Shura is regarded as a principle of good governance comparable to the Western notion of democracy with similar aspects and tending to move in similar direction. Indeed,the Shura principle is anchored in the Quran itself in which posits Shura as a principle of good governance rather than a system of governance. This departure is crucial when it is considered that the Quran essentially leaves it to successive governance regimes of the day in Muslim nations to continue to work towards achieving a more complete realization of the principle.
Shura as a principle is based on three key doctrines. These doctrines are that all persons in the society are equal in both civil and human rights. The second limb of the Shura principle dictates that the view of the majority determines issues concerning the public. The third doctrine of Shura as a principle is to the effect that all other principles such as justice, equality and human dignity are best achieved under the governance of Shura. In fact, the principle of Shura is what makes up the moral core of the Islamic religion and from it does all concepts of rights and dignity emanate. The Shura principle is a constituent of the four cardinal principles of governance in Islam.
In illustration, the Quran makes mention of the need for political consultation in governance which is a crucial facet of Shura. The Quran demands Prophet Muhammad to consult with his compatriots and then make a final decision on his own. In the second mode of political consultation described in the Quran, there is a call for the faithful community to discharge its affairs through mutual consultation. As far as this goes, it follows that in the first mode of consultation demanded by the Islamic holy book, there is mandated consultation although it has no binding force. On the second mode, it is has binding force and constitutes the very process of reaching public decisions. As a result of these two conflicting definitions, conservatives have taken advantage of the first mode by viewing Shura only as discretional and without a binding consultation. Nonetheless,it is the contention that the more progressive approach that treats consultation as key and binding that best depicts the principle of Shura and that which needs to be upheld.
As such the principles of shared responsibility,freedom and liberty,popular consent and dignity of persons among others all derive from the Shura principle of governance. An examination of the Islamic religion also reveals that it is against hereditary rule. The Quran cites this where a father speaking to a daughter tells her that the best person to employ is the competent and honest.
This anchors the very principle of Shura and mutual consultation advocated by the principle as people get the opportunity to employ through the participation in elections,the most competent and honest of their leaders.The etymology of the word Shura is in itself instructive. It loosely translates to mutual consultation in its widest scope. It does not consist of an exchange from one side but rather where both sides seek counsel from each other in making public decisions. Shura principle envisages a participatory political exercise and thus makes a nation more democratic and eliminating the possibility of totalitarian regime.
As already outlined,Shura is a principle and not a system of good governance. It encompasses several doctrines among them mutual consultation whilst administering public affairs. In order to answer this question on the proper form of government,it is helpful to explore the impact of the failure to adhere tom the fullest form of the Shura principle by the relevant leadership.
A number of nations now caught by despotic regimes especially in the Arab world can trace the origin of their predicament on the failure to adhere to the strict tenets of Shura. The leadership in these nations has tended to uphold the first mode of consultation which is not binding and that is discretional. They have regarded Shura as an optional exercise in the seeking of counsel which is non-binding from the ruler. There is no obligation on the ruler in these nations acting from the superior position to seek counsel from his subjects. As a result,abuse of power usually sets in. In fact,this disparate version of Shura is what has been adopted by the nations and acquiesced to by the clergy thus serving the purpose of co-opting the real version of Shura and consequently landing the nations into dictatorial rule.
It, therefore, follows that in the construction of what constitutes a proper form of government, the principles of Shura as espoused in this discourse need be upheld. This is because, Shura is a cardinal principle of good governance, without which anarchy is bound to occur.
Practices and doctrines shared by all Muslims
The Muslims consist of the main group of the Sunni and around 10% made up of the Shiites. They share similar doctrines and principles under the Islamic religion. In particular, both of the two communities of Islam believe in their God, Allah and Prophet Muhammad. They also regard the Quran as the holy book which consist of the exact words of Allah.
More so, the Muslims adhere to ‘shahada” recital of the creed,’salat” the holding of five prayers each day as well “sawm” which refers to fasting from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadhan. In addition, the Muslims also share similar practices of living in accordance to the other pillars of Islam that include “zakat” giving of the alms to the poor and “hajj”which denotes the making of a pilgrimage to Mecca for those that have the financial means at least once in their life time. All Muslims from both sides of the community adhere tom these practices and doctrines.
However, the Sunni and the Shiites differ as to the mode of leadership and who should hold it. The Sunnis believe that prophet Muhammad died without giving directions as to whom would succeed him and as such took it upon themselves to choose from their ranks leaders of the Islam community. On the other hand, the Shia believed that son in law Ali ibn Abi Taib had the blessings of Prophet Muhammad to continue with leadership. Conflict even arose between the two factions of the Sunni and the Shia. The Shia saw those who ascended to the throne through being chosen by the Sunnis as usurpers of the leadership.
The key statement in the Quran which calls for obedience to God and to those whom authority has been given has been understood differently by the two factions. The Sunnis consider these people as the rulers whom they choose while the Shia view these people as an expression of the Imams (teachers of religion) whom they view as infallible.
Sulaiman, Sadek Jawad. "The Shura Principle In Islam." Discussion Paper. 2007.
Voll, John O. Islam and Democracy: Is Modernization a Barier. Discussion Paper. Goergetown: Religion Compass, 2007.