Anyone else notice this strange phenomenon which can only be classed as political illiteracy? It shows up like this – most of us Muslims raised here in Britain show almost little or no appetite to discuss healthcare, education, gender politics, poverty, the cut in public services as issues where we wish to engage the government or critique them in any great detail. Don’t get me wrong; there are pockets of us who do engage, who believe it is worthwhile but let’s face it, our engagement is a bit like the new £1 coins – they’re not that common and we don’t quite get the point of it all. But when the government announces an election, snap or bendy, the furore begins.
Suddenly something curious happens. The Muslim community wakes from its low lull to engage in a conversation about voting and what it all means. These conversations, however, seem to be slightly predictable. In fact, they are very predictable – they take on a strangely nostalgic hue. Why? Because we have the same conversations we were having in 1997. If you examine closely, they tend to focus on the theological rights and wrongs about voting where the camps are polarised. They scream from the rafters either about the sin attached to casting your ballot or, equally, the stupidity of not. As if it’s an Islamic duty to do so either way. Everyone rolls out their scholars of choice. I too have historically have engaged in this myself like the best of them. No one is safe.
Unless someone has had an epiphany between now and 1997, it is a bit like Pepsi vs Coca-Cola. We Muslims pretty much remain loyal to our theological standpoint. The rogue individual who breaks rank and goes over to Coke who has seen the light is few and far between. Pepsi has more traitors than Muslims to their standpoints on voting.
The issue becomes less about voting and more about what it signifies. No one can deny that the core issues that affect the Muslim community and the wider society will always continue, whether they are domestic or foreign policy matters. The ever-increasing state constriction, cuts, employment, housing and education are the issues which we must always be politically plugged into and have a perspective and a position. This must be a given. If we are not doing even this, I query about the endless messages regarding the benefits of voting or theological abstention. Both seem an exercise in venting frustration at the other side. And much respect and mutual acceptance is lost in the middle. Who wins? Exactly.
So my humble advice would always be to be aware of what it is you are trying to achieve by taking a pop at the other side. Let us all understand that political activism does not begin and end merely by a vote. It is a thought process which must be embedded in our very sense of serving society and being conscious Muslims. It is crucial that we change the course of these conversations outside the remit of the elections and look wider and ask deeper questions about what we are really doing for the healing and growth of our people here in the UK and, more crucially, how we are building a strong British Muslim voice.
Sultanah Parvin, activist of 20 years is part of online platform called #spokenwordmovement looking at women faith and colour.