Some Muslims say that ISLAM requires absolutely all decisions made by and for the Muslim societies to be made by shura. To some, this means that Islam enjoins REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY. This belief is characteristic of LIBERAL MOVEMENTS WITHIN ISLAM.

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. [1]. Aya 38 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] [2]

  • The 38th verse of 42nd Sura refers to the habit of consultation between all believers. 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. [3]

  • The 159th verse of 3rd Sora orders Muhammad to consult with believers. The verse makes a direct reference to those (Muslims) who disobeyed the Muhammad, indicating ordinary, fallible Muslims should be consulted. It says:

Thus it is due to mercy from Allah 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 Allah; surely Allah loves those who [missing text]. [4]

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, thus 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 EGYPT and AL-ANDALUS, which included much of current-day SPAIN. Later the rulers of the OTTOMAN EMPIRE claimed the caliphate. The nominal Ottoman caliphate was 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 counselled 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 TURKEY, are secular democracies or constitutional monarchies (MOROCCO). 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

  • In EGYPT, the UPPER HOUSE of PARLIAMENT is known as the SHURA COUNCIL. Most members are elected for a six-year term. However, all real power is held by HOSNI MUBARAK.

Monarchist autocracies:

  • SAUDI ARABIA 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.
  • OMAN has a shura council, but its members are appointed by the SULTAN and they can only offer advice, which may be refused if the Sultan so pleases.

Clerical autocracies:

  • IRAN 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 IRAQ in 1991, where they functioned as a form of PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY.

Does a majlis al-shura resemble a parliament?

Many traditional SUNNI ISLAMIC LAWYERS agree that to be in keeping with Islam, a government should have some form of council of consulation or majlis al-shura. 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. [5]

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.[6]

Other modern Muslim thinkers distance themselves from democracy. The founder of the modern transnational Muslim party HIZB UT-TAHRIR, Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, 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. [7]

A democratic parliamentary system being distinct from and inferior to the Islamic caliphate system proposed by Taqiuddin an-Nabhani[8]

Under the HIZB UT-TAHRIR constitution non-Muslims may also be part of the majlis. Though they may not serve a caliph or any other ruling official, nor vote for these officials, they may 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; why should it be imported to the Middle East?[9][10]

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, “we abide by the Amir’s view even if he alone takes this view.” [11]


  1. ^ http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/042.qmt.html
  2. ^ http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/042.qmt.html#042.038
  3. ^ والذین استجابوا لربهم و اقاموا الصلوة و امرهم شوری بینهم و مما رزقنهم ینفقون http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/042.qmt.html#042.038
  4. ^ فبما رحمة من الله لنت لهم و لو کنت فضا غلیظ القلب لانفضوا من حولک فاعف عنهم و استغفر لهم و و شاورهم فی الامر فاذا عزمت فتوکل علی الله ان الله یحب المتوکلین http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/003.qmt.html#003.159
  5. ^ Process of Choosing the Leader (Caliph) of the Muslims
  6. ^ THE SHURA PRINCIPLE IN ISLAM by Sadek Jawad Sulaiman
  7. ^ The System of Islam, (Nidham ul Islam) by Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, Al-Khilafa Publications, 1423 AH – 2002 CE, p.61
  8. ^ The System of Islam, by Taqiuddin an-Nabhani, p.39
  9. ^ Qutb, Sayiid, Tafsir Surat al-Shura (Beirut, 1973), pp.83-85; Ma’alim fi al-Tariq, p.3
  10. ^ Source: letter in al-Akhbar, August 8, 1952
  11. ^ Interview with Taliban spokesman Mullah Wakil in Arabic magazine Al-Majallah, 23 October, 1996

External Links:

Retrieved from “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shura


8 Responses to “DEMOCRACY IN THE QUR’AN -III-”

  1. September 12, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    First of all, I’d like to say Ramadan Kareem. I know it’s been almost a year since this post, but I found it on Google the other day when I was searching for “democracy hadith aya”, as I was looking for democracy in Islam. I just finished my blog post about it, and I quoted a few words from your research, as well as referred back to you. Secondly, I have been looking all around this site for a Sukran’s email, or even a contact page, but I haven’t found any, so I figured out that the best way to contact you is through comments. Anyway, I’d like you to look at my blog post regarding Islam and Democracy, and tell me your opinion about it, and if I said anything wrong or misleading so that I can correct it.

    If there’s any problem in quoting your words, it won’t trouble me to delete the post. Thank you for your effort making such a wonderful research!

  2. March 31, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    To author, Salam,

    I enjoyed reading your piece on Shura, and I am trying to research the topic more. I have spent the last 5-6 years or so researching the rise of participatory democracy in Latin America with a very deep interest. I am trying to balance my political beliefs with my religious beliefs, as I believe the Qu’ran and participatory democracy are compatible. Many muslim brothers and sisters believe in the Khalifa citing the Islamic Caliphate’s rule of about 1100-1200 years, or at least citing the “four righteous Caliphs” as the ideal. Reading history leads me to disagree since there were four civil wars within 200 years of the passing of the Prophet Muhammad pbuh. The history of the Khalifa appears to me at least, contradict several hadith and verses from the Qu’ran I have read that encourage struggle and stopping oppression wherever it may be (even if it is your brother in Islam).

    I would like to discuss democracy and Islam, with any muslims willing or interested. Please drop me a line in Skype and introduce yourself. My skype is arthur.esparza


    • March 24, 2017 at 1:34 am

      beh la cotica del maiale si mangia ancora adesso, mica è 'na cosa da nonni… vedi il conhiecto che è fatto, appunto, anche con la cotica. io lo mangio e mi piace pure 🙂

    • May 8, 2017 at 3:30 pm

        IshtiaqueDecember 16, 2012This is an excellent project. I believe this would encourage the users to contribute to public maps and help them learn the geography and history at the same time.

    • May 10, 2017 at 2:57 pm

      Phil Kappell Hello,I heard on my local news that you sell bacon flavoredtoothpicks. I have looked for any flavored kind. I use them as a crutch for stop smoking. The bacon flavored ones sound like something i would like to try. However I live in Neenah WI. about 35 miles south of Green Bay. I would like some info so I could order a couple boxs. Can you help get me the info I need.Thank You!!Phil

  3. July 5, 2014 at 12:32 pm

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