The Concept of Shura (The Consultation)
Edited by Safaa Alshiraida (MAS Tarbiya Department)
During the conquest of Persia, the Persian army commander invited the Muslim commander to negotiate a way out of the battle. After listening to his offer, the Muslim leader replied: "I will give you an answer after I consult with my people." The Persian asked: "Aren't you their leader?" "Yes," the Muslim replied. The Persian said: "We do not appoint as commanders those who consult their soldiers." The Muslim said: "And that is why we always defeat you. We do not appoint as leaders those who do not make shura."
Definition of Shura:
The lexical meaning of the verb ashaara is "to get the honey out of its sources" Another meaning is to point to something. So, it is as if the one who engages in shura is helping to get the best out of something (first meaning) or is pointing to the right choice (second meaning).
According to the Shari'ah, shura means surveying the opinions of those who are knowledgeable in a certain subject in order to reach a ruling that is as close as possible to the truth. Thus, we understand the following:
First, in order to reach the proper conclusion, one should survey the opinions of all those who may be of help.
Second, in issues where a clear-cut text is available (i.e., from the Qur'an or Sunnah), shura is unnecessary because we already know the absolute truth regarding those matters.
Third, in order to reach to the best outcome, a thorough knowledge of the Shari'ah, experience in the subject matter, and mindfulness of Allah (swt) are indispensable.
The Necessity Of Shura:
Shura is one of the most important pillars of the Islamic system, as proven by the references to it made in the Qur'an and the Sunnah, the writings of the early as well as contemporary scholars, and the da'iahs.
I. Shura in the Qur'an:
Allah (swt) said to His Prophet (pbuh):
“Because of the Mercy of Allah you dealt with them gently. And were you severe, harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you. So pass over (their faults) and ask for (Allah's) Forgiveness for them, and consult them in the affair. Then when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah. Certainly Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him). (Qur'an 3:159)
Ibn Taymiyah said: "Shura is indispensable for any leader. Allah (swt) commanded (even) His Prophet to practice it." Al-Tabari said: "Allah (swt) has commanded His Messenger to consult his Companions in order to give the Ummah the example to follow."
Allah (swt) describes the believers as:
"Those who answer the call of their Lord and offer their prayers perfectly, and who (conduct) their affairs by mutual consultation, and who spend of what We bestow on them." (Qur'an 42:38)
Ibn Kathir said: "Shura is mentioned after answering the call of Allah (Islam), and performing salah, which is the pillar of Islam. After shura is mentioned, zakah and sadaqa (charity) are mentioned. So, mentioning shura between salah and zakah is an indication of its importance."
II. Shura in the Sunnah:
The fact that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who is the best of Allah's creatures and who was guided by wahiy (revelation) from Allah (swt), practiced shura frequently with his Companions is clear evidence that it is obligatory upon all leaders. Abu Hurayrah, may Allah be pleased with him, said: "I have not seen anyone who consults with his followers more than the Prophet (pbuh)." The sirah of the Prophet (pbuh) is full of examples.
III. The Rightly Guided Caliphs (Al-Khulafa' Ar-Rashidun):
Maymun ibn Mahran said: "When Abu Bakr was faced with a problem, he would look into the Book of Allah. If he found an answer he would follow it; otherwise, he would ask the people if they knew what the Prophet (pbuh) might have done in such a situation. Someone might tell him that the Prophet had done so-and-so. Otherwise, he would gather the leaders of the people and consult with them. Umar also did the same."
Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, said: "Consultation brings about guidance; and he who follows his own opinion takes a great risk. Thinking before acting saves you the regret afterwards."
IV. Early Scholars:
Most early scholars agree that the command from Allah (swt) to His Messenger (pbuh) means that shura is mandatory and not optional.
Imam Maududi, may Allah have mercy on him, wrote in Towards the Islamic Constitution: "Allah (swt) has shown in his book that Muslims must conduct their affairs by shura. He has also commanded His Messenger to consult with his followers. This clearly shows that shura is an obligation on the head of state."
Imam Al-Banna, may Allah have mercy on him, said: "It is the right of the Muslim Ummah to watch over the ruler very closely, and to advise him of what they think is right. And, he has to consult them."
Sayyed Qutb, may Allah have mercy on him, said: "The verse and whose affairs are conducted by shura (Surat ash-Shura, 42:32), was revealed in Makkah (i.e., before the establishment of the Muslim state). This means that shura is not confined to state affairs, but extends to include all aspects of the life of the Muslim community."
Scope of Shura:
Shura should be practiced in state affairs as well as in matters related to the Shari'ah when there is no clear evidence from the Qur'an or Sunnah. Some examples are appointing or discharging a leader; correcting a leader's misconduct; setting up a financial system for the state, group, or community; setting priorities for Islamic work; planning and setting strategies for the state, group, or community; and setting the rules of the Shari'ah where there is no clear evidence from either the Qur'an or Sunnah.
It should be noted that it is unnecessary and impractical, as well as nearly impossible, to conduct shura in all matters. Rather, it should be restricted to the more important issues.
Whom To Consult:
The importance of shura as way of preserving the Ummah in terms of spiritual as well as material aspects necessitates that those consulted should possess certain qualities, such as a full knowledge of the subject matter and the people's respect and acceptance.
From the sirah of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), we see that sometimes he consulted ordinary Muslims in matters that were directly related to them, such as moving out of Madinah for the Battle of Uhud. In other instances, he consulted with some of his Companions, such as what to do with the captives of Badr.
So, who should be consulted depends upon the particular subject in question. If the matter is one of direct importance to ordinary people, the leader should either consult them or consult those whom they trust. On the other hand, if the matter in question requires specific knowledge, specialists in that matter should be consulted.
The Method of Conducting Shura:
The Shari'ah does not specify how shura should be conducted or how many people need to be consulted under all circumstances. It has neither specified a way to select such people nor has it specified a method for surveying opinions or collecting votes. All the Shari'ah does is to show that shura is an obligation on the leader and, at the same time, a right for the Ummah. It also made it clear that Muslims should conduct their affairs by shura.
Other details of conducting shura have been left to the Ummah's discretion, which has to make decisions based upon its circumstances, level of organization, and nature of the social structure. So the Ummah may elect a Majlis ash-Shura (consultatory council) of competent and sincere Muslims whom the leader can consult in public matters. At the same time, the ruler has the right to consult specialists in a particular matter whether or not they are members of the elected majlis, or to consult the whole Ummah in matters that are really serious. Bylaws and procedures should be established for all of the different situations based upon the general Shari'ah principles.
It should be noted, however, that setting up rigid and sophisticated systems will not guarantee that shura is conducted properly. Islamic education and establishing pious Muslim individuals and families are indispensable in this respect. Mindfulness of Allah and a clear understanding of Islam should form the criteria for electing pious as well as competent representatives to the Majlis ash-Shura.
The Final Decision In Shura:
There are three schools of thought regarding shura's final outcome: Obeying it is optional, obeying it is mandatory, or it is up to the Ummah or community to decide (as specified in its bylaws) whether or not it is mandatory.
Thus, we could conclude that it is up to the Ummah or the Jama'ah to decide which school of thought to follow. The option chosen depends upon the circumstances and the stage of development. For example, when a Jama'ah is still forming and its members have not yet acquired enough knowledge and experience, the first opinion should be adopted. When enough experience and knowledge have been acquired, the outcome of their shura should be considered final.
In all stages, however, individuals should be trained to think and express their opinion, and the leader should always consult with them. Imam Hassan al-Banna, may Allah have mercy on him, adopted the first opinion in the early stages of forming his Jama'ah, and then later on adopted the second opinion.
Courtesy of InteractiveIslam.com