With elections in the air, I would like to know is it permissible for us to vote at elections and if it is, is it allowed for us to vote for a woman to lead the country (although our country is not an Islamic one)?
Before I answer your questions, I will first of all, like to explain that the country we live in is a Democratic one which has established policies, rules and guidelines based on Democracy. This means that the governance is equal and fair to all citizens regardless of religion and race.
Muslims who live in this country and other similar ones, adapt to the rule and governance that has been established for the smooth running of all affairs. As a Muslim, one is not ordered/encouraged to accept another religion, nor is he harassed for being a Muslim. A Muslim is given full rights and allowance to practice his religion and is not barred from doing any such religious practice which he has been commanded to do in Islam. The laws of the country have been formulated, taking the citizens into consideration, and have been made in order to establish peace, security, order and discipline among all those who live in the land. Justice and fairness are given to all on an equal basis and no one is given dominance on account of his creed or race.
With this understanding, it becomes clear that when one votes for a party/person, he is not voting for a person or party in order to promote shirk or kufr, nor is he voting for a person in order to invite towards mischief and confusion. In reality he is voting for person/party to govern the country in accordance to the laws that have already been established.
With respect to the act of voting, scholars have regarded it to be a matter of ‘testifying to the goodness of a person that he is fit for a certain position’ or that ‘one is interceding on his behalf to get a position’. (Jawahirul-Fiqh vol.2 pgs 296-300)
Taking this into consideration, voting for a person in our country means that one simply testifies to the fact that in his knowledge, a certain person/party is best suited to govern the country. Since this is considered to be a testimony, one is required to be truthful in what he says or does. False testimony is considered to be the gravest of all grave sins, and hence, one must look carefully to see that the individual he wishes to vote for is truly deserving for the position.
As I said before, voting for a person/party in our Democratic system does not mean that one is voting for someone who will cause harm to his religion or that he is voting for someone who will govern his religious activities. Total freedom for our religious matters has already been given, and we have seen that Muslims have not been oppressed on account of their religion in this country. Muslims are free to perform Salaah anywhere, in public and in private. Even in certain public places, they have been given a place for prayer. They have also been given the necessary time-off for religious observances like Juma, Eid etc., including their daily Salaah. Muslim women have the freedom to wear the Niqab/Hijab as students, workers and as teachers, even in the Government’s schools and offices. Men are not ordered to cut/trim their beard or give up their Islamic wear in order to work with the government. These and many more are the allowances and freedom the Muslims enjoy in this country. As such, when it comes to a matter of voting for a party/person, it is not about religious teachings and governance. No one in this country governs the Muslims religiously.
What happens at the time of elections, is that a few leaders are chosen to head their parties. Some may be good and others may not be. There are those who would help the religion of Islam and the Muslims, and others may not do so. In a situation like this, if Muslims do not vote for the correct person who may be the ‘best of all’, then it may soon happen that a wicked ruler who may be oppressive to the Muslims and to all other citizens may become the leader. When he becomes the leader, it may happen that the Muslims may be affected in practicing their religion etc. The reality therefore, is that it can be said at that time that due to the fact that the Muslims did not vote, it helped the wicked ruler to gain more votes, and in this way, the better leader was not supported enough to take the lead. The act of ‘not voting’ therefore, supported a wicked ruler to become the leader of a country.
On the other hand, if Muslims vote for the ‘better leader’, then due to their great numbers, they can influence the direction of the elections and the ‘better leader’ may become the Prime Minister. In this, there will be goodness for the Muslims and all others who live in this country. So, based on this explanation, my opinion is that it is permissible to vote in our country’s elections.
With respect to the other question of voting for a woman to lead the country, then my opinion is that it is permissible, if she is far better for this post than the men. In this case, it cannot be clearly stated that the woman is the sole ruler of the country seeing that the government is democratic and the affairs of the state are being conducted by the leader with the help of elected representatives and in consultation with them. In a democratic government, a woman being the head, simply means that she is one of the main counsels, and along with others, the ruling party is able to run the affairs of the government.
The great scholar of the Indo-Pak Continent, Mufti Ashraf Ali Thanwi has explained that it is permissible for a woman to be the head of a state when she is the best suited among all others for the position. Maulana Maududi has also favoured this opinion and stated, ‘If on one side there is a woman possessing all the merits except that she is a woman, and on the other side there is a man having all the demerits except that he is a man, you should support the woman in such a situation’. He also argued that when one is faced with a dilemma to choose between two evils, one must choose the lesser one’. (Women’s Rights in Islam – (Muhammad Sharif pg. 173-175)
So, in the matter of elections, one must make a conscious and sincere decision with respect to the person he wishes to vote for. Since the nature of the elections is to place a party that can govern the affairs of the country with goodness and honesty, one is required to look at those who possess these qualities to fulfill this task.
And Allah knows best.
Mufti Waseem Khan