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Islam, Democracy and Worldly Systems

By Fethullah Gulen

Islam does not propose a certain unchangeable form of government or attempt to shape it.

Islam establishes fundamental principles that orient a government’s general character.

Religion, particularly Islam, has become one of the most difficult subject areas to tackle in recent years. Contemporary culture, whether approached from the perspective of anthropology or theology, psychology or psychoanalysis, evaluates religion with empirical methods.

On the one hand, religion is an inwardly experienced and felt phenomenon, one mostly related to life’s permanent aspects. On the other believers can see their religion as a philosophy, a set of rational principles, or mere mysticism. The difficulty increases in the case of Islam, for some Muslims and policy-makers consider and present it as a purely political, sociological, and economic ideology, rather than as a religion.

If we want to analyze religion, democracy, or any other system or philosophy accurately, we should focus on humanity and human life. From this perspective, religion in general and Islam in particular cannot be compared on the same basis with democracy or any other political, social, or economic system. Religion focuses primarily on the immutable aspects of life and existence, whereas political, social, and economic systems or ideologies concern only certain variable, social aspects of our worldly life.

The aspects of life with which religion is primarily concerned are as valid today as they were at the dawn of humanity and will continue to be so in the future. Worldly systems change according to circumstances and so can be evaluated only according to their times.

Belief in God, the hereafter, the prophets, the holy books, angels, and divine destiny have nothing to do with changing times. Likewise, worship and morality’s universal and unchanging standards have little to do with time and worldly life.

Therefore, when comparing religion or Islam with democracy, we must remember that democracy is a system that is being continually developed and revised. It also varies according to the places and circumstances where it is practiced. On the other hand, religion has established immutable principles related to faith, worship and morality. Thus, only Islam’s worldly aspects should be compared with democracy.

The main aim of Islam and its unchangeable dimensions affect its rules governing the changeable aspects of our lives. Islam does not propose a certain unchangeable form of government or attempt to shape it. Instead, Islam establishes fundamental principles that orient a government’s general character, leaving it to the people to choose the type and form of government according to time and circumstances.

If we approach the matter in this light and compare Islam with today’s modern liberal democracy, we will better understand the position of Islam and democracy with respect to each other.

Democratic ideas stem from ancient times. Modern liberal democracy was born in the American (1776) and French Revolutions (1789-99). In democratic societies, people govern themselves as opposed to being ruled by someone above. The individual has priority over the community in this type of political system, being free to determine how to live his or her own life. Individualism is not absolute, though. People achieve a better existence by living within a society and this requires that they adjust and limit their freedom according to the criteria of social life.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) says that all people are as equal as the teeth of a comb. Islam does not discriminate based on race, color, age, nationality, or physical traits.

The Prophet declared: ”You are all from Adam, and Adam is from earth. O servants of God, be brothers (and sisters)”. (Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi and Al-Bayhaqi)

Thus, those who are born earlier have more wealth and power than others, or belong to certain families or ethnic groups have no inherent right to rule others.

Islam also upholds the following fundamental principles:

1- Power lies in truth, a repudiation of the common idea that truth relies upon power.

2- Justice and the rule of law are essential.

3- Freedom of belief and rights to life, personal property, reproduction, and health (both mental and physical) cannot be violated.

4- The privacy and immunity of individual life must be maintained.

5- No one can be convicted of a crime without
evidence, or accused and punished for someone else’s crime.

6- An advisory system of administration is essential.

All rights are equally important, and an individual’s right cannot be sacrificed for society’s sake. Islam considers a society to be composed of conscious individuals equipped with free will and having responsibility toward both themselves and others. Islam goes a step further by adding a cosmic dimension. It sees humanity as the ‘motor’ of history, contrary to fatalistic approaches of some of the nineteenth century Western philosophies of history such as dialectical materialism and historicism.

Just as every individual’s will and behavior determine the outcome of his or her life in this world and in the hereafter, a society’s progress or decline is determined by the will, world-view, and lifestyle of its inhabitants.

The Qur’an says: God will not change the state of a people unless they change themselves (with respect to their beliefs, world-view, and lifestyle). (Ar-Ra`d 13:11)

In other words, each society holds the reins of its fate in its own hands. The prophetic tradition emphasizes this idea: ‘You will be ruled according to how you are.’ This is the basic character and spirit of democracy, which does not conflict with any Islamic principle.



Fethullah Gulen is an influential Turkish Muslim intellectual who inspired a series of social activities, including a transnational education and business network, interfaith and multicultural dialogue forums. He is author of more than forty books voicing the cries and laments, as well as the beliefs and aspirations, of Muslims in particular and of humanity in general.

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The Difference between Shura and Democracy


The reference of Shura (consultation) is divine, but the application is human.

By Sheikh `Abdullah Bin Bayyah

Shura (consultation) and democracy differ in the following points:

First, the reference of Shura:

The reference of Shura is divine, but the application is human. This means that it is man who chooses the ruler through the process of paying the pledge of alliance and Shura and it is up to him to set the systems that guarantee the success of the process.

These systems may be affected by time and place and by the public interest that constitutes the basis of the shari`ah, according to the words of Ibn Al-Qayyim (a renowned Muslim scholar). Nevertheless, a distinguished characteristic of the Islamic system is the belief that everything belongs to Allah, for He is the Creator of this universe but He did not leave people after their creation. He rather gave them commands and prohibitions. This relation between creation and systemization is pointed out by the verse,

Most surely, to Him belongs all the creation and all the command. Blessed be God, Lord of [All] the Worlds. (Al-A`araf 7:54)

This dualism between the absolute sovereignty of the Creator with regard to the command, which stands for the fundamentals and invariables of the legislation and the determination of the truth and falsehood, and the possibility- or rather the injunction – that man should use his mind and thought to reach the public interest may be the reason for some to refrain from describing the Islamic system as democratic, theocratic or aristocratic; because none of these systems applies to it.

The symmetry of this duality constitutes the cornerstone in the Islamic system and this is what keeps it away from theocracy which is a divine delegation of authority to the ruler. This is more clarified by the words of `Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the second Caliph, when his scriber wrote in a message he ordered him to write “This is what Allah has shown to `Umar”, whereupon `Umar reproached him saying “Write: ‘This is what `Umar views.’” This is because such description is only restricted to the Prophet (peace be upon him). `Umar intended to bear the responsibility of his opinion, be it right or wrong.

Therefore, the censorship is three-folded to ensure proper application of man’s proper application of his succession in the earth

Therefore, say [to them]: Do works [of righteousness]! For God will assuredly see your work, and so will His Messenger and the believers. (At-Tawbah 9:105)

The watchfulness of Allah effects religious scruple and that of the messenger of Allah leads to following his Shari`ah as explained by the scholars. Therefore, the Moroccan scholar Al-Yusi said to Sultan Mawlai Al-Rashid, “Scholars judge over ruler.”

As for the supervision of the believers, the pledge of alliance is given by them and so is the consultation. Thus the nation is the source of governance in a sense.

Nevertheless, the pledge of alliance is considered a religious bond between the ruler and the subjects. Obedience to the ruler depends on the application of the Shari`ah. The people of Shura are guarded by stipulating their piety and righteousness. Thus, the ethical and religious side has a share in addition to the secular side. This is an important and subtle characteristic in the Islamic system that caused some researchers to claim mistakenly that one of the early Muslim caliphs was secular; but this was not as he thought. The nature of the Islamic system gives people a big role not only in the application of rulings but also in their deduction and even their establishment according to a set of evidences known as istihsan (juristic preference) and masalih mursalah (unrestricted public interests) with full respect to the invariable objectives of the Islamic Shari`ah.

Thus, when dealing with democracy, a Muslim may feel unfamiliar with its reference, though some may view this as a terminological issue.

Second: The polls

Resorting to polls as a basis of democracy to take a decision without establishing a background and an impenetrable ceiling constantly brings about a resentful group, namely, is the minority which could be about half of the voters. This makes the majority less inclining to reconciliation and balancing between interests. If there is no established tradition with the individuals that the opinion of the majority, which is not on their side, is correct and that they should sacrifice their interests on the basis of other considerations of interest such as considering this as the best possible or the best ever, if this is not established in minds and practice, democracy will turn to be a source of constant dispute and disorder. Belonging to a party could be the only way for an individual to have some freedom or to practice a serious political activity and contribute through the party leader or the sectarian class that dominates the party. Accordingly, the independent individual who does not go with partisanship and its techniques will be considered isolated and ineffective no matter how high his opinions or thought may be or he will be treated as a second-class citizen.

It is noted that the slogan of democracy opens a wide door for partisanship and for the evils of partisan bigotry and thus the existence of too many parties has become a danger for the stability of the western liberal democracy which has been torn by uncontrolled whims. On the contrary, excessive domination of one party is the worst evil that plagues public, communist, or military democracy and leads to despotic collective dictatorship exercised by a party that monopolizes the political activity and prevents anyone who does not belong to it from practicing his political rights on equal footing with the members of the party.

On the contrary, the principle of Shura opens a wider door for thinkers and intellectuals to contribute with their opinions as individuals regardless of their partisan orientation and thus they contribute in the cultural, social, political, or economic activity more than under democracy that is based on the majority and multi-party system that opens the door for partisan extremity which misuses the principle of the supremacy of the majority. Therefore, the abolishment of parties has become the slogan of revolutions and de coup. Hence, some of the advocates of Shura oppose the partisan systems.

Third: Media

The voter falls under kinds of deception; particularly through modern media that has possessed massive ability and high potency to exercise influence the public opinion and to introduce the bad as the best and the ugly as the most beautiful.

Therefore, it has not become a characteristic of the third world to elect a person with the majority of votes and then after a while he becomes accused of corruption and other charges. This indicates that the choice was influenced by propaganda in addition to the influence of other unfair means and this makes public interests a victim of individual interests or personal whims.


Source: Taken with modifications from

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Enforcement of Shura in the Islamic Ruling System


Shura was applied in the most serious issue, namely, the sovereign power.

By Sheikh `Abdullah Bin Bayyah

The first test for the awareness of this Ummah and its ability to apply the principle of Shura (consultation) was after the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him), for he did not appoint a successor after him. He explicitly assigned a deputy with regard to leading people in Prayer, but He left the appointment of the caliph and the head of the state to the nation. His companions were divided into two groups: the group of Al-Ansar (the Supporters), who were the original inhabitants of Median, and the group of Al-Muhagirin (the Emigrants), the people of Makkah. They convened in the house of the leader of Al-Ansar and exchanged opinions and arguments.

Then alliance was paid by the public at the mosque and in other places that Islam reached such as Makkah.

Muhammad Asad, an Austrian Muslim, claimed that this was the first democratic experience. It may not be democratic in the Western sense, but it was at any rate a great human experience. Such noble, half-Bedouin people, who were strong fighters, convened without arms to discuss without any use of insulting words or threats to agree on selecting one of them. The one they selected said in his first public speech after assuming presidency, “I have been elected to be in authority over you, though I am not the best among you. Obey me as long as I obey Allah. However, if I disobey Him, no obedience will be due to me upon you.” Moreover, the fact that Sa`d ibn `Ubadah, the head of Al-Anasar, refrained from paying alliance, though his son paid it, and none said a word or objected to him indicates that something big has changed in the life of the Arabs. The age of Shura has started.

Al-Mawirdi (a Muslim scholar) has determined the functions of the head of the state in ten points; some of them are religious responsibilities, such as watching over good practices of the obligations of the religion including Prayer, Fasting, and Hajj-pilgrimage; and some are secular functions, such as collecting money, protecting the borders of the state against any external or internal aggression and ensuring internal security through the application of the Shari`ah to protect souls and properties and ending disputes through the appointment of judges.

Shura was applied in the most serious issue, namely, the sovereign power. But it was practiced also in many of the issues, as the caliph had counselors for every affair. But sometimes he sought the opinion of the public. `Umar informed people with his intention to set a maximum limit for the dowry paid for women, whereupon a woman quoted in response the Qur’anic verse that says, “And you have given the first of them [as much as] a [heap of] gold in dowry.” `Umar then submissively said: A woman spoke the truth and `Umar spoke wrong.

Let us admit that during the period of the guided caliphs Shura concerning serious issues of the state was the task of prominent persons and influential people from among the Emigrants and the Supporters. But it was a pioneering experience in the old heritage of humanity. But the flexibility of the experience and the various forms it took made it developable beyond ready-made forms. The principle affirmed strongly, as clarified by `Umar in his last speech, was that “No one shall be given the pledge of alliance without people consent lest he may be killed along with those who follow him”, as reported in Sahih Al-Bukhari.

This simply means that people’s consent is a must, because contravening this leads to turmoil and fighting.

Shura meets with democracy in the point of looking for a peaceful solution. The system of Shura pours into one stream, which is Islamic justice that is able to secure for man a good end.

How was Shura practiced?

This is quite a legitimate question. I mentioned before that the reference of this paper is Islam. Islam is an ideal that should be reached; and the closer we come to it the better justice will be achieved and the happier man will become.

This system is not rigid or stiff but developable and can benefit from human experiences that respect invariables and authoritative references and assess priorities together with social and security necessities.

In the early period of Islam there was the system of headmen and foremen, as found in the accounts of the prophetic biography. The Prophet (peace be upon him) commanded people to choose those who would speak in their name, as in the case of the pledge of alliance given the headmen of the Helpers in Makkah–known as Bay`at al-`Aqabah. Similarly, in the case of the battle of Hunayn he (peace be upon him) said, “Let your foremen inform me”, because he did not know the attitude and content of the people with regard to his suggestion and so he ordered that they should choose those who would convey their opinion concerning the prisoners of the war with Hawazen. This account is in Sahih Al-Bukhari.


Source: Taken with modifications from

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Islam: No Place to Immunity

…Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you… (Al-Hujurat 49:13)

Neither wealth nor property or power can be taken into consideration when judging people.

It is widely known that some important persons in any given land are given extraordinary privileges and immunity. They are not treated like the ordinary people and laymen.

In the matter of fact, the point of Islam can be reflected clearly in the following verse:

…Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you… (Al-Hujurat 49:13)

He also says:

Oh you who believe, be persistent in standing for justice as witnesses to God; even if it be against yourselves, parents, or other relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, God is more worthy than anyone. So don’t follow personal inclination, lest you be unjust. (An-Nisaa’ 4:135)

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

“God, the Almighty, does not consider how your appearances or how rich you are, rather He looks to your hearts and your deeds”. (Ahmad)

It can be said after these proofs from the Qur’an and the Sunnah that there is no place in Islam for preference based upon wealth, power, or family.

These preferences will definitely hinder the way of achieving justice. Islam on the contrary, encourages achieving justice as soon as possible to the best of our ability. Neither wealth nor property or power can be taken into consideration when judging people. It rather depends upon how righteous one is. God says:

And whoever does righteous deeds, whether male or female, while a believer – those will enter Paradise and will not be wronged in the least b (An-Nisaa’ 4:124)

There is no discrimination in Islam based on sex, racism, or nationality. Everyone is equal in the eyes of God and everyone deserves their rights equally. Islamic History is a witness to that fact in many instances. For example: `Ali ibn Abi Talib (may God be pleased with him), the fourth Caliph (and the Prophet’s son in Law and cousin), commanding a Muslim state as big as China, misplaced his shield that he used in defending Islam and the Muslims years before when Muslims were persecuted in the days of the Prophet.

He found a Jewish man with his shield. And had the police confiscate it. The matter was taken to court and Ali’s only evidence that the shield was his, was his word. On the other hand the Jewish man described it and brought witnesses saying they knew it to be his and so forth. The judge ruled in favor of the Jewish man for the evidence provided. Ali accepted the court ruling to not be unjust as someone else who challenged the court wouldn’t be successful.

It should be noted that the reason we know this story is because that Jewish man later went to Ali and asked him why he didn’t kill him and take it back. Ali says the courts were made to uphold justice and he was lacking in evidence. The Jewish man handed him the shield and said ‘I bear witness that God is one and that Muhammad is His messenger’.

This statement converted him from a Jew to a Muslim. `Ali asked him: ‘What lead you to such a great decision?’ He replied: ‘We are told that Muhammad can’t be a Prophet because he wasn’t Jewish, but I know that it is only the Prophets who can leave a law which its adherents so sincerely apply it in Justice’. Ali then gave him back the shield and told him: ‘This is a gift for your having received guidance’.

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Islam’s Tolerance towards Non-Muslims

By Yasir Tag Ad-Din Hamed

Translated by the Editorial Team                                                      


Islam has taken into account the tolerance towards people from other religions.

Islam has taken into account the tolerance towards people from other religions. Almighty God says:

Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly. (Al-Mumtahanah 60:8)

The verse tells us how Islam distinguishes between those who fight against it and others who do not , as it commands good treatment to the last ones. Moreover, Islam has stressed the protection of the Christians, Jews and everyone under the protection of the Muslim country and allowed them to practice their rituals freely. This good treatment has been reiterated in many places of the Qur’an and hadith as well as the conduct of Muslim leaders throughout the Islamic history.

The Messenger of Allah said, “Beware, if anyone wrongs a Mu`ahid (a person who is granted the pledge of protection by the Muslims), or diminishes his right, or forces him to work beyond his capacity, or takes from him anything without his consent, I shall plead for him on the Day of Judgment.” (Abu Dawud)

In the conquest of Makkah, the the masters of its people were brought to Prophet (peace be upon him) and Muslims. He said to the Makkans, “What do you think I will do with you?” They said, “You are a noble brother and son of a noble brother.” He said to them his well-known statement, “Go! You are free.”

The same action happened again at the time of the second Caliph, `Umar ibn Al-Khattab while conquering Jerusalem. He signed a document between him and the people of the city, as the pastor Colin Chapman quoted a part of it in his book Whose Holy City?: Jerusalem and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. It reads, “In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, this is a guarantee granted to residents of “Elijah” by Allah’s slave `Umar. He guarantees them and their goods, churches, crosses and their worship in general. Their churches should neither be confiscated nor destroyed. There will be no restrictions upon them in matters of their religion and none of them will be subjected to any harassment.”

The view of the Jews to this document is recorded by the historian Angelus Rapoport in his book Histoire de Palestine (The history of Palestine) as he said: “We must recognize that such a declaration, at the beginning of the Middle Ages, which all Islamic armies have been committed to is full of equity indeed. It breathes fairness and tolerance. Actually, none of the Byzantium emperors or the bishops of the church never expressed similar feelings, even in the name of the one who invited them to the religion of love. The document of the Caliph `Umar was enough to cause a profound impact, not only in the spirit of the Jews, but also in the spirit of the Christians of Syria and Palestine. Some of those people were suffering from injustice and tyranny. Others suffered from the oppression of the state church if concealing beliefs that differed from the church’s course, not to mention the high taxes upon everyone in the country.

The same situation comes once again with Jerusalem, but this time with Salah Ad-Din (Saladin), the Muslim leader who set it free from the occupation of the Crusaders. James Reston briefly relates to us the way in which Salah Ad-Din recovered the city of Jerusalem. He says: “By the ideal behavior when they took over the reign of Jerusalem in the year 1187, Salah Ad-Din gained abundant praise for being a wise leader, especially when compared with the mass destruction and chaos that the first Crusaders made at their invasion of this city in 1099. His protection of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and other Christian holy sites, and his tolerance with other religions remained stuck in the minds of people for long time. It seems that his works defined what is meant to be a good Muslim; his pardoning of the enemies and other acts of goodness he did which kept for him an endless good reputation for his humanity and wisdom.

In this regard, Sir Thomas Arnold in his book The Preaching of Islam says: ” In view of the toleration thus extended to their Christian subjects in the early period of the Muslim rule, the common hypothesis of the sword as the factor of conversion seems hardly satisfactory, and we are compelled to seek for other motives than that of persecution.”  He added, “But of any organized attempt to force the acceptance of Islam on the non-Muslim population, or of any systematic persecution intended to stamp out the Christian religion, we hear nothing. Had the caliphs chosen to adopt either course of action, they might have swept away Christianity as easily as Ferdinand and Isabella drove Islam out of Spain, or Louis XIV made Protestantism penal in France, or the Jews were kept out of England for 350 years. The Eastern Churches in Asia were entirely cut off from communion with the rest of Christendom, throughout which no one would have been found to lift a finger on their behalf, as heretical communions. So that the very survival of these Churches to the present day is a strong proof of the generally tolerant attitude of the Muhammadan governments towards them.”

Thus, these certificates of non-Muslims continue to prove the advantages of Islam and refute the claims that others try to falsely disseminate about it. Islam’s tolerance and facilitation is unquestionable. There is no compulsion whatsoever in the Islamic faith or worship or any part of it.


Source: Taken with modifications from

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On the Concepts of Shura and Democracy


Shura (consultation) was applied in the most serious issue, namely, the sovereign power.

By Sheikh `Abdullah Bin Bayyah

Some researchers have taken the ruling system in Islam as a Trojan horse and started to deduce from certain historical practices the nonexistence of human rights in Islam and the abolishment of all legal and jurisprudential heritage in the Islamic history as if Muslims over their history lived in a forest where no right or system. Here we are going to make a comparison between democracy and Shura.

These terms are supposed to be known for all at least. We all know democracy as a political system where people participate directly or through their representatives in practicing the power of authority.

The Reference of Democracy

The reference of democracy is purely human and refers to the Roman-Greek system of rights; particularly the Greek laws, the most important stage of which seems to be the reform of the constitution of Athena in 508-507 BC- and shortly before at the hands of Solon- when the Athens brought up a new political system and a new ruling body for Athena. This RomanGreek heritage remained latent for not a short time to be developed later at the hands of the philosophers and the men of law in Europe like, John Adams, Frederic, Sales, Rousseau, and Montesquieu and others.

Shura is an Islamic ruling system. It represents a deep search to come up with a pleasing solution. Shura is a principle and a system to which the gracious Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah called. It is mentioned in the Qur’an in three contexts:

The Prophet (peace be upon him) was ordered to observe Shura, as Almighty Allah says,

And take counsel with them concerning the [community’s] affairs. (Aal `Imran 3:159)

It means asking for others’ opinion and not being arbitrary. The “affairs” stands for the affairs of life including politics and ruling systems.

The second context is in the description of the consolidating society that pleases Almighty Allah who said

Those who furthermore answer [the call of] their Lord and [duly] establish the Prayer and [conduct] their affairs by consultation among themselves and spend [charitably] out of what We have provided them. (Ash-Shura 42:38)

These are four characteristics: answering the call of Allah and observing the Prayer in addition to two other characteristics related to dealing with people; namely, Shura and spending charitably out to the needy.

The third context is about the family life as it deals with the responsibilities of the parents to raise up their infant; particularly if they want to determine the period of nursing. He exalted is He, said

But if both [parents] desire to wean [the child] by their mutual consent and consultation, then there is no blame on either of them. (Al-Baqarah 2:233)

Thus two of these contexts are concerned with the ruling system and politics and the third is concerned with family affairs. Hence, we perceive that Shura is a comprehensive system that covers all fields of life.

So, we can distinguish the most important two kinds of Shura: Shura in fiqh (Islamic law) as mentioned in the texts and Shura in the ruling system and politics. The principle of Shura abides by the most important principle of the Shari`ah, which is the independence of the Shari`ah from the ruling regime and the rulers. The application of this fundamental principle requires that the practice of Shura within the scope of fiqh should serve an exchange of opinions and an independent scientific discussion that is separated from the practice of Shura in the field of ruling and politics. Consequently, the political upheavals that could cause dysfunction of Shura with regard to choosing rulers and holding them accountable do not necessarily result in the dysfunction of Shura in the field of Shari`ah and fiqh; that is, in the field of ijtihad and consensus. This is what has protected fiqh over the history of Islam from the impacts of deviations of the ruling systems from abiding by Shura in the choice of the rulers, and therefore, this deviation did not result in the dysfunction of Shura in the field of fiqh which has stood independent, lofty, and unaffected by the rulers’ deviations.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) praised Shura and practiced it in life affairs. His companions were aware of that and sometimes they offered their opinions after some regular reservations such as saying “Is this [attitude] based on revelation or on personal opinion?” If he told them that this was based on personal opinion, they would give their opinions; and in many cases the situation changed and he abandoned his own opinion.

But the Qur’an left to the Ummah (Muslim nation) the details and outlines of this universal principle according to their renewing interests and developing needs.


Source: Taken with modifications from

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