The endorsements are flying ahead of next week’s D.C. general election, but only one group’s have come with a religious edict.
That would be the endorsements of the D.C. Muslim Caucus, a group that is backing the Democratic nominees in the races on the D.C. ballot, plus independent at-large council candidate Elissa Silverman and two candidates in nonpartisan State Board of Education races. It is also urging a vote against Initiative 71, which would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.
What sets the Muslim Caucus apart isn’t the candidates it is backing but this sentence in the Monday news release announcing those endorsements: “According to Islamic tenets, Muslims participating in democratic elections are obligated to vote as a bloc based upon a consensus of the Muslim community.”
In other words, vote for Muriel E. Bowser, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Phil Mendelson, et al., or you’re not a good Muslim.
Asked about that exhortation, Muslim Caucus spokesman Talib Karim offered two publications he said supported the view that followers of Islam should vote en bloc for favored candidates. One is a statement adopted by a council of Islamic legal scholars at a 2007 meeting of the Muslim World League in Mecca.
That statement said Muslims in non-Islamic countries can vote “if clear benefits are achieved by doing so, such as presenting the correct image of Islam to the people, defending Muslims’ interests, protecting their rights, putting them in positions of influence, and cooperating with friendly moderates in achieving justice.” Muslims, it continued, must vote “with the intention of achieving benefits for the Muslims, and protecting them from harm and injustice,” but it does not specify that Muslims must seek to vote as a bloc.
The notion of bloc voting is more clearly advocated in a 2006 article by Haitham al-Haddad, a Sharia scholar and judge in Britain, who advised voters in his country ahead of elections there to “avoid involving themselves in this process and instead … entrust this responsibility to the prominent Muslim organisations that have sufficient experience and ability to determine the issue according to the interests of the Muslims.”
“[S]uch organisations should agree upon a certain policy with regards to voting,” al-Haddad wrote. “For example, they can agree to vote for one or more parties or individuals. It is upon the remainder of the Muslims therefore to accept and follow the decisions of these organisations.” He cited Koranic verses calling for unity among followers of Islam and said that without unity, Muslim voters “will have no weight and no such influence” and thus “the whole objective in voting is lost.”
But do al-Haddad’s views represent a mainstream Islamic belief? Hard to say: Islam does not have a pope whose word is law; the holdings of “fiqh councils” like the one associated with the Muslim World League are meant to represent a consensus of clerics and scholars. The views held by al-Haddad are those held by one scholar (one, incidentally, who has been accused of holding extremist views; allegations he has denied) in a religion that has seen wide-ranging debate about the obligations of the Muslim voter and whether Muslims should vote at all.
Karim said, in any case, the Muslim Caucus’s position isn’t so different from any other group making political endorsements — for instance, he said, a union where voting for a pro-business Republican might get you labeled a scab.
“Most groups, if you’re a member of the organization, you’re expected to vote a certain way,” he said. “The only caveat from the Muslim Caucus perspective is that we have a little more authority for the commandment.”