By Prince El Hassan bin Talal
October 06, 2014
TODAY, the world appears full of divisions. Fault lines are emerging between people of different religions, sects and ethnicities. These divisions are being played out in a region where people of all faiths have coexisted in harmony since the earliest days of civilisation.
We cannot allow these divisions to harden. We must repay the debt we owe to our earliest civilisations, to the people of the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia. It is for this reason that today, on the holy festival of Eid, we take a moment to reflect on an important message from the Quran; a message that, alongside the principles of justice, equality and human dignity, has been instrumental in guiding the destinies of our families and entire nations.
The principle I refer to is that of consultation, of the ancient tradition of Shura, of the rapidly fading art of conversation that is predicated on the respect for human dignity that is common to all our faiths.
The Quran clearly elucidates the importance of Shura as fundamental to the relationship between the ruler and the governed. As evidenced in the story of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, it emphasises the soundness in the approach of engaging the opinion of others in public affairs.
Why Do We Shun Our Ancient Tradition Of Shura?
“The Queen of Sheba said, ‘Counsellors, a gracious letter has been delivered to me. It is from Solomon, and it says, ‘In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy, do not put yourselves above me, and come to me in submission to God’. Counsellors, give me your counsel in the matter I now face: I only ever decide on matters in your presence.’ (Surah Al-Naml, 29-32.)
Notwithstanding that the message was manifestly clear in calling to worship God and surrender to His Oneness, the queen sought the opinion of her notables.
The principle of Shura applies to all Muslims. Why then do we allow ourselves to be ruled by our disagreements, rather than seek the path of consultation and convergence? Did the Prophet (PBUH) not say: “Disagreements among my Ummah represent a mercy” — an allusion to the respect for diversity and pluralism, which has characterised Islamic civilisations since the earliest days?
I remember a Shia scholar once told me that in terms of the Salafi, we all, Sunni and Shia alike have an innate respect for the early generation of Muslims, the Al-Salaf Al Salihs. Similarly, I recall an erudite Sunni telling me that irrespective of our differences, if the word ‘Shia’ carries the connotation of following the example of the house of the Prophet, then we are all in some way Shia.
Sadly, even a cursory reading of the news today provides ample proof that we have veered away from the path of consultation. Our divisions are driving us further apart every day — driving a wedge between neighbours and forcing people from their homes. Millions, 70pc of them Muslims, are compelled to seek refuge in other countries.
I see displaced people every day in Jordan. Recently in Greece, I saw a displaced person selling antique items with exquisite calligraphic renditions of the words of the Messenger. “Ali is the finest of men, and the finest of swords is Dhu’l Fiqar.” This family had been bequeathed these priceless items from their forefather — but these cruel times, these times of division had forced them to part ways with their prized possessions.
To get out of this mess we need to embrace once again our proud tradition of Shura. At the level of the UN, we need to pay heed to the words of Kofi Annan, who always stressed the importance of including all members of the Security Council in discussions. We must stop ignoring the role of Russia. At a regional level, even as we meet to discuss the path to peace in Syria, we must stop ignoring the views of our brothers and sisters in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Today’s divisions belie our tradition of pluralism. During the papal visit to Albania, His Holiness prayed in a church built by Muslims. Our ancestors knew that participating in a religious act was to open a window to the world, and it is critical we learn from their ways.
As we decide our fate in the light of the wisdom of the Eid feast, we have a choice. Either we follow the path of our ancestors — of encouraging diversity, developing mutual respect and seeking common ground, or we let our lands be taken over by the forces of evil.
Today, on Eid, let us be sincere with our Creator. Let us once again turn back to shura, to a world in which consultation prevails and where no one person, religion or sect monopolises decision-making.
Prince El Hassan bin Talal is an author and founder of the West Asia and North Africa Forum.