The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Shura is an Arabic word for "consultation "; specifically the duty in Sharia (Islamic law) of the ruler to consult his followers in making decisions. It also refers to the assembly that meets for this purpose. The rules of shura are used to solve every problem that a group of individuals faces starting from within the family, to the problems of the community and continuing even to the political affairs of a country. Islamic law is commonly considered to enjoin a representative democracy, partly on the basis of a Shura.



The layout of shura is such, all the people who are responsible for making a decision and/or have some special ability or skill regarding the matter by which the decision is going to be made will form a group. This group will have one Emir. The Emir's responsibility is to hear the opinion of all the people in the group. Each person has the complete freedom to give his opinion. An individual doesn't have to be in agreement with the Emir's opinion nor the opinion of any of the other individuals in the group. After every person has given their opinion the Emir has to take those opinions and form a precursory decision. This decision has to be made according to what he sees beneficial for the public. His decision does not need to be the same as the opinion that he originally presented to the group, nor any of the other opinions that where presented in the group. This leaves room for the possibiliy of a combination of several opinions, this is usually the outcome. Once the Emir has made his precursory decision he has to let the others know what decision he has made. If there is any need of further discussion the opinions will be heard and the precursory decision will be modified accourdingly. If there is no room for any further discussion the Amir's decision will then become a rule. This decision, of course, must be in accordance with sharia, meaning it cannot violate the laws of the Qur'an or hadith as determined by Islamic scholars.

After the decision is made, every person's actions must be in accourdance with the Emir's decision, even if his opinion was different. The Amir's decision is a rule which must be enforced by all individuals. Any person can voice, be it in public or private, that his opinion is different then that of the Amir. Nevertheless, the rule cannot be openly broken.


The duty of shura is founded on two surahs (verses) of the Qur'an in which consultation is explicitly enjoined (Surat Ash-Shura and Surat Al Imran), and numerous instances in which the Prophet Muhammad did consult his followers; including instances in which he might have disagreed, and which led to failure in battle. It also corresponds to the manner in which the first three caliphs were chosen.

There is no clear agreement among Islamic scholars on numerous key points about shura. These bear on whether a modern Islamic government should more resemble a democracy or a dictatorship.

One of the suras fairly clearly says the Imam (leader) must consult, as also supported by the ayah ""..and consult with them on the matter" (3:159)", but the other reads more as if he may or should consult as noted by "those who conduct their affairs by counsel [are praised]"(43:38).

Secondly, who should be consulted? All the faithful, or only men and not women, or only clerics, or only those with expertise in the matter under discussion, such as military affairs?

Thirdly, upon what subjects? Should all decisions of the Imam be put out to shura? This seems similar to the way Western governments can dispute over how much power parliamentarians and cabinets have to speak for their constituents, or whether a referendum may be necessary.

Fourthly, is the result of the consultation binding on the Emir? Again, the examples of the Prophet's behaviour do not make this entirely clear for modern scholars.


Shura began under the leadership of Muhammad and continued with the Four Rightly-guided Caliphs who followed him. After that, some various leaders allowed shura, others didn't as they ran the caliphate as a dictatorship.

The Iranian government since their Islamic Revolution in 1979 claims to have practiced Shura, since the Ayatollah chosen as Emir consults with other Ayatollahs and clerics and scholars.

The Saudi Arabian government set up a Shura council in 1993, which is now at 120 members. However, their system has been drawn criticism since the Saudi government is led by a monarchy, which is rejected in an authentic Islamic system because the Emir/caliph needs to be selected by election.

Oman allows Shura, but its members aren't elected, and their opinions are to adivse the Sultan.

Egypt's Parliament is known as the Shura, and each member has a six-year term.

In September 2001, the Emir of Afghanistan summoned a Shura to discuss the fate of Osama bin Laden who was residing in the country. The clerics came to the conclusion to ask him to remove himself voluntarily from the country. Before this decision, outside observers felt the Shura would rubber-stamp the wishes of the Taliban leadership. The Shura was a traditional form of assembly in Afghanistan, parallel to the secular loya jirga.

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Last updated: 02-07-2005 01:13:24
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55