By Kaniz Fatma, New Age Islam
30 October 2019
The plain answer is that Islam upholds democracy as a means of good governance. This is the preferred view also supported by the Muslim jurists. In Islam the imam is considered to be the agent (Wakil) of every citizen. The contract of Bayah can be termed a form of voting. All this is expressed by the concept of Shura which agrees with democratic form of governance.
The Arabic term Shura means consultation. Other terms which are closely used to denote the meaning of Shura are Ishtishar and Tashawur; Istishar means ‘consulting others’ and Tashawur means ‘mutual consultation’. The word Shura has been taken from the Quran- in fact one Surah 42 (chapter) of the Quran has been attributed to it.
“And those who have responded to their lord and established prayer and whose affair is [determined by] consultation (Shura) among themselves, and from what We have provided them, they spend. And those who, when tyranny strikes them, they defend themselves, And the retribution for an evil act is an evil one like it, but whoever pardons and makes reconciliation - his reward is [due] from Allah. Indeed, He does not like wrongdoers.” (The Quran: Surah Shura, 42:38-40)
In these verses the words that we need to pay attention to are, ‘Wa Amruhum Shura Baynahum’ which translates as “their affair is [determined by] consultation (Shura) among themselves”. This divine message invokes a general principle, as it is said that if people seek counsel (Shura) with one another, they will be able to make sound judgment in matters. This also indicates that the Prophet was instructed to consult his companions in matters of governance and military issues. This also worked as an exemplary character followed by the Companions (Sahaba) after the demise of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
The significance of counseling with one another can be understood from the teaching of the Prophet who said, “if your leaders are the best of you and your wealthy are the magnanimous among you and your affair is counsel among you, the outside of the earth will be better for you than its inside” (Tafsir Qurtabi)
Another verse of the Quran says, “And consult them in the matter” (3:159). Ibn Kathir writes that consultation in the important affairs of the state is compulsory. The head of the State should be selected by consultation. The Muslim scholars say this verse brought to an end the autocratic rule of kings of the Jahiliyya period who used to take the state as an inherited estate. As such Islam laid the foundation of real democracy by putting an end to autocracy.
Khatib Baghdadi narrated a report from Hazrat Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) who asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) that after you, if we face a situation about which neither the Quran has specific ruling nor have you given any direction, how should we proceed? The Prophet replied saying, “in such a case, assemble the worshipping people of my Ummah and decide the matter by mutual consultation; do not take decision on any individual’s single opinion” (Tafisr Ruhul Maani by Allama Alusi)
It is also reported in a Hadith that “when a nation takes an action after mutual consultation, it is surely guided towards the correct course” (reported by Abd Ibn Humaid in Musnad)
In democratic system of governance, we the common select the government by voting, that is, we select him by consultation. This way Islam with its concept of Shura upholds the democratic form of governance. There are certain differences between the laws of present democratic countries and Islamic laws but they do not develop the situation where the fundamental beliefs of any religion may be violated. In democratic form of governance, human rights, religious freedom and personal security are ensured. All these rights are also advocated by Islamic teachings. So we do not hesitate to believe that Islam upholds democracy as a means of good governance.
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