Knowingly voting for candidates with criminal record or taking a bribe to vote are un-Islamic and sinful. This was stated by Darul Uloom Deoband, the seat of Sunni Islam in India, in a fatwa (edict).
"Voting is akin to giving testimony in Islam. By voting, a voter provides testimony that the candidate is suitable and would fulfil all duties. A false testimony is a sin," the seminary said, responding to a fatwa sought by the Ghaziabad-based Social Awareness Society.
According to the electoral data, around 40% of candidates who get elected in India have a criminal record and voters are often courted with bribes.
Former Chief Election Commissioner N Gopalaswami welcomed the fatwa and said: "As politicians fail to act, religious organizations have risen to the occasion."
Experts said Deoband's fatwa shows that, for Muslims, the presence of the Sharia as a source of legislation does not conflict with the democratic values or its processes.
According to most scholars, there is no inherent conflict between Islam and democracy but some interpretations of Islam -- such as those of the al-Qaeda and radical Islamists - are seen clashing with democratic ideals.
"I think that Islam as a set of values emphasises equality, transparency and accountability of leaders. So, Islam could not be compatible with a government that would take away these values," Akhtarul Wasey, head of Islamic Studies department of Jamia Millia Islamia said.
Deoband's fatwa outlines five principles that apply on voters, when interpreted through Islamic norms.
First, voting amounts to giving evidence and giving wrong evidence is a sin.
Secondly, voting for reasons of money or under pressure are "not permissible".
Third, the best among candidates should be voted.
Fourth, voting for a person from whom there is a risk of harm is un-Islamic.
Finally, if all candidates are found unsuitable, then voting should be done after consultation.
"If a candidate commits a sin after winning, the voter will also be accountable," fatwa said.