The Case for Expanding Shuraa Practically as a Mercy to the Office of Imam
[The following discussion is provided to enhance the cohesiveness, structural integrity, operational effectiveness and efficiency in the ability of a masjid’s group intellect to plan, direct, manage, and execute actions and allocate its resources for the benefit of the General Body while striving under the Qur’anic prescription of Shuraa Baynahum―the deliberative process of mutual consultation that Allah (SWT) has revealed to us in Qur’an and in the Life Example of Prophet Muhammed (SAW).]
The exact structural composition of Shuraa can be as varied as the structural composition of fresh water that Allah (SWT) causes to rise to the Heavens for purification and then descend to the earth for cleanliness and life. Allah (SWT) gives us a sign in the structural composition of water as part of weather phenomena. At times, the same element water is structurally different as a mist or fog, as light or heavy rain, as snow, as hail, and as humidity. While the element remains the same, the distinguishing feature that changes the structural (not molecular) composition is the environment. Likewise, Allah (SWT) has given us the freedom to design the best form of mutual consultation that respects the environment in which it is to be implemented. The point is, Shuraa must be implemented and although its structure may change, its core elements do not change, such as:
A. Respecting and valuing the –
1. individual intelligence (moral, creative, intellectual, emotional, etc.) components inherent in a group intellect.
2. power of mutual consultation that fundamentally leverages the group’s problem solving ability and enlarges its capacity to a level greater than any one individual’s.
B. Recognizing that –
1. Allah (SWT) has given us His promise that He shall guide the group in their deliberations just as he rewards the group in their prayers . . . in fact, He promises an even greater reward to the group prayer.
2. The personage of Muhammed, the Prophet (SAW) who was specially connected to Allah’s (SWT) Guidance by way of Revelation and special inspiration, is not physically with the group and He is the Seal of Prophethood. Thus no one person will ever again be in such a position and that access to Allah’s Mercy and Guidance at the group level must fundamentally be different than dependence upon one person to decide the whole state of affairs. The guidance for the group’s affairs must now come from the leadership of Muhammed (SAW) present in “each” of our hearts and minds, and each person’s ability to read and understand Qur’an, and seek Allah’s Guidance. The group mutually benefits from each member’s personal exertion.
3. Allah (SWT) by His Grace changes both the numerical composition of a group, and the group’s knowledge, talents and abilities and only through Shuraa can the group tap into such reservoir.
4. Shuraa promotes identification of intellectual strengths present and prevents underutilization of intellectual resources as a result of gender, ethnic, familial allegiance or other unjust discriminatory practices that limits the organization. Abu Lahab leads to Abu Jahl and vice versa.
5. Shuraa is a mercy to the group and the organization in that it removes undue burden on any single person to resolve issues. Shuraa more efficiently allocates qualified resources to problem solving.
6. Shura is a superior problem solving technology that provides the group a superior path to identifying organizational strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
7. Logically it is better to lean towards inclusivity rather than exclusivity in decision-making so long as pragmatism is dutifully considered . . . pragmatism here meaning the organization’s processes of decision-making, that is Shuraa, cannot become inefficient in its practical implementation such that the Shuraa process (itself) prevents problem solving because of bureaucracy or inability to reach concensus. Just look at the present political stalemate in Washington, DC. Shuraa must be intelligently designed, efficient, and sufficiently inclusive. One man rule is certainly quicker for deliberating. And everyone-rule is certainly inclusive. However Shuraa should lie in the middle course between these two extremes.
8. Shuraa allows the group intellect to apply the same sources of decision making that Allah (SWT) has prescribed at the individual level; that is the application of Qur’an, Hadith and the enlightenment of the soul to know what is wrong for it and what is right for it. The difference is the composition of the individual soul vis-a-vis the group intellect or soul. The group intellect or soul also has the right to determine what is right for it and wrong for it.
9. Shuraa promotes leadership training and development, succession planning, and an environment that builds a “learning organization” while reducing the risks associated with overdependence on any single person.
10. Contemporary institutions require the Shuraa process to manage the complexity of and the rate of change modern institutions and administrations face in their operating environments.
11. The fundamental attribute of trust in the ability of the believer to manage his life. Allah (SWT) trusts us.
Allah (SWT) in Qur’an and through his Messenger has given us practical guidance in implementing Shuraa, and He has entrusted the human intellect with the responsibility of applying Shuraa with the full and complete knowledge that the human intellect will continue to advance and expand with time and the evolution of human civilization. That is why, I believe it is a mistake to look for an exact structure from the past to superimpose over the present or future. Leaders commit such error to their organization’s peril.
The very nature of Shuraa is that is it organic changing with the circumstances and the times, and the human intellectual and other resources present. An analogy that serves to demonstrate the organic nature of Shuraa might be a family who begins with just a husband and one wife (and their respective families). Then Allah (SWT) blesses the couple with children, and then those children mature. Whereas the parents once managed the children very closely and controlled them tightly, the leadership of the parents must change over time to accommodate the changing maturation of its family unit.
The group intellect over time is changing in the family and it would be foolhardy, even negligent for the parents to fail to modify the level of Shuraa in that family unit. Now different families with more children or multiple wives will have a different Shuraa structure and process, but have the same goals… the successful efficient and effective management of that family unit while balancing the rights of each member accorded to them by Allah (SWT).
By analogy, an organization also changes over time. Our global Muslim Community has changed significantly. The very elements of literacy, and learning of the Religion and other knowledge by Muslims under a specific government eases the burden of leadership on governors. During the time of the four rightly guided Caliphs (RA), Islam was under siege and at the same time growing in leaps and bounds. The Qur’an had to be protected and published. Systems and states were developing. More people under Muslim statehood had to be taught the basics of the religion and the communication of that period as compared to now took longer and was less reliable. Such circumstances made governing the Muslim Community’s welfare more difficult and necessarily more centralized. The more religiously informed a population is, the more worldly educated and literate they are–the more politically stable the system of governance, the easier it is on the Masjlis Ash Shuraa. The resulting ease moves the organization towards a tendency to decentralize authority rather than centralize authority.
Now back to the present. The best administrators recognize that with time, organizations generally become more complex, membership expands, budgets increase, more areas of opportunity and community service present, and the administrative burden increases. Operating policies and documents should also change accordingly over time. Likewise, with changing organizational complexity and the ability to determine what works or is most effective, the process of Shuraa should change as the organization evolves. Hence, By-laws and other governing documents are not in the long-term, static.
Now what are some of the distinguishing characteristic of Shuraa that should be present in any Islamic organization including from the basic level of the family unit to the most complex level of state government? There are many practical distinguishing characteristics, but for brevity sake, I will highlight the five I believe most significant.
First and foremost, Shuraa does not distinguish between secular or temporal spheres (material matters of administration) and spiritual (religious matters). The Prophet (SAW) came to reunite what was once separated under Christian theology, that is the spiritual and the material world. Under Christendom (namely Catholicism), the masses, the common people were denied their rights, both spiritual and material, by the leaders who wanted to enrich themselves at the expense of the common man. The common man was pointed only in the direction of the next world, while the religious leaders enjoyed Allah’s (SWT) bounties in the present material world. The result was institutional corruption, material denial and an overdependence of the laity upon its clergy for spiritual guidance.
Many Christians quote a saying in the Bible allegedly attributed to Prophet Isa (AS) in this respect: Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to G-d the things that are G-d’s.” Some Muslims have bought into this same thinking, believing the material world is to be disregarded in favor of the spiritual world, but Allah (SWT) says: “Say, ‘who has forbidden the adornment of Allah which He has produced for His servants, and the good things of His providing?’ Say, ‘They are for the believers in the present life and exclusively for them on the Day of Resurrection.’ Thus do We explain the Signs for a people who have knowledge.”(Suratu-A’raaf,7:32). “And seek by means of what Allah has given you the future abode, and do not neglect your portion of this world,…” Holy Qur’an (28:77). So Islam has come to bring us to balance in our life and in our decision making. However, non-separation of spheres does not mean non-separation of span of control (please see posts in the Category of Leadership).
Second, Islam does not promote a priestly class system. Every believer is equal with his brother and sister before their Lord and also in their right to be heard (sounding clay), to participate and hence his or her voice should be valued in its governmental affairs. Yet again, our religion is logical and practical in that voice and opinion are two separate matters. A particular issue under discussion, whether strictly religious or secular, may require specific opinion that is more relevant to the task, issue, or matter at hand. If there is one among the Shuraa who has greater life experience, knowledge, training, etc. that bears directly on the matter, then his or her opinion may be of greater import at that moment. It does not however mean that other voices should not be heard. For it can be the case, that a solution to a matter is solved quite by human accident (Allah’s Merciful Inspiration) through mutual consultation between the acknowledged expert and a layman who suddenly mentions in ignorance something outside the normal paradigm of expert thinking. Then the expert exclaims eureka!…or in this case Allahu-Akbar! The expert exclaims, “you have said something I would not have thought about and I believe this will work!”
Third, the role of Imam or Amir or Sheikh (or other terms applied to the Religious Leader/Director) should be a special role in the Majlis Ashuraa, not that his personal voice is more important, no his voice is equal, but his opinion as the Religious Leader should be especially welcomed and present in any deliberation, for he represents the Office of Imam for the people and he is appointed by them in that special role. A special office held by no one else.
And the Imam, by his training, his devotion, his scholarship and life experience in Qur’anic-based problem solving, and in the fact that he is first to answer before Allah (SWT) for the moral and spiritual direction of the Community, has the duty to assist all leaders and the General Body in understanding and applying the Qur’an, the Life Example of Muhammed the Prophet (SAW), Islamic history, and law and practically applying it such a way that no words issued by the Community and no action taken by the Community is ever haram, unethical, immoral, or illegal according to Islam. That is the organizational leadership role of the Imam as a leader and advisor to the Majlis Ashuraa. That duty does not begin in the Musella and end at the entrance to the Board of Directors, Executive Committee’s, or Advisory Board’s deliberations. All of those bodies should warmly welcome the Imam’s presence and value his opinion.
At the same time, the one occupying the Office of Imam is a human being, not infallible and he is not Allah’s (SWT) personal representative on earth (or in the masjid) as the highest leader in Catholicism is identified by its adherents. Nor is the Imam, the Prophet’s (SAW) equivalent representative before the people.
The Imam represents an aspect of the legacy of leadership established by Prophet Muhammed (SAW). Indeed when the Qur’an refers to Prophet Ibrahim (AS) as the Imam for the nations, it is a different and prophetic global role for all of humanity, for all time and not the same context as the usage of Imam of a masjid or Islamic Center.
Yet another usage of the word Imam occurs when used to describe the husband’s role in the home, which is another contextual usage. Again, how decisions are made and the processes for the final decision are based on the environment. In practical terms, the voice of the Imam already carries a special weight inside the Community. If the Imam alerts a group to consider a factor or factors in the resolution, then it is expected that all participants will take to heart such advice. “Remind men, for of use is the reminder. Thou are not a warder over them.” Sura 88:21-22. It is thus undesirable to administratively give the Imam authority (voting procedure) to overrule the entire Majlis Ash Shuraa. That would essentially nullify the process of mutual consultation.
Remember that even the Prophet said of himself, in matters outside the Revelation of Qur’an, I am not infallible and he engaged in Shuraa. Returning to specific governance within the masjid, it is with the advice of the Imam that we have a complete Majlis Ash Shuraa. In a sense the Masjlis Ash Shuraa (together) is THE IMAM; it is the governor, but we cannot get there without inviting the Imam to be present at the table of discussion. He should be encouraging us to the prayer of istikhara and sharing other strategies for reaching excellent consensus. We must always remember that the best help for the Community comes from Allah (SWT) Himself.
In practical terms, because of the responsibilities of the Office of Imam, the person occupying that office of leadership, is often performing under a schedule that does not permit him to be at the deliberations of every meeting of every leadership body in the masjid. The Imam is engaged in responsibilities often time when all other leaders are at home or engaged in personal family time, whereas the Imam may be with a bereaved family; at the hospital; at a university; at an interfaith gathering; at a believer’s home; in a counseling session with a married or engaged couple; performing a janazah or wedding; teaching a class; taking a class; or participating in any number of other obligations. Thus as a permanent member of the Majlis Ash Shuraa, he should be freely and liberally given the leeway to attend as his schedule permits and notified in advance particularly when his presence is especially requested at a deliberation.
In the manner of governance suggested, there develops endearing relationships between offices of leadership and the mutual respect accorded between all leaders. When the institution respects the Office of Imam and the fact that there is no separation of secular and religious matters, while practically proceeding with deliberations in lieu of having to wait for the Imam to be present, the Believers will maintain greater confidence in all its leaders and in the Imam and the governing process.
The institution must be able to carry on its daily and routine obligations in the absence of the Imam. Note that minutes should be taken and available for the Imam’s review if so desired and he should be briefed by the President of the Board, Leaders of the Executive Committee, or Advisory Body, etc. as appropriate. The detailed provisions of some of the interactions discussed herein are better published in (strictly internal) Operating Guidelines rather than in By-laws.
A practical matter arises with respect to adoption of the final decision and the Imam’s role. Governance within the Masjlis Ash Shuraa can be simplified by adopting a majority or similar mathematical standard. Obviously, the Board of Directors and other leadership bodies must consist of an odd number of members to sustain a majority vote standard. Consequently, the Imam should freely express his position, but need not participate in the actual voting. If we consider the true role of the Office of Imam, then we will acknowledge that after he has provided his voice and opinion at his discretion, then he has fulfilled his duties as Religious Leader/Director. The Imam (in the context of a local masjid) advises and counsels individuals and the Community. He is not a military commander forcing his will upon the Believers either as individuals or as a group. That brings us to the last distinguishing characteristic about the process of Shuraa.
Shuraa is a process based in faith. That is why we have Shuraa. We have faith that Allah (SWT) will bless our deliberations and the group effort. We have Shuraa for the same reason we have congregational Salat―because Allah (SWT) instructed us to do so and we have faith in our Lord that he will bless our efforts, even if our prayer is not perfected. That faith in Allah (SWT) is why each of us at the table of deliberation should never been so adamant in our position which may be a reflection of how fearful we are of an incorrect outcome, so much so, that we disrespect the process of Shuraa.
The work of the Community is bigger than the work of any one person. Once persons, once we as leaders come to trust in Allah (SWT) and fear displeasing Him more and learn to trust the Shuraa process, we will lose our fear about the outcome or what the future may bring. The final or eventual outcome or result of a course of action is not within our purview. We cannot see the future that is within Allah’s (SWT) Vision only.
Only by the passage of time will leaders determine if the final decision was most meritorious. Once leaders understand their true role as leaders in working together for the good of the General Body, they will achieve the highest level of Shuraa. And that is what Allah (SWT) holds us to account, for even when the Majlis makes a mistake, it is Allah (SWT) Who is always present in all our deliberations and Who has the greater authority and power to guide that mistake and its effect to be of benefit to the Community. Because of this guarantee of Allah’s (SWT) grace over the Community, the last distinguishing characteristic for this discussion emerges.
Genuine Support for the Final Decisions Emerging from the Majlis Ash Shuraa…Once deliberations have ceased and a course of action has been agreed upon, all, even those formerly opposed, are obligated to support wholeheartedly the decision. A major cause of the political stalemate in our “balanced” system of government in Washington, D.C. and in many state legislatures is an imbalance in the inherent duty to provide genuine support for a final decision following a period of debate or discussion and eventual resolution via a method that all parties have agreed upon ahead of time.
I pray that the suggestions herein will be of benefit. As Believers, we should continue the search for the best design in our governmental affairs realizing that as the individual intellect develops, so develops the group intellect, and if we are sincere and faithful, Allah (SWT) will bless that group intellect to develop the best models for governance the world over. Verily Allah (SWT) knows best.
Left open for further thought and research…Peace until next time.
Sincerely & respectfully,
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