Is voting Wajib (obligatory)? I have heard that some scholars say voting is Wajib, is that correct?

Quran

Hadith

Islamic Text

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ

In the Name of Allah Most Merciful Most Kind

Short Answer

I have come across this too. Some scholars are saying voting is Wajib. However, this should be understood in the correct context. It can only be considered Wajib if it is an effective means of safeguarding religious freedom and fulfilling religious goals. Otherwise, it is certainly not Wajib. In any case I prefer the view that voting is permissible.

Explanation
قَالَ اجْعَلْنِي عَلَى خَزَائِنِ الْأَرْضِ إِنِّي حَفِيظٌ عَلِيمٌ

He said, ‘Appoint me over the storehouses of the land. Indeed, I am a knowledgeable guardian.’ (Surah Yusuf, 55).

Some contemporary scholars are saying that voting is Wajib (obligatory). But is there a basis for this in the Shariah? Those scholars who hold this opinion will often rely upon a legal principle that states: That which is required to fulfil an obligation is itself an obligation (وَمَا لَا يَتِمُّ الْوَاجِبُ إِلَّا بِهِ، فَهُوَ وَاجِبٌ). The principle is sound and widely accepted by classical scholars.

However, scholars will differ with regards to the application of any legal principle to a contentious contemporary situation. Therefore, voting being Wajib is not a position held by all leading contemporary scholars. Rather, many of them assert that voting is permissible and should be used to further religious goals.

The Prophet Yusuf

I am more inclined towards the view that voting is permissible. I do not go as far as saying voting is Wajib. However, those who hold this view do have some support from classical scholars of the Sunni tradition. In the following Nass we find a commentary upon the blessed Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him) seeking a position in an unislamic political system.

إِنَّهُ عَلَيْهِ السَّلَامُ كَانَ مُكَلَّفًا بِرِعَايَةِ مَصَالِحِ الْخَلْقِ مِنْ هَذِهِ الْوُجُوهِ، وَمَا كَانَ يُمْكِنُهُ رِعَايَتُهَا إِلَّا بِهَذَا الطَّرِيقِ، وَمَا لَا يَتِمُّ الْوَاجِبُ إِلَّا بِهِ، فَهُوَ وَاجِبٌ، فَكَانَ هَذَا الطَّرِيقُ وَاجِبًا عَلَيْهِ وَلَمَّا كَانَ وَاجِبًا سَقَطَتِ الْأَسْئِلَةُ بِالْكُلِّيَّةِ. (مفاتيح الغيب)

Indeed, he (peace be upon him) was responsible for taking care of the interests of the people in all aspects. But he could not take care of them except in this way. And that which is required to fulfil an obligation is itself an obligation. Thus this path was obligatory for him. Since it was obligatory, all questions are irrelevant. (Imam Fakhr al-Deen al-Razi 606H, al-Tafseer al-Kabeer).

In the Tafseer above, we find Imam Fakhr al-Deen al-Raazi applying the legal principle to the actions of Sayidina Yusuf (peace be upon him). Many other scholars reiterated this in their commentaries. Therefore, there is a recognition that working within a unislamic political system is legally problematic. However, circumstances can render it permitted or even Wajib (obligatory).

Using available means
أنَّ التَّصرف في أمور الخَلقِ كان واجباً عليه فجاز له أن يتوصل إليه بأي طريق كان. (اللباب في علوم الكتاب)

Taking charge of the affairs of people was his (peace be upon him) duty. So it was permissible for him to achieve it by any means available. (Imam Ibn Adil al-Dimashqi 775H, al-Lubab).

 

كان رسولاً حقاً من الله تعالى إلى الخلق والرسول يجب عليه مراعاة الأمة بقدر الإمكان. (السراج المنير)

He (peace be upon him) was a true messenger to creation from Allah (Most High). And the Messenger must consider the needs of the nation as much as possible. (Imam Shams al-Deen al-Shirbini 977H, al-Siraj al-Muneer).

In the Nusoos (texts) above, the Imams acknowledged the problem of working within an unislamic system. However, they assert permissibility due to circumstances. This is the precise argument used to assert the permissibility of voting in unislamic legal systems. So, when the Islamic political system is not an option then Muslims should support the option that is best in terms of fulfilling religious goals.

Another example

The books of Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) are filled with examples of the above principle. In the Nass below, we find one of the great Hanafi Imams explaining that marriage can become obligatory, although the standard ruling is recommendation. This is in a circumstance where one fears Zina (fornication). Protecting oneself from that sin would require marriage. Therefore, marriage would become obligatory.

لِأَنَّ التَّحَرُّزَ عَنْ الزِّنَا وَاجِبٌ وَهُوَ لَا يَتِمُّ إلَّا بِالنِّكَاحِ، وَمَا لَا يَتِمُّ الْوَاجِبُ إلَّا بِهِ فَهُوَ وَاجِبٌ، وَفِي حَالَةِ الِاعْتِدَالِ مُسْتَحَبٌّ. (العناية شرح الهداية)

Avoiding adultery (Zina) is obligatory, and it cannot be accomplished except through marriage. And that which is required to fulfil an obligation is itself an obligation, thus it (marriage) is obligatory. Whereas in normal circumstances it (marriage) is Mustahab (recommended). (Imam Jamal al-Deen al-Babarti 786H, al-Inayah Sharh al-Hidayah)

Conclusion

Although I do not personally promote the opinion that voting is Wajib, I understand where it is coming from. The principle, that which is required to fulfil an obligation is itself an obligation (وَمَا لَا يَتِمُّ الْوَاجِبُ إِلَّا بِهِ، فَهُوَ وَاجِبٌ), is sound in Shariah. This is often used by those who believe voting is Wajib. They explain that voting is the only effective manner of gaining the religious freedom required to practice our Deen. Therefore, voting is Wajib.

The principle is sound. Yet, scholars may differ regarding the application. It is correct to say that voting is not an effective means in all circumstances. However, wherever it is an effective means, it must be applied strategically. I will never encourage voting in unislamic systems unless it is done in an effective strategic manner to achieve religious goals.

And Allah Most High Knows Best.

Answered by Shaykh Noorud-deen Rashid (13.05.24)