Csaba Okvath and Muzaffar Iqbal

Consultation is the act of drawing forth of another’s opinion, advice, counsel, or command.

Definitions and Usage

Two verbal nouns, shūra and mashūra, from the root sh-w-r, on the pattern of mafʿulatun, synonymously mean “to consult someone, or to ask someone’s opinion in a specific matter” (Ibn Manẓūr, Lisān, sub sh-w-r). Abū Bakr Ibn al-ʿArabī (468-543/1075-1148) says, “shūrā is the concord of the community (ulfat li-l-jamāʿa), the probe of intellects (misbār li-l-ʿuqūl), and the means to the correct [resolution] (sabab ilā al-ṣawāb), so long as those exchanging opinions are rightly guided.” Its scope in religious matters is limited as “the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, consulted his Companions on matters of warfare—and there are many narrations about this—but he never consulted them about legal rulings (fīl-aḥkām), for these are revealed by Allah, in all categories: obligatory, recommended, objectionable, permitted, and prohibited” (Aḥkām, sub Q 42:38). Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. ʿAlī al-Fayyūmī (d. 770/1368) says, “shāwartuhu (I asked his advice) has the same meaning as istashartuhu (I sought his opinion), that is, rājaʿtuhu (I consulted him), to find his opinion on the matter…. Good advice is compared to drinking milk (an allusion to the meaning of the first form) …and al-shūrā is a noun derived from this form” (Miṣbāḥ).

Abū al-Qāsim al-Ḥusayn b. Muḥammad al-Rāghib al-Aṣfahānī (d. ca.502/1108) defines the root’s three verbal derivatives (tashāwur, mushāwara, mashūra) as “reaching an opinion by referring the matter from one to another. By extension, al-shūrā also denotes the matter on which consultation is sought” (Mufradāt). Badr al-Dīn al-ʿAynī (d. 855/1451) summarizes the sense of the term as, “I presented my issue to him so that he could show me the correct view” (ʿUmda, Aḥkām, biṭānat al-imām wa ahl mashūratih).

Consultation is directly mentioned in three verses: Q 2:333, in reference to the weaning of a child; 3:159 in reference to the Battle of Uḥud; and Q 42:38 as a characteristic of the believers. It is also alluded to in several others verses (see below).

A Characteristic of the Believers (Q 42:38)

Consultation as a characteristic of believers is mentioned in Sūrat al-Shūrā (Q 42)—also known as Ḥāʾ-Mīm-ʿAyn-Qāf, one of the seven suras (Q 40-46) which begin with the letters Ḥāʾ Mīm and are called Āl Ḥāʾ-Mīm (“the Ḥāʾ-Mīm Family”) (Suyūṭī, Type 19). Q 42:38 can be better understood in the context of the preceding and following verses, which also describe the believers:

Now whatever you have been given is but a passing comfort for the life of the world, and that which Allah has is better and more lasting for those who believe and put their trust in their Lord; those who shun enormities and indecencies and who, when angry, forgive; those who answer their Lord and establish the prayer, their affairs being [a matter of] counsel between them, and who spend from what We have provided them; and those who, when afflicted by a great wrong (al-baghy), defend themselves (Q 42:36-39).

Being characteristic of the believers, such consultation is understood to be a universal injunction. Ibrāhīm b. Muḥammad b. al-Sirrī al-Zajjāj (d. 311/923) explains this to indicate that the believers are those who “do not adhere to individual opinions but gather around one opinion” (Maʿānī). ʿAbd al-Ḥaqq b. Ghālib Ibn ʿAṭiyya (d. 481-541/1088-1147) says, “the whole verse is a general praise by Allah for all who believe in Him. He also praised those whose affair is a matter of consultation among them, for this means agreement (ijtimāʿ al-kalima) by discussion, mutual affection, joining forces, and cooperation for the best” (Muḥarrar). ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (13bh-40/609-660), Allah be well-pleased with him, once asked the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, about the word amr (affair) in this verse: “O Messenger of Allah, when a question arises for us after you, if no relevant Qurʾānic passage has been revealed [about it] and we have not heard anything about it from you, [what should we do?]” He said: “Assemble for it the devout worshippers (al-ʿābidīn) from my Community, and make it a matter of consultation among you (wa-jʿalūhu baynakum shūrā). Do not make decisions based upon a single opinion” (al-Suyūṭī, Durr, sub Q 42:38). The verse refers to all Muslims who “do not endorse any decision until consultation has been held; this is to help one another through individual opinions in matters of war or similar [momentous] affairs” (Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr).

Other exegetes, however, identify the Anṣar of Madina as the primary referent of this verse, although the sura itself was revealed in Makka (excepting Q 42:23-26: see Jalālayn, Tafsīr, sub Q 42). For instance, Jār Allāh Abū al-Qāsim Maḥmūd b. ʿUmar al-Zamakhsharī says the verse praises the Anṣār for their practice of mutual consultation (Kashshāf). A century before him, Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Muḥammad b. Ḥabīb al-Māwardī (364-450/974-1058) had cited various opinions according to which the consultation praised here was that conducted by the Anṣār, both as their general practice to reach decisions “without acrimony” and specifically “their mutual consultation about helping the Prophet before his arrival in Madina,” held at the house of Abū Ayyūb, after they received news, through their delegates (nuqabāʾ), of his coming” to their city (Nukat; cf. Qurṭubī, Tafsīr). Muḥammad al-Ṭāhir Ibn ʿĀshūr (1296-1393/1879-1972) supports the third of the above interpretations: “When their delegates returned and informed them of the call of Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace, the inhabitants of Madina agreed to believe in him and help him” (Tafsīr).

A Prophetic Consultation: And consult them in the matter (Q 3:159)

The verse, revealed in the context of the Battle of Uḥud addresses to the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, and asks him to consult his Companions (see Companions of the Prophet). The exegetes offer explanations as to questions such as (i) why the Prophet, although Divinely guided and of perfect intellect, was instructed to consult others, and (ii) which matters he was told to consult them about?

The verse is embedded in that section of Sūrat Āl ʿImrān (Q 3) which comments on the Battle of Uḥud, fought in Shawwāl 3/March 625 in the valley before Mount Uḥud, some five kilometers north of Madina (Shawkānī, Fatḥ al-qadīr, sub Q 3:121-129, citing Ibn Isḥāq and Bayhaqī). The passage (Q 3:121-60) begins with the day when Muslims marched out of Madina to meet the three-thousand strong army of Makkan polytheists that had already arrived on the outskirts of the city: And [recall O Muḥammad] when you left your family in the morning to assign to the believers their positions for battle. Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing (Q 3:121). According to the majority of commentators (cf. Rāzī, Tafsīr), this was on the “Day of Uḥud,” a Friday. The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, held a war council in his Mosque before the Friday prayer and told his Companions: “I have had a dream, and I implore Allah that it be a dream of goodness. I saw cows; there was a fissure at the top of my sword; and I saw that I had inserted my hand into impregnable armor.” He continued: “I interpret the cows to indicate the killing of some of my Companions; the fissure on my sword signifies the death of a member of my household; and the armor means Madina” (cf. Ibn Hishām, Sīra, ruʾyā rasūli-Llāh ṣallā Allah ʿalayhi wa sallam).

The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, then advised them regarding how to deal with the Makkan army: “Stay within Madina and send the women and the children into fortified houses (fī-l-āṭām)” (Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt, Ghazwat Rasūl Allāh ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa sallam Uḥud). But many younger Companions, especially those who had missed the opportunity to fight the Battle of Badr  the previous year (2/624), wanted to march out to Uḥud to meet the enemy, despite the counsel of many senior Companions. ʿAbd Allāh b. Ubayy b. Salūl, the leader of the hypocrites and the chief of Khazraj, also wanted to stay in Madina, because he did not want to join the fighting force (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Ghazwat Uḥud; Tabarī, Tārīkh, Ghazwat Uḥud; Ibn al-Athīr, Kāmil, Dhikr Ghazwat Uḥud). Another Companion, Abū Saʿīd al-Khudrī (d. 74/693), said, “O Messenger of Allah. We are, by Allah, facing two good alternatives: either Allah will grant us victory over them, and this is what we want…or He will grant us martyrdom” (Wāqidī, Maghāzī, Ghazwat Uḥud). After some discussion, the Prophet conceded to the insistence of the younger Companions (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Ghazwat Uḥud). He led the Friday prayer and in his sermon he encouraged them to remain steadfast. After ʿAṣr (afternoon) prayer, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, told them to get ready to depart and went into his Chamber to dress for battle. In his absence, some senior Companions talked to their juniors about their insistence on going out to fight against the advice of the Prophet; and now they regretted their insistence. When the Prophet emerged they wanted to follow his advice; but the Prophet said, “It is not for a Prophet to take off his armor, once he has dressed for battle, until Allah decides between him and his enemy (Aḥmad, Musnad Jābir b. ʿAbd Allāh, 23:100 §14787; Dārimī, Sunan, wa min kitāb al-ruʾyā, 2:1378 §2205; Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Ghazwat Uḥud).

Shortly afterward, the Prophet left Madina with one thousand men to face the Makkan invaders. During the first overnight halt at al-Shawṭ, about half-way to Uḥud, ʿAbd Allāh b. Ubayy left the Muslim camp along with some three hundred followers (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Ghazwa Uḥud, 2:42). When they arrived at the battlefield, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, placed some of his archers on a strategic hill and ordered them to hold their position no matter which way the tide of battle went. Later in the day, however, when the enemy began to flee, nearly all these Companions left it to join in the chase. Then the Quraysh wheeled around to attack the Muslim camp anew, and gained the upper hand. In the ensuing tumult, seventy Companions were martyred, the Prophet himself was injured, and the Muslims started to disperse. Q 3:153 comments on these events: [And recall] when you fled, without even casting a side glance at anyone, and the Messenger was to the rear of you, calling you back. Thereafter He requited you with grief upon grief, so that you might not grieve for what escaped you or for what befell you; and Allah is All-Aware of what you do. The next verse includes a passage describing how Allah Most High sent down upon you, after grief, security—a slumber overcoming a party of you, while another faction worried about themselves, thinking of Allah [thoughts] other than the truth—the thought of [Age of] Ignorance, saying, “What affair is this of ours?” Say, “The matter is entirely for Allah [to decide].” The Quraysh finally left the field after mutilating several bodies. Their leader, Abū Sufyān, issued a parting challenge—“We shall meet again at Badr in one year”— which the Prophet accepted (Ibn Isḥāq, al-Sīra 2:43-69).

It is in the midst of this Divine commentary on the events of that day that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, is told to consult the Companions: It was by the mercy of Allah that you were lenient with them [O Muḥammad], for had you been stern and fierce of heart they would have dispersed from around you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult with them upon the conduct of affairs. And when you are resolved, then put your trust in Allah. Allah loves those who put their trust [in Him] (Q 3:159).

The master-exegete Abū Jaʿfar Muḥammad b. Jarīr al-Ṭabarī (224-310/839-923) enumerates various opinions about this consultation. For instance, Ibn Isḥāq (d. 150/767) said, “This was a polite gesture in order to show [the Companions] that you [o Prophet] listen to them and seek their help, although you do not need it; and by this you unite them in their religion.” Al-Ḍaḥḥāk (d. 102/ca.721) commented, “Allah ordered him to consult them so that [their] opinion might become evident and the most appropriate solution be reached in managing affairs.” Al-Ṭabarī also relates an athar (an account from the Followers) of al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (d. 110/728): “As long as a group of people consult among themselves (mā tashāwara qawm), they are guided to the most appropriate conclusion of their affairs” (see variant in Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Tafsīr, sub Q 3:159; al-Bukhārī, al-Adab al-mufrad, Kitāb al-mashūra). Al-Ṭabarī concludes by providing his “preferred view”:

Allah, the Exalted, the Majestic, commanded His Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, to consult his Companions regarding matters of the enemy and the stratagem of his war, in order to strengthen anyone whose insight (baṣīra) was not yet such as to provide protection from the temptation of the devil; to introduce to his Community [a procedure for settling] affairs that may follow after him; so that they might find an example to follow in this [consultation] for whatever might arise, and so that they might consult one another as they saw him do in his lifetime, may the blessings and peace of Allah be upon him. As for the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, Allah gave him understanding of whatever was happening, either by Revelation (waḥy) or by Divine inspiration (ilhām), so as to make the right choice. If [Muslims] consult one another, following his example, with unflinching devotion to truth and with a collective will to reach the correct solution, without inclination toward individual prejudice (hawā) and without deviation from [Divine] guidance, Allah will strengthen them and grant them success. (Tafsīr)

Several exegetes specify the legal limits of consultation by pointing out that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, was only ordered to consult on matters about which no Revelation was sent (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf)—for in the presence of a proof-text, personal opinion is invalid (idhā jāʾ al-naṣṣ baṭal al-raʾy) (Qūjawī, Ḥāshiya). Fakhr al-Dīn Muḥammad b. ʿUmar al-Rāzī (543-606/1148-1209) observes that analogical reasoning (qiyās) and personal opinion are both invalid where a proof-text exists; he enumerates eight benefits (fawāʾid) of the Divine injunction to consult the Companions—the first three are based on transmitted reports and the rest “from what occurred to my mind in this respect; but Allah knows best His intended meanings and secrets” (Tafsīr): 

   i. The Prophet’s consultation elevated their rank, increasing their love for and sincere obedience to him. If he had not consulted them, it would have been humiliating for them, and might have led to unmannerliness (sūʾ al-khuluq) and rudeness (faẓāẓa);

   ii. Although the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, was the most perfectly intelligent of mankind (akmal al-nās ʿaqlan), all people’s knowledge is limited; some useful aspect that had not come to his mind may have occurred to another, especially regarding affairs of this world. As he said: “You know better your worldly matters and I know better your religious matters.” For this reason, the Prophet said: “As long as people hold consultation they are guided to the most fitting [outcome] of their issues”;

   iii. According to al-Ḥasan and Sufyān b. ʿUyayna, the Prophet was only commanded to consult in order that others might follow his example concerning consultation, and so that it should become a normative practice (sunna) in his community;

   iv. The Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, consulted his Companions regarding the Battle of Uḥud and they advised him to march out, although he did not want to; and thereafter there happened what happened. Had he ceased to consult them after that, it would have indicated that there remained in his heart some misgiving about their counsel. But Allah Most High ordered him to consult them even after this event, showing them that his heart was not affected by what had happened before;

   v. And consult them in the matter—not for the sake of using their opinions or knowledge, but to ascertain the capacity of their intellects, how they understand things, the degree of their love, and the sincerity of their obedience. By this the Prophet could differentiate between the preferred opinion and the less preferred one, so as to explain things to them according to their capacities and positions;

   vi.  And consult them in the matter—not because the Prophet is in need of their counsel, but because in consultation each of them will strive to put forward the most appropriate view on the matter. In this way, minds may agree and resolve in harmony upon the most appropriate choice. The harmonious agreement of souls on a single resolution is one of the things that can help to achieve it. This is the hidden secret [reason] for gathering for the daily prayers; and this is the secret of why congregational prayer is better than prayer performed individually;

   vii. That Allah ordered Muḥammad, upon him blessings and peace, to “consult them” proves that they have worth (qadr) and importance (qīma) in the sight of Allah. This signifies that they have respect with Allah, from the Messenger, and among the created; and

   viii. A great king consults only his select advisors on matters of great importance. If they err, Allah forgives them. It may have occurred to them that Allah Most High—though He forgave them by His generosity—might not hold them in the same position as before. Allah Most High made it clear that this position was not affected, after their repentance. On the contrary, “I increase it; that is why before this event I had not commanded My Messenger to consult you, but after the event I ordered him to consult you so that you may know that you are now greater (aʿẓamu ḥālan) than before. The reason behind this is that before this event you relied only on your deeds and your obedience, but now you rely on My favor and My pardon. For this, your position and status are higher than before; in order that you know that My pardon is more expansive than your deeds and My Generosity vaster than your obedience.”

Prophetic Consultations in Sīra Regarding Military Campaigns

There are many examples of consultation between the Prophet and his Companions before, during, or after the twenty-seven military expeditions (called ghazwa, pl. ghazawāt) in which the Prophet himself took part and sixty others fought during his lifetime, but which he did not himself accompany (called sariyya, pl. sarāyā; also baʿth, pl. buʿūth) (al-ʿIrāqī, Alfiyya v. 573-780, p. 103-122;). Consultations were held before the three major battles in defense of Madina (Uḥud, discussed above; Badr and the Battle of the Trench, discussed below), as well as for the events at Ḥudaybiyya (Dhūl-Qaʿda 6/627), the expeditions to Khaybar (Muḥarram 7/628), Ḥunayn (Shawwāl 8/629) (Q 9:25), Ṭāʾif (Shawwāl 8/629), and Tabūk (Rajab 9/630) (see Ibn Hishām, Sīra; Ibn al-Athīr, Kāmil; Ṭabarī, Tārīkh).

Before departing for the Battle of Badr, the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, held an advisory meeting. Some of the Muslims had expressed reservations about engaging the Quraysh when they heard that the latter had come out in arms to protect their caravan: Even as your Lord caused you to go forth from your home with the Truth, and thereupon a party of the believers were averse, disputing with you of the Truth after it had been made manifest, as if they were being driven to a visible death (Q 8:5-6; cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Ibn Kathīr). First, Abū Bakr (d. 13/634) and ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb (d. 23/644), may Allah be well-pleased with them, expressed their support for going out to meet the Quraysh. Then al-Miqdād b. ʿAmr (see al-Dhahabī, Siyar, vol. 1, no. 81) famously said, “By Allah, we shall not tell you, as the Israelites told Mūsā, ‘Go, you and your Lord, and let the two of you fight while we sit here’; rather, we shall fight to your right, to your left, before you and behind you!” Ibn Masʿūd (d. 32/ca. 652) (according to Ibn Abī Shayba: Saʿd b. Muʿādh (d. 5/627) said, “I saw the face of the Prophet light up with joy.” Al-Miqdād’s words allude to Q 5:24, a late Madinan sura, but Ibn ʿĀshūr says al-Miqdād might have heard from the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, what the Israelites had said, and later the verse was revealed with these words (Tafsīr, sub 5:24).

Yet, despite these words by the Muhājirs (the Emigrants from Makka), the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, kept saying, “People, give me your advice!” (ashīrū ʿalayya ayyuhā al-nās). Realizing that the Prophet wanted to know the opinion of the Anṣār (the Helpers) , who had pledged at ʿAqaba to support and defend him inside Madina with no stipulation of fighting beyond the city, the chief of the Banū Aws, Saʿd b. Muʿādh (see al-Dhahabī, Siyar, Juzʾ 1, no. 56), arose and said: “…We believe in you and consider you truthful, and we testify that what you have brought is the truth… Go, O Messenger of Allah, and do whatever you wish; we are with you.” (Ibn Hishām, Sīra, Ghazwat Badr al-Kubrā). He also said, “If you brought us to this sea” (meaning the Red Sea) “and plunged into it, we would plunge into it with you to the last man!” (Bukhārī, Maghāzī, qawl Allāh taʿālā idh tastaghīthūn Rabbakum; Ibn Hishām, Sīra 1-2:615, Dhikr ruʾyā ʿĀtika bt. ʿAbd al-Muṭṭalib, istishārat al-Anṣār; al-Wāqidī, Maghāzī 1:48; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 8:9; Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt 3:149; Ibn Abī Shayba, al-Maghāzī p. 177-178 §127). There was another consultation about captives after the battle.

The Battle of the Trench (Khandaq), in defense of Madina, took place in Shawwāl-Dhūl-Qaʿda 5/March-April 627. As soon as the Prophet received news of the march of the polytheist confederates (al-aḥzāb) (see Tribes and Confederates), he held a formal council with the Companions at which Salmān the Persian (see Dhahabī, Siyar, vol. 1, no. 91) said: “O Messenger of Allah, when we were in the land of Persia, if cavalry threatened us we would dig a trench to protect ourselves. Messenger of Allah, what do you say about digging a trench?” Although this proposal surprised the majority of the Muslims, who were unfamiliar with such tactics, it was accepted. The Prophet himself, upon him blessings and peace, worked on the fortifications to invigorate the defenders’ martial spirit (Wāqidī, Maghāzī, Ghazwat al-Khandaq; Ibn Saʿd, Ṭabaqāt, Ghazwat Rasūl Allāh ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa sallama, al-Khandaq).

Weaning a Child (Q 2:233)

And mothers may nurse their children for two whole years, if they wish to complete the period of nursing. It is incumbent upon the father of the child to provide in a fair manner for their sustenance and clothing, but none shall be burdened with more than he is able to bear: neither shall a mother be made to suffer because of her child, nor he who has begotten [the child] because of his child; and the same [responsibility] rests upon the heir as upon him (the father). If both [parents] decide, by mutual consent and consultation (tashāwur), to wean the child, there is no blame on them; and if you decide to have other women suckle your children, there is no blame upon you, provided you hand over compensation [for breastfeeding] in a fair manner. Remain conscious of Allah and know well that Allah sees all that you do.

Ibn Abī Ḥātim (d. 327/938) cites Mujāhid (d. ca.104/722) to the effect that before the end of the baby’s second year, neither parent is permitted to wean the child without the other’s consent (Tafsīr, sub Qawluh taʿālā: wa tashāwur). Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī b. Aḥmad al-Wāḥidī (d. 468/1075), however, says there is nothing objectionable in weaning a baby less than two years of age, with the parents’ mutual consent and consultation, if the child is strong enough (Wasīṭ). Abū ʿAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-Qurṭubī (600-671/1204-1273) enumerates eighteen legal rulings which can be derived from this verse, and comments that Allah Most High has here permitted parents to employ their own interpretive judgment (al-ijtihād fīl-aḥkām), if this consultation benefits the baby (Tafsīr; cf. Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr and Shawkānī, Fatḥ al-Qadīr). Al-Rāzī points out the manifestation of Allah’s mercy and care for the baby, in His imposing conditions to ensure children’s wellbeing: He did not give the parents full permission (lam yaṣraḥ bil-idhn), but said there is no blame upon either of them (Tafsīr). (For more details on weaning, see Breastfeeding.)

Juristic Consultations

Abū Bakr Aḥmad b. ʿAlī al-Jaṣṣāṣ (d. 370/981) says “[Q 42:38] indicates the august position of consultation, for it is mentioned together with faith and with establishing prayer. All this shows that we are commanded to act on it” (Aḥkām al-Qurʾān). This juristic consultation conforms to the hierarchy of juridical sources, as exemplified in the saying of Abū Bakr, Allah be well-pleased with him, who said that if any controversial matter came his way, he sought a solution first in the Book of Allah, then in the practice of the Prophet; if he found nothing in either, he consulted the leaders of the Muslims and followed their common resolution (Dārimī, Sunan, Bāb al-Futyā wa mā fīh min al-shidda). ʿAbd al-Ḥaqq b. Ghālib Ibn ʿAṭiyya al-Andalusī (d. 481-541/1088-1147) regards consultation as mandatory:

Consultation is one of the foundations of the Sacred Law (qawāʿid al-sharīʿa), and the firm basis of legal judgments (ʿazāʾim al-aḥkām). He who does not consult people of knowledge and religion is bound to fall; there is no disagreement about this. Allah praised the believers in saying, Their affair is a matter of consultation among them (Q 42:38); and the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, explained it by saying “the advisor is entrusted” (al-mustashār muʾtaman)…consultation is a blessing (baraka) (Muḥarrar, sub Q 3:159).

Al-Qurṭubī summarizes the opinions about the legal status of consultation:

Some, like Ibn Khuwayz Mandād, say that it is obligatory (wājib) for rulers to consult the learned on matters about which they do not have adequate knowledge, [for instance] in religious matters, which are difficult for them; and in military and public affairs related to the welfare of the people; and for administrative scribes, ministers, and governors in matters related to the prosperity of the country and its administration. As the saying goes, “He who asks for advice (istashāra) will never regret it”; and “He who takes pride in his own opinion has gone astray.”… Consultation is due to difference of opinions. Anyone who asks for advice, takes into consideration these differences, and chooses that which is closer to the Book and the Sunna—if it is possible and if Allah guides him to that which He wills—should then make a decision and act on it, with complete trust in Allah. That is the aim of the required effort (ghāyat al-ijtihād al-maṭlūb); and that is what Allah enjoined upon His Prophet. (Tafsīr, sub Q 3:159)

Other References

Other references to consultation and quasi-consultation occur in the Qurʾān through various forms of two other verbs, raʾā and naẓara (which literally mean “to see”, “to consider”), when used in the sense of asking someone’s opinion. For instance, Prophet Ibrāhīm, upon him peace, said to his son, “My son, verily, I have seen in a dream that I must sacrifice you; so see what you think (fa-nẓur mā-dhā tarā)” (Q 37:102). Likewise, when the Queen of Sabāʾ(Sheba) receives the letter of the Prophet Sulaymān, she says, “O chiefs, advise (aftūnī) me in my affair.” (Q 27:32). Exegetes unanimously explain this imperative as meaning “Advise me.” For instance, according to al-Māwardī it means, “‘Show me a solution (ashīrū ʿalayya) in this matter that has reached me.’ [In this] she made consultation (mashūra) a formal advice (futyā)” (Nukat). Ibn ʿAṭiyya likewise says, “It means consulting them in her affair” (Muḥarrar).

Another instance of consultation is mentioned in the story of the People of the Cave, when they awaken from their sleep: And thus We awakened them that they might question one another. One of them said: How long have you remained [asleep]? They said: We have remained a day or part of a day. They said: Your Lord knows best how long you have stayed. So send one of you with this silver coin of yours to the town, and let him find out which is the good lawful food and bring you some of that. Let him be careful, and let no one find out about you (Q 18:19). Al-Zamakhsharī comments that this is a reminder of Divine Omnipotence, which manifested both in their sleep and their awakening; they asked one another to find out what Allah had done to them, so as to recognize and believe in the greatness of the Power of Allah Most High, and increase in certitude (Kashshāf).

Sūrat Yūsuf (Q 12)—“the best of stories” (Q 12:3)—includes several instances of counsel and advice given and received: (i) Yūsuf telling his dream to his father Yaʿqūb, upon them both peace, and the latter’s advice not to recount his dream to his brothers (Q 12:4-5); (ii) the brothers’ consultation among themselves to conspire against Yūsuf and their decision to throw him in a well (Q 12:8-10); (iii) Yūsuf’s fellow prisoners conferring about the meaning of their dreams, his response, and his advice to embrace the true faith (Q 12:36-41); (iv) the king’s fruitless consultation with his counselors as to the purport of his dream (Q 12:43-44); (v) the king’s fruitful consultation with Yūsuf on the same subject (Q 12:46-49); and (vi) the brothers’ mutual accord to the fitting penalty for theft (Q 12:75). Consultation is also mentioned in reference to the Prophets Mūsā and Hārūn,upon them both peace, when they arrived at the court of the Pharaoh and Mūsā, upon him peace, showed him the miracles he was granted. In his first response, the Pharaoh arrogantly rejects the Prophets, but simultaneously he appears to be consulting (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr) his chiefs: “Truly he is a well-versed sorcerer who intends to turn you out of your land. What do you advise?” (Q 7:109-110).


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See also

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