The Institution of Khilafat is the purest manifestation of the Islamic state in the absence of a prophet. At the heart of this spiritual and temporal body is the Khalifa who, as has been expounded by Hadhrat Shah Wali Ullah1, receives Divine inspiration from Almighty Allah which is then pumped throughout the body of the Ummah. This beautiful process has been described to us by the Promised Messiah(as) through a vision he received2:
‘I saw in a vision that God’s bounties travel in the form of light to the Holy Prophet(saw) and are absorbed into his chest and proceed thence in numberless tubes whereby they are communicated to every deserving person according to his share.’
Islam is a practical religion and therefore, in order to properly function, the institution of Khilafat is comprised of many authoritative bodies and individuals all working to facilitate the implementation of the Khalifa’s instructions. One such institution is that of Shura or Majlis-e-Mushawara which enables the Khalifa to assess and address, the ever diversifying and expanding opinions and needs of the Ummah.
What Does Shura Mean?
‘Shura’ is an Arabic word which literally means consultation3 and as a basic Islamic principle calls upon Muslims, usually under a system of proportional representation, to gather and, through debate, forward formed opinions to the Khalifa which they feel are for the betterment of the Ummah. Defining the linguistic and rhetorical features of the word Shura, Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih II(ra) writes4,
‘Shawara (consult) is derived from shara which means, he gathered or extracted honey from the comb, and separated it from the wax… Shara ‘Alayhi means, he gave him advice; he offered him counsel. Shawarahu means, he consulted him, he sought his opinion of advice; he discussed with him in order to find out his opinion. Mushawwarah means, good counsel or consultations. Shura means, mutual consultation (Aqrab).’
There is clear mention of Shura in the Holy Qur’an which, amongst other definitions, outlines it as a method by which consensus can be achieved thus preventing ideological dead-locks which ultimately lead toward sin and disunity, for Almighty Allah says:
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. (Ch.3:V.160)
Explaining this verse Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih II(ra) says that it sets out the principle of governance upon which the temporal Islamic state is to be based. Writing in his Tafsir Kabir he notes5:
‘This verse lays down Shura (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 Prophet(saw) it again becomes clear that consultation is an absolute must. The Holy Prophet(saw) never shied away from consulting his companions and even the opponents of Islam, on a variety of issues. Hadhrat Aisha(ra) is reported to have said6:
‘The Holy Prophet was most solicitous in consulting others in all matters of importance.’
This despite the fact that the Holy Prophet(saw) did not require the advice of those around him. He was the best of the decision makers amongst Almighty Allah’s blessed creation and most importantly was guided by Almighty Allah. Commenting on this, Baihaqi beautifully writes7:
‘Certainly Allah and His Messenger did not stand in need of the advice of anybody, but God has made it (the seeking of advice) a source of mercy for men. Those who hold consultation will not stray away from the path of rectitude, while those who do not are liable to do so.’
In essence, an individual who is a member of the process of Shura is a trustee and has an obligation to dispatch that trust with due diligence. During the battle of Badr, the Holy Prophet(saw) sought the consultation of his companions regarding the strategic placement of the army. On taking the advice of Ibn Al-Mundhir(ra) and other com-panions the Holy Prophet(saw) decided to alter his strategy and set up camp at a different location. There are countless other examples of Shura during the life of the Holy Prophet(saw) some of which will be later highlighted.
All Governments Belong To Allah
Before delving further into the subject of Shura it is important to first set the boundaries and restrictions of Shura. It took one of the most painful lessons in history for mankind to learn that consultation is not applicable in situations where Allah has clearly set out His will. The lesson learnt was so great that Allah has left it as a reminder for all time in the Holy Qur’an (translation by Malik Ghulam Farid):
Then after the sorrow, He sent down peace on you – a slumber that overcame a party of you – while the other party was anxious concerning their own-selves. They entertained about Allah wrong thoughts of ignorance. They said, ‘Have we any part in the affair?’ Say, ‘Verily the affair wholly belongs to Allah.’ They hide in their minds what they disclose not to thee. They say, ‘If we had any part in the determination of the affairs, we should not have been killed here.’ Say, ‘If you had remained in your homes, surely those on whom fighting had been enjoined would have gone forth to their death-beds that Allah might fulfil His decree and that He might test what was in your breasts and that He might purge what was in your hearts. And Allah knows well what is in your breasts. (Ch.3:Vs.155)
This verse is a reference to the battle of Uhud and the group of hypocrites which became anxious at the dangers ahead of them and wanted to dictate to the Holy Prophet(saw) how the battle should have been fought. They ultimately broke off from the army and remained in Madinah throughout the duration of the battle being more concerned for their own safety than defending Islam. Explaining the significance of this verse the Promised Messiah(as) has written8:
‘In this verse the word ‘Amr means administration and governance. This verse sets forth the thinking of those who had said: Had we any share in matters of governance, we would have so planned that the trouble that was encountered in the battle of Uhud would have been avoided. In reply to them God Almighty said: ‘Tell them all governance belongs to Allah. They were admonished to obey the Holy Prophet(saw) in all circumstances.’ This verse has nothing to do with choice or compulsion. The reference is to the thinking of some persons that if they had been consulted they would have proposed something different. God Almighty admonished them that the matter was not one for consultation but was a Divine commandment.’
It should thus be clear in our minds that whilst Shura plays a key role in Islam, it can never be used as a tool which abrogates a Divine commandment of Almighty Allah.
Shura And Khilafat
As mentioned at the beginning, this process serves as an integral feature within the institution of Khilafat. Highlighting this point, Hadhrat Umar(ra) went so far as to say9:
‘There is no Khilafat without consultation.’
The natural evolution and development of any state dictates that eventually its grip expands over people of diverse societies and cultures. It is not the purpose of Islam to suppress or eradicate regional diversity but rather to ensure that whilst each Muslim has a right to enjoy his own heritage, culture and tradition he should not contravene the Shariah. This was illustrated by one of the greatest Islamic jurisprudents, Hadhrat Imam Al-Shafi’i, who was known to sometimes vary his edicts from land to land. The dilemma thus faced by the Islamic State was how to constructively ascertain the collective and representative opinions, advice and proposals of the Ummah. The answer to this is as set out in the following verse of the Holy Qur’an 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. (Ch.42:V.39)
This certainly represents the core principle of Shura but there are also other benefits to this great institution of mercy. The following are some of these benefits laid out by Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih II(ra)10:
‘The Khalifa or the Amir comes to know the views of his followers.
He is helped in arriving at a correct decision.
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.
The Khalifa is enabled to judge the mental and administrative capabilities of different individuals, which help him to assign the right work to the right man.
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 effect 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 which performs a key function in sustaining certain aspects of the Ummah. As illustrated in the original definition of the word Shura, it should be apparent that whilst Shura means the drawing of one’s opinion and advice by means of consultation it does not make the general, or even unanimous, consensus of the Majlis-e-Mushawarah binding on the Khalifa. In the Holy Qur’an (Ch.3:V.160) Almighty Allah has made it clear that, whilst consultation must be sought, the final decision is to be taken by the leader (in the case of this verse the Holy Prophet(saw)) and, as with everything in life, the ultimate trust is placed in Almighty Allah.
There are countless examples of the non-binding effect of Shura advice in both the time of the Holy Prophet(saw) and the Rightly-Guided Khulafa. After the battle of Badr, the Holy Prophet(saw) accepted the advice of Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) regarding the kind treatment of the prisoners of war and rejected the advice of the other companions. In signing the treaty of Hudaibiya, the Holy Prophet(saw) rejected the overwhelming consensus of the companions present. After the death of the Holy Prophet(saw) the order to dispatch Hadhrat Usama bin Zaid(ra) as the leader of the Muslim army was issued by Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) against the opinion of the majority of the companions. One of the first orders of Hadhrat Umar(ra) as a Khalifa was to remove Hadhrat Khalid bin Waleed(ra) from his position of authority despite his being the favoured choice of the companions.
It must be noted that whilst it is right and proper to say that the Khalifa is not bound by the collective opinions of Majlis-e-Mushawarah, in practice, it is very rare for a Khalifa to decide against the proposals of Majlis-e-Shura. However, when a difference of opinion does arise one should understand the Divine nature of Khilafat and have trust in Almighty Allah that His appointed and guided vicegerent is sound in judgment.
In another place in the Holy Qur’an, Almighty Allah establishes that not only is it a duty to consult members of the Ummah but it is also permissible to consult people who have transgressed in some wayaa:
And it is by the great mercy of Allah that thou art kind towards them, and if thou hadst been rough and hard-hearted, they would surely have dispersed from around thee. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them, and consult them in matters of administration; and when thou art resolved, then put thy trust in Allah. Surely, Allah loves those who put their trust in Him. (Ch.3:V.160)
This verse refers to situations in which the Holy Prophet(saw) consulted his contemporaries including those who had not embraced Islam, more specifically the hypocrites of Madinah, on matters regarding the state. The beginning of the verse illustrates that such consultation is necessary and demonstrates the great kindness and beneficence of the ruler, here displayed par excellence by the Holy Prophet(saw). Once again, we find Almighty Allah illustrating two key concepts surrounding Shura being Allah’s Mercy and that the ultimate decision on all matters is to be left in the trust of Allah.
Shura & Modernity
Contemporary Islamic writers on the Islamic State and Islamic Social Policy such as the late Mohammad Asad and Tariq Ramadan have spent much time emphasizing the vital role which Shura plays within an ever evolving Ummah. They explain that the process of Shura is a means for allowing the Islamic Law (Shariah) to sensibly evolve, offering solutions to new issues which Islam has not previously encountered. Asad states that Shura caters for the ‘…continuous temporal legislation of our social existence’12 and when describing the institution of Shura in general terms Tariq Ramadan describes it as ‘…the space which allows Islam the management of pluralism.’ 13
The basic function of Shura has been already investigated, but in short the institution of Shura here takes on a new role in the modern and ever evolving age. With great social, technological and medical advancements arise new challenges which can be evaluated through the process of Shura. For example, there is a great desperation within the Muslim world of today to address the social dangers of the internet to Muslim children which can in some cases threaten their safety, modesty and very belief system. Using the mechanism of Shura such issues are brought to the forefront and debated by a proportional representation of the Ummah to create an awareness if the threats and train Muslim parents and children to safeguard such risks.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
Continuing the theme of modernity it is prudent to study the excellent implementation and benefits of the institution of Shura found in the Ahmadiyya model. This institution can be found at the very core of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community being only second in importance to the institution of Khilafat. This is illustrated in the following authoritative structure of the Community14:
1. Khalifatul Masih
2. Majlis-i-Mushawarat (consultative body)
3. Sadr Anjuman Ahmadiyya (central Ahmadi council for looking after the affairs of the Ahmadiyya Group)
4. Tahrik Jadid (special fund used in schemes to promote the Oneness of God, the dignity of Mohammad(saw), and the promotion of Islam in particular in all overseas countries of the world), Anjuman Ahmadiyya (national administrative bodies)
5. Waqf Jadid (special fund to be used to promote missionary and reformative aspects of the Ahmadi community); and
6. Local Anjumans (local administrative bodies).
The Majlis-e-Mushawarat, known also as Majlis-e-Shura (consultative body) officially gathers normally once a year and is presided by the Khalifa with no intermediary between the two. The council deliberates on policy matters relating to finance, budget, education, missionary projects and other affairs of the community forwarding its consensus, propo-sals and recommendations to the Khalifa.
The Majlis-e-Shura may also help to pre-empt any prospective issue that might arise between differing parties and thus strengthen the bonds of brotherhood. In March 1908, Hadhrat Maulvi Nur-ud-Din(ra), who shortly after became Khalifatul Masih I on the demise of the Promised Messiah(as), launched an initiative by the name of Majm’a-ul-Akhwan (an Association of Brothers) where he published several guidelines for the implementation of this proposal with the second one being15:
‘Mutual consultations and prayers should be the tool of cooperation.’
An issue of great contemporary significance to the Muslim world is Islamic Reasoning (Ijtihad) and its application in the modern age. Here the Ahmadiyya system of Shura plays an interesting role in that it encourages the use of Ijtihad on matters other than Fiqh (jurisprudence) in a safe and focused environment where findings are ultimately passed on to, and assessed by, the Khalifa for his final determination.
The Shura is different to a parliamentary system in that there exists no party based system and all findings are implemented at the discretion of the Khalifa. On this matter Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) enlightens us as follows16:
‘In a no party system you can pick the talent from anywhere. The guiding principal in our Shura is summed up by the Islamic phrase: “do not take sides with people but take sides with the truth and the truth will emerge victorious.”’
In his book, ‘A Man of God’, Iain Adamson precisely describes the Annual International Shura system whose basic traits can be applied to all Ahmadiyya Shura’s, international and national. Adamson writes17:
‘The subjects to be decided at International Shura come from resolutions agreed as recommendations at National Shuras. All concern policy and not administrative matters. To discuss each resolution a committee is formed by members who volunteer their services because of their interest in the subject or who are nominated by the Amir of their country. The chairman of the committee then reports the findings to the full Shura. If a poll is asked for this it is by show of hands. When the view of Shura has thus been obtained, the Khalifa, after deliberation and perhaps more questioning, announces his decision. He may accept the advice completely, he may accept some of it and vary other portions, he may appoint a sub committee to investigate the matter more closely and report back as soon as possible. If, however, he believes that the proposal is not in the true interest of the movement or that it contravenes some tenet of Islam then he will explain his reasons and reject the suggestion completely.’
As is the case with any institution of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community the Majlis-e-Mushawarat has been codified so as to make the process clear and unambiguous to all and prevent possible manipulations of the system. The rules for the International Shura are as follows18:
a) Subcommittee members are nominated by the National Amir of each country. Although, subject to National Amir’s consent, a delegate may volunteer himself to serve in a subcommittee.
b) The Jama’at proposing an item included in the agenda must have a delegate as a member of that sub-committee.
c) A subcommittee member cannot oppose the recommendation of the sub-committee unless the Chairman of the subcommittee acknowledges the dissent and registers the member’s right to oppose the recommendation during the subcommittee’s meeting.
d) The recommendations of the subcommittee supersede the original proposal.
e) An amendment to the proposal can be presented during a session of the Majlis-e-Shura only in writing. Verbal amendments are not acceptable.
f) Any delegate who wishes to express an opinion on any item under discussion must raise his hand when Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih so invites and register his full name and the Jama’at. Once this list has closed, delegates who did not register their own names when so invited are then not authorised to speak on that matter. If a previous delegate has broadly addressed the matter he wanted to cover, a delegate may withdraw his name.
g) When invited, delegates must be as brief as possible and restrict themselves to the item then being discussed. This helps save the precious time of all delegates.
h) Speakers must only address the Chair and they must never deride any other speaker.
i) A poll is always conducted by show of hands only. There are no secret ballots. No one is allowed to abstain. Everyone must vote either for or against the motion.
j) Since the proceedings are recorded and transcribed from these proceedings, whenever one speaks he should identify himself and the Jama’at he represents.
k) Separate arrangements are made for ladies and a limited number of visitors. Ladies do not participate at the sub-committee stage, but their contributions during the full Council (General Body) discussions are always welcomed. Visitors participate as observers and are not allowed to speak or vote.
l) The delegates obtain permission from the Chair before leaving any session of the Shura.
In addition to the formal system of Shura, there also exists an open court or a personal system whereby members can either arrange an audience (Mulaqat) with the Khalifa or write to, or e-mail, him directly and discuss any issue they feel to be of importance. 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 Mulaqat, with regards to the practice of Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih I(ra), the late Hadhrat Muhammad Zafrulla Khan(ra) writes19:
‘He was blessed with a regal personality, a commanding stature, and his court was open to each and everyone.’
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 they can actively affect change within their wider communities. It provides a safe and proactive medium, through the process of give and take, by which new and unique issues can be assessed so as to ascertain what is best for all.
The real issue which faces us as individuals is how we react to, and value, this blessed institution. It is most certainly an institution gifted to us out of the mercy of Almighty Allah and we must, therefore, learn to respect, understand, and utilise it to the very best of our abilities.
We must never allow ourselves to forget that the Institution of Shura is a blessing upon the Ummah which is today, by the Grace of Allah, being championed by the Divinely-manifested institution of Khilafat in Ahmadiyya. It is the solution to many difficulties faced by the Muslim Ummah and we must sincerely pray to Almighty Allah that He continues to shower upon us the blessings of mutual consultation. insha’Allah (God-willing). Amin.
1. Shah Wali Ullah, Izalat al-khafa ‘an khilafat al-khulafa, Vol.1, p.27.
2. Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as), Al-Hakam, Vol.7, 8 Feb 28, 1903, p.7.
3. Lane Edward William, 1863. Arabic – English Lexicon, Williams and Norgate, Vol.1, p.1617.
4. Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih II(ra), Tafsir Kabir, p.446, footnote 442.
5. Ibid, p. 2352, footnote 3629.
6. Ibid. Ch.3:V.160, pp.445-446, footnote 442.
8. Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, The Essence of Islam, Vol.2, p.342; also see Jang-e-Muqaddas, Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol.6, pp.231-234.
9. Tafsir Al-Kabir, Ch.3:V.160, pp.445-446, footnote 442.
12. Asad Muhammad, 2001, The Principles of State and Government in Islam, Islamic Book Trust, p.43.
13. Ramadan Tariq, 2001, Islam, the West and the Challenges of Modernity, The Islamic Foundation. p.81.
14. Zirvi, Dr. Karimullah, Welcome to Ahmadiyya – The True Islam, p.322.
15. Hadhrat Maulawi Nur-ud-Din(ra), Al-Hakam, Qadian. March 10 1908. p.7.
16. Adamson Iain, 1991, A Man of God, George Shepherd, p.114.
17. Ibid, p.168.
18. Instructions to International Majlis Shura Delegates (London).
19. Ahmad Syed Hasanat, 2003. Hakeem Nur-ud-Din (Khalifatul Masih I): The Way of the Righteous