Question: What are the method and manners of consultation in Islam?
Answer: The Qur’an clearly mentions consultation as an indispensible quality of Muslims that leaves no place for interpretations in any other way, and commands believers to practice consultation in all units of life as an essential that cannot be relinquished. For example, in the chapter ash-Shura: “And those who answer the call of their Lord and obey Him (in His orders and prohibitions), and establish the Prayer in conformity with its conditions; and whose affairs are by consultation among themselves; and who spend out of what We provide for them (to provide sustenance for the needy, and in God’s cause)…” (ash-Shura 42:38). This Divine verse mentions consultation together with Prayer and spending for the sake of God and thus reminds of the fact that it is one of the most vital qualities for a society of believers and an act of critical importance to the degree of worship. It is so meaningful that the chapter is named “The Consultation.” Another verse where consultation is openly commanded is the following (as translated): “It was by a mercy from God that (at the time of the setback), you (O Messenger) were lenient with them (your Companions). Had you been harsh and hard-hearted, they would surely have scattered away from about you. Then pardon them, pray for their forgiveness, and take counsel with them in the affairs (of public concern); and when you are resolved (on a course of action), put your trust in God. Surely God loves those who put their trust (in Him)” (Al Imran 3: 159).
Consultation, Even When You Have Been Offended!
As it is known, this verse was revealed during the Battle of Uhud right after the Companions temporary wavered at a very critical moment. God’s Messenger consulted with his Companions before the war on the course of action they should take. By taking their opinions into consideration, he decided to face the approaching enemy on battleground. As some of the Companions had failed to grasp the finer points of doing as commanded, they failed to pay full respect for orders and thus experienced there a temporary wavering—I am specially avoiding calling it a rout. God almighty revealed this verse at a time when the Messenger of God received a wound that spilled his blessed blood from his face and when so many Companions were martyred. In this verse, God Almighty first compliments our noble Prophet: “It was by a mercy from God that (at the time of the setback), you (O Messenger) were lenient with them (your Companions). Had you been harsh and hard-hearted, they would surely have scattered away from about you” (Al Imran 3:159). If we try to paraphrase this verse, we can say: “My Beloved servant, you cannot be harsh and hard-hearted; you are not so. If you had been, these people would not gather around you at all, not come to the battleground, and they would have scattered away from you. O My beloved servant! They made a mistake of judgment. Therefore, forgive them and ask forgiveness from God for them. Then once again bring the issue to consultation and discuss what needs to be done with the people around you.”
At a moment when a temporary wavering caused havoc, as the heart of the noble Prophet could be broken as any human being, and many other hearts were upset as well, God demands the issue to be re-discussed in consultation with a very gentle command. Actually, the beloved Prophet did not need consultation at all. In the words of Abu Bakr, he was in communication with the heavens day and night. God Almighty directly let him know the words he should say, the steps he should take, and what he should do. He was never at a total impasse in his life. When it appeared that it would happen, God Almighty paved the way for him, rendered narrow footpaths into wide roads, and told him to walk on. Consultation was not simply an issue of his time; the Messenger of God consulted matters with the Companions as an act of guidance for all his followers to come, who are responsible for emulating his example. Through the language of his state, he was saying, “You may be a mayor, ambassador, or president… no matter who you are, do not act upon individual considerations alone. Consult over every issue.”
Consultation Helps Everyone Accept What Needs To Be Done
Consultation is very significant to decisions and acts that concern all, in terms of maintaining general acceptance. When people add their own ideas to an issue—be it of even a very minor level—they see themselves as connected to it and lend a helping hand if needed, even if the task is heavy. But if their ideas and suggestions are not included in the decisions made on an issue, then they do not have stake in it and do not want to undertake any task with respect to it. What needs to be done is for the tasks to be perceived as similar to carrying a heavy treasure, where many people contribute their ideas in order to lighten the overall task for everyone. In this respect, we can say that when consultation is neglected within the family, it causes familial unease and problems. When it is neglected in a committee or group, then the collective will suffers the harm. When it is neglected in state affairs, it causes nationwide unrest, complications, and problems of very serious kind. Given that the Truthful Messenger stated, “Whoever takes counsel, does not regret it in the end,”1 this essential needs to be practiced in all aspects of life, beginning with the smallest sphere.
Manners of Debate and Discussion
Having briefly covered the necessity of consultation, now let us come to the issue of how an ideal consultation should be carried out. Let me point out firstly that an individual’s making a decision on one’s own, taking it like a fixed essential, and then trying to weave all matters to be discussed at the consultation according to his preconceived plan is an expression of not knowing the spirit of consultation. Instead, in order not to involve emotions, not to take personal fancies and desires as reasoning, it is necessary to note down the considerations that come to mind about the matters to be discussed at the consultation by evaluating them with one’s inner faculties, along with sound reason, sound feelings, and a sound heart. Only then should one determine the frame of the issues to be discussed, before bringing the issue to consultation. In addition, even if we believe that our ideas and suggestions are original, we cannot expect them always to be accepted at a consultation. In this respect, with respect to our ideas and suggestions offered to the consultative collective, we must be able to say at appropriate times, “I did not understand this issue thoroughly” or “My knowledge was mistaken,” thus not insisting or showing obstinacy at the fixed ideas in one’s mind. In fact, the method to be followed at consultation is debate and discussion. But debate and discussion do not in any way mean quarreling and brawling. Many works have been written on the Islamic manners of debate and certain principles are thoroughly established, such that the debate develops around the axis of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Actually, debate means mutually stating opinions about an issue in question. For example, if a matter about the economy is being discussed, all of the opinions will be centered around the economy and will naturally resemble one another. The real target here is making the truth emerge in a crystal clear fashion: “The flash of truth is born from the confrontation of ideas.”2 Disputes, however, do not give way to sparkles of truth but to disintegrations and factions. Also, it is an essential to be fair and to respect the other side’s opinion at a constructive debate because arguing can include acting obdurately and disgracing the other side. Indeed, the one proven to be wrong has no loss on a ground of mutual discussion, because that person gains by seeing that his or her view is mistaken and learns the truth. As for the one proven to be right, that person will only have repeated self thoughts. Such a person is even under the risk of giving into pride and haughtiness thinking, “See that, what I said has proven to be right.”
1. Tabarani, Al-Mu’jam al-Kabir, 6/365
2. A famous saying by Namık Kemal (d. 1888), Turkish-Ottoman prose writer and poet.
This text is the translation of “İdeal İstişare.”