If you want to vote in the general election this year, you have until one-minute-to-midnight on Monday night to register. As citizens, the right to vote is something we shouldn’t take for granted. It’s striking to think that a century ago, most adult men – and all women – couldn’t vote. They had to fight hard to win the right to do so and would be staggered to see that today some of their descendants can’t be bothered to use it.
As a Muslim citizen, I strongly believe in the right to vote and that we should exercise that right – not least because we have a duty to try to make our society better, not just for Muslims but for all of us. I have faith in God and in democracy.
There is a small minority of Muslims who disagree, and who question whether voting for “man-made law” is fundamentally Islamic, but these arguments are unconvincing and completely outdated in 21st century Britain. Abstention from voting is essentially indirect voting, and can lead to your less-preferred option winning. The repercussions of this general election will be felt for many years, so the result should be down to conscious choice, not the by-product of apathy.
Another problem is that the British Muslim community is young, and young people are less likely to vote. Of the three million Muslims in the UK, nearly half of them are under 25. If we want the political parties and the next government to engage with Muslims in a more constructive way, British Muslims must get involved. We must play our part in engaging with political discourse at a national level.
General Election polls and projections: May 21
In such a young community, many of those who do vote on 8 June will do so for the first time, and parties should be fighting over those votes. First-time voters are less encumbered by the baggage of existing party allegiance, so their votes are “up for grabs”, yet I’ve seen little in the manifestos launched last week, nor on the campaign trail, that looks to be targeting the Muslim or broader BME communities.
The votes of British Muslims will count in more constituencies than ever before this year, yet the mainstream political parties have largely either ignored this ethnic group or not courted its votes in an effective way.
There is no such thing as a Muslim block vote: Muslims are split by ethnicity, class and region, according to Runnymede Trust’s 2012 Ethnic Minority British Election study. To a great extent, Muslim voters have similar political concerns to their white British peers – a thriving economy, lower taxes, a strong NHS, Brexit and law and order.
Yet British Muslims also have distinct political concerns around safety and security in their everyday lives. These are not necessarily Muslim-only issues, but broader societal ones. We believe Britain to be our home and addressing these concerns will not only meaningfully engage the Muslim vote but unlock the full contribution that we can make to our shared home, for the common good of all.
One issue political parties must address is anti-Muslim prejudice. From London Mayoral elections to Brexit, Trump’s journey to the White House to Le Pen’s political defeat, political campaigns seem to have legitimised hatred and bigotry towards Muslims, but our political leaders have not been fast or forthright enough in their condemnation. Those who fuel hatred against any ethnic or faith minority should be publically challenged.
Another important factor to address when courting the British Muslim vote is social and economic inequality. Disproportionate levels of unemployment, poor housing and educational disadvantage are of huge concern for young British minorities, and Muslims are arguably the least well-resourced and somewhat more isolated section of the community. It is not by choice that the vast majority of British Muslims live in what the Casey Review termed as social enclaves – rather this segregation is largely a product of social and economic exclusion. Young Muslims will warm to those parties that promise to invest in their neighbourhoods, create job opportunities and bring prosperity to their lives, leading to better economic and social integration.
Integration isn’t only about economics, though. We need an honest debate around immigration and integration but British Muslims can feel very much at the sharp end of these debates. Getting integration right matters to all of us but politicians who focus on Muslims exclusively when integration isn’t working are unlikely to attract their support on polling day. Issues within Muslim communities are just one of the barriers to integration and we need to find constructive solutions, together, to build a shared British identity that we all feel part of.
The Brexit result has shown Britain is a more fragmented and polarised society than any of us would want. The new Government will need a stronger shared vision of the confident, inclusive and integrated society we wish to become. That should not start on 9 June but right now, on the campaign trail, as the parties pitch for the votes of all citizens. But that responsibility, to build a better and shared society for us all, does not just rest with whoever wins a majority in the General Election. It rests, too, with the 18-year-old Muslim wondering right now whether to register to vote. If that is you then I say once again, you have until one-minute-to-midnight on Monday night to register, and you should.