Elections dilemma: Conflict between Salafis and other Islamic sects [Archives:2006/985/Reportage]

September 28 2006

By: Sa'eed Al-Batati
[email protected]

The ultraconservative Salafi (also known as Wahhabi) sect and other Islamic sects like Sufis, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Tabigh missionary group don't see eye to eye on some modern issues. For example, celebrating the prophet's birthday, venerating dead saints and seeking help from them have been bones of contention between Salafis and Sufis.

Democracy and participating in the political process also have been contentious subjects between Salafis and the Islah party, which sees no harm in elections involvement. While Yemenis nationwide voted in the Sept. 20 presidential and local council elections, Yemeni Salafi luminaries recently have been crying wolf about the election issue, warning citizens everywhere about participating in the political process.

During a recent General People's Congress rally in Marib, Egyptian-born Abu Al-Hassan Al-Maribi stirred up controversy and outrage when he said that contesting Wali Al-Amar (the leader) for president was unlawful in Islam and it was prohibited to rebel against him.

At the same time, Salafi-affiliated scholars and students did their best to admonish voters not to participate in the elections so as not to commit haram (shame). They believe they are interpreting pure Islamic teachings by emulating the behavior of the first three generations of Muslims following the Prophet Mohammed's death in the seventh century A.D. because such elite Muslims didn't practice democracy during their lifetime.

“The scholar's duty is to show people the concealed aims of Jews and Christians to undermine Muslims and their creeds,” says one Salafi scholar, referring to the evils of elections, “We must know that our book (the Qur'an) and the Sunnah of the prophet brought what is good for all humanity.”

This same Salafi scholar pours cold water on some Muslims and accuses them of colluding with infidels in order to destroy Islam.

Supporting their steadfast stance against elections, one Salafi scholar sketched out the following evils, which totally convince Salafis that elections are illegitimate in Islam.

1. Elections depend upon a majority. If a degenerate or atheist received the majority of votes, he would rule over Muslims and drive out Islamic law.

2. Muslims who convert to democracy will give non-Muslims justification to accuse Islam of being incompetent by saying, “If your religion is so good, why did you convert to extraneous law?”

3. Muslims who ally with fasegah (a person who commits sins) will abandon the rubric of “allying Muslims and renouncing non-Muslims,” which is an essential rule in Islam.

4. Elections allow Muslims to stand firmly with the constitution and the law of Parliament, both of which include deviating opinions that clash with Sharia law.

5. Elections serve the interests of Jews and Christians, as they're established on external support from foreign nations and other infidel associations, which provide strong financial support to the elections.

6. Elections are prohibited because they give a firm foundation to the Jewish practice of “the end justifies the means.” Elections are a means leading to kofar (shirk).

7. Elections divide Muslim unity by calling every group with different political beliefs to form its own party. As a result, every party competes with each other and grudges prevail.

8. Elections cause Muslims to espouse their parties and defend them, even if they're on the wrong track. This leads to factional crises, thus, Islam prohibits partisanship.

9. Forgery, fallacy, double dealing and lying are the main facets of most elections.

10. Citizens waste precious time talking about the elections everywhere, whether in their cars or their homes. Elections also become the main focus of lectures and sermons.

11. In addition to the evil of wasting time, millions of riyals are squandered in the name of elections.

12. Elections place women's votes on the same footing as those of men, as well as the votes of Muslims with non-Muslims and so on.

13. Election campaigners spread their nominees' pictures, whereas taking photos is unlawful in Islam.

Instead, Salafis believe there are only two ways to choose a country's leader in Islam. A leader must be selected by ahel alhel walaged (a group of pious, religious leading personalities in society) or a leader may choose his successor, who should be a Muslim man who has reached puberty, free meaning not a servant, knowledgeable, a sage, fear God and not affiliated with any party.

In the viewpoint of Salafis, a leader shouldn't be removed from office unless he goes crazy. They strongly criticize the democratic system because it allows women to come to power, which never happened during the life of the prophet (pbuh) and his companions.

Answering questions about the elections' legitimacy and disproving Salafi theory, prominent sheikh Abubakir Al-Hadrami accused Salafis of having a rudimentary knowledge of religious science.

“What's strange is that some shallow-minded people accuse democracy of being infidelity. They don't delve into the kernel of democracy, they just judge it outwardly. Is democracy, which the world has struggled, called for and sacrificed millions of people to obtain, a debauchery or an atheist?” he wonders.

In the following six principles, Al-Hadrami fleshes out his theory in a paper written in Arabic and sent to the Yemen Times.

1. Islam approved the fundamentals of choosing a ruler, even regarding prayer. If an imam (leader of prayer) leads individuals without their consent, his prayer won't be accepted.

In Islam, citizens have the right to choose who will rule them. Even if a leader is selected by his predecessor, he won't be the leader unless citizens recognize him as such. For example, when first caliph Abubakir (pbuh) appointed Omer (pbuh) as his successor, Omer wasn't recognized as caliph until all Muslims pledged allegiance to him.

2. Citizens should choose ahel alhel walaged who will represent them and bring their leader to account. Nowadays, they're called Parliament, the Nation's Council and the Shoura Council. Due to the small number of Muslims during the prophet's lifetime, it was easy to form a council of highly pious individuals to elect a leader; however, it's now impossible to do so with such huge populations.

Humans previously knew about elections and there's no harm in taking what's good from others, except where the aya or Hadith prohibit it. For example, the prophet's second caliph adopted the land tax system and codification from the Persians and Romans. Muslims also created sciences that didn't exist during the prophet's lifetime, like grammar, rhetoric and other sciences.

3. The group of ahel alhel walaged should impose the constitution upon the leader. Muslims should advise the leader and the nation must question him, impose virtues and prevent vices. Regarding Muslims, the constitution should be taken from Islamic law.

4. The nation should have representatives in Parliament in order to dismiss the leader if he deviates from the straight path. A leader shouldn't remain in power if he has abandoned Islam or if he acts treacherously toward his nation and religion. Unfortunately, in the Muslim world, there are other options to get rid of tyrant leaders besides their demise.

5. Citizens should have general freedoms like freedom of religion, political freedom, freedom of expression, freedom of press and freedom of thought. Individuals shouldn't be obliged concerning something they don't want. For ages during the Islamic state, non-Muslims lived peacefully with Muslims and weren't forced to do anything contradicting their religion.

6. In some countries where the three powers – executive, legislative and judiciary – are separate, the executive noses into the competence of the other powers, thus resulting in injustice and arbitrariness. Islam discourages such disgusting actions. A leader has the right to appoint judges, but afterward, he must be completely independent. No one has the right to poke their nose into the work of judges.

Al-Hadrami concludes his paper, saying, “This is what democracy calls for in its marrow. These fundamentals of democracy also are available in our Sharia law. If we refer to the essential sources of it (the Qur'an, the Sunnah and the orthodox caliphs), we'll find these regulations in our own religion.”