We briefly discussed the importance of syura (meetings and consultation) in Islam in the last article. In this article, we will briefly touch upon the ways it was practiced during the time of the second Caliph, Saidina Umar Al-Khattab r.a. There is a specific reason we chose his period.
The issues that required syura became numerous during Saidina Umar’s rule because many new issues as Islam spread and reached lands with civilizations, traditions and different systems. New problems were created which required comprehensive ijtihad, such as how to deal with conquered lands, how to regulate stipend according to new principles, how to war booty collected by the state was to be spent. Saidina Umar r.a. used to assemble the largest number of senior Sahabah he could for syura, and the shaykhs of Badr enjoyed a special status with regard to syura because of their virtue, knowledge and superiority.
Saidina Umar r.a. considers holding syura as one of the key traits of a leader. It shows decisiveness, humility and resourcefulness. He says:
“Men are of three types: a man who deals with problems according to his own opinion; a man who consults other with regard to matters he is confused about and follows the opinion of those who have wisdom; and a man who is confused and helpless, as he does not consult others and cannot take decisions.”
Consultation and meetings are also a key trait for leadership. Consultative practices allows the leader to analyze the situation from different perspectives prior to making a decision. Saidina Umar r.a. put this into practice as a leader. He used to consult the common people first and listen to them, then he would gather the elder Companions of the Messenger of Allah (SWT) and the people of wisdom among them, tell them about the issue and ask them to reach a good conclusion, and whatever they agreed upon, he would carry it out.
His actions in this case are similar to those of constitutional regimes in many kingdoms where issues are first discussed in the parliament, for example, then after being agreed upon by the majority, they are referred to a higher council which may be called “senators” or “lords”, and once that council has reached its decision, the king executes a decree. The difference between what Saidina Umar did and what these kingdoms do is that in Saidina Umar’s case it was based on his own ijtihad (opinion), without there being any system or laws in place.
On many occasions, Saidina Umar examined an issue, thought about it and expressed his view, then the weakest of people would come and explain the correct view, offering evidence for that, and Saidina Umar would retract his mistaken view and accept the correct view once he became convinced of it.
Extending from this style of leadership, Saidina Umar used to urge his military commanders to engage in syura (mutual consultation). For example, when he sent Abu `Ubayd ath-Thaqafi to fight the Persians in Iraq, he said to him: “Listen to and obey the Companions if the Prophet (SAW) and let them have a say, especially those among them who were present at Badr.”
He considers those who are senior and more experienced as valuable resources to overcome challenges and achieve excellence. As such, he instructs the highest military commanders to keep their egos low and consult experts as well as others.
To illustrate this point further, as another example, Saidina Umar used to write to his commanders in Iraq, telling them to consult `Amr ibn Ma`diyakrib and Talhah al-Asadi concerning their military affairs. He said to them: “Consult Talhah al-Asadi and `Amr ibn Ma`diyakrib and seek their help concerning war, but do not give them any control over your affairs, for each person knows his own field best.”
This also illustrates another point. Consulting another person or having meetings does not imply delegating power or giving them control. The control and responsibility should still be held by the leaders. Consultation and meetings should help leaders to be more decisive.
Saidina Umar r.a. was not the only sahabah who practiced Syura. One of the things that `Urwah said to `Utbah ibn Ghazwan when he sent him to Basrah was: “I have written to al-`Ala` al-Hadrami, telling him to send `Arfajah ibn Harthamah to you, for he is experienced in warfare and in drawing up plans to defeat the enemy. When he comes to you, consult him and keep him close to you.”
To be continued…