The Islamic Institution of Shura (Mutual Consultation)


National UK Shura 2018 | AMA UK

Adam Walker, UK

Khilafat is the purest manifestation of Islamic leadership in the absence of a Prophet. As has been expounded by Hazrat Shah Waliullahrh (d. 1762), a great saint of Islam, as a representative of a Prophet, the Khalifa forms the living heart of the spiritual and temporal body that is Islam and the Muslim Umma; further, that the Khalifa is the recipient of Divine inspiration and blessing from Almighty Allah, which is in turn circulated throughout the body of the Umma. (Izalat al-khafa ‘an khilafat al-khulafa, Vol. 1, p. 27)

This beautiful process has been described by the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, through the following vision:

“I saw in a vision that God’s bounties travel in the form of light to the Holy Prophet, on whom be the peace and blessings of Allah, and are absorbed into his chest and proceed thence in numberless tubes whereby they are communicated to every deserving person according to his share.” (Al Hakam, 28 February 1903, p. 7)

While the true reality of Khilafat is bestowed by Almighty Allah on the Khalifa in order to properly function, the wider institution of Khilafat is comprised of many authoritative bodies and individuals all working to facilitate the support of the Khalifa in his objectives as a representative appointed on earth by Almighty Allah. One such institution is Shura or Majlis-e-Mushawarat, which enables the Khalifa to develop and grow the spiritual status of Muslims and society at large through an assessment of the fluid opinions and needs of the Umma and societies across the world.

What Does Shura Mean?

Shura  (شُورَى)is an Arabic word that literally means consultation and, in its simplest form, as an Islamic principle, calls upon Muslims to gather and, through articulate debate and sound reason, form productive opinions and strategies of implementation to be presented to the Khalifa.

There is clear mention of Shura in the Holy Quran, which, amongst other definitions, outlines it as a method by which consensus can be achieved, thus preventing ideological deadlocks that may ultimately lead societies toward disunity:

“And those, who hearken to their Lord, and observe Prayer, and whose affairs are decided by mutual consultation, and who spend out of what We have provided for them.” (The Holy Quran, Ch.42: V.39) 

Writing about this verse, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra explains that it sets out the broad principle of governance on which an Islamic state ought to be based upon. Writing in his Tafsir-e-Kabir, Huzoorra noted:

“This verse lays down (mutual consultation) as the basic principle which should guide Muslims in the transaction of their national affairs. This simple word contains the nucleus of a representative form of government of which the West is so proud. The Khalifa, or Head of the Islamic State, is bound to take counsel with the representatives of the people when he is to take a decision of vital national importance.”

When studying the life and example of the Holy Prophetsa of Islam, it quickly becomes clear that consultation is of the utmost importance. The Holy Prophetsa never shied away from consulting his Companionsra, and even people who were considered the opponents of Islam, on a variety of issues. Hazrat Aishara, the beloved wife of the Holy Prophetsa, is reported to have said:

“The Holy Prophet was most solicitous in consulting others in all matters of importance.”

This was despite the fact that the Holy Prophetsa did not require the advice of those around him. According to Muslims, he was the best of decision makers amongst Almighty Allah’s blessed creation and enjoyed a connection to his Creator whereby he was constantly under the guidance of Almighty Allah. 

Therefore, an individual who is charged with the responsibility of forming part of the process of Shura is a trustee and has an obligation to dispatch that trust with due diligence. 

At times, a trust can be a matter of life and death. For example, during the Battle of Badr, the Holy Prophetsa sought the consultation of his Companions regarding the strategic placement of the heavily outnumbered Muslim army. On taking the advice of Ibn al-Mundhir and other companions, the Holy Prophetsa decided to adjust his strategy and set up camp at a different location. There are countless other examples of Shura in practice during the lifetime of the Holy Prophetsa.

Shura and Khilafat

As mentioned earlier, Shura is an integral feature within the institution of Khilafat and Islam. Highlighting this point, Hazrat Umarra bin al-Khattab, the second Khalifa of the Prophetsa, went so far as to say:

لا خلافة الا بالمشورة

“There is no Khilafat except [that it involves] consultation”

The natural evolution and development of any growing state dictates that its dominion eventually expands over people of diverse societies and cultures. 

The dilemma thus faced by the early Islamic State was how to constructively ascertain the collective and representative opinions, advice and proposals of the Umma. The answer to this question is set out in the below verse of the Holy Quran in which Muslims are instructed to consult with one another by way of Shura:

“And those, who hearken to their Lord, and observe Prayer, and whose affairs are decided by mutual consultation, and who spend out of what We have provided for them.”

This represents the core principle of Shura, yet there are also other benefits to this institution of mercy. The following are some of these benefits as set out by Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra:

1. The Khalifa or the Amir comes to know the views of his followers

2. He is helped in arriving at a correct decision

3. Representative Muslims get an opportunity to think about, and take a personal interest in, important State affairs, thus receiving most useful training in matters of administration

4. The Khalifa is enabled to judge the mental and administrative capabilities of different individuals, which helps him to assign the right work to the right person

5. It enables him to know the aptitude, aspirations and tendencies as well as the moral and spiritual condition of the different members of his community, and thus he becomes enabled to affect an improvement, wherever necessary, in his people

The institution of Shura is, therefore, not something to be taken lightly; it is a living and evolving entity that performs a key function in sustaining certain aspects of an Islamic State. 

A second important function of Shura that we learn from the above, is that it also enables the Khalifa to measure the capacity of those who are at his disposal. For the opinions made manifest during this process, coupled with the manner in which they are articulated, present the Khalifa with a direct reflection of the capacity of his devotees, the Muslim community as a whole and their aspirations – spiritual and temporal.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat

Shura forms a central artery within the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat, and its genesis across the five successors to the Promised Messiahas has resulted in a well-developed model of Shura within the Jamaat. 

The Shura officially gathers once a year and falls directly under the Khalifa, with no intermediary between the two. The council consults on administrative matters relating to finance, education, missionary projects and other affairs of the community – forwarding its’ consensus and proposals to the Khalifa for consideration.

Within the Jamaat, Majlis-e-Shura also acts to help to pre-emptively resolve any prospective issue that might arise between differing parties and thus strengthen the bonds of brotherhood. 

In March 1908, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Ira launched an initiative called Majma al-Ikhwan (an Association of Brothers), where he published several guidelines for the implementation of this proposal with the second one being, “Mutual consultations and prayers should be the tool of cooperation.” (Al Hakam, 10 March 1908)

In addition to the formal system of Shura, there also exists a personal system whereby members can either arrange a sitting (mulaqat) with the Khalifa or write to him directly and discuss any issue they feel to be of importance. It is not uncommon for new initiatives to be put into motion as a result of direct communication. 

This cannot be said to be an absolute form of Shura, as described above but does share many of the benefits of the Institution of Shura. Commenting on the system of mulaqats, with regards to the practice of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Ira – which is indicative of all five Ahmadi Khalifas – Hazrat Chaudhry Muhammad Zafrulla Khanra said in an interview, “He was blessed with a regal personality, a commanding stature, and his court was open to each and every one.” (The Way of the Righteous, p. 199)

Concluding Thoughts

Shura is an integral part of not only Islamic Governance but also the social structures upon which society is built. In essence, the institution of Shura offers each and every individual, tribe, community, religion and nation, a voice by which it can actively affect change within their wider communities. It provides a safe and proactive medium by which new and innovative issues can be assessed so as to ascertain what is best for the collective and the individual.

The real issue which faces Muslims is how to react to, and value, this blessed institution? While Shura is a central pillar of Islam, a mercy, its full benefit can only be realised, God willing, if those entrusted with partaking in it recognise and react to its true worth.

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