Introduction to Minorities Jurisprudence

TEXT OF THE FATWA ISSUED BY Dr. Taha Jaber al-Alwani, Chairman of the North American Fiqh Council and President of the Graduate School of Social and Islamic Sciences

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, Most Merciful

We have received from the American Muslim Council the following inquiry:


“You know that the American Muslim Council is in the midst of a voting registration campaign for the forthcoming American elections. In the course of this campaign, some American Muslims have expressed severe doubts as to whether it would be religiously permissible for them to participate in the political system of this country, The United States of America. Several reasons were cited for this doubt.

Some argue that participation would ally some Muslims with others they have little in common with in matters of belief. It may also divide Muslims in the United States, and harm the interests of the Muslim community. This would be in contradiction to the Qur’anic injunction that Muslims should support each other.

Others argue that participation in our system may be viewed as rukun (acquiescence) to the unjust. The Almighty said in the Qur’an: “And do not acquiesce to the unjust…”.

Yet others argue that the participation of Muslims in our secular political system, which is increasingly denuding the public square from all symbols of faith, would desensitize Muslims into accepting the current status-quo and interacting with it, to the detriment of all people of faith in this society.

Additionally, some Muslims, who escaped dictatorial regimes in their countries of origin or left to avoid bad economic conditions, live in the hope of going back to Dar al-Islam (Land of Islam) once the situation improves. This state of affairs is not uncommon among first generation immigrants, Muslim or otherwise. In our case, however, we are concerned about the fact that it leads to voting apathy. In particular, some Muslims in this group argue that voting can be justified only for extreme necessity.

We would like your Eminence to clarify this matter for us with a lucid statement which, with proofs and arguments, may bring to an end the conflict among American Muslims over this vital issue.
May Allah reward you with His blessings.

Aly Ramadan Abuzaakouk
Executive-Director of the American Muslim Council


In an independent research entitled “Introduction to Minorities Jurisprudence: Founding Views” (the “Introduction”), to published this fall in a special issue on Islam by the Journal of Law & Religion, we dealt with the principles and rules that should govern the vision of the contemporary jurist (and the contemporary Muslim in general) on this topic. The connection of this fatwa to the Introduction is akin to that of a derivative principle (a branch) to a fundamental principle (a root), or of an example to the general rule. The understanding, therefore, of the Introduction and the orthodoxy of prevailing principles and argumentation contained therein, is necessary for a better understanding of this fatwa and the foundation on which it rests.

Overview of Basic Principles:

Among the legal and methodological principles we reached in the Introduction are the following:

1. All of humankind is one family that belongs in its entirety to Adam, and Adam is from earth. This Humanity is divided into two nations: “A nation that responds”, أمة إجابة and “a nation that summons” وأمة دعوة.
2. Islam is a global religion, not restricted to any one ethnic group or geographical area.
3. The Qur’anic discourse is global and should not be restricted to a limited geographical place or a narrow social group.
4. The Muslim ummah is a benevolent one that evolved to bear witness to humanity.
5. The principle of “righteousness and equity, البر والإحسان mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, is the greatest general principle by which to measure the relationship between Muslims and others. All other matters should concede to this principle.
6. We should avoid being limited by juristic terminologies regarding the issue of international partitions. Terms, such as “Dar al-Islam” (The Land of Islam), were not mentioned in the Revelation in the geographical sense. They are but juristic and administrative terms, the use of which was imposed by the circumstances of the old science and the nature of relationships among countries, nations and peoples at that time.
7. To properly understand the particular examples found in the inherited body of jurisprudence, they should be examined in light of the general principles mentioned herein. By so doing, we can transcend the particulars and merge them into the general principles of the Qur'an, namely, its universal message and goals.
8. The existence of Islam in any country which is not part of the original Muslim World, should be viewed as a new and developing existence which falls in harmony with the universality of Islam and its message of hope.
9. The nature of contemporary international realities, which are characterized by both the interrelation and transcendence of borders, should be taken into serious consideration.
10. Current international legal instruments and domestic laws, which address human rights and civil rights, should be relied upon to protect and educate Muslim minorities. For example, Article 21 of the International Declaration of Human Rights states that each individual has the right to participate in the administration of his or her own country’s public affairs, whether directly or via representatives.
11. The principles of justice included in such documents should be followed as they are in harmony with the sermon of the Messenger ( صلى االله عليه وسلمPeace Be Upon Him) to his followers at his Farewell Pilgrimage and to “the alliance” which he attended at Ibn Jud'an’s house. In addition, all legitimate means, including political participation, should be utilized to safeguard these principles of justice.
12. The lessons derived from the early Islamic experience, in particular the emigration to Ethiopia, should be fully understood.
13. There should be a transition from negative reasoning about what is permissible to positive reasoning in carrying the Message to the people of our society.

American Particularities

America has particularities that need to be considered in order to issue the most appropriate legal ruling. Among these particularities are:

1. The United States is a country of immigrants who are of different races and various cultures. It is not wholly identified by any one people or immigrant culture. In particular, American culture does not exclude non-Europeans.
2. The United States is a young country whose civilization and culture have an open nature, unlike ancient civilizations that tend to have definitively established characteristics. This makes the American culture more open to the contributions of Islam and Muslims.
3. The United States is a country of freedom that looks primarily after the rights of all of its citizens, of all religions and races, despite the problems in application that manifest themselves from time to time.
4. The United States has peoples among whom racism is relatively less manifested due to their intellectual background and the historical experience of its Protestant majority.

Based on these principles and particularities, we can deduce the following conclusions with respect to the participation of Muslims in American political life:


First, it is the duty of American Muslims to participate constructively in the political process, if only to protect their rights, and give support to views and causes they favor. Their participation may also improve the quality of information disseminated about Islam. We call this participation a “duty” because we do not consider it merely a “right” that can be abandoned or a “permission” which can be ignored. It falls into the category of safeguarding of necessities and ensuring the betterment of the Muslim community in this country.

Second, every legitimate means or tool that helps achieve these noble goals is similarly judged. This includes:
1. The nomination of any competent American Muslim for election to any post where his or her presence may ensure either bringing benefits to American Muslims and other citizens or preventing harm to them. These posts range from those of mayor, state governor, and membership in educational and municipal councils, all the way up to membership in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
2. Self-candidacy by an American Muslim, if the initiative for his/her nomination is not undertaken by the community, or if election laws require this form of candidacy. (Refer to the statement by Ibn Hajr on the question of becoming an Amir (or coming into power) in the “Introduction”.)
3. Adopting a non-Muslim candidate if he/she would be either more beneficial or less harmful to the American Muslim community and the rest of the country.
4. Providing financial support to a non-Muslim candidate. God the Almighty has permitted righteous conduct and good relations with non-Muslims in exchange for nothing. So how much more so is such support permitted if clear and tangible benefits were to result from such behavior?
5. Obtaining American citizenship. Such citizenship emphasizes the true diversity of this country and is a necessary condition for participation in the political process.
6. Both registering to vote and participation in elections and voting are means to a goal. Hence, they are subject to the same legal ruling as their intended goal.

Limitations and Specifications:

1. Protection of Muslim civil rights in this country and the enjoyment of positive interaction with other Americans requires American Muslims to engage in acts of deliberation to reach consensus on general principles, and to tolerate disagreement on particulars and disputed matters. We find a good example to follow in our ancestors who migrated to Ethiopia. They met and deliberated together about the best way to respond to the critical situation they faced.
2. The children of the Muslim minority must have a fair opportunity to develop and deepen their faith in God and Islam. Otherwise, their interaction with others may lead them to compromise on the basic tenets of their religion merely to keep up with a prevailing custom or sweeping current. Ja'far, by refusing to bow to al Najashi -The King of Abyssinia- (his two Quraishi opponents did as necessitated by custom) provides a good example for such situations.
3. The Muslim minority needs to have a fair opportunity to express clearly in its own voice the immortal truths of Islam and its advanced system of human values. The example of Ja'far helps in this regards. In his eloquent speech to al Najashi, Ja'far summarized the main Islamic virtues and explained the difference between them and those of the pre-Islamic life (the Jahiliyah). By applying this method, Muslims not only gain the understanding of the rest of the people, but also their good will.
4. Both the art of persuasion and the science of public relations have an important role that should not be ignored. The words by which Ja'far ended his speech are appropriate here: “We came out to your country, we chose you from all others, we wished to be in your neighborhood, and hoped, O King, not to be treated unjustly in your country”.

As for the objections mentioned in the inquiry and raised by some of our brothers and sisters, they can be summarized in five points which are discussed as follows:

The First Argument:

Participation would ally some Muslims with others they have little in common with in matters of belief. It may also divide Muslims in the United States and harm the interests of the Muslim community. This would be in contradiction to the Qur’anic injunction that Muslims should support each other.

This argument is based on an incorrect presumption resulting from two errors:

First, The argument casts pragmatic considerations as matters of belief, although there is a vast difference between the two. The fair dealing of Muslims with others and their cooperation with them produce neither blind allegiance (wala’ ) to these others nor special exceptions (bara’ ) for them. For, this is not originally a matter of belief but is instead a pragmatic decision involving the proper implementation of the principles of “righteousness,” “fairness and equity,” success and constructive behavior.

Second, the argument confuses the limited meaning of the concept of “alliance” (wala’ ) referred to in the Qur’an, with a broader all-inclusive one. The type of alliance warned against in the Qur’an is that which harms the interests of the Muslim community. This meaning is mentioned repeatedly in the Qur’an in such a way as to leave no confusion.

The Almighty, threatening the hypocrites, said: “To the hypocrites give the glad tidings that there is for them (but) a grievous penalty. Yea, to those who take for ‘awlia’ (allies) unbelievers (those who do not believe in God) rather than believers.” (Qur'an 4:138-139). He then warned the believers: “O you who believe! Take not for awliya’ unbelievers rather than believers.” (Qur'an: 4:144). Confirming the warning in another verse, the Almighty said: “Let not the Believers take for awliya’ Unbelievers rather than Believers.”(Qur'an: 3:28).

But the meaning of specific Qur’anic verses is determined by various factors, including the context, reasons for revelation, other verses related to them, and even the sunnah of the Prophet (( صلى الله عليه وسلم. For example, we know that the Prophet befriended the Christain Ethiopian king al Najashi. We also know that the Prophet executed an alliance with the Jews of Madinah giving them rights similar to those of Muslims. Most importantly, we know that the Qur’an refers to Christians and Jews as “People of the Book,” and not as “Unbelievers.” So, even if the meanings of certain words are construed broadly, the above-cited Qur’anic verses do not prohibit Muslims from building alliances with the vast majority of Americans.

But to gain insight into the proper interpretation of the Qur’anic verses, it is important to examine the explanation provided by major scholars. In interpreting these Qur’anic verses,ِ Al Tabari said: “This is a prohibition from God to his servants the believers, against acting like the hypocrites who take for awliya’ unbelievers rather than the believers even where such behavior harms the interests of the community.”( Tafsir al-Tabari, vol. 9: 336). Al Tabari added, that the verse means that believers should not take the unbelievers as back-up support and partisans, against their own community, showing them the vulnerabilities of the Believers.”( Tafsir al-Tabari vol. 6: 303).

As stated in these Qur’anic verses, then, the blameworthy alliance is that which is given to support those who do not believe in God against the interest of one’s own believing community. This is a far cry from the actions of those who cooperate with non-Muslims (believers as well as unbelievers ) within the limits of “righteousness and equity” while continuing to work for the good of the Muslim community.

The Second Argument:

Political participation is a type of rukun (acquiescence) to those who do wrong. This is prohibited by the Qur’an where the Almighty warns against such acts by His words: “And do not acquiesce to the unjust …”( Qur'an: 11:113).

It is wrong to understand rukun, as used in the above verse, to include all types of cooperation. There is no evidence for that. Rukun in fact means “to acquiesce to the unjust” or “to be satisfied with their doings” or “to return to idolatry,” These three meanings were derived by Al Tabari from the salaf (the worthy ancestors). (.”( Tafsir al Tabari vol. 15: 500-501). Again, these meanings are a far cry from an act of participation intent on promoting public interest and protecting the Muslim minority from injustice.

The Third Argument:

Participation of Muslims in our political system is an acceptance of the secular (i.e., faith-less, non-believing) status quo.

This argument is based on misunderstanding of the American system, as well as faulty logic.

First, the Framers of our American system did not intended it to be “faith-less” or “non-believing,” but rather faith-neutral. Ideally, our political system is not intended to oppose religious values but to be unaligned with those of any one sect or religion.

Second, passivity and withdrawal from life are what brings about acceptance of the status quo by deed, which is far more effective than words. Positive participation, on the other hand, is what showcases Islamic values and morals to civil society. Indeed, it is what refutes any “faith-less” secular status quo by offering people an illustration of the blessings of faith.
The Fourth Argument:

Participation of Muslims in our secular political system, which is increasingly denuding the public square from all symbols of faith, would desensitize Muslims into accepting the current status-quo and interacting with it, to the detriment of all people of faith in this society.

Methodologically, this argument contains two errors:

First, it transfers a conceptual confusion that occurs in countries that have Muslim majorities to countries where Muslims are a minority. The two contexts are quite different and entail different obligations. While Muslims in Muslim countries, are obligated to uphold the Islamic law of their state, Muslim minorities in the United States are not required either by Islamic law or rationality to uphold Islamic symbols of faith in a secular state, except to the extent permissible within that state.

What is required of Muslim minorities in a secular society is the support of the Islamic existence of their community and the service of public interest through serious participation in public life. They are also required to work hard towards building a coherent, stable and flourishing Islamic community capable of properly representing Islam to the majority, and building bridges with other faith communities. Only then can the discussion of the place of faith within our secular society become possible.

Such was the methodology of the Prophets ( صلوات الله عليهم جميعاPeace be upon them), and such was that of our Prophet ( صلى الله عليه وسلمPeace be upon him) who began by building first the Islamic community, then the Islamic society, and then the Islamic system.

Second, this argument narrows the scope of participation to the political sense. It would be more precise to consider each contribution towards enhancing the values of truth, goodness, and justice as a brick in the construction of a fair and equitable system. If the Muslim minority, through its positive participation in the making or influencing of political decisions, manages to promulgate a law against the use of drugs, for example, then it would have promoted the values of truth and goodness shared by many. This is in accord with Islamic values that require Muslims to serve their communities.

The Fifth Argument:

Participation contradicts the intent of a temporary stay in this country and an eventual return to Dar al Islam (the Land of Islam).

This argument is based on historical perspectives and outdated juristic terms, such as “Dar al Islam "The Land of Islam” and “Dar al Kufr "The Land of Disbelief ” or “Dar al Islam” and “Dar al Harb "The Land of War”. We have shown in the “Introduction” that these terms stand on a weak foundation from a legal perspective and are not applicable to contemporary international realities whether from a realistic perspective or a manaati one (one based on the underlying cause upon which the legal ruling hukm hangs. Refer to the Introduction for further explanation).

We can also add here that this argument ignores the highly significant fact that Islam established its first society in a land of immigration, namely, “Al Madinah al Munawwarah”, and not in the original land of the Message (“Makkah al Mukarramah"). The Prophet (( صلى الله عليه وسلمPeace Be Upon Him) did not agree to move to Makkah after his enemies lost their battles of aggression against him. He held on to the land of his immigration, and addressed its people who gave him support and victory, saying: “To live is to live with you and to die is to die with you”.