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Application of amruhum shura baynahum by the Prophet and his Rightly Guided Caliphs
Political Issues
Dr. Junaid Hassan

 

Transference of power to the Quraysh 

Applying this principle in a tribal system, the Prophet decided that, after him, the political leadership of Muslims would transfer to none other than the tribe of Quraysh [3], no. 7139). While explaining the rationale behind this, he said:

النَّاسُ تَبَعٌ لِقُرَيْشٍ فِي هَذَا الشَّأْنِ، مُسْلِمُهُمْ تَبَعٌ لِمُسْلِمِهِمْ، وَكَافِرُهُمْ تَبَعٌ لِكَافِرِهِمْ. (البخاری، رقم  3495)

‘People willingly submit to the Quraysh in this matter. Muslims among them follow Qurayshi Muslims; disbelievers, Qurayshi disbelievers.’ [3], no. 3495)

Thus, the Prophet made it clear that since a vast majority of the Arab Muslims had trust and confidence in the Quraysh, only that tribe was entitled for their leadership according to amruhum shura baynahum.1

Governance through Consultation

As a head of state, the Prophet (sws) not only used to consult his Companions (رضي الله عنهم) but never advanced his opinion against that of a majority in any political, administrative, economic, societal, or strategic matter. After him, his Rightly Guided Caliphs2 continued this tradition in the same spirit [4], p. 40). The Prophet and the Caliphs involved people in consultation through their representatives. Such representatives, in a tribal system, are tribal leaders. The leaders of the three major tribes of Muslims – the Quraysh, the Aws, and the Khazraj – can truly be called representatives, for their fellow tribesmen as well as others had full trust and confidence in them [4], p. 36).

Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq (4) settled disputes among people by consulting the Quran and the Sunnah first. If he could not find a relevant law or guidance therein, ‘he used to gather chiefs and elders from among people and consult them. Then whatever they would settle with agreement, he would decide accordingly’ [5], no. 163). ʻUmar b. Al-Khattab (4) routinely called consultative assemblies to settle important affairs by majority consent. To decide the ownership of conquered lands of Iraq and Syria, for example, he convened representatives of all influential tribes through proportional representation. After praising God, he opened the discussion by encouraging free speech, showing trust in the consultees, and making explicit that his opinion had no more worth than one vote: 

‘I have bothered you to convene here so that you may share with me the responsibility of running your affairs, for I am but an individual like you. And, today, it is you who are to determine what is right. Some have disagreed with my opinion while some agreed, and I do not wish that you should [merely] follow my desire in this matter.’ [6], p. 89; [7], p. 76)

In addition to such assemblies, ʻUmar set up a council of public representatives, meeting regularly in the central mosque of Medina to manage daily affairs. When ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan and ‘Ali b. Abi Talib3 (رضي الله عنهم) assumed the office, they similarly carried on this tradition of governance through consent and counsel (See [4], pp. 33-39; [7], pp. 75-83).

Appointment of the Rightly Guided Caliphs

The appointment of the Rightly Guided Caliphs also took place in consonance with amruhum shura baynahum. However, the events surrounding their election were not straightforward in each case and, thus, require some explanation:

When the Prophet (sws) passed away, the native Muslims of Medina (Ansar) gathered under a shed and delivered passionate speeches, mentioning the services of their tribes4 for Islam, asserting their right for the leadership of all Muslims, and opposing the rule of the Meccan Emigrants5 over them. As Abu Bakr and ʻUmar heard of this, they rushed to the site to avoid any conflict between the Medinan and the Emigrant Muslims. There, while addressing the leader of the Ansar, Sa’d b. ʻUbadah, Abu Bakr (رضي الله عنهم) said: 

‘O Sa’d! You very well know that the Messenger of God (sws) said, while you were present, that the Quraysh should inherit the rulership because righteous people [of Arabia] follow the righteous of the Quraysh; the wrongdoers, their wrongdoers. “You have spoken the truth,” replied Sa’d. “We are advisers and you are the leaders.”‘ [8], no. 18) 

After this verification by their leader, it became clear to the Ansar that although they were the local leaders, leadership of the ummah was the right of the tribe a clear majority of all Muslims confided in. The Ansar, therefore, could only, at best, participate in the election of a leader from within the Quraysh. However, the situation was still delicate, so ʻUmar, fearing a bloody outburst, proclaimed Abu Bakr as the new ruler. He did so with the knowledge and conviction that the absent Qurayshi leaders would not only gladly accept Abu Bakr’s rule, but appreciate his initiative in circumstances which could have easily led to carnage (especially, while the Hypocrites lay in wait for any such opportunity).6 Some time before his death, ʻUmar himself gave this explanation, so that no one could misuse this incident as an argument to violate the principle of amruhum shura baynahum. While addressing a congregation, he said: 

‘I have been informed that someone said, “By God, if ‘Umar were dead, I would give the oath of allegiance to such-and-such person [because the fealty sworn to Abu Bakr was but a hasty mistake, which was later ratified].”7 Let no man be deceived by [my] sudden swearing of allegiance to Abu Bakr, which was later endorsed [by other people]. Admittedly, it was so, but God averted any of its ill consequences. And [remember,] there is none among you like Abu Bakr now, before whom all heads would bow down in submission. So, if one gives the pledge of allegiance to another without consulting other Muslims, then obey not such a pledge nor follow the pledgee, for those committing this would invite the death penalty. […] 

After we had [reached] and settled ourselves [under the shed where the Ansar had gathered], their speaker pronounced shahada, praised God duly, and said, “We are the Ansar [Helpers] of God and the army of Islam, whereas you, O Emigrants, are only a minority, who encroached upon us with the intention to extirpate us and seize our political power.” […] When he had finished, Abu Bakr said, “O Ansar! You deserve all the good you have attributed to yourselves, but people accept the political authority of none other than the Quraysh, since they are [considered] the best in Arabia in pedigree and hometown. I offer you one of these two men: choose whoever you like.” Thus saying, he took my hand and that of Abu ‘Ubaydah b. Al-Jarah, who was [another Qurayshi] sitting between us. Of all he said, nothing displeased me except this proposal. By God, I would rather have my head struck off – if it were no sin – than rule over a people in whom a man of Abu Bakr’s stature was present. […] 

Then, one of the Ansar said, “[…] Let us have one ruler and you another, O Quraysh!” Altercation became hotter and voices were raised so much that I feared a complete breach. Thereupon, I spoke out, “O Abu Bakr, Give me your hand!” He did, and I pledged loyalty to him; the Emigrants followed and then the Ansar.’ [3], no. 6830; [9], pp. 683-686)

Furthermore, ʻUmar [3], ibid.) said:

 ‘By God, nothing seemed more important than giving fealty to Abu Bakr because had we left without that, those people might have sworn fealty to one of their men. In that case, we would have to either swear allegiance to that person against our will, or oppose him and cause bloodshed. Thus, if one pledges allegiance to another without the consent of other Muslims, follow neither the pledge nor the pledgee, for those involved in this shall [as per the Islamic law] invite capital punishment.’  

Ibn Ishaq [9], pp. 686-687) further concludes this account as follows:

  ‘On the morrow of Abu Bakr’s acceptance in the hall [i.e., the shed where the Ansar had gathered] he sat in the pulpit and ‘Umar got up and spoke before him […]. [H]e said, “O men, yesterday I said something (based on my own opinion and) which I do not find in God’s book nor was it something which the apostle entrusted to me; but I thought that the apostle would order our affairs (until) he was the last of us (alive). God has left His book with you, that by which He guided His apostle, and if you hold fast to that God will guide you as He guided him. God has placed your affairs in the hands of the best one among you, the companion of the apostle, ‘the second of the two when they were in the cave’8, so arise and swear fealty to him.” Thereupon the people swore fealty to Abu Bakr as a body after the pledge in the hall.’9

 

Abu Bakr’s rule, lasting just over two years, did not see any change in public opinion regarding the leadership of the Qurayshi Emigrants. Thus, from among them, ʻUmar was proposed by their leader (Abu Bakr) to be his successor. When his proposal was accepted by the chiefs of the two prominent groups of Muslims – the Quraysh and the Ansar10 – ʻUmar was declared the new caliph. All accepted this decision and gladly gave fealty to him. The needful was thus done in complete consonance with amruhum shura baynahum ([10], pp. 199-200).

Regarding the election of the next emir, Ibn Kathir [11], while commenting on 42:38, writes:  

‘When ʻUmar b. Al-Khattab was fatally stabbed, he appointed six persons to settle the matter of succession with mutual consultation: ‘Uthman, ‘Ali, Talha, Al-Zubayr, Sa’d11, and ‘Abd Al-Rahman b. ‘Awf (رضي الله عنهم). With their unanimous consent, ‘Uthman was elected as their emir.’  

These six men were the prominent chiefs of the Qurayshi Emigrants, the group still enjoying a majority mandate. So, in accordance with amruhum shura baynahum, it was their prerogative to elect the next emir from among themselves. While addressing these men, 'Umar said: 

‘I have pondered upon the matter of public leadership and concluded that there is no disagreement among people so long as their emir is one of you. Therefore, the problem is constrained to electing the emir from among you. For this reason, this matter is now entrusted to the six of you to decide.’ [10], p. 344) 

After ‘Uthman was martyred, the election of ‘Ali b. Abi Talib took place in frantic and perplexing circumstances. In this case, one may question whether all Qurayshi leaders were involved and elected ‘Ali with their free choice. owever, Nevertheless, it remains a fact that, throughout the Rightly Guided Caliphs’ period, the leadership rested with a group having a majority mandate (the Qurayshi Emigrants), and their prominent chiefs appointed the caliph with mutual consultation. Also, the method of election of all four caliphs, in principle, was the same. The only difference is that after all chiefs agreed on ʻUmar’s appointment, Abu Bakr himself implemented this decision. ʻUmar, on the other hand, considering that the difference was only restricted to six men, entrusted the responsibility to the same men to elect any one of them.

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1. The local leadership of Medina, however, was in the hands of indigenous tribes, the Aws and the Khazraj. As their representatives made the Prophet their premier, he not only ran the early Medinan state through them but took no significant political decision without their approval. Thus, here too the Prophet’s conduct was in complete consonance with amruhum shura baynahum: over the Qurayshi Emigrants in minority, he gave preference to the group enjoying the trust and confidence of the local majority.

2. I.e., the first four caliphs after the Prophet, namely Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq (reign: 632–634), ʻUmar b. Al-Khattab (634–644), ‘Uthman b. ‘Affan (644–656), and ‘Ali b. Abi Talib (656–661).

3. In the time of ‘Ali, however, the ummah was in a state of tumult, and some groups were hostile toward him; therefore, it was not always possible for him to involve all stakeholders in consultation.

4. I.e., the Aws and the Khazraj.

5. I.e., the Quraysh.

6. ʻUmar’s conviction turned out to be right, but for ‘Ali b. Abi Talib. ‘Ali was aggrieved because the matter was decided without consulting all stakeholders and, thus, significantly delayed his oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr [3], no. 4240-4241). But once he wilfully swore his fealty, his kinfolk from Banu Hashim* and others also acquiesced to Abu Bakr’s rule.

* The clan of the Prophet; a sub-clan of the Quraysh

7. The clause enclosed in brackets is reported in an earlier part of this narrative (excluded for brevity).

8. Quran 9:40

9. Brackets mine, but not parentheses.

10. In modern terminology, the two groups can be called the ‘government’ and the ‘opposition’, respectively. On principle, Ansar’s opinion did not matter, since the Quraysh had the mandate to elect a leader from among themselves. However, it was Abu Bakr’s prudence to take counsel with them, too (Ghamidi, pers. comm).

11. I.e., Sa‘d ibn Abi Waqqas

 

   
 
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