The Conflicted Muslim Voter And The Flawed Candidate | Imam Omar Suleiman
With the midterm elections upon us, many familiar discussions in the community are taking place including how we vote for candidates that have unsatisfactory platforms with views that depart from our values. It is impossible to find a candidate that is going to hold every position we want them to, but these are just a few thoughts on how to approach the situation.
Disclaimer: These are only my thoughts so feel free to disagree as I may myself disagree with some of them one day:
- Holistic Strategy: In order to build political clout, we have to have a full strategy that includes the best use of our vote. Voting is an important element of our engagement and should be understood within that overall strategy. Almost every point that follows is going to tie back to this one.
- Make Them Hear You. You cannot hold politicians accountable if you do not participate in the vote. So candidates will only further depart from our views and priorities if we don’t participate at all. They’ll also stop putting any effort into hearing or understanding the Muslim community as candidates or elected officials. If we want to be heard, we have to make ourselves heard.
- Make Sure We Hear Each Other. Determining those priorities is going to require deliberation on the part of people who have knowledge, wisdom, and experience. That deliberation won’t take place over a Twitter battle or in the heated comments of a post. But we need more strategy sessions locally and nationally with trustworthy people sitting in rooms together hashing this stuff out so that we can determine our priorities better, and act/vote accordingly.
- Reasonable Requirements. We need to secure certain promises from candidates— while they’re still candidates. The asks our votes depend on should be reasonable, but our support is not unconditional. We cannot and shouldn’t accept being tokenized anymore as a community, and have our vote taken for granted by people running against raging racists.
- Accountability after Election. Once our vote helps put candidates into office, we need to hold them accountable to those promises. Too often, politicians we help get elected only hear from us again at the Ramadan Iftars. We have no one to blame but ourselves for that. This to me is similar to how some people approach protest. Protesting without sustained organizing is extremely limited in its impact. So too is voting for a candidate without continued strategic engagement.
- Drop All or Nothing Thinking. An agreeable candidate with whom we disagree on certain issues should be welcomed and engaged on the condition that we are not forced to agree with them or their party on those issues that run counter to our ethics. Too often in our insecurity with our faith, power, and selves, we start to embrace ideas that aren’t authentic because acceptance becomes our singular political goal. This isn’t a zero sum game. There is an option between embracing a candidate’s full platform, and not voting at all. Yes, it is tricky, but I hope we can get there with sincerity to God and frequently consulting amongst each other as to what the best approach should be. Moral clarity can be maintained even while seeking political efficiency.
- Learn from Mistakes. We are going to make mistakes, but those mistakes should be reasonable. Furthermore, we should always be open to reassessment of our approach and not insist upon destructive ways. Where the Divine revelation is clear, we should never overstep. But most of what we are engaging involves frequently encountering uncertain territories both religiously and politically. We should be committed to always striving for sincerity, consulting the right people, and working together with those also trying to figure this all out. We must be humble both in accepting and giving critique. Though abstaining in uncertainty is usually deemed the safer way, I would argue that it’s unsafe to abstain in situations like this (especially when this guy is your senator).
- Never stop engaging Prophetic service. You don’t need any further incentive to work in anti-poverty or fight clear exploitation and oppression. Not only should Muslims be present in these areas, they should be leading the way. And that’s not because it’s good political strategy, but because it’s good Prophetic action. The Prophet said “Find me amongst the weak. Are you supported or given help from Allah except by how you treat the weak amongst you?” The work of khidma ie. service to Allah’s creation, particularly the vulnerable amongst them, must be a constant no matter where the political winds sway.
- Do not shy away from engaging partisan spaces if they aren’t restricting you to a partisan message. We have a beautiful message to share that people can appreciate if appropriately delivered. A good example of that is Dr. Sherman Jackson’s prayer at the DNC in 2016.
- Every single vote counts. Do not sit on the sidelines or diminish your potential influence. So while we research how to engage better in the grander scheme of things, don’t forget to do your part (which includes casting the ballot).