FATWA: On Muslims voting for non-Muslims in a Muslim-majority country



Dear honorable Prof Khaled Abou El Fadl

A Muslim and Islamic Scholar that I respect greatly, 


I wrote to you to ask for your time, generosity and wisdom, as I'm greatly saddened by the situation in my country, that have turned my Muslim brothers and sisters against each other. 


And the questions that have turned my Muslim brothers and sister against each other is, "Does Islam allows Muslim to vote for non-Muslim to be in the position of governor, in a Muslim majority country? "

Let me introduce myself, my name is [Name withheld for privacy], I'm a student of International Relations major, and also an alumnus of [Name withheld for privacy]. And now I'm torn, my Muslim identity is in crisis with my identity as a political scholar. And I'm not alone, with many other Indonesians feel the same way. 


In the capital city of Indonesia, there is currently an election going on. And for the first time during our country relatively young age of democracy, we are faced with a dilemma that we have never faced before. We have to choose between a governor candidate that is non-Muslim, that has hailed as one of the finest (but far from perfect) candidates, and one other Muslim candidate that has no proven record yet, but shows great potential to become a good leader. 

This situation has never happened before, that a non-Muslim candidate can be a serious challenger for the governorship of Muslim majority country capital province. The stakes are high, and this will put a serious test upon our democratic system, to the greater point this will also answer a long-debated question on the compatibility of Islam with secular democracy. 


Those Muslim in my country is split along three lines; 


1. Those Muslim who feels that democracy is un-Islamic, this forbid on participating in it, so wouldn't vote on the matter


2. Those who believes that Al-Maidah 51, forbids Muslim to vote for non-Muslim, when there are Muslim alternatives, especially in Muslim majority country. And they also believe that there is no precedence of non-Muslim governor during the Caliph era. 


3. And those who are in favor for the principle of 'greater good', of which always supersede any other principal when it comes to fiqh. Many other who will vote for the non-Muslim governor also believes that Al-Maidah 51 is only applicable when it comes to war, but not when it comes to democracy context, especially because the governor doesn't have an authority to intervene in the religious matter, unlike Caliph in Islamic History. 


So how should I positioned myself in this matter? As a scholar of political science, my knowledge of political affairs tell me to go with the third group, as I believe that giving a position to those who are not proven to be an expert is a dzalim act, as it will harm public interest, including Muslims. 


But my religion is Islam, and as a Muslim, I should follow the guidance of Al-Qur'an, which tell me (at least by interpretation of the second group) to not vote for a non-Muslim leader, under any circumstances. And doing so would put me as munafiq at best, and mushrik at worst. 


Many of my peers and fellow Muslim also trapped in this dilemma, many parents are accused of not properly raised their children just because their children are supporting the non-Muslim candidate, and many of my friends are accused of being munafiq or even mushrik for showing their support to a non-Muslim candidate. Which turns brothers and sisters against each other. 


As one of the most influential Islamic scholars in the world, I would like your wisdom and guidance upon this matter. On how I should decide on or bridge this dilemma. My understanding on Islamic fiqh and shariah is admittedly scarce and basic, thus I would love and be grateful if you could help me, or show me any text and fatwa or historical precedence on this matter that I could learn and study so I could make up my mind (preferably in English or Bahasa Indonesia, since I'm not fluent in Arabic). 

Your help is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much for spending time reading this letter.


May Allah blessed you for your kindness, and may Allah grant you with a wisdom as He granted prophet Sulaiman a.s with it. 


With regards, 

Your fellow Muslim in need. 

[Name withheld for privacy]






Al-salamu ‘alaykum. I pray that God’s grace and peace are with you. Thank you for your message. If I understand the situation correctly, the question is whether in a democratic system in which there are Muslim candidates and non-Muslim candidates it is permissible for a Muslim citizen to vote for or otherwise help elect the non-Muslim candidate in preference to the Muslim candidate? And further, I understand that your question is based on the situation in Indonesia where there is a Muslim candidate and a non-Muslim candidate for elections, and you feel that the non-Muslim candidate is more qualified or otherwise preferable to the Muslim candidate. If my understanding of the situation is correct, the following is my answer.


The issue of wala’ or the duty of alliance, support, and fraternity has been widely debated in Islamic sources over fourteen-hundred years. If you wish to review the details of what each jurist argued and why, I refer you to my book, Rebellion and Violence in Islamic Law, especially to the portions discussing whether Muslims owe an obligation to support the just, regardless of their faith or religious affiliation, or whether Muslims should always support a Muslim, even if the Muslim is less just or unjust. I will not go into the different hadith that the various schools of thought cite in support of one position over another. However, my position is best reflected in the treatise of the Hanafi jurist Zayn al-Din al-Malibari titled “Tuhfat al-Mujahidin,” where it is argued that Muslims have an affirmative duty to support what is just and what is right, and if there is a non-Muslim who is just versus a Muslim who is unjust, and similarly if there is a non-Muslim who is not corrupt versus a Muslim who is corrupt, then in my view, it is an affirmative sin to support an unjust Muslim over a just non-Muslim. Islam is not about qabaliyyah (tribalism). Islam is a millah (faith), a faith that is about justice, morality, and goodness. The sirat al-mustaqim is not a matter of label or superficial affectations. Al-sirat al-mustaqim is a matter of substance, morality, and uprightness. But beyond this, I must say that there are normative demands created by the nature of democratic aspiration. If Indonesians wish to live in a democratic order, then their ethical commitment must be to civic virtues; in other words, to principles of justice, equity and goodness, and not to narrow principles of tribalism, superficial identity politics and nepotism. Anyone that dares to participate in a democratic system must be honest. Either they reject democracy altogether and then they should not participate in elections and should not run as candidates because to do so while not believing in democracy is sheer hypocrisy and dissimulation, which is of course haram. But if they do run for elections or vote, then they implicitly accept the principles of democracy. For a democracy to work, people must commit to, as I said, civic virtues, not identity politics.


Finally, I have visited Indonesia and I try to keep as informed as possible about Indonesian politics. I am fully aware that Wahhabi Islam has spread in Indonesia and has found many supporters. The problem is Wahhabi Islam is creedally inconsistent with democratic principles and cannot commit to democracy. If one, however, rejects the principles of Wahhabi Islam, then the matter of wala’ and bara’ must be reexamined because true wala’ (loyalty) is to Allah alone. And Allah can never stand for the principles of injustice, corruption, or ugliness. So when someone comes to me and says “vote for a Muslim who is unjust, corrupt or otherwise unethical,”  I tell them “you want me to pick loyalty to a fellow Muslim over my loyalty to Allah? I cannot do so in good faith as a Muslim."  Even more, I believe I would ultimately have to answer directly to Allah in the Hereafter if I do so.


My advice to you and to all Indonesians who believe in a democratic order is to vote for the person who will best serve justice. For this person is the person who truly embodies the principles of Islam whether that person calls himself/herself a Muslim or not. 


I pray for you and I pray for our beloved Indonesia. May Allah protect you and guide you to what is good for all of your fellow citizens and help you meet the challenges that face your country.


Wa al-salamu 'alaykum.


Shaykh Abou El Fadl