Amruhum Shura Baynahum
Their system is based on their consultation. (42:38)
The system of government of an Islamic State is based upon the above quoted verse. The extensive meaning this short verse encompasses and the guidance obtained from it about the political set-up envisaged by Islam need a detailed discussion, which follows.
The word Amr used in this verse has many meanings in Arabic. However, it is quite evident from the context and placement of this verse that here it means 'system'. This meaning has been incorporated in it from the depth found in its meaning of 'decree'. When the word 'decree' becomes related to people, it prescribes certain limits for itself and establishes certain rules and regulations. In such cases, it implies both the decrees which emanate from political authority and the collective affairs. A little deliberation shows that the English word 'system' is used to convey the same meaning.
Since the Qur'an has not specified it by any adjective, so all sub-systems which are part of the political system must be considered included in its connotation. In fact, all affairs of state like the municipal affairs, national and provincial affairs, political and social directives, rules of legislation, delegation and revocation of powers, dismissal and appointment of officials, interpretation of Islam for the collective affairs of life -- all come under the principle laid down in this verse. In other words, no area or department under an Islamic Government can be beyond the jurisdiction of this principle.
Next comes the word Shura. It is a verbal noun (Masdar) of the category Fu'la and means 'to consult'. Owing to the fact that it occurs as an inchoative (Khabr) in the given verse, the meaning of the verse is not the same as of Shawirhum fi'l amr. Fa idha 'azamta fa tawakkal 'alalah (Consult them in the affairs of the state and when you reach a decision, put your trust in Allah (3:159)), which is often quoted as its parallel. To convey the same meaning as this verse, the words should, perhaps, have been something like this: Wa fi'l-amri hum yushawarun which would mean: 'And in the affairs [of state] they are consulted'. In this case, it would have been necessary that in the whole society the rulers and the ruled be distinct. The ruler in such a case would have to be divinely appointed or nominated by an innocent Imam or be someone who had seized power by force. Whatever be the way he reached the position of head of state, he would have only been obligated to consult people in matters of national interest before forming his own opinion. He would not have been bound to accept a consensus or a majority opinion. Acceptance or rejection of an opinion would have rested on his own discretion. He would have all the right to accept a minority opinion and reject a majority one.
However, the style and pattern of the verse Amruhum Shura Baynahum (42:38) demands that even the head of an Islamic State be appointed through consultation; the system itself be based on consultation; everyone should have an equal right in consultation; whatever done through consultation should only be undone through consultation; everyone part of the system should have a say in its affairs, and in the absence of a consensus, the majority opinion should decide the matter.
The difference in the meanings of the two verses can be appreciated if the following example is kept in mind. If it is said: 'The ownership of this house shall be decided after consulting these ten brothers', then it means that only the ten brothers have the authority to make the decision and the opinion of anyone of them cannot prevail over the others. If all of them do not agree in the matter, a majority opinion would be decisive. But, if the above sentence is changed a little to 'In deciding the ownership of this house, these ten brothers shall be consulted', then this sentence only means that someone else has the final say. It will be his opinion which will finally be executed. The only thing he must do is to consult the ten brothers before forming his own opinion. Obviously, he cannot be forced to accept the consensus or majority opinion of the brothers.
Since, in the opinion of this writer, the collective system of the Muslims is based on Amruhum Shura Bainahum (42:38), the election of their ruler as well as their representatives must take place through consultation. Also, after assuming a position of authority they will have no right to overrule a consensus or a majority opinion of the Muslims in all the collective affairs.
The Prophet (sws) is reported to have said:
- Allah's hand is over the collectivity. Therefore, [when there arises a difference of opinion] follow the [opinion of the] majority. (Mustadrak, Kitabu'l-'Ilm)
Mawlana Abu'l-A'la Mawdudi comments on this verse in the following words:
- The words Amruhum Shura Bainahum (Their system is based on their consultation, (42:38)), by their nature and scope entail five things:
Firstly, people whose interests and rights relate to the collective affairs should be given the freedom to express their opinion, and they should be kept totally aware of the actual way in which their affairs are being run; they should also have the right to object and to criticize if they see anything wrong in the way their affairs are being conducted and the right to change those in charge if the faults are not rectified. It is outright dishonesty to forcibly silence people or to run affairs without taking them into confidence. No one can regard this attitude to be in accordance with this verse
- Secondly, the person who is to be entrusted to run the collective affairs of the people should be chosen through their absolute free consent. Consent obtained through force and intimidation, greed and gratification, deception and fraud is no consent at all. The ruler of a country is not one who obtains this position by hook or by crook; the real ruler is the person whom people choose freely without any compulsion.
- Thirdly, the people chosen for consultation should enjoy the confidence of the majority. Consequently, those who are worthy of consultation can in no way be regarded to enjoy the confidence of the people in the true sense if they acquire this position through force, extortion or fraud or by leading people astray.
Fourthly, the people who are consulted must express their opinions in accordance with their knowledge, faith and conscience and should have the complete freedom for such an expression. If, because of fear, greed or some prejudice people are led to give opinions which are against their belief and conscience, then this is disloyalty and infidelity and is a negation of the principle of consultation.
Fifthly, a decision which is made through the consensus or majority opinion of the members of the Shura or which has the mandate of the people behind it must always be accepted. Because if one person or group insists on an opinion, then consultation becomes baseless. The Almighty has not said: 'They are consulted in their affairs'; on the contrary, He has said: 'Their system is based on their consultation'. Merely consulting people does not fulfill this directive; it is necessary that a consensus or majority opinion be considered as decisive in running the affairs. (Abu'l-A'la Mawdudi, Tafhimu'l-Qur'an, 3rd ed., vol.4, [Lahore: Idarah Tarjumanu'l Qur'an, 1984], pps 509-510)
This principle of consultation as laid down by the Qur'an is also in accordance with the established norms of sense and reason. No Muslim can be free of faults or shortcomings. He can be the most distinguished as far as piety and knowledge are concerned; he can be the most suitable for the position of authority he holds and can even consider himself so. But even with these abilities, he cannot attain the position of Khilafat without the general opinion of the Muslims. Also, his assumption of this position after being elected through a majority mandate does not necessitate at all that he cannot err or has the prerogative to overrule a consensus or a majority opinion of the authorized people. The Prophet (sws) had this prerogative because he, being divinely guided, could not err. Even so, not one example can be cited from history in which he had ignored a majority opinion in favor of his own.
A Muslim ruler is indeed only one individual and everyone will acknowledge that the opinion of a group of people has more chances of being correct than that of a single person. A God-fearing Muslim ruler should regard his own opinion in the way a great jurist used to: 'We consider our opinion as correct but concede the possibility of an error, and the consider the opinion of others as incorrect but concede the possibility of correctness in it.'
Moreover, if the people consulted know that even their consensus and majority opinion have all the chances of being rejected, they would not agree to offer their opinion in the first place. Even if forced to do so, they would never take serious interest in it. They would never deeply reflect on the issue under discussion. They would reluctantly come to the session of consultation only to sorrowfully leave it. They would never have mental and emotional involvement with the political system or the various institutions of the sate. While delineating on this psychological aspect, Abu Bakr Jassas writes:
- It is not proper to consider that this directive of consultation is merely to please and honor the companions of the Prophet nor is it proper to think that it has been given so that the Ummah should follow the Prophet in this regard in such matters. On the other hand, if the companions knew that their opinion would neither be followed nor held in any regard after they had used all their intellectual abilities to form it, this would not have pleased or honoured them; instead they would have been totally discouraged, considering that their opinions are neither good enough to be acceptable nor fit enough to be followed. Therefore, such an interpretation of this directive of consultation is baseless and cannot be accepted. Furthermore, how can this aspect of the interpretation that this directive was merely given to teach the Prophet's way to the Ummah be regarded as correct when the person who says this himself knows that the Ummah is aware of the fact that giving such an opinion was neither of any use nor was it followed in a particular matter. (Abu Bakr Jassas, Ahkamu'l-Qur'an, vol. 2, [Beirut: Daru'l-Kitab al-'Arabi, 1997], p. 41)
Here, there is the possibility that someone might present the offensive launched by the Caliph Abu Bakr (rta) against those who in his times had desisted from paying Zakah and his attitude about the departure of the army led by Usamah Ibn Zayd as testimony to deny what has been said above. Consequently, it is necessary that the true nature of these two incidents be explained. My mentor Amin Ahsan Islahi comments on these in the following words:
- Deliberation on the action taken against those who were evading Zakah reveals a few facts:
- Firstly, this matter had nothing to do with the Caliph or the members of the Shura. Abu Bakr (rta) had never presented this issue in the Shura. Matters on which there is no direct guidance provided by the Qur'an and Sunnah or those which relate to the general well-being of the public are generally presented in the Shura. The matter of Zakah evasion has been explicitly dealt with in the Qur'an. In an Islamic state, people lose their rights of Muslim citizenship if they refuse to pay Zakah to the public treasury. This is categorically laid down in the Islamic Shari'ah. Therefore, Abu Bakr (rta) was not required to present this matter before the Shura. On the contrary, it was his responsibility as a Caliph to implement a directive of the Qur'an. Consequently, this is precisely what he did. An example to illustrate this even further is that if a group of people creates a law and order situation in an Islamic state by going on a rampage of killing people, then the Caliph is not required to ask the permission of the Shura to deal with this nuisance; it is indeed his duty to freely use his authority to implement the punishment prescribed by the Qur'an for such criminals.
- Secondly, those who had expressed their reservations on this action of the Caliph Abu Bakr (rta) did so because they had misunderstood a Hadith of the Prophet (sws). Abu Bakr (rta) himself explained this H~adith in the light of another detailed H~adith, which he himself had heard from the Prophet (sws). This satisfied the people. It is obvious that a H~adith which is narrated by Abu Bakr (rta) himself is extremely reliable and therefore has great importance.
- Thirdly, the declaration of the Caliph Abu Bakr (rta) that he would fight alone with these evaders of Zakah if he finds no one to fight with them is not an expression of veto from him; it is on the contrary an expression of the responsibility imposed on a Caliph by Islam in implementing a definite and explicit directive. In Islam, the real responsibility of a Caliph in implementing the directives of Allah and His Prophet (sws) is that he should try his utmost in their implementation even if no one supports him. He is not required to be bound by the opinion of the people in categorical matters of the Shari'ah. Only matters in which there is no direct guidance provided by the Qur'an and Sunnah or those which relate to the general well being of the public need the approval of the people eligible for consultation.
- Similar is the case of the departure of the army led by Usamah (rta). All arrangements for this had already been completed in the life of the Prophet (sws) himself. It is he who had selected the people who would constitute this army. The Prophet (sws) himself had hoisted the flag of the army. If the Prophet (sws) had not fallen severely sick, the army would have been on its way. The Prophet (sws) could not recover from his sickness and died. Abu Bakr (rta) then assumed charge as Caliph. He quite naturally thought that his greatest responsibility as a Caliph was to send the army which had been prepared by the Prophet (sws) and about whose early departure the Prophet (sws) was very anxious. As the Caliph, it was his great honour as well as his primary responsibility to execute a prior directive of the Prophet (sws). He was not required to consult his people for this because all matters concerning the army had already been settled by the Prophet (sws). As a the successor to the Prophet (sws), it was his duty to enforce these directives instead of amending them. So, when some people, because of the peculiar circumstances which had arisen, regarded this campaign to be against the call of the day, Abu Bakr (rta) asserted unequivocally that he would not furl the flag which had been unfurled by the Prophet (sws).
Consequently, these two incidents can in no way be presented as evidence to the fact that a ruler can veto the decision of his Shura members. The only thing to which they bear testimony is that in the enforcement of explicit directives of Allah and His Prophet (sws), no ruler is required to consult his Shura members. In fact, his real duty is to implement them. (Amin Ahsan Islahi, Islami Riyasat, 1sted., [Lahore: Makatbah Markazi Anjuman i Khuddamu'l-Qur'an, 1977], pp. 36-37)