she got closer, I noticed the beaming smile on her face and that her finger was purple. In between her excited exclamations of “sister Hifsa” she explained she had just returned home having been to London. For the first time in her life she had been able to vote in the Iraqi elections to determine who would govern her country. Her delight was infectious. A middle aged woman overjoyed at finally having the right to have a say in her country’s governance. A right that,  in our democratic nation, every single British citizen over the age of eighteen has, regardless of gender, colour, race or religion. But a right that is only taken up by 2/3rd of the eligible population with over 13 million “not bothering”.

Yesterday our Prime Minister Theresa May called a general election on what would have been my fathers 101st birthday, 8th June. And a number of thoughts immediately went through my mind, including that we now have 7 weeks of election preparation and social media posts in which every single person will want to have a say no matter how much of what they have to say might very well be “utter bollocks”. Aah the joys of living in a democracy!

One particular issue however is going to cause me particular angst over the next few weeks. And that is the anti-voting Muslim campaigners that will be trying to prevent Muslims from taking part in the General Election because they regard voting as being “haraam” (forbidden/unlawful). No doubt they will be using the usual scare tactics, telling adherents they’re condemning themselves to the hellfire if they vote,  by leafleting outside mosques on Fridays, running poster campaigns and producing the dreaded memes as their backup.

Is Voting Haram?

As a Muslim, I have grown up with an understanding of a principle that exists within Islam called “Shura” meaning consultation. This in its simplest form, is a way to harness the views and opinions of those individuals most affected by any decisions that may be made. The Prophet Muhammad would, as instructed by God in the Quran, consult his companions;  “And consult them in the affairs and when you have taken a decision, put your trust in God, certainly, God loves those who put their trust in Him” [Aal-’Imran, 159]

By voting in the election, you are being given a stake in the decision making processes around every aspect of how your country will be run. Every single vote counts and it is imperative that any government that is elected has the backing of the majority of the population that they are serving. There is almost a level of dishonesty that exists amongst those individuals who want to live in Britain, enjoy the freedoms and benefits that being British citizens affords them, but not being prepared to fulfil their own obligations to the nation. For those individuals who argue that the electoral choices presented to them do  not represent the ideals of their faith in its purest form, there are always alternatives available. I can think of several theocratic dictatorships that they may like to consider as places of residency. For the rest of us, let’s make the most of the democratic freedoms afforded to us as British citizens. By voting we are not violating any Islamic laws. We are making a decision as to who we feel is the best to govern the country we call home – our country. And we should make our decision based on those things that matter the most to use. Education, healthcare, housing, environment, foreign policy or social inequalities; make the decision about who you will vote for based on which party has the best interests of the things that matter to you, your family and your local community at the very epicentre of their manifesto.

This the Islamic thing to do. It is not unIslamic to vote, it is unIslamic not to.

By Hifsa Haroon Iqbal

This blog first appeared on Hifsa’s personal blog

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

Image credite: Daily Express website

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The Conscientious Muslim Voter – British Elections 8 June 2017

It is perhaps fortuitous that the forthcoming British elections on 8 June are in Ramadan. Why? Because our annual period of introspection, purging of accumulated vices and good intentions for a more conscientious future should, at least in principle, ensure that during this state of elevated awareness we also vote accordingly. I say this in full appreciation that there is no such thing as a ‘single Muslim perspective’ or even a ‘single principled position’ but there is such a thing as ‘Islamic-centric ethics’ regarding some of our most fundamental values.

I was asked by several people to put some thoughts on paper so here is a quick, brainstorming of ideas. Done in a rush, as there is so little time before these elections! Best to do your own research and be prepared to make your prospective parliamentarian accountable – elections are our only real opportunity to do this! While I do think Muslim prospective parliamentarians should be given particularly rigorous scrutiny on key issues, in the end the issues of concern are the same for all and therefore no differentiation really required.

It is not for me to impose on fellow Muslims where to vote but I do feel we all have to think good and hard about the responsibilities involved in being a Conscientious Muslim Voter. From this perspective I would argue we have to consider who is best placed to safeguard our planet, who is concerned about our shared humanity and who is concerned about the weak and vulnerable – all core Islamic ethical principles.

Islam does not define a specific political system but it gives guidance on the ethical behaviour that should be behind political governance. The Conscientious Muslim Voter concerned about the world around them should at least have some consistency on the issues that concern them.

This link from SoundVision gives a good overview of some of our social responsibilities:

The Quran advises the following which is not exclusive to Muslim context but for all of humanity:

1. Do not exploit the earth

2. Do not exploit economically – do not give false measure

3. Feed the hungry

4. Care for the orphan

5. Do not harm people by your actions

6. Forgive people

7. Support people to get an honest livelihood

8. Do not squander your wealth

9. Reconcile hearts

10. Free those in bondage

11. Help those in debt

12. Help the wayfarer

Overarching all of this is the establishment of ‘justice’.

“O ye who believe! stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest ye swerve, and if ye distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily God is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (4:135)

Engaging within a democracy

As British Muslims we live in a democracy and the way we engage with this democracy is through voting in elections (register to vote) – to choose public figures that can best implement what we consider to be our shared social values. So with the above in mind how do we draw from our Islamic ethics when considering whom to vote for?

In an election there are two key things that needs to be taken into consideration:

1) We need to think what we believe is best for the country as a whole and who can best deliver this, and

2) We need to see what is best for ourselves and who can best deliver it.

The two work alongside each other and are not mutually exclusive. The following are some bullet points when considering national, local and personal issues. The links are some of the discussions around the issues.

The British political system

Issues of national concern…

Don’t have time to go into all these issues but a simple search on the internet provide you with key issues, here are my top twelve. 

  1. Austerity
  2. The environment
  3. Prevent
  4. NHS
  5. Education
  6. Housing
  7. Chilcot
  8. Brexit
  9. Human rights
  10. Xenophobia
  11. Diversity
  12. Election fraud

Issues to consider that directly affect Muslims:

Just adding a few potential questions but there are no limit to questions that needs to be addressed so the more you research these issues the more in-depth question and response you can give.

In my view there are four key issues of concern specific to British Muslims:

  1. Prevent
  2. Institutional Islamophobia, Racism and Hate Crimes
  3. Foreign policy
  4. Refugee crisis

The following are questions, you can put to your local PPC:

1. What is your position on Prevent? 

Question: Prevent has tarred the entire Muslim community as potential terrorists – how would you address this?

Question: Would you vote to repeal the Prevent Strategy?

Question: The Prevent Strategy is denying Muslims in the education system freedom to express their views without being labeled as a potential terrorist – they are choosing to keep quiet due to fear of anything they say being misconstrued – how would you address this?

2. Institutional Islamophobia, Racism and Hate Crimes

Question: I am really concerned that according to the Census British Muslims are over represented in all areas of social deprivation. Current legislation on welfare cuts is impacting disproportionately on Muslim families. What are your thoughts on this and how would you address this issue as far as government policies are concerned?

Question: Many Muslims fear engaging with the statutory sector due to discrimination, prejudice and exclusion – what do you plan to do to address this?

3. Foreign Policy

Question: What was your position on Britain going to war in Iraq and the devastating consequences to the Iraqi people?

Question: What is your position on the failure of Britain to act decisively on the Syrian crisis and the ongoing tragedy there?

Question: Will your party stop the human devastation being caused by drone bombs?

Question: What are you doing to support the rights of Palestinians and to ensure that UN Resolutions are adhered to by Israel?

4. Refugees

Question: What was your position on Britain’s limiting and then closing the doors to Refugees?

In conclusion, my vote will go to the person who represents and will actively pursue policies that reflect as much as possible Islamic-centric ethics. They would need to be concerned about the planet, the proliferation of greed and the human devastation caused by wars. This person also needs to show they have a consistent track record of standing for justice and speaking truth to power. They would also need to be concerned about rights of those who are vulnerable in society and those that are easy to exploit. In order to do even just a little of the above they will need to be a different kind of leader from what we have known in recent times as turning the tide on fizzy popularism will not be easy. For me this person is Jeremy Corbyn – as if you hadn’t guessed already!

I am sooooo looking forward to party representatives knocking on my door because I am fully prepared to have my say!

By Humera Khan

Humera Khan is a freelance consultant and researcher on Muslim Affairs. She is one of the founder members and currently a trustee of An-Nisa Society founded in 1985. With the organisation she has been involved in setting up many projects and working with families, providing support and counselling on a broad range of issues. This has included developing the first accredited Islamic Counselling Course, producing a series of books on sexual health from an Islamic perspective and producing resources on Muslim fatherhood.

Humera is currently the coordinator for An-Nisa Society’s Supplementary Muslim School (SMS) which was set up in 1986 and through the school has developed work around Islamic education and also facilitated numerous youth projects. 

Currently Humera is working on a Jewish Muslim dialogue initiative with young people aged 14-15 in partnership with partnership with West London Synagogue which includes a 5 day trip to Morocco to learn about Jewish and Muslim history and culture.

Most recently Humera has been involved in the setting up of the Faith and Khidmah Campaign – a partnership between An-Nisa Society and the Radical Middle Way. This Campaign seeks to promote and develop the ideas of pastoral care and philanthropy with the British Muslim communities and to encourage the investment in a Muslim voluntary sector able to respond to the needs of the community.

Image credit: Al Jazeera News
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.

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A Snap Election Is Just What We Need For Our Democracy

Brenda from Bristol doesn’t want to hear this question, but  I will ask it anyway. Is the snap election a good thing or not? In short, I think it’s good and just what we need now for our democracy. Here’s why:

First of all, I think the UK has been in a sort of twilight zone since June 23rd last year. A range of epoch defining changes have taken place in the last 12 months. Many political and economic assumptions have been upturned and people are more engaged with politics than they have been for quite sometime. Yet, until today there was no prospect of us having the chance to express our views on any of the issues that are splitting us down the middle. Is immigration more important than single market access in Brexit? How should funding for the NHS and social care be found? Are more Grammar schools the way forward? Is the economy working for everyone? Should we be allied to Trump at all costs post Brexit? All these issues can now be debated and people can vote accordingly. This can only be a good thing for our democracy.

Secondly, the U.K. desperately needs an effective Opposition to whichever Government is elected on June 8th. Without a dramatic change in Labour’s leadership, there is nothing to mitigate against the worst instincts of the Brexiteers, the right wing press and the other extremists (yes, they are!) who currently drive Tory policy. On the issue of the job of the Opposition, the Labour Party fairly and squarely must bear the responsibility for simply not showing up for work. So many bad Government policy decisions have gone unchecked by Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs. There is no need to go into the why’s here, but Corbyn is just not able to convince enough voters that his Labour Party is ‘The Government In Waiting’.

Nevertheless, many people remain committed fans of Jeremy Corbyn. They feel he envisages something they believe in and I respect that. However, leadership is about having a vision as well as delivering on it. There is no point in having nice ideas if you cannot motivate people to vote for you. If I may, I would ask supporters of Jeremy Corbyn to quit complaining about the Blairites/media/any external factors causing him to be 20 points behind in the polls and to put their time and energy into where they say their heart is. Because Jeremy Corbyn needs all the help he can get to get out the vote. A good start would be for Labour spokespeople and supporters to stop moaning about the Prime Minister and internal critics being ‘too opportunistic’! Since when was politics not precisely about being just that? Instead, to inspire people to vote for them, they need to start talking about what alternative vision they can offer the country. Then target that message effectively.

Looking then to the potential make up of a new Government, will a bigger Tory majority or even a coalition (remember that?) be better? To Tory haters, this may seem anathema. However, due to it’s small majority, the current Tory government is simply too beholden to a few extremists on the right (yep, I said extremists, again!). Hence the Prime Minister’s current focus on a ‘hard’ Brexit, leaving the single market, leaving the EU with no trade deal at all if we don’t like the outcome of negotiations etc. This is just one form of Brexit. Only some of the 52% of people who voted Brexit last year might have been looking for that option, we can’t know as it wasn’t on the ballot paper. I think the hard Brexit idea currently discussed is an untested, narrow niche Brexit. That is why a lot of Remainers are still angry and even some Brexiteers are annoyed at this style of Brexit being driven through. A larger Government majority will allow the Prime Minister to push back on the niche ‘Brexit at all costs’ policy. No one apart from the ‘MP free’ UKIP and the ‘MP free but direct line to the Prime Minister’ Murdoch/Daily Mail press argue that the narrow niche Brexit policy has a democratic mandate. No matter all the slurs thrown at Remain voters, to effectively lead and deliver Brexit, the Prime Minister has to bring along with her a sizeable number of the 14.8 million people who voted Remain. She knows this which is probably a large part of why she’s called this election now.

Is this election good for the other political parties? I think it is. Brexit has changed the rules of right versus left as both Labour and the Tory party are pro Brexit. Only the Lib Dems are unequivocally in favour of a second referendum on Brexit. So where do you go if you want to express your key concerns? This is where votes for the Liberal Democrats, the Green Party, UKIP and the Women’s Equality Party could be key. Tactical voting in seats has always been possible. But in the past they’ve been set along simpler party lines eg. vote Green to reduce the Tory/Labour incumbent’s majority. Now these ‘alternative’ votes warrant more detailed consideration. It’s not straight forward by any means. Does your MP represent the party you vote for but as an individual they did not reflect your Brexit preferences? If they did vote the way you wanted on Brexit, are you unhappy about their party leader’s policy on Brexit? So for example, many London MPs voted Remain as individuals and defied the party whips to vote against Brexit in Parliament. They also work hard on other policies their constituents care about.

But is caveated support for the two main parties enough for you in this moment? Do Londoners need to send as clear a message as the Scots have about their views on Brexit? Should they punish mainstream party MPs by voting Lib Dem? Is the Lib Dem option clear enough given they won’t rule out a coalition with the Tories again? Should Londoners be more adventurous and vote for the Women’s Equality Party to amplify the interests of women and minorities in Brexit policy? Or is the Green Party better to support for campaigning on employment and maternity rights, the environment? Is ‘any old candidate except Labour or Conservative’ the simplest route for Remain voters? Again, as the two main parties offer little to choose between them on Brexit, this moment offers other voices the opportunity to represent diverse interests. This again can only be good for our democracy.

Is this election good or bad for the union? I think it’s unclear for now. It might be bad if you think an election now gives momentum to calls for Scottish independence. On the other hand, there is a possibility that a less niche Brexit policy dampens enthusiasm for Scotland walking away from the UK in 2019. Similar arguments could hold for Northern Ireland if less ‘hard’ Brexit options enable more flexibility on the border with the Republic etc. So retaining the union of nations and the interplay with what Brexit is offered up is still all to play for.

In the round then, if you’re a fan of democratic processes and don’t like the ‘extreme’ hard Brexit talk, I think you should be pleased. You finally get a chance to make your voice heard on the detail of these historic issues. 

In the round then, if you’re a fan of democratic processes and don’t like the ‘extreme’ hard Brexit talk, I think you should be pleased. You finally get a chance to make your voice heard on the detail of these historic issues. We will shortly see some manifestos and hopefully have more context for the diverse choices on offer. Whatever the Prime Minister’s motives for calling the vote, we are all free to exercise our views at the ballot box. Instead of endless circular rants on social media, radio phone ins and the press, we can use the election to take some of the heat out of the division and confusion on where we’re headed now by drawing a line in the sand.

Once we’ve had the election, some of the questions we are struggling with, should be eliminated. The room for ‘whataboutery’ on Brexit will of course never expire (unfortunately). But at least the policy options will be narrowed down. If you’re fed up with all the options, then get up to speed now on party manifestos, join a political party and if you want to shape their debate, go and campaign for them. By that I mean for real by knocking on people’s doors, because most of the electorate are not in your social media bubble! At the very least, get in touch with your MP to find out what they’ve been doing on Brexit and things that matter to you and give them your views. Then obviously on the day, you need to get out and vote!

It should be obvious by now that in today’s politics, nothing is a foregone conclusion. Pollsters get it wrong. Simple ideas, well explained and well targeted can be extremely influential. Anything can happen and you can be a part of making ‘change’ moments happen in our politics if you want to. (I am not talking to you Vladimir Putin, but I know you totally got this point during the Brexit campaign, but that’s another story). So, please, everyone who can, no matter what your views on Brexit or otherwise, quit complaining and go out and start listening to people, including people who disagree with you. This alone will make a world of difference. See you at the polling station on June 8th everyone, #bringiton!

By Lorraine Hamid

Lorraine is a born and bred Londoner, a former senior civil servant Economist in Whitehall. Currently a mother of one working in the property sector. Surprisingly finding herself returning to the community activism that she threw herself into as a young idealist, Lorraine is currently Co-Chair of the West London Nisa-Nisham group and a voluntary worker for homeless charity StreetLytes.

Image credit: ABC news
Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the website.