Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"Why do Muslims vote Democrat?"

[This post is also published on the St. Louis Post Dispatch Civil Religion Blog]

A reader (Centrist) commented on my first posting asking 2 questions. I answered the first question last week. The second question was as follows:
"... why do Muslims vote Democrat. The Democrats support abortion on demand and gay marriage, two things that the Muslim religion is so opposed to."
I do not know how accurate it is to generalize in absolute terms that Muslims vote Democrat. But judging from my immediate circles, I would say a lot of them vote that way. I am aware of at least few Muslims that are hard-core republicans who are active in the party, and are fund raising for it. I admit, they are in the minority among the Muslims I know. As for those Muslims who vote Democrat, they do it for predominantly the same reasons that non-Muslim vote Democrat.
Social justice and collective social responsibility has been a pillar concept of the Muslim community since the birth of Islam. The Qur'an stresses that the wealth is a trust to some of us from God, but for the benefit of those who need help "... and spend on others out of that which He has made you trustees for, those of you who have attained to faith and who spend freely [in God's cause] shall have a great reward."(Chapter 57:7). The Qur'an does also repeatedly link true piety to generosity in spending of the most cherished of possessions: "... truly pious is he who believes in God, and the Last Day; and the angels, and revelation, and the prophets; and spends his substance - however much he himself may cherish it - upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage ..."(Chapter 2:177). Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, told the early Muslims that "the believers are like one body; if a part of it is sick or ailing, the rest of the body shall respond with aches and fever", and that "Not of us are those who sleep on a full stomach, knowing that their neighbors are hungry", bringing to the forefront of the believers' conscience the collective responsibility of the society towards its weakest and least fortunate elements. Omar, the second of the early civil leaders following the Prophet, established 'The house of treasury' where Alms (Zakat in Arabic), and charity (Sadaka in Arabic) revenues were distributed to the poor, the needy, for freeing men and women who were in bondage, and as pension for the elderly who are unable to to earn a living, Muslims or non-Muslim alike. My point is that social justice and essential elements of a welfare state where the underprivileged are entitled to basic services and care provided by the state was an early and central part of the Muslim conscience.
As for health care, as early as the first century after the Prophet's death, public hospitals were established and sponsored by the consecutive Islamic governments. From the very beginnings of Islam, commercial monopoly has been demonized and the the universal right of all community members to access natural resources (typify by water and grazing land - two major livelihood essentials in Bedouin desert life) were established.
Very few people in the US would dispute that these early practices of Muslim communities are closer to Democratic Party principles than to Republican Party principles. It is no wonder then that a significant portion of American Muslims, despite their relative affluence, would feel more aligned with the message of the Democratic party, thus they vote Democrat.
Islamic attitudes toward abortion are definitely more flexible than the strict 'pro-lifers'. In Islam, the physical and emotional welfare of the mother takes precedence over that of the fetus, even though I know of no Muslims who would give a blanket approval to the 'abortion on demand' mentioned by the reader Centrist. However, I personally think the 'abortion on demand' statement is an emotionally-loaded, and inaccurate way to describe the attitude of most Democrats, many of whom are practicing Christians.
As far as the gay marriage issue, I am opposed to it, and so are almost all my Muslim friends and acquaintances. But we are also opposed to many other issues such as unjust 'preemptive' wars, strengthening corporations at the expense of the individuals, attrition of civil right, unchecked executive powers, and last but not least, denying health care to several million American children because it costs a small fraction of what we spent in one day saving a failing big Wall Street firm.
Most of my Muslim friends are Democrats, and in addition to the economic and social justice causes, it was a lot more obvious to us that the Democratic party is more inclusive, more diverse and less elitist than the Republican Party. Most of us are not 'one-issue' voters, and we choose a party to run a country not to lead us to Heaven.
Despite all this, and as I mentioned early on, some Muslims still vote Republican albeit in minute numbers that are dwindling by the minute. But would that surprise any one seeing how Republican presidential candidates were after the likes of Pat Robertson and John Hagee?

[I have put together in the past a more detailed Essay on Social Justice in Islam with more documentation of Quranic verses on the subject. It is available on line at:]

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  1. Your post reminds me yet again of how very similar Islam and Judaism are. Most Jews vote Democrat for the very same reasons. Jewish religious beliefs about charity (Tzadaka in Hebrew!), social justice, health care, abortion and gay marriage are practically identical to the Muslim attitudes you described. (The reason why gay marriage is so widely accepted among Jews today, is that so many Jews no longer follow traditional religious beliefs, simply retaining the cultural values of charity and social justice.)

    Sometimes I think the conflict over territory in the Middle East is a tragic misunderstanding. Jews and Muslims should be natural allies.

    The Arab world has classed "Jews" and "Israel" as part of the Christian West, while Jews -- and Israel -- have historically thought of themselves as more part of the Arab world than Western.

    The Palestinians viewed the Jewish settlers as Western colonizers, while the Jews viewed themselves as refugees, finally returning to the Middle East after the Western powers (Rome) had displaced them.

    Add to this the fact that Israel reacts to any perceived threat much like a person with PTSD -- understandably, after the Holocaust -- and you have a situation much like a classic Greek tragedy, cousin killing cousin for no good reason.

  2. Becky: you comment reminded me of the old day. I read this story nearly 25 years ago and I remembered and used it since then. I read it in a book by Eric Fromm by the name Religion and Psychoanalysis, but the conclusion was a bit different: God said, in the version I read: My Children really succeeded.
    Is this the same story, different versions or the same one??

  3. An interesting article - I agree with you - and i think many US Muslims WILL vote Republican: