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 by Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. 
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, USA




(A Friday Khutbah on the topic of “Shoura” was delivered by the author of this article on Friday, May 9, 1997 at the Islamic Center of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky. The following is the TEXT of the Khutbah): 

The principle of shoura (consultation) is mentioned three places in the Qur’an. First “And consult them in the conduct of affairs.” (3:159).

Second in Surah Shura, we read “.., who (conduct) their affairs by mutual consultation.” (42:38).

Third, in Surah al—Nisa are these words: “If they wean the child by mutual consent and consultation     “ (2:233).


In the first two verses of the Qur’an, the words used are amr and shoura, which explain the deep significance of this principle. The word amr in Arabic is used to convey several meanings. In general, it includes every important instruction, order or action. Secondly, it is used to convey a command, ordinance, or decree, or to mean power and authority.’ Thirdly, it is used to express the Special Attributes of Allah, as mentioned in the Qur’an:7:54, 11:123, 3:154, 13:31, 17:85.


The word amr in the above two verses of the Qur’an (3:159, 42:38) is inclusive of all the affairs of the people which are of special significance and importance, whether relating to the government itself or the affairs (of the people). The word shoura is used in its derivations: mashwara and mashawarat, which mean: consultation, deliberation, conference, counsel or advice. In other words, it refers to hearing other people’s opinions on important matters. Thus, consultation in affairs - shawirhum fi’l—amr — means this:

the Prophet(SAS) is ordered and commanded (in an imperative sense, by the Sovereign) to take counsel with, and consult, his Companions in all important matters and affairs, including those concerning the government. In other words, he should find out their opinions in all affairs before making any final decisions.

 Likewise, the verse of Surah Shoura (42:38) means that in every matter which is of some significance, whether relating to government, any decree or ordinance, or any instruction or other matter, true Muslims always consult each other and discuss things among themselves before any final decision is made. Consultation, is an important pillar of the Islamic way of life, and to conduct the affairs of collective life without consultation is not only the way of ignorance but also an express violation of the law prescribed by Allah (SWT). When we consider why consultation has been given this importance in Islam, Maulana Maudoodi, points out that three things become obvious:

 First, that it is injustice that a person should decide a matter by his personal opinion and ignore others when it involves the interests of two or more persons. No one has the right to do as he likes in matters of common interest. Justice demands that all those whose interests are involved in a matter be consulted, and if it concerns a large number of the people, their reliable representatives should be made a party in consultation.

 Second, that a man tries to do what he likes in matters of common interest either because he wants to usurp the rights of others for selfish ends, or because he looks down upon others and regards himself as a superior person. Morally both these qualities are equally detestable, and a believer cannot have even a tinge of either of these in himself. A believer is neither selfish so that he should get undue benefits by usurping the rights of others, nor he is arrogant and self-conceited that he should regard himself as all—wise and all—knowing.

 Third, that it is a grave responsibility to give decisions in matters that involve the rights and interests of others. No one who fears God and knows what severe accountability for it he will be subjected to by his Lord, can dare take the heavy burden of it solely on himself. Such a boldness is shown only by those who are fearless of God and heedless of the Hereafter. The one who fears God and has the feelings of the accountability of the Hereafter, will certainly try that in a matter of common interest he should consult all the concerned people or their authorized representatives so as to reach, as far as possible, an objective and right and equitable decision, and if there occurs a mistake one man alone should not be held responsible for it.

 A deep consideration of these three things can enable one to fully understand that consultation is a necessary demand of the morality that Islam has taught to man, and departure from it is a grave immorality, which Islam does not permit. The Islamic way of life requires that the principle of consultation should be used in every collective affair, big or small. If it is a domestic affair, the husband and the wife should act by mutual consolation, and when the children have grown up, they should be consulted. If it is a matter concerning the whole family, the opinion of every adult member be solicited. If it concerns a tribe or a fraternity or the population of a city, and it is not possible to consult all the people, the decision should be taken by a local Shoura Council or Shoura Committee, which should comprise the trustworthy representatives of the concerned people according to an agreed method. If the matter concerns a whole nation, the head of government should be appointed by the common consent of the people, and he should conduct the national affairs in consultation with the leaders of opinion, whom the people regard as reliable, and he should remain at the helm of affairs only as long as the people themselves want him to remain in that position.

 No honest man can try to assume the leadership of a nation by force, or desire to continue in that position indefinitely, nor can think of coming into power by deception and then seek the people’s consent by coercion, nor can devise schemes so that the people may elect representatives to act as his advisers not by their own free choice but according to his will. Such a thing can be desired only by the one who cherishes evil intentions, and such a fraud against the Islamic principle of consultation can be practiced only by him who does not feel any hesitation in deceiving both God and the people, whereas the fact is that neither can God be deceived nor the people be so blind as to regard the robber, who is committing robbery in the bright day light openly, as their well-wisher and servant.

 The principle of consultation as enshrined in  amru-hum shoura baina-hum by itself demand five things:

 (1)        The people whose rights and interests are involved should have full freedom to express their opinion and they should be kept duly informed of how their affairs are being conducted. They should have the full right to check it and voice a protest if things go wrong. If they see no change for the better, then they should change their rulers. 

(2)   The person who is to be entrusted with the responsibility of conducting the collective affairs, should be appointed by the people’s consent, and this consent should be their free consent, which is not obtained through coercion, temptation, deception, and fraud, because in that case it would be no consent at all. 

(3)        The advisers to the head of the State should enjoy the confidence of the nation. People who become representatives by suppression or by expending wealth, or by practicing falsehood and fraud, or by misleading the public cannot be regarded as enjoying the confidence in the real sense. 

(4)        The advisers should give opinion according to their knowledge and faith and conscience and they should have full freedom of such expression of opinion. Instead, if the advisers give advice against their own knowledge and conscience1 under duress or temptation, or under party discipline, it will be treachery and dishonesty and not adherence to the Islamic principle of consultation. 

(5)    The advice that comes of the consensus of the advisers or the majority of the people, should be accepted. If a person or group of’ persons behave independently and act on one’s own whims, even after hearing the advice of others, consolation becomes meaningless. Allah does not say: “They are consulted in their affairs”, but says: “They conduct their affairs by mutual consultation.” The affairs be conducted according to what is settled by consensus or by majority opinion in consolation. 

Consultation is not independent and autocratic in conducting the affairs of the Muslims, but necessarily subject to the bounds that Allah Himself has set by His legislation, and is subject to the fundamental principle: “It is for Allah to give a decision in whatever you may differ,” and “if there arises any dispute among you about anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger.” 

Legal Significance of Shoura 

The instructions of the Qur’an and the hadith of the Prophet (SAS) seem to indicate that in every matter in which there might be a difference of opinion, whether relating to any Command, Ordinance or Decree, government or otherwise, mutual consultation was to be followed, not only because it was the Sunnah and practice of Allah’s Messenger and his Companions, but because it was means of gaining Blessing in the Hereafter. And in all those affairs, which relate to the people (including government affairs, which all deal with or relate to public welfare or the general good of society), to take counsel with, and consult, the people is obligatory (Ibn Kathir). 

It was the general practice of the Prophet (SAS) always to consult his Companions on all public matters. When the Prophet was faced with the problem of whether to go towards the Quraish trade caravan or to the battlefield of Badr (to fight the Quraish army), he held a conference in Madinah and took counsel with them. Then about the selection of the campsite at  Badr, he accepted the advice of one of his Companions. At the time of the Battle of  Uhud, he held a conference on whether to fight the enemy from within or outside the city. Though he himself was inclined to fight from within the city, when he found that the majority was in favor of fighting the enemy from outside the city, he accepted their advice and marched to the battlefield of Uhud. Again, in the Battle of Ahzab (Trench), he consulted them and the final decision was made accepting the view of Salman Farsi (R.A.) to fight the enemy from behind the defense of deep, broad trenches. The city was protected by a ditch, which was dug along one side, because on the other three sides there were natural lines of defense in the way of mountains, palm trees and rocks. And when the state of affairs greatly worsened during the siege of the city, the Prophet (SAS) was of the opinion that peace should be made with the enemy on the condition of payment of one third of the fruit crop, but the Ansars did not agree to this, the proposal was dropped and the Prophet (SAS) accepted the decision of his Companions to continue fighting. In the campaign of Hudaibiyah, the Prophet (SAS) held a conference and consulted his Companions as to whether to attack the houses of the enemy. Abu Bakr Siddiq (R.A.) was of the opinion that they had come with the intention of performing Umra and not to fight with anyone. The Prophet  (SAS) acted on his opinion and the idea of attacking the enemy was dropped. Thus he often took counsel with his Companions on important matters, as well as in affairs of State. 

Abu Huraira (RA) narrated that the Prophet (SAS) said: “Consult a wise man (with intellect and understanding) and do not go against his advice; otherwise you will be sorry.” (Khatib Baghdadi) 

Members of the Majlisi- i-Shoura (members of the consultative Committee- council of ministers , MPs (Members of Parliament), Senators, or Congressmen) should have two qualities: (1) They should be people of understanding and intellect, who are sensible, intelligent and reasonable(dhu’l ‘aql  wa’l-ra’y, ulu’l—albab). (2) They should be obedient (to Allah) and pious. In short, they should be people of reason, intelligent and obedient to Allah (muttaqi), so that they may be fully trusted to give sound judgement and a truthful opinion. 

The Prophet (SAS) always consulted with men or women of integrity, knowledge(ahl  al-’ilm), expertise (ahl al-’aqd), keen insight (ahl al-hall) and intellect and understanding(ahl al-fahm wa’l-firasah). He also made a point of selecting influential persons from various tribes so that all their interests were well represented on the council. As Islam spread rapidly after the Victory of Makkah and many young persons of ability and influence entered into fold of the Faith, representation was extended to them and many of these new elements were included in the Consultative Council (Majlis—i-Shoura). 

Although the Prophet (SAS) is the recipient of Divine Revelation, as such, he needs no counsel. The Qur’an (3:159) commanded him to take counsel with, and consult, his Companions. This Command is not merely for the honor and sympathy (satisfaction) of his Companions. 

Shouraiyat (the institution of consultation) and mushwara (consultation, conference and counsel) are essential to the foundation of an Islamic government, and without it, no Muslim government can claim to be an Islamic government. Shouraiyat is one of the fundamental and basic principles of the Shari‘ah and al‘Din. And if any amir (ruler) does not consult people of knowledge (ahl’l ‘ilm) and experts in Din (ahl’l—Din), his removal and dismissal becomes obligatory, and this is a matter on which there is no disagreement.” 

Imam Ghazzali says that it is essential that the ruler should take counsel on all state matters from those who are learned (ahl’l­ 'ilm) and experts (ahl’l—hall wa’l ‘aqd). 

The Prophet (SAS) said: ‘ikhtilaf ulama’ ummati rahmah (the differences of opinion among the learned within my community are a (Sign of) Allah’s Grace and Mercy.         

  wa amruhum shoura baynahum

Literally “their communal business in consultation among

themselves.”            Surah Shoura 42: 38   

The word amr, refers to the affairs of the Islamic state, and these affairs, it stresses, must be conducted through consultation. This concept found a clear, practical expression in the time of the Prophet (SAS) and his Rightly Guided Caliphs, when every important matter was referred to the council. The first part of 42:38 lays stress on human beings’ relations with Allah. A close relationship with Allah tends to purify man of all the weakness, frailties and imperfections of his self (nafs) by rectifying his relations between his self and Allah. Once this personal relationship between one’s self and Allah is set right and built on a sound basis, one’s affairs with society are automatically corrected. On a personal level, it develops high moral qualities in man, as explained before, which pave his way to cordial, loving, friendly and cooperative relationship with people, and to dispensing his public obligations (huquq al-’ibad) with great enthusiasm, determination and a will to win the Pleasure of His Sovereign Lord. This is the natural consequence of a close relationship with Allah, for it unfolds the true realities of this life and its significance in the final analysis. 

And if there is any disagreement or dispute on any matter, they obey Allah and the Messenger and surrender their problem to them: “If you differ in anything among yourself, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day; this is best, and most suitable for final determination.” (4:59)

 The doctrine of Shoura (consultation) contains germs, seeds and wider implications, involving the fundamental principles of representative government, which in the course of time developed into democratic government, fir in England and then in other countries of the world, but nor before this basic doctrine had been planted in the centers of learning of England by scholars and scientists who had received their education in the Muslim universities of Cordova, Granada, Seville, Malaga, Lisbon (Alishbuna),Jaen, Salamanca, Toledo, and many others. 

The first Islamic Government of the Prophet (SAS) was the seed-bed in which the early seeds of representative government first germinated in Madinah, and from which it flowered, though dimly, in the gardens of Baghdad, Cordova, Seville and Toledo, and later in Lorraine and Latin Europe, coming to full bloom in the favorable and rich fields of England where it flowered fully and spread its fragrance to many other parts of the world. The foundation of representative government - government by the people, for the people and of the people — was first of all laid by the last of the Messengers of Allah, the Sovereign of the Universe, at Madinah. His successors did not nourish and develop this concept politically, but they did pass on to other nations and peoples the concepts of consultation, of freedom and of free will, along with other fields of knowledge and science. The benefits of intellectual freedom, arid the spirit of free inquiry and free discussion, were the fruits of Islamic civilization which ever remained fresh and radiated their seeds freely to all cultures and civilizations of the West as well as of the  East.


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