Many Muslims are apathetic to politics, and understandably so, given the antics of politicians and what they represent to many people. Thus the idea of a western Muslim politician has long been held as anathema, not merely due to theology but also because many view politics as a career for the corrupt, or at least one that is a corrupting force.
A little while ago, Tory leaning Peter Oborne, the chief political commentator for the Daily Telegraph marvelled at the idea that Nusrat Ghani, ‘the Conservative Party’s first female Muslim candidate for a winnable seat – has the potential to be amazing.’ It is well known that Mr Oborne is a fair and affable gentleman, who has, I believe, frequently demonstrated what a sound Conservative party might stand for, indeed what politics might become were the preserve of politicians truth, fairness, and a sense of ethics.
However, in a bid to celebrate the supposed diversity within the Conservative party, Mr Oborne, presumably along with most Muslims, has assumed that Ms Ghani’s ascription to Islam has anything to do with her politics. But I ask, what warrants labelling her a ‘Muslim’ in this context? Like most if not all ‘Muslim’ politicians, the notion of being Muslim is one that is advertised only if it serves some political utility such as identifying with voters or playing the point woman/man on diversity. To be fair, no Muslim politician, and in actuality we mean Asian politician, actually claims to represent the faith or be driven by a strong sense of Islamic morality; in fact given both the rise in Islamophobic sentiment and halfwits misrepresenting the shari’ah on national television, to admit an adherence to faith-based ethics wouldn’t fare well with the general electorate. Furthermore, most if not all Asian politicians tend to identify rather more with their ethnic backgrounds; Baroness Warsi is a good example of a politician who strongly identifies with her Pakistani background, to the extent that she periodically adorns the traditional shalwar kameez at formal political occasions.
Now to be fair, I am not claiming that ‘Muslim’ politicians offer nothing to the Muslim community, there are many areas of interest or concern where they work tirelessly out of a belief to do something good or worthwhile. However, working for the common good is not a commitment to Muslim concerns but rather the general concerns of society. Given this to be the case, why do some use Muslim politicians to validate their assertions that political engagement to bring about a change that is reflective of Muslim sentiments is futile?
Firstly, there is a group of Muslims who confuse orthodoxy with their own desire to segregate from society, and in trying to muster an excuse neither to interact with others, engage, or effect positive change they offer irrelevant examples (such as the one above) with fallacious reasoning. They fail to consider that Muslim politicians do not claim to represent Muslims nor declare any specific allegiance to the Muslim community and fall into the perennial trap that a seemingly ‘Muslim’ name necessitates some sense of belonging with the faithful. This, along with the politician being from an ethnic minority, is perceived as being strong indicators that such politicians have compromised their principles in exchange for personal gain – they haven’t done the supposed “Islamic thing”, or the odious and racially charged “they’ve sold out to the white man.”
Political indifference on such grounds means that many on all spectrums of the discussion have misunderstood what it means to be a Muslim; it is neither culture nor inherited habits that confer the title ‘Muslim’ on a politician (or anyone else for that matter) but understanding the corollaries of Abrahamic monotheism and a commitment to them. A stark reality is that we’ve never had Muslim politicians who understand the Islamic faith and cogently articulate what it means when required to do so. The desire to portray a good picture of Islam doesn’t suffice – the “well, I think…” attitude is not Islamic; in fact the Qur’an actively disparages those who speak without having consulted revelation and its experts:
‘From amongst people there are those who debate about God without knowledge, guidance, or an illuminating book.’
Working backwards, the reference to an ‘illuminating book’ is none other than revelation such as the Qur’an; ‘guidance’ is the directive of the Prophet in how to adhere to divine injunctions, and ‘knowledge’ is understanding revelation according to sound systems of reasoning derived from revelation itself, the parameters of the Arabic language and sound logic. The famed exegete Ibn Kathir explained, ‘without sound intellect, nor sound and lucid revelation, but on mere speculation and impulse.’
Now I don’t suggest that all those who intend to go into politics suddenly undertake legal study and qualify as Islamic jurists and theologians, but it would behoove Muslims with political aspirations and driven by a sense of godly ethics to maintain close ties with those of sound juristic and scholastic training. If we refer to politicians as Muslims, we shouldn’t be referring to brown people in politics as many do but rather as a term that denotes those who seek to better the country making it a standard for justice, morality, fairness, prosperity and a consistent rule of law, simultaneously standing by the ideals of Abrahamic monotheism, regardless of their race (if indeed there is such a thing).
Presumably, Mr Oborne has genuinely made the common mistake of conflating race with Islam. Racial profiling might be important in determining levels of diversity in any given social setting – it is assumed that a certain number of candidates from minorities means that the system is inclusive. However, faith is a completely different matter; to want to include Muslims suggests the inclusion of those who ascribe to Islamic principles since that is what being a Muslim means, and to declare the Islam of a candidate is to imply the candidate is aware of those principles and committed to them.