Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim
A VITAL PROCESS AND INSTITUTION IN ISLAM
Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq
A Draft Paper; Not for Citation
How are decisions made in an Islamic society? How do Muslims conduct themselves when it involves decision-making as a group? Why more than fourteen out of fifteen hijrah centuries the history of Muslim Ummah is stained with the legacy of absolute rulership of monarchs, despots, autocrats, and totalitarian regimes? Why in our contemporary time, Muslim societies are burdened by the hereditary monarchy, military dictators, autocratic regimes, or dysfunctional (pseudo) democracies? How do we overcome our current problems? How do we build a viable, dynamic, and prosperous future for the Muslim Ummah that would also enhance the welfare of the humanity as well? Islam as a complete code of life, of course, has answers to these questions. Unfortunately, Muslims often do not take adequate interest in probing into these concerns of utmost importance.
We cannot pretend that identifying relevant questions and determining correct answers are in any way easy. These complex issues are indeed like truly challenging puzzles. Nevertheless, like all puzzles, these problems are also solvable. The scope of this brief paper is very limited. It describes and examines one aspect of this puzzle, that is Shura (mutual consultation).
- SOME IMPORTANT PREMISES
- Dogmatic vs. Problem-solving Approach
As Muslims we often have dogmas that we fail to relate to practical problems of our lives. Islam is not merely a set of dogmas. It is a source of complete, practical guidance (Huda; Hidayah) on the basis of a set of creeds that require a commitment on the part of its adherents to know, understand, and utilize to organize and reorganize their lives in the way Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala desires. Islam does not ask us to be dogmatic, that is to accept a set of creeds blindly or without any relevance to practical problems of our lives.
We often ignore the fact that Islam is a guide for solving our problems. It provides a basic framework or scheme that, when combined with our creative abilities, competent efforts and cooperative involvement, can solve our practical problems and help us become successful in the life Hereafter.
- Our Contemporary Situation
Muslims are identified in al-Qur'an as Khaire Ummah (the best community), Ummah al-Wasat (the balanced community), and Shuhada-i-alannas (the witness over mankind). These are of course characteristics of the "ideal community" envisioned by al-Qur'an. Let us ignore these ideals that are so far removed from the reality now. The sad reality is that Muslim Ummah as a fragmented, dysfunctional society is frozen in the frame of history. Consider the followings:
- Muslim Ummah, fragmented into forty-plus "sovereign" nations under totalitarian or pseudo-democratic rules of a minority, privileged elites who are products of and subservient to the Western Kufr. These power structures are either apathetic or antagonistic toward Islam and totally insensitive to the problems and interests of the people unless such problems and interests coincide with their own personal or group interests.
- A large majority of the Muslim Ummah is experiencing for long time widespread deprivation, exploitation, oppression, and injustice on a sustained basis.
- Muslim societies are characterized by dualism and maldistribution of resources at all levels.
- Moral values are decaying rapidly and social cohesion is seriously endangered.
- Muslim societies as a whole are dependent on the global power structure of the contemporary Western Kufr and Jahiliyyah.
- Violence and conflict on one hand, and lack of stability and freedom on the other have become a permanent reality in the Muslim societies.
- How Do We Overcome These Problems?
The topic of this paper, Shura, is presented here in the perspective outlined above. If we believe in Islam, then there must be clear and adequate guidance for solving these problems. Furthermore, if there is relevant guidance, then we are duty bound to make every possible effort to utilize such guidance straighten our circumstances.
- A Reordering of Priorities and Sensitivities is a Must
The first step toward developing an appreciation for Shura is to recognize the problem of "misplaced priorities" that often result into lopsided sensitivity on our part. The nature of the problem can be illustrated using the example of a dysfunctional thermostat that does not register the relevant information as it is supposed to.
Consider the sensitivity common Muslims often display when they see a person not praying without a Toupi (cap) or wearing a pant/pajama that hangs below the ankle or Ameen aloud after reciting Surah al-Fatiha in prayer. Many quarrels, disputes culminating even in riots have occurred in our societies. The same Muslims do not mind living under unislamic rules, they would not stand up against injustice and oppression in their societies. It is not even uncommon that the same people might engage in bribery, nepotism, or even inflicting physical or property damage to others.
In contrast, there are Muslims whose attachment to Islam is merely on an intellectual plain. They would claim themselves as Muslims, but would not offer salat, would not attire themselves or conduct themselves in the social arena according to clear and unequivocal guidance of Islam. We all would agree that if someone work for a institution as an employee, then the employee does not determine the work rules, the employer does. While as Muslims we know that we are servants of Allah, we often make a cocktail out of Islam as it pleases us. In this world we may have this freedom to choose as it pleases us, but we do not have any freedom to choose the consequence, particularly in the life Hereafter.
This problem of misplaced priority is rooted in our culture and long history based on the legacy of the "counter-revolution." When Muslims show sensitivity about an uncovered head during the Salat, he is simply showing his love and concern for Islam as he has understood within our cultural environment, however remote that is from the teachings of Islam. Therefore, having a sensitivity like a thermostat is an indispensable trait of Iman and Taqwa; however, a dysfunctional thermostat may mislead us significantly.
- A Historical Perspective: Continuity vs. Discontinuity Interpretation
Many of the contemporary problems the Ummah is facing today are probably rooted in a possible gap in knowing understanding our own history. Muslims regard the period under the leadership of the Prophet (s) and the Khilafat-e-Rashida. If the establishment of the an Islamic society in Madinah in the form of an Islamic State is recognized in our history as a Revolution, then the transition from Khilafah to Mulukiyyah (hereditary monarchy) was a nothing short of a "counter-revolution." This scope of this paper would not allow any further elaboration here.
Those who believe that the destruction of Khilafah and introducing Mulukiyyah did not create any fundamental discontinuity in our history have hard time determining the root of the prevalence of totalitarianism, alienation of Muslim masses, disruptive power struggle, dualism, and totally skewed distribution of wealth and resources in our contemporary time. On the other hand, those who believe that the shift from Khilafah to Mulukiyyah was a counter-revolution recognize the existence of a fundamental discontinuity in our history. To them, our legacy of 14 centuries of post-Khilafah period is tied to, based on, and continuation of that counter-revolution, not the original revolution brought about under the leadership of our beloved Prophet (s).
- SHURA IN QUR'AN
- As an Institution:
"It is part of the mercy of Allah that you deal gently with them. Were you severe or harsh-hearted, they would have dispersed from around you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in affairs (of moment). Then, when you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah. Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him)" [al Ale-Imran, 3:159].
Muslims often understand Shura as an institution only. Whenever the hear about Shura, the often readily associate it with the expression majlis ash-Shura (the consultative assembly). However, Shura is not merely an institution and it cannot be understood in separation from the institution of Khilafah and in contradistinction to democracy and the democratic process. Once again, the scope of this paper limits us significantly.
However, more important than as an institution, Shura is the foundation of Khilafah, the participatory Islamic political system. Muslims also deeply confused about both Khilafah and democracy as they relate to us as Muslims. On one hand, some Muslims reject democracy altogether considering it unislamic. That allows many others to jump to the conclusion that Islam then is necessarily undemocratic, that it is inherently biased toward autocracy. On the other hand, there are other Muslims who have imbibed the spirit of democracy so much so that nothing short of democracy would satisfy them and Khilafah does not sound at all like democracy. So often they are ideologically up in arms against any politically-bent Islam.
The fact is that there is no reason to discard democracy altogether for us as unIslamic or embrace democracy considering Khilafah is not democratic enough when we realize that fundamentally democracy with two exceptions is not far from Khilafah. Following are the two exceptions:
- Questions on which an injunction exists in al-Qur'an or in the Sunnah, both of which constitute binding legislation; matters falling in this category are necessarily out of the scope, except when its purpose is only to interpret the injunction or to enforce it.
- Reaching a decision contradicting a legislative injunction in the Holy Qur'an or in the Sunnah.
Therefore, despite our historical experience, Muslims must accept this as a part of the creed--no less than that Salat is fard (obligatory) in Islam--that there is no room for autocracy, hereditary monarchy, totalitarian, or military rule. There must be accountability in both worlds. The political system in Islam must be based on the participation of Muslims in the political process through mutual consultation. It is this participation that is more important for Muslims to appreciate than having a majlis ash-Shura as an institution. Of course, such an institution would be an integral part of the political structure of an Islamic society.
Furthermore, Islamic society is necessarily based on constitutional rule, where such rules are based on al-Qur'an and al-Sunnah as was the case of the first-ever constitution the world has experienced at the time of the Prophet (s). For the same reason, no has the right to dissolve constitution, to impose martial law, to impose autocratic rule on the people. It is simply unislamic. As simple as that.
Indeed, to accept, or live in harmony under, an unislamic rule is contrary one's Iman. As Hadhrat Umar (r) stated based on his understanding of al-sunnah, "If anyone calls you toward him own Imarah (leadership) or imposes himself upon the people, it is not Halal for you not to kill him."
- As a Process:
"Whatever you are given (here) is but a convenience of this life: but that which is with Allah is better and more lasting: (It is) for those who believe and put their trust in their Rabb.
Those who avoid the greater crimes and shameful deeds, and when they are angry even then forgive.
Those who hearken to their Rabb, and establish regular prayer, who (conduct) their affairs by mutual consultation, who spend out of what We bestow on them for sustenance.
And those who, when an oppressive wrong is inflicted on them, (are not cowed but) held and defend themselves [ash-Shura, 42: 36-39]."
The reference to Shura in the context of the above-mentioned verses takes the importance of it to a higher plain, that is, not simply as an institution, but as a process. Often Muslims would consider these issues less important than issues of fundamental Ibadah such as salat. But in this verse, both salat and Shura have been placed together for those who want to attain success in the life hereafter.
Therefore, we have to recognize, rather accept this as a creed, that Shura is an indispensable aspect of the Islamic way of life, at all levels and at all times. Shura has to be practiced at the family and interpersonal level, at the community level, and at the highest level of the Ummah.
[Sorry, the rest of the article is incomplete; only the outline is provided.]
- SHURA AT THE FAMILY LEVEL
a. Consulting between spouses and among family members
- parents deciding about wedding for children;
- children deciding to go absolutely on their own;
- parents deciding about the children's career
b. Decisions through Shura:
Decision-making among equals
- giving preference to one another in mundane affairs.
- consensus is the best
- stronger feelings should be honored
- veto should be honored
V: Community Level
VI:. Ummah level
VII: EFFECTIVENESS OF SHURA
1. Niyyah: Intention sincere, not cosmetic
2. Knowledgeable and conscientious participation
3. Keeping the Ummatic (group) goals higher
4. proper set of mind:
- consciousness about one's own limitation
- argue one's case with wisdom, information, and dignity
- once decided, follow the group (one does not have to give up his opinion)
Misc.: Spirit of brotherhood (Bunyanum marsoos: a solid cemented/steel structure)
Index of my writings
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