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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Islamic State 3: Fundamental Principles of the Islamic State

While discussing the implications of the term khilāfah, in the foregoing paragraphs, I mentioned that dominion on the earth is God’s alone. The Islamic State is founded on this fundamental reality. That the whole universe is subject to the divine will and that nothing happens without his will is an established fact, whether it is acknowledged or not. Islam, however, requires that God is acknowledged not only as the runner of the universe but also as a law giver. Therefore, one has to acknowledge that the whole universe is run by him and dominion is exclusively his. None other than God has the absolute right to form laws about human affairs. He can legislate the laws of our private as well as collective life. This is why, in Islam, we acknowledge not only oneness of God but also the Prophethood of Muhammad. One’s belief in the oneness of God and his omnipotence does not carry any meaning unless he believes in the Prophethood of Muhammad. Unless one does not believe in the Prophethood of Muhammad he will not be recognized the true believer. This is because he does not recognize the right of God as the law giver, the necessary corollary of his rule. The declaration of faith, which epitomizes our religious beliefs, is two parts. By declaring that “there is no God but Allah” one acknowledges the cosmic rule of God and by declaring that “Muhammad is the Messenger of God” one submits to that God has given the law through the Prophet Muhammad. This divine law has to prevail. Negation of either parts of the formula of declaration of the faith necessarily negates the other. Belief in prophecy is a necessary part of belief in unity of God. Acknowledging God’s dominion over the whole universe and declaring that he is the creator and owner loses all meaning if the believer subjects himself to the rule and law coming from a creation. God’s dominion over the universe is set by default. In other words the whole universe has been set to follow the rules devised by him. The whole universe is subject to predestination. On the contrary, God’s role as the law giver has not been forcefully imposed on all. He has left the humans with a choice in this regard. God has indeed made the litmus test of choice and free will the criterion for the final fate of peoples and nations. They are free to choose either the rule of God’s law, make themselves worthy slaves of the Almighty and merit great reward from him or rebelliously disregard his commandments and follow Satan. This later choice, however, is bound to earn them curse of God in this world and an inflicting punishment in the one to come.
As a law giver, God reveals himself through the agency of Prophethood. The Prophets of God work as his representatives on the earth and explain to people what God commands them to do and what He prohibits them. They teach their addressees the manner of life God prescribes for personal and collective life of man. The Prophets are a very secure and impeccable source of knowing the divine will. They cannot be expected of committing even a slightest error in delivering God’s message. God watches over them and makes sure that they communicate his messages to the world without failure. These Prophets are also guides to mankind in their personal capacity. In this capacity too they drive command. One cannot expect to be included among the faithful servants of God until and unless he obeys the Prophets unconditionally. To register oneself as a faithful servant of God one has to demonstrate true submission before the Prophets and Messengers of God.
The practical form of obeying God, therefore, is obeying the Prophets and Messengers. It is only the Prophet who informs us of God’s commands and implements them. This is why the Qur’ān, in almost all instances, pairs the command to obey God with the directive to obey the Prophets and Messengers. This makes it abundantly clear that a believer has not been left with an option to differentiate between obeying God and following his Messenger. Those who ostensibly acknowledge the rule of God and practically negate the right of the Messenger as a law-giver and a guide can be compared with those who acknowledge a king while refusing to subject themselves to the authority of his representatives. Hypocritical submission to a sovereign does not work in any political system of the world. Nor can it be tolerated in the law of God.


After the death of the Prophet Muhammad, the responsibility to administer the state affairs and to implement the sharī‘ah of God in the land was transferred to the rulers. They were, then, obliged to implement the law of God in his land: to follow the sharī‘ah and make others follow it. These rulers are indeed the successors of the Prophet. Therefore, obeying them too is mandatory. The following verse of the Qur’ān refers to those vested with authority:

Believers, obey God and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. (Q 4:59)

Failing to obey the rulers is in fact failing to obey God and his Messenger. The following ḥadīth sheds further light on the issue:

Whoever obeys me follows God; whoever obeys the ruler obeys me; whoever disobeys me disobeys God; whoever disobeys the rulers disobeys me. (Muṣannaf Ibn Abī Shaybah, No: 32529)

The Islamic State grants this extraordinary status and authority to the rulers on the basis of the fact that the rulers work as the divine representatives. They enforce God’s laws in the land. The rulers have to obey the laws of God first of all. They enforce only and only his law on the subjects. They must cherish the ideal that the law given by God and his Messengers is obeyed in the land, just like the Prophet made it a point that the divine will was carried out. Similarly they must not tolerate that under their rule the people abandon God’s commandments. The Prophet too would despise such a transgression.
Another thing that follows from the fact that the rulers are the divine representatives is that they must not ignore and disobey the law of God nor should they subject their people to commit a similar transgression. The command of God to the believers to obey him is based on the fact that He is the ruler of the whole universe. Man, has to obey the real sovereign of the universe. Whatever power of rule man enjoys is in fact bestowment of God. It is not man’s personal right. All the rights accrue to man only because of his status as a divine representative. This entails that the rulers do not legislate rules that contradict the commands of the original authority. If a ruler ignores this principle and commands his subjects to violate the supreme authority in fact abolishes his status as the divine representative acknowledged by Islam.
The above discussion shows that the rulers among the Muslims should develop certain characteristics. They must have firm faith in God and his Messenger. They must always consider the Book of God and the sunnah of his Messenger as the final religious and legal authority. They must be practicing Muslims, strictly following all the laws of Islam. They should follow all the cultural and social principles set by the sharī‘ah. They should also observe the divine laws which define the lawful and the unlawful. A Muslim ruler is, similarly, obliged by the law to enforce whatever laws and guidance has been provided by the Almighty Allah through his Messenger without putting anything in abeyance. Failing to implement the divine law can render a ruler guilty of creating hindrances in implementation of the divine laws. Even in matters where the divine law is silent he may not apply his whimsical inclinations. Here again he needs to exercise ijtihād. By ijtihād, in sharī‘ahparlance, is meant that one, setting aside his personal inclinations, follows, in a given situation, the view based on the available guidance on similar issues concluded after careful consideration of various indications and implicit intent of the textual sources. He will, therefore, after this exercise, reach to a conclusion that matches with or is closer to the divine will. This he should follow himself and make others to follow it. This is what the first caliph Abū Bakr Ṣiddīq meant when he said:

I am obliged to follow (God). I am not an innovator. If I do the right, help me. If I deviate from the right, straighten me up.[1]

Only statesmen are given the responsibility to rule. A ruler must show great wisdom and skill in the handling of the affairs of government. A very pious Muslim scholar, Imām Aḥmad b. Ḥambal, held that while deciding on the question of selection of a ruler, one should consider the statesmanship of the prospective candidates. Thus, if one has to choose between a pious person with no political insight and another relatively less religious person with sound political background then one should vote for the less religious more politically sound person against the pious one lacking political acumen and experience. Similar view was held by Imām Ibn Taymiyyah.
Similarly, circumstances may force the Muslims to elect a sinner character but they may not elect a woman into office no matter of how pious and sound moral character. The Prophet of God has said:

A nation which puts its affairs in the hands of a woman never prospers. (Bukhārī, N0: 4163)

A ruling group is characterized by dominance and activeness not passiveness. It must be marked by masculine character not femininity. Woman is naturally impressionistic – something more fitting to her responsibilities. Therefore, she is, by nature, not fit for the duty to rule and lead. This responsibility requires somewhat passive role. If a nation takes a woman as their ruler, they will, over a period of time, assimilate femininity. All their abilities will be despoiled. Famous political scientist, Johann Kaspar Bluntschli has argued, both in philosophical and political terms, that a women’s interference in the governmental affairs spoils the true disposition of the state. This explains the fact that American public, in spite of their advocacy of gender equality and women’s rights and their uncompromising faith in popular democracy, has never voted a woman into presidential office. The British, however, are sometimes forced to enthrone a royal woman owing to the hereditary character of the monarchical rule. Yet a king, in the British political system, is nothing more than a symbol. The real authority in British system lies with the parliamentary leaders. Islam has a natural basis and so has the Islamic State. That is why Islam puts the responsibility of governing the nation on the shoulders of man. Islam has not made woman leader of the family nor of the nation.


Secular states are founded on the principle of popular sovereignty. Supreme authority resides in the consent of the people. In the Islamic state, as explained above, sovereignty is God’s alone. The Islamic state, therefore, is not a truly national republic where every citizen takes a share in power. The Islamic state, on the contrary, is a state based on defined principles in which the responsibility of formation of the state and running its institutions is entrusted to a people who believe in Islam and follow the Islamic code of life. The Muslim public does not enjoy the right of absolute power. They have to implement God’s sharī‘ah and for this purpose, acting within the limits set by God and following principle guidance provided by him, they can devise a suitable political system. They may not claim anything beyond this. Neither can they formulate a law ignoring the duty to find out the will of God concerning the matter at hand and following their personal inclinations, nor can they devise a political system putting aside the limits set by God. An endeavour to carve such an ungodly system would, for them, amount to rebellion against God. Legal and religious status of the citizens of the Islamic State is defined by their servitude to God. They are mere servants of God. God has allowed them to take someone of their own as their head to govern them in discharging their duty of servitude of God in a well organized fashion. The most salient trait of such a candidate is his outmatching others in his service to God because, in Islam, the original source and referent of authority is God alone. As regards the freedom of choice between following God and disobeying him there is no doubt in that Allah has not forced the humans, by default, on adhering to his sharī‘ah. This, however, does not mean that God has given man complete authority and unlimited sovereignty. Had he transmitted complete authority and sovereignty to man he would not have considered human manipulation in the sharī‘ah and their adopting for themselves laws which violate divine commands as transgression, rebellion and corruption in the land. Assuming that God has given them complete authority in this regard would mean that man can do whatever he deems fit without considering God’s guidance in any matter. They may not, then, be deemed incurring any sin at all for they, after all, are free to use their power of legislation. In fact delegation of discretionary power to man is something different than giving him the right to choose for him an entirely different possible course of action. It, however, does not even mean, as some people have come to hold, that people do not enjoy the right to any kind of legislation in the Islamic State. This assumption is based on a sheer misunderstanding of Islam. There is no denying the fact that the basic sources of law in the Islamic state are only the Qur’ān and the sunnah of the Prophet. In matters on which the Qur’ān and the sunnah provide clear and unambiguous guidance, the role of the Muslim rulers and the authorities is limited to implementing such directives. They may not introduce a slightest change in these divine laws. Nor are they to replace them. The citizens of the Islamic State, however, have been given a right to legislate in issues which have not been dealt with in the Qur’ān and the Sunnah. Such issues are not limited to a few. There is a vast area of legal issues which are subject to human legislation. The Qur’ān and the Ḥadīth provide only principle guidance in most cases. Details and implications of these principles have not been dealt with in these sources. An exhaustive legislation is not indeed possible in every matter. This void has to be filled with in accordance with the circumstances and needs of the people. In all unprecedented individual, national, political and personal issues the state authority has been left with a choice to exercise ijtihād and introduce laws in accordance with the intent of the sharī‘ah and the spirit of Islam. The divine Book, the Qur’ān, has, in this regard, introduced the golden rule of consultation so that this right is exercised fairly and properly. The principle of shūrā(consultation) is indeed far better than the western model of democracy.
It is not possible here to detail the system of shūrā introduced by Islam. However, the way this Islamic model of mutual consultation in collective political affairs of the Muslims have manifested during the lifetime of the Prophet, the rule of rightly guided caliphs and the age of the great jurists cannot be left out completely. We will, therefore, try to depict this history and hint towards the textual evidence which worked as a basis of this system.


The Prophet was in direct communication with God through revelation. He did not, therefore, need to seek human advice in running the collective affairs. Still, however, the divine command of exercising mutual consultation in the process of making laws and devising system of implementation of the same required that the Prophet himself set a model to be emulated by the later generations. The divine wisdom reflected in the following Qur’ānic command to the Prophet :

Therefore, pardon them and implore God to forgive them. Take counsel with them in the conduct of affairs. (Q 3:159)

This verse commands the Prophet to take counsel with the companions in the conduct of collective affairs. Was this command merely a hollow demand revealed in order to make the companions realize that they were being given due importance in the affairs of the state or it had some legal force compelling the Prophet to seek their counsel and give it due regard? The following passage from Aḥkām al-Qur’ān by the great Hanafite jurist Imām Abū Bakr Jaṣṣāṣ’s answers this question:

It is not valid to say that the command to seek companions’ counsel was issued merely in order to appease them and stress their importance. Nor was it merely meant to provide the ummahwith an example to follow. Had the companions known that their opinion would not be duly considered nor would it be given any practical value, once they would have cudgelled their brains and formed an opinion on the issues concerning which they were being consulted, it would not have added to their confidence and satisfaction. It would rather have made them abandon exerting their efforts in forming an opinion. They, on the contrary, would have read the implied message that their opinions and views were neither acceptable not worthy enough to be put in practice.[2]

Abū Bakr Jaṣṣāṣ, clearly states that, according to him, the command to seek counsel from the companions was not merely an expedient political move. Rather it required that their opinions and views were to be taken seriously and acted upon if found worthy.
He has further explained the spheres in which such consultation was to be sought. Findings of his research on the issue led him to believe that the Prophet consulted the companions in all such matters as were not discussed in the divine revelation regardless of the fact such issues were religious in nature or not. He writes:

Some others have opined that the Prophet was obliged to consult the companions in deciding only the religious issues and situations where God had not revealed any clear directives and also in worldly matters which are usually decided in the light of personal opinion based on reasoning. We see that the Prophet sought their counsel concerning the captives of Badr, a purely religious matter.[3]

The way the Prophet actively followed this command of consultation can be gleaned from the following testimony of a man who would spend most of his time with the Prophet [pbuh]. Abū Hurayrah says:

I have never known anyone consulting his companions more than the Prophet. (Musnad Aḥmad, No: 18948)

The Prophet would seek the companions’ advice concerning military, political, economic and social affairs. In the following paragraphs we offer some examples of the prophetic conduct in this regard.
1. During the Battle of Badr the Prophet pitched his camp in a place that was not strategically favourable to the Muslim army. Some of the companions asked the Prophet whether his decision was based on divine revelation or it was his personal observation. The Prophet explained to them that it was his personal decision based on consideration of better war strategy. One of the companions differed with him. He suggested that the army should camp at the well. After mutual consultation the view of the companion was adopted.[4]
2. During the Battle of al-Aḥzāb the Prophet decided to offer one third of the entire yearly produce of the fruits yields of Madīnah to the Jewish tribe Ghaṭfān on the condition that they refrained from siding with the polytheists and fighting against the Muslims. A contract was drafted to the effect. When the Prophet discussed this issue with the leaders of the Anṣār in particular and the companions in general they strongly objected to this plan. They said that they would love to talk to the Jewish tribe in terms of arms. Eventually the Prophet accepted their opinion and had the document of contract torn off.[5]
3. We have already referred to the issue of war captives of the Battle of Badr. The detail can be found in Ṭabaqāt al-Kubrā.[6]
The above mentioned incidents depict the conduct of the Prophet in this regard. These sufficiently prove that the Prophet would ask the companions to give their view on important matters. He adopted their advice in most cases.


The rightly guided caliphs had two sources of guidance before them, the above mentioned examples set by the Prophet and clear and unambiguous directives of the Qur’ān and the prophetic Ḥadīth. These sources guided them as to how to found their political system and make laws. We will first refer to the Qur’ānic verses which provided a basis of the political system set up by the companions followed by the relevant prophetic traditions and the example set by the rightly guided caliphs.
The Qur’ān says:

Their system is based on mutual consultation. (Q 42:38)

This Qur’ānic injunction has been explained by the Prophet in the following words:

Abū Salamah has narrated to me that the Prophet was asked how to dissolve an issue not discussed in the Qur’ān and the Sunnah. He said: “The pious among the Muslims should ponder over it [and decide what to do.] (Sunan al-Dārimī, No: 117.)

This question has been further explained in another tradition:

Narrated ‘Alī: I asked the Prophet how I should decide upon a matter presented to me if it has neither been discussed in the Qur’ān nor precedented in the Sunnah. He responded: “Discuss the issue with pious individuals and the people of understanding (ahl al-fiqh). Do not base your decision on your personal understanding alone.” [7]

This principle of consultation assumed the central position in the political system, evolved by the rightly guided caliphs. Public opinion was, therefore, not only considered necessary in the formation of the political system but also in running the state affairs. Abū Bakr, the first caliph of Islam, was elected with the active will of the Muslims after due consultation. After assuming the chair of khilāfah he discharged his political responsibilities and decided the collective affairs, not dealt with in the Qur’ān and the Sunnah, by consulting the companions who enjoyed the confidence of the majority Muslims and who surpassed their peers in knowledge and piety. The following tradition recorded in Sunan al-Dārimī depicts Abū Bakr’s attitude in this regard:

Maymūn b. Mahrān narrates: When a dispute would be brought before the caliph Abū Bakr first looked for guidance in the Book of God and then decided it in the light of relevant divine commands if he found one. If he found out that the matter was not discussed in the Qur’ān but the Prophet had set an example he would decide it in the light of the prophetic Sunnah. If, however, he did not find guidance in the Sunnah as well, he would broach the matter before the Muslims. He would ask them whether any among them knew if the Prophet had said something concerning the issue at hand. Sometimes many people came forward and told him that the Prophet had in fact decided such a matter. At this he would say: “All gratitude is due to God. There in the ummah are men who have preserved the prophetic knowledge.” If, however, he did not find any prophetic Sunnah dealing with the issue, he would call upon the leaders of the people and the prominent persons among them and seek their opinion. When all of them reached a unanimous decision he would implement that. (Sunan al-Dārimī, No: 161)

During the rule of ‘Umar all the political and other unprecedented matters were resolved through consultation. The process of consultation and discussion adopted by the caliph has been explained by Shāh Walī Allāh in the following words:

‘Umar would consult the companions and continue discussing the issues with them until the differences were removed and the people were convinced of validity of a decision. It is only because of this vigorous process that all the (political and administrative) decisions and religious rulings issued by him have been followed by (future rulers) all over the Muslim world.[8]

According to Shāh Walī Allāh this institution of consultation was not operative only during the reign of the first two caliphs. Caliph ‘Uthmān too ran political and administrative affairs through consultation with the companions. In his treatise Izālah al-Khafā he writes:

My research in this issue shows that juristic disputes did not surface until the end of the rule of ‘Uthmān. Whenever difference of opinion arose people would refer that to the Caliph who would decide on the issue after consultation with the people. A decision concluded through this process was followed by all as a collective decision. [9]

This system of consultation developed largely during the rule of ‘Umar. ‘Allāmah Shiblī Nu‘mānī, a meritorious scholar of Indian Sub-Continent, has devoted many pages to the subject in his biography of the caliph ‘Umar, entitled al-Fārūq. Since the entire discussion he has offered is based on the authentic primary sources like Ṭabaqāt of Ibn Sa‘d, Kanz al-‘Ummāl, Tarīkh Umam wa al-Mulūk of al-Ṭabarī, Kitāb al-Kharāj of Imām Abū Yūsuf etc and is well argued, parts of it are reproduced verbatim here.
While discussing the details of procedure adopted to hold consultations during the rule of caliph ‘Umar he writes:

The principle of principles in this regard was to call a session of the shūrā. Whenever the caliph faced some administrative problem he called a meeting of the members of the Council of the shūrā. No issue could be decided without being discussed by the council and approved through consensus or majority vote. The whole Muslim community had two categories of leaders who truly represented the entire Arab nation. They were the Muhājirūn (emigrants) and the Anṣār (hosts). Participation of the members from both groups was mandatory. Anṣār were further divided in two major tribes, Aws and Khazraj. Therefore, members of both these tribes also attended these meetings. We cannot mention names of all the members of the shūrā, nevertheless, we all know that the prominent companions including, ‘Uthmān, ‘Alī, Mu‘ādh b. Jabal, Ubayy b. Ka‘b, Zayd b. Thābit were member of the council. A herald would call, “al-ṣalātu jāmi‘ah(a formulaic expression used to call for prayer.) When all would have gathered in the mosque, the caliph would lead them in two raka‘ah optional prayer. Then he would rise on the pulpit and briefly introduce to them to the issue at hand.
Day to day affairs of less political significance were decided by this council. When, however, some crucial matter arose, the whole community of the Emigrants and the Hosts would be called for. Only after unanimous approval of the both parties the matter would be decided. For example, when Iraq and Syria were conquered, some of the companions insisted that all the conquered lands should be distributed among the warring soldiers. The gravity of the issue called for a grand meeting. All the early converts among the Emigrants and the Hosts, ten senior tribal chiefs of the Anṣār, five from Aws and five from Khazraj, participated in the meeting. The meeting was prolonged for many days. People spoke expansively and expressed their views boldly. We quote certain sentences from ‘Umar’s speech delivered at the occasion in order to acquaint the reader with the essence of the responsibility of khilāfah and the power and authority vested in the caliph at that time: “I have bothered you only because I wanted you to help me carry out the responsibility you have burdened me with. I am only a human being like you. I do not want you to follow my desires in matters like these.”
In the Battle of Nahāwand the Persians gathered a large and well-equipped army. Some Muslim leaders thought that the level of their extensive preparations demanded that the caliph himself commanded the army. A general meeting of the Council of the shūrā was called again. Many prominent figures among the companions including ‘Uthmān, Ṭalḥa b. ‘Ubayd Allāh, Zubayr b. al-‘Awwām, ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. ‘Awf etc expressed their views. All of them viewed that caliph’s participation was not affordable. Then ‘Alī rose and spoke for these people. At last, it was decided that the Caliph would not command the army. Similarly, the issues like salaries of the soldiers, set up of the administrative offices, appointment of the governors, the trade rights to for non-Muslims, taxes imposed on them and many other issues of the nature, as recorded in the books of early Islamic history, were determined after thorough discussion in such consultative meetings of the Council.
The meetings of the Council of the shūrā were not held merely for the sake of entertainment. Nor were the people of opinion consulted only for the sake of show off. On the contrary, ‘Umar made it clear to all, on various occasions, that no one enjoys the right to rule without consultation. He said: “Khilāfah without mutual consultation is meaningless.”

The sessions of the shūrāwere held whenever an important issue surfaced. There was, however, side by side, another institution, a council, which worked as a forum of discussion over the everyday administrative matters. This council would meet daily in the Mosque of the Prophet. Only the emigrant companions would participate in it. Dispatches from different provinces and the far off districts reaching the capital would be presented by the caliph before this council. If anything called for discussion people were invited to give their view and vote for or against some view. The issue of imposing jizyah (tax) on the Zoroastrians was discussed and determined in this council. The historian, Balāzurī, in one of his chronicles, discusses the proceeding of one of such meetings. “There was a council of the Emigrants of which meetings were held in the Mosque. ‘Umar used to attend its meetings. He would put before the council dispatches from far flung areas. One day he said: “I do not know how to decide the issue of jizyah on the Zoroastrians?””[10]

During ‘Umar’s rule not only the important national affairs were decided in such consultative meetings of the council of the shūrā but also the appointment of the provincial governors and administrators were made according to the wishes of the respective towns. In this connection, Shiblī writes:

Before appointing governors in Kūfah, Baṣrah and Syria, ‘Umar asked the people of the respective lands to name individuals of outstanding character, piety, honesty and sound understanding from among themselves to be appointed as their ruler. Consequently, ‘Uthmān b. Farqad from Kūfah, Ḥajjāj b. ‘Ilāṭ from Baṣrah and Ma‘n b. Yazīd from Syria were elected by the people of the respective towns. Accordingly ‘Umar appointed these persons as the governors of their respective centres.[11]

A khalīfahcan no doubt insist on his personal opinion in some important and crucial political affair if he is convinced of the soundness of his understanding and opinion. At times he believes that abandoning his personal view for an alternative would threaten the existence of the state. However, he has to be clear that he is not infallible. Therefore, he should never insist on his personal opinion and understanding. He should never impose his view over the view of the majority of the people of opinion or their consensus in issues subject to ijtihād and particularly those which relate to the public good. If a khalīfah considers his view, on an issue subject to ijtihād, to be absolutely correct that means he claims infallibility on his part.
That the khalīfah must always pay heed to the views of the majority or the consensus of the members of the council of the shūrā can be proved by a number of arguments.
First and the most important arguments in this regard is the one pointed out by Abū Bakr Jaṣṣāṣ, the author of Aḥkām al-Qur’ān. He says that the process of consultation by its very nature requires that the views expressed by the majority should rule. To say that the khalīfah was obligated to consult the matters with the people of the opinion only in order that the people consulted might feel encouraged is not sound. According to the author of Aḥkām al-Qur’ān such empty consultation would hurt the feelings of the members of the shūrā instead of dressing them. It borders with insult and is heartrending.
The second argument is that the opinion of a group is less prone to error. Therefore, it would be only prudent that the khalīfah does not reject the opinion of the majority in favour of his personal view. He cannot be sure of the impeccability of his view in an issue which is subject to difference of opinion. All other participants of the discussion cannot necessarily be wrong. Both the views are equally exposed to error. In this case the view of the majority is more likely to be correct than that of the individual. The sharī‘ahalways gives express preference to the view of the majority against that of an individual. That is why a ruling reached at through ijmā’ (consensus) decisively prevails over personal opinions.
The third argument for the case of consultation is based on the practice of the rightly guided caliphs. Whenever an issue was brought before the members of the shūrāthey exercised their minds and intellect and reached at a conclusion by majority vote or through consensus. This view would always prevail. We do not find a single instance where the view of the members of the shūrā was not adopted. It can be confidently stated that the Prophet himself never ignored the views of majority of the companions in spite of the fact that neither did he need consultation with them to that level (being a prophetic Messenger) nor was he bound by the sharī‘ah to consult them in all matters.
Some scholars believe that the caliph is not bound by the sharī‘ah to follow the majority opinion. The caliph can veto the decision of the shūrā be it based on majority vote or consensus. These scholars plead to two examples from the practice of the first caliph Abū Bakr. They refer to the fact that Abū Bakr used force against those who refused to pay the zakāh to the state treasury. Another pertinent example, they hold, is the issue of the Syrian expedition under the headship of ‘Usāmah b. Zayd. I believe that the viewpoint of Abū Bakr, in both cases, has been misunderstood. It calls for an explanation which follows.
First we take up his decision to fight those tribes who had refused to pay the zakāh. A party of the tribes, who had denounced the religion of Islam after the death of the Prophet, did not convert from Islam completely. They agreed to offer the ṣalāh but refused to pay the zakāh. Abū Bakr decided to force them into paying the zakāh. This, according to him, was a clear and unambiguous directive of Islam. Therefore he did not put the matter before the shūrāfor discussion. He, on the contrary, considered it his religious duty to implement, as the caliph, the rule of the law in this regard just like he had to make the citizens of the state obey other manifest sharī‘ahdirectives like the prayer, fasting, penal laws, and the like. He decided on the basis of his understanding of the relevant sharī‘ah directive to fight those who did not pay the zakāh.
When people came to know about this decision of the caliph, some of them approached him and said that Islam was in infancy and the number of its enemies was so great and therefore powerful that it would be impossible for the nascent state to fight them all. They held, that considering this ground reality, it would be better that the caliph did not fight the people who at least agreed on offering the ṣalāh. He should thus show lenience to them and let them practice whatever part of the religion they afford. These people also presented a prophetic saying in support of their viewpoint:

I have been directed to fight these people until they declared that there is no god but Allah. When they have, they would have saved their life and wealth except what is legally due. The accountability of their inner faith is upon God.[12]

Abū Bakr, in response to this argument, stated that the zakāh is one of the corollaries of the declaration they make. This, according to him, the caliph should force them to pay.
When the people found that Abū Bakr would not desist from his decision and that he was firm they approached ‘Umar and persuaded him to talk to the caliph on the topic. At this, ‘Umar spoke to the caliph. In response to his objections the caliph explained the narrative referred to above in the light of another one on the same subject. The Prophet said:

I have been commanded to fight these people on three issues, declaration of God’s unity, establishing the ṣalāh, and paying the zakāh.[13]

Abū Bakr then said. “By God, besides whom there is no God, I will not accept anything less than that. If these people will hold back a rope that they used to give to the Prophet in zakāh, I will continue fighting them until God, the best of judges, decided among us. If I do not find any support in my war against these people I will fight them alone.”[14]
This explanation from the caliph and his commitment and determination satisfied the people. At last they marched on those who refused to pay the zakāh. They successfully forced the defiant tribes in making them pay the zakāh to the state treasury. Later on this step from the caliph was greatly appreciated by the people. Abū Rajā’ ‘Uṭāridī narrates:

I observed ‘Umar kissing the forehead of Abū Bakr in a large gathering. He repeatedly said: “May my life be sacrificed for your sake. If it were not for you we would have been ruined.”[15]

The above quoted incident, a deep analysis would show, leads to certain conclusions which follow:
1. The question of fighting with the factions who had refused to pay the zakāhafter the demise of the Prophet was not presented before the shūrā in the first place. It was not a disputed issue among the shūrā members and the caliph. Only those issues may be presented before the shūrā for discussion which pertain to independent judgment and over which the sharī‘ahis silent. The sharī‘ah stance on the question of fighting those who refused to pay the zakāh was clear to the Caliph. According to the sharī‘ah, in the Islamic state, one no longer enjoys the right of citizenship when he refuses to pay the zakāh. This is a clear directive of the sharī‘ah. That is why it was not incumbent upon Abū Bakr to present the issue before the shūrāfor discussion before forming a view on the matter. As a caliph of the Muslim state his only responsibility was to implement the sharī‘ah, and so did he impose the will of God without hesitation. A caliph is, for example, not supposed to seek the advice of the shūrā before taking such rebels to task who start openly massacring innocent citizens of the state. The caliph, in such situations, has to implement the Qur’ānic penalty prescribed for the recalcitrant and those who create law and order situation in the land.
2. Those opposing him were indeed not been able to fully understand a relevant prophetic saying. When he explained the real implication of that relatively less clear narrative with the help of another fuller narrative all were satisfied. It goes without saying that there could be no source of the prophetic knowledge more authentic than Abū Bakr himself.
3. Abū Bakr’s view that he would fight those who refused to pay the zakāheven he found himself deserted by all, does not signal his desire to overrule the shūrā. It, on the contrary, expresses his determination to fully enforce the clear and express sharī‘ah injunctions, the most important responsibility of a caliph in the Islamic state. The ruler is expected to be ready to lay his life in the enforcement of the commands of the Almighty Allah. He is bound to follow the decision of the majority only in issues over which the sharī‘ah is silent and are, therefore, subject to ijtihād.
The expedition to Syria, it is clear, was decided by the Prophet [pbuh] himself. He had, in fact, selected the soldiers of the army and supervised all necessary preparations for it. He had hoisted the flag of the army, a formal expression of commencement of an armed offensive. Had it not been for his severe illness the army would already have been on its way to Syria. The Prophet’s unfortunate death hindered the departure. Once Abū Bakr assumed the office of khilāfah, the first responsibility on his shoulders was to implement the will and order of the Prophet regarding the expedition he had carefully planned. He, therefore, proceeded with sending the army as decided by the Prophet. One can easily understand that, as a successor of the Prophet and his trusted companion, Abū Bakr would not have considered otherwise. What could be more demanding and dearer for Abū Bakr than to fulfil the wish of the Prophet and carry out his express orders? He was not obliged to bring this matter before the shūrā for consultation because the issue had already been decided by the Messenger of God. Therefore, when some people expressed reservation concerning the caliphal decision to launch the offensive at that crucial juncture, for they did not see it feasible, he boldly refused to listen to them saying that he would not untie the flag hoisted by the Prophet himself.
Neither of these decisions by Abū Bakr proves that a caliph can ignore the will of the majority and veto the decision of the shūrā. These examples show that the caliph cannot suspend clear and express directives of the sharī‘ah. In such matters, therefore, the caliph does not follow the opinions of the member of the shūrā, he enforces the will of God.
The above discussion shows that Islam gives the institution of shūrā a well defined form. Rulers are obliged to submit to the decisions of the shūrācouncil. However, it needs to be appreciated that during early days of Islamic rule all the people of opinion lived in the main capital. In the tribal Arabian society leaders of different parties and tribes were selected in a way remarkably different from the present conventions. This made the system of consultation simple and easy. Since then world has gone through great cultural and civilizational changes. In the present day society any setup of the institution of shūrā can be introduced which not only matches the needs of the time but also facilitates the accomplishment of the ideals of shūrāin an effective manner. Modern methods of election can be adopted and new reforms can be introduced into the system. Interrelation of the public representatives in the council of shūrā and the rulers can be redefined. Legislation in this process would be perfectly in line with the intent of the sharī‘ah.


People have developed certain misconceptions on the question of basic qualification for the members of the shūrā and their necessary characteristics. Some people believe that during the formative period of Islamic political system only scholars and jurists were admitted as members of the shūrā to the exclusion of all other people. Some people think that the system of the shūrāis not even identified and well defined. To them the caliph could seek counsel from anybody he likes for there has never been a specific body of the shūrā. Exposure to and consideration of the following facts will hopefully clear away these misconceptions.
The Qur’ān provides the following guidance regarding the characteristics of the members of the shūrā:

When they hear any threatening or comforting news, they spread it immediately; whereas if they reported it to the Apostle and to the men in charge, those bestowed with understanding could better grasp it. (Q 4:83)

This verse identifies two basic characteristics of the people of opinion in the Islamic State. Fist, they are the leaders of the community. Second, they are prominent individuals with a good political sense. They are able to assess the situations and circumstances shrewdly and draw sound conclusions. Qur’ānic exegetes have offered the same interpretation of the last part of the verse.
Author of, al-Kashshāf, writes:

This refers to the senior companions and the people of understanding.[16]

Imām Nisāpūrī and Imām Rāzī have also offered similar interpretation of this part of the verse in their commentaries.
Some of the historical reports tell us that the trusted leaders of the tribes with deep understanding of religious and worldly matters especially those with the will to actively participate in the collective affairs of the Muslims were consulted. In this matter the age of people was not considered at all. In other words it was not mere gerontocracy. Youngsters as well as the elders were consulted. Imām Bukhārī has ascribed the following statement to Ibn ‘Abbās:

The consultative meetings arranged by ‘Umar included the knowledgeable people, young as well as old. (Bukhārī, No: 4366)

We have already seen that Abū Bakr would consult the leaders of the Muslims and the best people among them. The narrative quoted above (page 28) reads: Jam‘a ra’ūsa al-nāsi wa khiyārahum (He would gather the leaders of the people and the best personalities among them for consultation). In another version of the narrative the word ṣāliḥīn (the pious/sound) has been used for those consulted.
Books of history and sīrah mention the following names among the members of the shūrā: Abū Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Uthmān, ‘Alī, ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. ‘Awf, Mu‘ādh b. Jabal, Ubayy b. Ka‘b, Zayd b. Thābit, Sa‘d b. Mu‘ādh and Sa‘d b. ‘Ubādah.
These people were not the representatives and leaders of their tribes in the modern sense. The modern conventions of election were introduced much later. They were, however, trusted leaders of their tribal groups. That a certain person held such a position among his clan could be ascertained through the fact that members of their tribal groups would turn to them for help and guidance in their collective affairs. Some of the members of the shūrā were raised to the status because they had vast knowledge in the religion. For example Abū Bakr and ‘Umar enjoyed the confidence of the Emigrants because they had unparalleled religious knowledge and political insightfulness. Sa‘d b. Mu‘ādh and Sa‘d b. ‘Ubādah were the leaders of the two major tribes of the Hosts namely Aws and Khazraj. ‘Uthmān was the leader of the Umayyad tribe. Mu‘adh b. Jabal, Ubayy b. Ka‘b and Zayd b. Thābit were experts in the Qur’ānic disciplines and fiqh.


Having acquainted ourselves with the Islamic system of government we can compare this blessed system with the other conventional systems including presidential and parliamentary democracies. A little study shows that none of these systems can replace and take the stead of the Islamic system. Though both of the conventional systems have certain merits and demerits yet neither of them has an affinity with the Islamic system. The major defects inherent in these systems, which render them incapable to be adopted into the Islamic system of government, are discussed below:
First we take the parliamentary system.
In the parliamentary system all power is vested in the prime minister and his cabinet. It also attaches with it a figure-head, a titular president or a king [as in England for example] who discharges the responsibilities of the appointment of the ministers etc. In the Islamic system there is no place for such titular show boy. The khalīfah enjoys authority required for the smooth running of the government. Islamic system does not admit of any such unnatural dualism.
Another major flaw in this system, in the view of Islam, is that it is based on party system. The party which enjoys majority in the legislature is invited to form the government. The leader of the party with majority in the legislature is appointed the prime minister of the state. He continues leading the government as long as he enjoys majority vote in the parliament. In absence of this party system the parliamentary system cannot work.
Contrarily, the Islamic system is never dependent on party system. The truth of the matter is that the party system is, in principle, negation of the essence of any sound government system. Islam aims at correcting and developing it not encouraging it.
Most democracies, owing to their constitutional and legal complications, have turned out to be puzzles. When some crucial affair of emergent nature surfaces in the political scene of the country the inherent weakness of the system is exposed. They are then compelled to violate their constitutional and legal norms in order to save the state. The Islamic system of government based on consultation is simple and target oriented and works in times of peace as well as war. Because of the blessings of the system of consultation even in the most crucial of times its power to operate survives and the authority of the government remains stabilized. It can react in time to emergency situation. The Islamic khalīfahis never compelled to ignore the process of consultation and suspend the shūrā. Abū Bakr and ‘Umar ruled during a very crucial and eventful time of the Islamic history. They faced the gravest issues imaginable. Yet they never suspended the system of consultation.
Similarly the presidential democracy like the one operative in the United States is also not acceptable in Islam for the following reasons.
First, separation of powers between executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, the necessary characteristic of the presidential system, is at variance with the nature of the Islamic system. In the Islamic system the khalīfahcan fully take part in the legislative process in all such matters the sharī‘ahallows men to legislate for themselves. He can propose before the shūrāany law which he considers indispensable and which he can defend in the shūrā.
Secondly, the presidential democracy does not recognize the system of recall in the true sense. The voters have no right to remove their elected president from office by means of a petition till the end of the tenure prescribed in the constitution. Immune from accountability the president enjoys excessive freedom. Islamic khilāfah does not allow this liberty to the rulers even for a moment. In the presidential system the president cannot be removed from his post even each and every voter in the country demands his removal. The legislature cannot investigate even the most outrageous decision by the president. It can at best create some hurdles in his way but such hindrances erected by the legislature can hardly affect his sovereignty. On the contrary they create difficulties and imbalances in the national political framework. Islam does not ascribe to the khalīfahsuch unlimited independence and does not consider him beyond impeachment. If the people of the country elect a khalīfah today and very soon find out that he is not able to discharge his duties fully they can revoke his selection. There is no legal hindrance in the removal of the khalīfah.


[1] Muhammad Ibn Sa‘d, Al-Ṭabaqāt al-Kubrā, 1st ed., vol. 2 (Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1994), 170.
[2] Jaṣṣāṣ, Abū Bakr, Aḥkām al-Qur’ān, 1st ed., vol. 2 (Beirut: n.p., 1994), 49.
[3] Ibid., 49.
[4] Ibn Sa‘d, Al-Ṭabaqāt al-Kubrā, 1:355.
[5] Ibid., 394.
[6] Ibid., 360-1.
[7] Ṭabārānī al-Awsaṭ.The author has not provided the full reference. I have tried to search through the work but could not find the narrative in this wording. Ṭabarānī has, however, the following version of the narrative:
‘Alī narrated that he asked the Messenger of God: “How do we decide upon a matter facing us if the sources do not mention whether it is allowed or prohibited? What do you guide us to?” The Prophet said: “You shall discuss the issue with pious individuals and the experts of Islamic law. You shall not adopt the view of certain individuals.” (Mu‘jam al-Awsaṭ, No: 1618) (translator)
[8] Shāh Walī Allāh, Ḥujjatullāh al-Bālighah, 1st ed., vol. 1 (Lahore: Maktabah al-Ṣalafiyyah, 1975), 132.
[9] Shāh Walī Allāh, Izālah al-Khafa’, vol. 1 (Karachi: Qadīmī Kutub Khānah, n.d.), 509.
[10] Shiblī Nu‘mānī, al-Fārūq, 1st ed., (Karachi: Dār al-Ishā‘at, 1991), 180-2.
[11] Ibid., 182.
[12] Ṣaḥīḥ of Ibn-i Ḥibbān, No: 3926.
[13]Ibn Qutaybah, al-Imāmah wa al-Siyāsah, vol. 1 (Cairo: Sharikah Maktabah wa Matba‘ah Muṣtafā al-Bābi al-Ḥalabī wa Awlādihī, 1969), 17.
[14] Ibid.
[15] This discussion is entirely based on Ibn Qutaybah, al-Imāmah wa al-Siyāsah, vol. 1, 17-19.
[16] Zamakhsharī, al-Kashshāf, 1st ed., vol. 1 (Beirut: Dar al-Aḥyā al-Turāth al-‘Arabī, 1997), 572.