Applying the Quranic Principle of Shura in Non-Muslim Countries
by Dr. Ahmad Shafaat (1983)
In another article, we discussed at some length the Qur'anic principle of Shura (Consultation) and its application in a Muslim society. Most of our discussion there was in the context of Muslim countries. We now turn our attention to the question of non-Muslim countries: Are Muslim communities which exist only as small minorities required to run their affairs by Shura and if so how?
Necessity of Shura
One of the Qur'anic verses where the principle of Shura is enunciated (42:38) is a Makkan verse. Commenting on this, and following Sayyid Qutb, Muhammad El-Awa says:"Thus, the description of the believers as those `who conduct their affairs by mutual counsel' denotes that shura is one of the traits of Islam which should adorn Muslims whether they are only a group without an established state (which was the situation of the Muslims in Makkah), or form a fully established state (as was the case in Madinah)."(1)In view of this very sound comment we must conclude that consultation is as much a requirement for Muslims living in Montreal, Chicago, or Sydney, whose situation resembles that of Muslims in the Makkan period of Islam as it is for those living in Muslim countries whose situation is like that of the Muslims who constituted a state in Madinah, albeit not as perfect.
How can Muslim communities living in non-Muslim countries put the principle of shura into practice and thus fulfill the Qur'anic requirement?
Method of Shura
Applying the principle of shura in any community obviously requires two things. First, it requires that if members of the community have any views on any matter of community concern they should raise their voices and express their ideas. Second, there must exist in the community a process whereby various views found among the members of the community are translated into a coherent policy consistent with Islamic teachings and then put into action. If members of the community do not express their views or if various ideas circulate in the community without producing any clear policy and definite course of action, then the community obviously cannot be said to run its affairs by shura.
Consequently, in order to apply the principle of shura in Muslim communities living in non-Muslim countries we must take the following steps:
1) Brothers and sisters should honestly reflect on the present state of affairs in the community and how they should be run in the future. If, as a result of such reflection, they have any sincere and considered views, they should express those views in an appropriate way in some of the gatherings that they attend or through some of the local publications.
2) Two councils should be formed in the community - an Administrative Council and a Council of the Learned.
The Administrative Council
Should be chosen by election involving the entire Muslim community. Its function should be to collect various views found in the community, give them the form of a coherent policy and then put them into action.
The Council of the Learned
Should also be elected by the entire community. Its members should be nominated from among brothers and sisters who have thorough knowledge of Islam. If there are not enough such persons in town, then persons out of town may be nominated, provided they are in a position to travel to meetings now and then. The function of the Council of the Learned will be to see that the final form given to the views of the community members by the Administrative Council is not in conflict with Islamic teachings.
The first elections for the two councils should be arranged by an ad hoc committee formed by representatives of various sections of the community.
If the two councils are elected by the entire community and they function as suggested above, then the community will have duly put into practice the Qur'anic principle of shura. For, as we saw in earlier articles of this series, a genuine application of this principle must fulfill three basic conditions:
a) that all members of a Muslim community be involved in shura,
b) that all matters be decided by shura, and
c) that the decisions reached by shura should be consistent with Islamic teachings.
These conditions will clearly be fulfilled if the affairs of the community are run by two councils elected by the entire community, one council collecting, systematizing and putting into action the views found among the members of the community and the other making sure that the final policies and actions adopted in this way are consistent with Islam.
Two basic matters
After its election the Administrative Council will naturally have to consider two basic questions:
- How to acquire financial resources; and
- How to utilize those resources for the benefit of Islam and Muslims?
In this connection it should be noted that our community has plenty of financial resources of its own to look after all its needs. If everyone of us contributes 2% of his or her income the Council would have a considerable sum to spend each year for Islamic causes and community projects. Out of this amount, one third could be spent each year for acquiring property for mosques, schools, etc. and/or for expansion, repair or maintenance of existing property; one third could be spent on education of our children, developing a Muslim media (TV and radio programs, magazines, etc.) and providing extensive Islamic literature both for Muslims and for non-Muslims; and the remaining third could be spent for fighting Islamic causes and helping brothers and sisters who need some help.
If there are some brothers and sisters who might think that 2% of their income is too much for them to contribute for Islam and Muslims, then we would like to inform them that Christians whom we think not to be very religious contribute 10% of their income to their churches. That is why these churches have so much money for hiring thousands of missionaries for full-time work in Muslim countries and for sending aid to refugees and other poverty stricken communities as part of their efforts to evangelize them.
We believe that while some brothers and sisters may be skeptic about the feasibility of our suggestion, most members of our community will Inshah Allah pay the suggested 2% of their income, providing, however, the following conditions are fulfilled:a) An effective way to communicate the suggestion to all members of the community is found and acted upon;If these five conditions are fulfilled, then there seems no reason why an overwhelming majority of the members of our community will not on average contribute this meager amount on a monthly basis, for the sake of Islam and the community.
b) Brothers and sisters are confident that the money will be handled by competent and trustworthy persons, which would be the case if decisions in this regard are taken by an Administrative Council which is elected by the entire community;
c) The money is spent according to a plan constructed from views found among the members of the community;
d) A clear statement of account is prepared from time to time and a copy of it is sent to every contributing member of the community, and
e) Once a brother or sister has paid his or her 2% contribution, he or she is never bothered with any further appeals for contributions from any group.
The above is a brief outline of the way our community can reorganize itself in accordance with the true spirit of the Qur'anic principle of shura and get united to help itself instead of depending on outside help. We have purposely avoided lengthy details about practical questions because:
Firstly, we wanted the presentation to be readable for the average reader; and
Secondly, practical details will become relevant only after the community has duly recognized the two basic principles presented here, namely, the principle of shura and the principle of self-help.
Both in the way of the due recognition of the two principles and their realization in practice there are many hurdles to be overcome.
At present our communities are divided into several groups and organizations. The main hurdle in the way of reorganizing and uniting each community on the principle of shura and self-help is the attitudes of these groups and organizations - not their existence per say. For example:
1) The active members of some of these groups and organizations (amirs, presidents, secretaries, etc.) have become used to doing things in their own way in their own little circle. They are not mentally prepared to work together with Muslims outside of their circle under the direction of city-wide elected Councils. This psychological hurdle must be removed. We must all learn to entrust our affairs to some authority and then work under the direction of that authority, provided that authority works according to the law of God and is chosen by the community. This is commanded by God Most High in the Holy Qur'an:"Obey God and obey the Messenger and those in charge of your affairs among you..."2) Many of the organizations in our midst are at least partly controlled from outside, since they receive funds from government agencies of one or the other of the Muslim countries. As a result, they lack the freedom to fully cooperate with each other and to become part of a united community. This situation also needs to be corrected.
The various religious groups that are found in each community are not controlled by funds from outside but by indoctrination. They feel bound by the teachings of some Islamic scholar in one of the Muslim countries and are directed by an amir sitting thousands of miles away. It is natural that members of a religious group follow the basic principles on which the group is founded. But it is the duty of the founders and leaders of every Muslim group to include in its principles the principle of cooperating with other Muslims in good faith.
There are some groups among Muslims who would have nothing to do with the rest of the Muslims. The editor of a periodical in Montreal, Canada, Al-Ummah, for example, once approached one of these groups saying in effect: There has now arisen in the form of Al-Ummah a voice of truth so will you support this voice? The response of the group in effect was: We will support you if you become one of us. This is the attitude that the Qur'an condemns in case of the people of the book. The Holy Prophet wanted to cooperate with them whenever cooperation was possible but they did not want any cooperation unless he and his followers joined their millat (i.e. their religious group).
3) Most religious groups among us think that they are the custodians of the only right and complete Islam. Some members of some of these groups see outside of their group nothing but kufr, nifaq and nijasat (disbelief, hypocrisy and uncleanliness). But the fact is that none of these groups encompasses within their approach the whole reality of Islam. Islam is much too great for any one of these groups. Each one of them concentrates only on a part of Islam. For example, Tablighi Jama'at concentrates only on the very personal religious obligations in Islam but for the tremendous socio-political problems facing Muslims it has no satisfactory answers. Its claim that once people start praying, fasting, etc. the rest will be taken care of by God ignores a part of the teachings of Islam, and uswah of Rasul Allah (may God bless him evermore). God has indeed power over all things but it is His Sunnah that He makes nations strive for whatever He gives them. The Prophet Muhammad and his followers therefore did not lead a quiet life of prayer and zikr (remembrance of God) only but they also engaged in all kind of struggle against injustice, oppression and falsehood. The movement started in Iran by Imam Khomeini has fully realized this point and is engaged in a worthy struggle to free Muslims from superpowers and their puppets among Muslims. But there are some imperfections in the local pro-Khomeini group also.
Let, therefore, each group among us be humble and realize that it represents only part of Islam, that the work it is doing is at best only a part of the great work for which the last and chief of the prophets of God was sent. Once the various groups fully realize this point, they will begin to see their work as not contradicting but complementing each other's and present confrontation will give way to cooperation.
At present, many members of our religious groups think that the Muslim Ummah will get united when all the Muslims become members of their own particular groups. But these are their vain desires. Never will the Ummah be united in this way. It will never ever happen that all Muslims will become members of only one of the existing jamaats (organizations). The only way the Ummah can get united is that the various jamaats that exist today and those that may come into existence in the future learn to work together as many parts of the same body. This means that various groups amongst us should be linked together by a process of consultation and cooperation, as suggested above, instead of remaining small isolated groups going their own separate ways.
(1) On the political system of the Islamic State, pp. 87-88.
First published in Al-Ummah, Montreal, Canada in 1983. Copyright. Dr. Ahmad Shafaat. The article may be reproduced for Da'wah purpose with proper references.