Q. I was listening to a radio talk show about Islam and the host mentioned how restrictive an Islamic society would be towards non-Muslims, and that they would not enjoy the same freedom and rights that Muslims have living in a non-Muslim society. A “Muslim” called in to the radio station to object, saying that Islam would grant many of the same rights to non-Muslims. However, when asked by the radio host if non-Muslims would be allowed to vote in a Muslim dominated society, the Muslim caller said that non-Muslims would NOT be allowed to vote according to Islamic law. I believe this is the general feeling among Muslims globally towards non-Muslims. How did Muslims come to the conclusion that non-Muslims would have restrictive rights – including the right to vote – in an Islamic society?

A. I am afraid that the information is incorrect, both theoretically and practically. I use "theoretically" because it is possible that the Muslim was using certain paradigms as his answer -- for example, that in a so-called Islamic State, there would be the obvious classification between Muslims and non-Muslims, and that since non-Muslims would be "dhimmis" for the most part, they would be excluded from voting. The problem with this assumption is that it is anachronistic: there was no voting in medieval Islamic society as we understand it. Even to elect the caliph, as we know, it was done through a select group of people, who would obviously be Muslim. In a modern State, such as Saudi Arabia, it is entirely Muslim, and there are no non-Muslim citizens -- and so the issue of non-Muslims voting is obviously out of the question. In Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Pakistan, Morocco, and Syria, where Islam is the dominant religion, we find non-Muslims not only voting but holding office. So the concept about Islamic law forbidding non-Muslims to vote is wrong. In theory, if there were a State that deemed the leader to be not only the secular, but also spiritual guide, then non-Muslims would probably be excluded from voting, in the same manner that non-Roman Catholics are excluded from electing the Pope.

Posted August 7, 2005