Revolutionary Politics in the Time of Genocide: Beyond the Fantasy of a Muslim Vote – Part III

What, if anything, can be a revolutionary politics for minoritised people, especially Muslims in the UK?  What can we actually do to fight for the end of the genocide? – asks Arzu Merali.

Read the article below the audio.  Listen to the audio on this page or on Youtube.


Part III: Now and Tomorrow, They are Not the Same


If I time this right, and I remember to schedule this, this will be going live at one minute past midnight on the morning of 4th July 2024. This is the date of the general election in the UK.  This is the now.  And, as you know, things are not well.  Tomorrow and the days thereafter, do not look so good either.

Before I lay down some thoughts on revolutionary politics, what they could be what they maybe need to be, I need to give thanks. Above all and first of all thanks to my Creator, our Creator, to Whom all of this is part of a journey, which I hope will be successful. The ideas I have expressed thus far come not from simply me but so many people around me, friends, family, colleagues (a mix of all), things I have read and been privileged to witness and more.  Since publishing so many have contacted me or engaged.  Thank you. If there is any reward to be had in this then may it be yours.

I had a lot of feedback particularly on the first but also the second piece in this series. To all of you who took the time to engage, goes my gratitude and also the hope that you keep these conversations going (with or without me). When I started writing this, it was really as a way for me to review my own thoughts. The fact that so many of you found that it resonated and wanted to speak your mind with me has been very moving, and awe-inspiring, and has given me hope.  Those of you who know me, know that I am of a pessimistic mind. Listening to so many of you has made me realise I have no need to be.

I have come to realise that if I am going to be criticising the egos that are creating silos in our communities, then I have to crush mine first.  May God give me the strength to do so.



The rest of this is still mainly about the UK, but actually it is also still mainly about Palestine, justice and liberation. We cannot have a conversation about one without the other and I don’t intend to do it any other way.


The now

I think, in fact I’m pretty sure, that I will be spoiling my ballot paper. I’ve never done it before. I never thought I would ever feel so despondent and so angry that I would feel the need to.  I have ‘not voted’ before: I didn’t in 2019. I have tactically voted for the better part of 25 years. In trying to remove my local MP I have voted for literally everyone else and every other party bar the few openly racist ones. This election, if I’m honest, my MP (the same MP) is frankly the best of a bad bunch. I think that’s the situation many people find themselves in. But I don’t think that this is any reason to vote for them. Definitely not anymore.

I’m not advocating this for everyone. If you have a pro-Palestine independent candidate or a candidate from a minority party and not a legacy party who is clear that they oppose the genocide in Palestine, then go for it. I say this because I believe that if we are to vote on 4th July, the only use of it is to protest the genocide being perpetrated in front of our very eyes minute by minute in gory, graphic, bloody detail. This is what this general election could be remembered for. Why don’t we try?

There are many who firmly believe that we should not vote. I have nothing but the upmost respect for those of you who believe this: Sunni and Shia both aligning over the idea that it is impossible to participate in a system that is kufr, that is a taghut.  It’s not about the people not being Muslim or even about the system being based on something other than Islam, it is the very nature of this system in particular which has no basis in justice that prevents us from partaking.

The understanding that the system is so corrupt any participation corrupts the participator goes beyond adherence to different interpretations of Islam.  Somewhere else I will post some of those scholars and activists’ words.

There are other scholars and activists who see days like this Thursday as a way of protesting – not taking part – protesting.  It’s important to understand the difference, because there have been scholars who have demanded everyone vote (the myth of a free and fair political system living rent free in their minds still).  As Sheikh El-Zakzaky recently said in response to requests for guidance on who to vote for in the recent Nigerian elections, it is impossible to find the right person in the wrong system.

Bearing this in mind, come Thursday 4th July, cast a vote for a pro-Palestine, non-main party candidate (regardless of whether they are likely to win or not) and make that vote count as a protest against the unrelenting support and complicity in war crimes and genocide of the political establishment in this country.  But even if, even if, your candidate wins their seat – be clear, nothing will change on 5th July.  Any idea that getting that voice into the parliamentary system means a change, needs to scratched from our minds.


So what can we do going forward?

I really struggled with this; as I’ve said before I did for a long time believe that Muslims in situations of political minority as we are in the UK, could and should mobilise where they were in sufficient numbers to affect the outcome of the election of some MPs and leveraged that “power” to create a power bloc. I no longer have that view.

I also don’t have an excellent answer, or really anything more than the beginning of some thoughts in the hope that we, whatever our background, can work towards a global politics of justice, that can truly transform the future. This does not mean that as a Muslim I do not believe in something we can call an Islamic politics.  It is in fact the latter, an Islamic politics – a revolution even – that I am aiming for.  Here we have lessons to learn. We have seen many Islamic movements in the so-called post-colonial era.  We need to see what inspiration we can take from these.  We can look at Malcolm X’s movement to expose US brutality on the international stage, we can look at Muslim involvement – particularly the Islam led Qibla movement – in the struggle against apartheid.  This latter, led by the late Imam Achmad Cassiem has much to show us.  Imam Cassiem did not believe, as so many concur, that the end of paper apartheid (the abolishment of the laws of apartheid and constitution of a ‘new’ South Africa), heralded social equality and justice.  On paper, South Africa became a rainbow nation.  In reality it remained economically and socially unequal and segregated.  The work of Qibla had not ended.  Their struggle, which had hitherto been in part, armed, moved to a new phase: of social work setting up institutions like projects to support HIV sufferers; soup kitchens; schools for orphans; courses, including lots of free courses, through mosques, community colleges, wherever possible teaching basic and conceptual literacy as well as critical thinking for liberation.  The role of the masjid, the importance of the pulpit all central to this reimagining.

All of this while demanding the state take action.  Not taking part in the system, but protesting it and developing the services needed that the state failed to deliver.  Their aim was not to create the infrastructure that the state refused to, but to show what was needed and hold the corrupt state accountable for its failure to deliver.  This was a use of sadaqah and zakat to both alleviate poverty and to demand the end of poverty.  It was a use of charitable funds to educate and also demand universal, creative and critical education.  It was the continued struggle against apartheid.  From radio stations that invited and grilled politicians to khutbahs that called for continued revolution, this is an inspiring example.  Of course, this movement was demonised and detracted from.  At one point the demand was made from Imam Cassiem to explain what the Islamic movement in South Africa was about if it wasn’t a sleight of hand to ‘impose shariah law’.  “The aim of the Islamic movement in South Africa,” he replied, calm, collected and proud, “is to see that all South Africans have a minimum one square meal a day.”  There is so much more, it would require a book to describe.  Alongside this focus, the idea of ummah and for a global struggle against injustice everywhere was integral to this movement’s understanding of itself.  It was part of the resistance in Palestine by dint of its staunch support for resistance against the Israeli aggressor.  It was also nuanced enough to see when legitimate grievances were instrumentalised by Western powers to create wars and bloodshed between Muslims.


(Dis)Unity and Resolution: A Good Idea

Calling for a resolution of our grievances and differences by different means, by understanding the colonial nature of the situation, was a lesson Imam tried to impart.  As (formerly) colonised people still lumbered with nation state boundaries and colonial institutions in a neo-colonial world, we were by the 2010s becoming adept at spilling each other’s blood and allying with (usually) the US, undermining all Islamic injunctions about the struggle for justice that the Qur’an and sunnah affords us.  This is a departure, and it isn’t from where I am placing the revolutionary part of this discussion.  But unity of oppressed peoples can only be the way forward if we are to break the cycle of divide and rule that has outlasted paper decolonisation.

We could argue that the electoral system in the UK has always been – in fact has never hidden the fact – one where only domestic issues can be affected by the votes cast.  My previous piece argues that this is now (if it ever was) no longer the case.  Even the domestic is controlled in oligarchic fashion: the NHS’s fate is to be decided along the lines of what type of privatisation, itself decided by those who have supported the winning party in whose interest that privatisation/ decimation is made; the freezing of benefits and (further) shrinking of welfare is a given, justified by empty coffers, which could with political will, be filled from the coffers of big business and multi-nationals, the lobbies of whom have pushed a lower taxes agenda.  Our arguments  – with some justification – that we should use the system in the limited way that it works (the mosque permits, visas and other concessions that bargaining with your local MP has delivered the local Muslim bloc votes for decades) finds its roots in this stark understanding.  I am no longer of the view that it matters (in the grand scale of things).  What we need is the big picture thinking that the Islamic movement in South Africa represented by Qibla during and ‘after’ apartheid.  It needn’t be the same in the UK, but it needs be.

Muslim communities – beyond the usual categorisations of ‘Asian’ and other – are vibrant and their philanthropic base and infrastructure(s) punch much higher than their weight.  This space provides alleviation from distress within and outside the UK, for many not just Muslims.  But the dissonance between this work and the much needed critique of the corrupt state and wider political systems, and their immoral political narratives must be broached.  We lack a leader like Imam Cassiem, but we have his and the words of others like him, bequeathed to us beyond (our self-imposed) boundaries.

We had some moments that could have been the beginnings of this.  The Union of Muslim Organisations (UMO, founded in 1970) wrote to the three main political parties in the run up to the 1979 general election.  The letter spoke to the situation of Muslims as a minority in the UK, its concerns were domestic.  Its demands, in many ways modest, have still not been met.  There is a lesson in this for us as to why not, to explore elsewhere.  What strikes me is that I cannot see a leading Muslim organisation today writing in such terms, and making such demands.  I remember how the elders of UMO like its founder Dr Syed Aziz Pasha were viewed by the generations who followed.  They saw him as out of touch and old school.  Conversations in these last weeks, many of which I have been involved in about the idea of the Muslim vote, lobbying for a ceasefire etc, have spoken about the bargaining style and submissive nature of leaders of yore.  I challenge every Muslim organisation in the UK today to write to the incoming government in the terms that UMO did in 1979 demanding:


  1. Application of Muslim Family Law to the Muslim community through parliamentary legislation.

  2. Declaring the two Muslim religious Festivals, namely, Eid-ul-Fitr (Ramadan festival) and Eid-ul-Adha (Festival of Sacrifice) as official holidays to Muslim workers and employees in Government and non-Government establishments.

  3. Extending the Law on Blasphemy to protect non-Christian religions as well.

  4. Provision of single-sex schools at secondary school level, particularly for girls.

  5. Provision of halal food to Muslim children during lunch at schools.

  6. Imparting of lessons on Islamic education to be taught by Muslim teachers to Muslim children in State schools.

  7. Giving a slightly-extended lunch break to Muslim employees on Fridays enabling them to perform congregational prayers in Mosques.

  8. Allowing circumcision of male Muslim children under the National Health Act.”


Go on.  I dare you.  What are you worried about and why are you waiting?

There are no demands for political representation, for a just foreign policy.  These are demands for equality of faith practice, in certain ritualistic aspects, only.

The fact that main organisations have not spoken thus for decades to government, as if, as UMO did express, they have a right to speak to the political class and make demands in this way, speaks to the mindset and cultural crisis we face.

The other example of bold (much bolder) reimagining of a Muslim politics, was in many ways a painful one. It came this week whilst I was on a panel, and then the following morning by a friend:  it was of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain (MPGB).  It tried at its inauguration in 1991/2 to deliver on the aims and aspirations of the Muslim Manifesto.  The manifesto, circulated in 1990 amongst Muslim communities in the UK, spoke boldly to the political system and amongst its maxims, this at the outset struck me on reading today:

“Muslims will resist and fight all forms of oppression.”


Quoting further from the beginning of the document:

“This manifesto is based on the following assumptions:

  1. that Muslims in Britain have to accept neither subservience as their inevitable and permanent condition nor the disintegration of their identity, culture and religion;
    2. that, despite being a minority, Muslims here can define and pursue goals compatible with the goals of the global Ummah, the world community of Muslims, of which they are an integral part;
    3. that Muslims in Britain need to create institutions and mobilise resources in pursuit of these goals;
    4. that for Muslims this is also the only way to secure an honourable place in the wider British society;
    5. that the option of “integration” and/or “assimilation” that is on offer as official policy in Britain must be firmly resisted and rejected.

“Maxim: Muslims must develop their own identity and culture within Britain and as part of a global Muslim community, the Ummah.”


Creating institutions, rejecting the integration / assimilation binary and creating different ways of thinking about ourselves and wider society, doing all of this with a view to the transnational as well as the domestic, the former guaranteeing honour and respect in the latter.  It is so beautiful.  The collapse of MPGB before it could really even begin, even I would argue before Dr. Kalim Siddiqui, its leader passed away in 1996, hurts.  I was towards the end of it, a part of it and I thought I had forgotten the betrayal those of us who left felt, as it imploded.

Islamic Human Rights Commission was born out of the experience.  Reading the Manifesto today (I confess I don’t think I had read it when part of MPGB), I can see some of its ideas travelled to the everyday of IHRC.  But IHRC was never set up to be a representative body.  Its work covers the functions of many of the institutions we might have had, had the MPGB project survived.  Its demise, mistakes and the external and internal attacks on it that prevented MPGB’s realisation, need to be understood.  The Muslim Manifesto needs to be rediscovered by the next generation, because until now, it (and MPGB) barely get a footnote mention, if that, in the ever expanding write ups of British Muslimness in academia, often times by Muslims themselves.  The rivalries, and sectarian narratives that were levelled to malign the project exist almost thirty years after the project ended.  That in itself is a testimony to the power of a good idea.

To be clear, I don’t want to revive the MPGB.  What we need though is the spirit, defiance and imagination of the UMO letter or the Muslim Manifesto, or of any of the other myriad documents and projects in the UK and elsewhere since, that have been maligned by different iterations of the British state and demonised by its enforcers and sycophants in Muslim communities.  I have taken a step back from the day to day of IHRC since 2019, but the upset of seeing colleagues’ amazing work denigrated or ignored by ‘leaders’ of the communities it most benefits, never ceases.  I can only imagine how much this experience is repeated across the mobilised parts of our grassroots.  On the flip side, if you want to find an existing good idea or project, follow the demonisation.


Back to the system: Is there really no hope?

There are the small ‘fixes’ to the British political system.  Things we can do along the way to get service delivery (should we ever regain a head of steam to demand them en masse again).  Those much problematised local mobilisations in support of local MPs –  where communities have conceded their second class citizenship and delivered their vote in exchange for services – ultimately delivered said services.  So long as this is not the model writ large (e.g. where for Syrian ‘liberation’, many of us aligned with the US and UK government agenda at the expense of the Palestinians) but just another form of advocacy to acquire the means of survival, then why not?  Perhaps also, though, that model needs to recognise its power and punish said local MP, and get someone ‘better’ in.  That is worth the try, however poor that ‘better’ is, however much of a muchness all possible candidates for the job usually are.  Rochdale style insurgencies are rare, but if we can they are still worth the while as one of a gamut of protest methods.  Protest.  Nothing else.

Then there is a change of the way votes are cast and MPs chosen.  Unlike many countries, the UK’s first past the post system renders all votes cast other than those of winning candidates in constituencies, useless.  Calls for proportional representation have punctuated political debates for decades.  With PR, parliamentarians are chosen according to vote share (there are slightly different models to choose from), meaning that smaller parties can get representatives into parliament.  In some countries those smaller parties end up part of a governing coalition as no one party can easily get a majority.  The argument against this has often been used in the UK context, that this will allow the far-right into parliamentary politics.  In the current moment, the examples of the victory of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally in France, and Geert Wilders Party for Freedom in the Netherlands are two examples of the rightward trend that gives credence to this argument, with the UK looking as if it has somehow kept a centrist politics with the Conservative-Labour duopoly.

Except for this.  The far-right has been in mainstream politics for decades now in the UK.  Not in its skinhead and jackbooted versions, but in the adoption of its policies and narratives (on immigration, minorities, ‘national’ culture and values).  We have nothing to lose, as Muslims and other racialised groups, in a change of system.  What we stand to gain is maybe some sort of parliamentary representation – but again, so what when the establishment remains committed to the injustices this whole conversation has arisen around again?

Perhaps, we are back to the idea of spoiling our ballot papers, that most British way of objecting to what is on offer.  The urge to scrawl ‘Palestine Will be Free’ across mine is hard to suppress.

These aren’t fixes to the main problem: whether you want to call it Oligarchy / Dictatorship / Taghut or some other, it’s the system in its entirety that doesn’t work because it is not based on a system that works towards justice – just towards the narrow, selfish interests of the few.


Back to the protest on 5th July?

With the genocide in Gaza escalating daily, its horrors normalised by political establishments still imagining the world as theirs for consumption, its peoples expendable along the way, what can we do to effect a revolutionary politics come Friday 5th July?

Whoever is in power, whatever protest message we have sent with our votes, what will change?  We know the answer already if we are honest.  For Gaza nothing.  It may be possible that the incoming government is even worse on the issue.   Putting our energies into a long term lobbying / Muslim bloc vote strategy has not and cannot make this better.

However there is another way our conversation (and I blame myself first) about using these elections to help Palestine, has been damaging.  The conversations, the demonstrations before that, the endless social media posts decrying (rightly) the murder of women and children, the slaughter of innocents, has helped to both disempower Palestinians themselves in the narrative of their own liberation, and those who, like the Palestinians, have been putting their lives on the line for their liberation.  I am talking about the resistance.  It’s not something we have been doing much.

When Palestinian, Lebanese, and other fighters have laid down their lives battling Israeli forces in these months and for so many years before, we have been (largely) silent. When Yemenis – themselves starved and besieged – have taken to the seas to stop military supply lines to the Israeli regime, we have been more forthcoming until of course the state pressures us by new laws or just threats into silence.  We gave up following the breadcrumbs between all these movements that takes us back to the Islamic Republic of Iran a long time ago.

It is not easy, there are so many laws that curtail speech for us to fall foul of, but we really can’t be silent any more.  Not if we are to have the beginnings of a revolutionary politics in this time of genocide.  We must not only acknowledge the genocide, but also those who have been and are resisting it.  Normalising and making known their resistance, is the minimum we can do.  Without that acknowledgement our acts become part of the mechanism that sidelines and invisibalises them.  Worse, we lend credence to the narratives that they must be exterminated.  Let’s be clear, that resistance is what is holding the Israeli regime at bay.  Not us and our protest votes, and definitely not us with our bloc votes.

Imam Achmad Cassiem reflected many times on the nature of Islamic movements in the current era, and whether they met a revolutionary threshold.  One of his criteria is that those resisting oppression must not be giving maximum sacrifice for minimum gain. In other words they need to fight for something not just against something.  In our fear and naivety we have inadvertently come in between this revolutionary moment, its adherents and their goals.  Without recognising the maximum sacrifice of the resistance, we are inadvertently minimising their goals.

Let’s make that recognition the political change for today.  Let’s make that our start.

Arzu Merali is a writer and researcher based in London, UK.  Find out more about her on this site.  Follow her on X and Instagram @arzumerali.