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Shura (Arabic: شورى shūrā) is an Arabic word for "consultation". It is believed to be the method by which pre-Islamic Arabian tribes selected leaders and made major decisions.

Shura is mentioned twice in the Quran as a praiseworthy activity, and is a word often used in the name of parliaments in Muslim-majority countries.

Shura in Islam

Muslims believe that Islam requires all decisions made by and for the Muslim societies to be made by shura of the Muslim community and believe this to be the basis for implementing representative democracy.

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

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

Shura in Quran

  • The 42nd Sura of Quran is named as Shura. . The 38th verse of that Sura suggests that shura is praiseworthy but does not indicate whether or not it is mandatory, or who should be consulted. It says:
"Those who hearken to their Lord, and establish regular Prayer; who (conduct) their affairs by mutual consultation; who spend out of what We bestow on them for Sustenance" [are praised]

  • The 159th verse of 3rd Sura orders Muhammad(peace be upon him) to consult with believers. The verse makes a direct reference to those (Muslims) who disobeyed Muhammad(peace be upon him), indicating ordinary, fallible Muslims should be consulted. It says:
Thus it is due to mercy from God that you deal with them gently, and had you been rough, hard hearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you; pardon them therefore and ask pardon for them, and take counsel with them in the affair; so when you have decided, then place your trust in God; surely God loves those who trust.

Choosing of the first caliphs by shura

Arguments over shura begin with the debate over the succession to Muhammad. When the Islamic prophet Muhammad died in 632 CE, a tumultuous meeting at Saqifah selected Abu Bakr as his successor. This meeting did not include some of those with a strong interest in the matter—especially Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law. Ali and his supporters only later submitted to Abu Bakr. In later years, the party of Ali (Shi'at Ali) split from the rest of the Muslim community over this question of succession, splitting the ummah into Sunni and Shi'a groups.

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

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

Shura and the caliphate

During and after Ali's tenure as caliph, the Muslim community fell into civil war. Power was eventually grasped by the Ummayad caliphs and then by the Abbasid caliphs. There were also rival caliphates in Egyptmarker and Al-Andalusmarker, which included much of current-day Spainmarker. Later the rulers of the Ottoman Empire inherited the caliphate. The Ottoman Caliphate was officially dissolved in 1924.

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

Shura and contemporary Muslim-majority states

Some Muslim-majority states, like Turkeymarker and Tunisiamarker, are secular democracies or constitutional monarchies (Moroccomarker). They could thus be said to be ruled by one version of shura. Other states are autocracies, secular, monarchic, or clerical.

The bicameral Parliament of Pakistan is officially called the Majlis-i-Shura, although the Constitution uses various spellings of the term.

Secular autocracies

Monarchist autocracies:

  • Saudi Arabiamarker was given a shura council in 1993; there are now 120 members. All real power is held by the King, who is elected by family members, with no input from the populace.

  • Omanmarker has a shura council, all members are elected except the president who is appointed by the Sultan. the council can only offer advice, which may be refused if the Sultan so pleases.

Clerical autocracies:

  • Iranmarker is now ruled by a Shi'a Islamist government, which came to power in 1979 with the Iranian Revolution. The leader practices shura in that he consults with the other clergy. There is also a parliament, on the Western model, but it has little power.

Shuras have also been a feature of revolutions in Islamic societies, such as in the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the uprisings in Iraqmarker in 1991, where they functioned as a form of participatory democracy.

Resemblance between majlis al-shura and a parliament

Many traditional Sunni Islamic lawyers agree that to be in keeping with Islam, a government should have some form of council of consultation or majlis al-shura, although it must recognize that God and not the people are sovereign and that it is subordinate to Sharia law. Al-Mawardi has written that members of the majlis should satisfy three conditions: they must be just, they must have enough knowledge to distinguish a good caliph from a bad one, and must have sufficient wisdom and judgment to select the best caliph. Al-Mawardi also said in emergencies when there is no caliphate and no majlis, the people themselves should create a majlis, select a list of candidates for caliph, then the majlis should select from the list of candidates.

Many contemporary Muslims have compared the concept of Shura to the principles of western parliamentary democracy. For example:
What is the shura principle in Islam?
It is predicated on three basic precepts.
First, that all persons in any given society are equal in human and civil rights.
Second, that public issues are best decided by majority view.
And third, that the three other principles of justice, equality and human dignity, which constitute Islam's moral core, ... are best realized, in personal as well as public life, under shura governance.

Other modern Muslim thinkers distance themselves from democracy. Taqiuddin al-Nabhani, the founder of the modern transnational Islamist party Hizb ut-Tahrir, writes that Shura is important and part of the "the ruling structure" of the Islamic caliphate, "but not one of its pillars." If the caliph "neglects it," by not paying much or any attention, as happened after the first four caliphs, "he would be negligent, but the ruling system would remain Islamic."

This is because the shura (consultation) in Islam is for seeking the opinion and not for ruling.
This is contrary to the parliamentary system in democracy.
The democratic parliamentary system being distinct from and inferior to the true Islamic caliphate system according to Taqiuddin an-Nabhani.

Under the Hizb ut-Tahrir constitution non-Muslims may not serve a caliph or any other ruling official, nor vote for these officials, but may be part of the majlis and voice "complaints in respect to unjust acts performed by the rulers or the misapplication of Islam upon them."

Still others, such as the celebrated Islamist author Sayyid Qutb, go further, arguing that an Islamic shura should advise the caliph but not elect or supervise him. In a rigorous analysis of the shura chapter of the Qur'an, Qutb noted Islam requires only that the ruler to consult with at least some of the ruled (usually the elite), within the general context of God-made laws that the ruler must execute. The Qur’an makes no mention of the ruler being chosen by the ruled, let alone of elections with universal suffrage, or secret ballots, of elected representatives each representing approximately an equal number of citizens eligible to vote, or of any other democratic governmental practices developed by the non-Muslim West in the last couple of centuries. In the 1950 Qutb denounced democracy in favor of dictatorship, saying it was already bankrupt in the West and asking why it should be imported to the Middle East.

The practice of a consultative, but not bill-passing, caliph-electing or popularly elected shura, was adopted by the self-described Islamically-strict Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. While the Kandahar Shura of the Taliban debated issues, in the end its spokesman declared, "we abide by the Amir's view even if he alone takes this view."

Soviet etymology

In Persian language, the term شوروی, shuravi is used for 'Sovietmarker'. In Tajik language it is written Шӯравӣ.

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