Shura

Tribal and religious leaders gather following a shura held by Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kandahar.

Shura (Arabic: شُورَىٰ‎, shūrā) is an Arabic word for "consultation". The Quran and the Prophet Muhammad encourage Muslims to decide their affairs in consultation with those who will be affected by that decision.

Shura is mentioned as a praiseworthy activity often used in organizing the affairs of a mosque, Islamic organizations, and is a common term involved in naming parliaments.

Shura in Islam

Sunni Muslims believe that Islam requires all decisions made by and for the Muslim societies to be made by shura of the Muslim community and believe this to be the basis for implementing representative democracy.[1] Traditionally however, the Amir, Sultan or Caliph would consult with his wazirs (ministers) and make a decision, after taking into consideration their opinions.

Shia Muslims say that Islam requires submission to existing rulers if they are correctly appointed, so long as they govern according to Sharia or Islamic law. This is a more traditional approach, characteristic of many centuries of Islamic history (see History of Islam).

The difference between the two appears more semantic than actual—the latter accept that the rulers must be accounted in all aspects of ruling, to ensure affairs are managed in the best possible way whether decisions were taken through consultation or not.

Shura in the Qur'an

  • The first mention of the Shura in the Qur'an comes in the 2nd Sura of Qur'an 2:233 in the matter of the collective family decision regarding weaning the child from mother's milk. This verse encourages that both parents decide by their mutual consultation about weaning their child.
  • The 42nd Sura of Qur'an is named as Shura.[2] The 38th verse of that Sura suggests that shura is praiseworthy life style of a successful believer. It also suggests that people whose matter is being decided be consulted. The Qur'an says:

"Those who hearken to their Lord, and establish regular Prayer; who (conduct) their affairs by mutual consultation among themselves; who spend out of what We bestow on them for Sustenance" [are praised] [3]

  • The 159th verse of 3rd Sura orders Muhammad to consult with believers. The verse makes a direct reference to those (Muslims) who disobeyed Muhammad, indicating that ordinary, fallible Muslims should be consulted. The Qur'an says:

Thus it is due to mercy from God that you deal with them gently, and had you been rough, hard hearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you; pardon them therefore and ask pardon for them, and take counsel with them in the affair; so when you have decided, then place your trust in God; surely God loves those who trust.[4]

The first verse only deals with family matters. The second proposed a lifestyle of people who will enter heavens and is considered the most comprehensive verse on shura. The third verse advises on how mercy, forgiveness and mutual consultation can win over people.

Muhammad made all his decisions in consultation with his followers unless it was a matter in which God has ordained something. It was common among Muhammad's companions to ask him if a certain advice was from God or from him. If it was from Muhammad, they felt free to give their opinion. Some times Muhammad changed his opinion on the advice of his followers like his decision to defend the city of Madinah by going out of the city in Uhad instead of from within the city.

Arguments over shura began with the debate over the ruler in the Islamic world. When Muhammad died in 632 CE, a tumultuous meeting at Saqifah selected Abu Bakr as his successor. This meeting did not include some of those with a strong interest in the matter—especially Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law; people who wanted Ali to be the caliph (ruler) (later known as Shia ) still consider Abu Bakr an illegitimate leader of the caliphate.

In later years, the followers of Ali (Shi'atu Ali) as the ruler of Muslims became one school of thought, while the followers of Abu Bakr became the Sunni school of thought.

The Sunni school of thought believe that shura is recommended in the Qur'an (though some classical jurists maintained it is obligatory), The Qur'an, and by numerous hadith, or oral traditions of the sayings and doings of Muhammad and his companions. They say that most of the first four caliphs, or rulers of Islam, whom they call the Four Rightly-guided Caliphs, were chosen by shura. (See Succession to Muhammad, Umar ibn al-Khattab, The election of Uthman, and Ali Ibn Abi Talib.)

The Shi'a school of thought believe that Muhammad had clearly indicated that Ali was his appointed infallible ruler of Muslim nation regardless of shura, a recommendation that was ignored by the first three caliphs. Shi'a do not stress the role of shura in choosing leaders, but believe that the divine vice-regent is chosen by God, or Allah, from the lineage of Muhammad (Ahl al-Bayt). The largest Shi'a sect believes that the current imam is in "occultation", hidden away until the last days, but there are minority Shi'a who follow leaders believed to be infallible imams.

Shura and the caliphate

During and after Imam Ali's tenure as caliph, the Muslim community fell into civil war. Power was eventually grasped by the Ummayad caliphs and then by the Abbasid caliphs. There were also rival caliphates in Egypt and Al-Andalus (today's Spain and Portugal), and in the Indian subcontinent. The Ottoman Caliphate was officially dissolved by the newly founded Grand National Assembly of Turkey in 1924.

Few of the later caliphs had anything but nominal control over the many Islamic states, and none were chosen by shura; all reached power by inheritance. The Muslim clergy counseled submission to rulers but also stressed the duty of the ruler to rule by shura. They based this recommendation on the passages from the Qur'an mentioned above. The verses indicate that shura is praiseworthy but do not indicate who should be consulted, what they should be consulted about, or whether the ruler or the shura should prevail in the event the two do not agree.

Other Languages
العربية: شورى
Deutsch: Schūrā
español: Shura (islam)
فارسی: شورا
français: Choura
한국어: 슈라
Bahasa Indonesia: Syura
italiano: Shura
Bahasa Melayu: Syura
Nederlands: Majlis al-Shura
русский: Шура (ислам)
suomi: Šuura
українська: Шура (іслам)