“Their System is based on their Consultation”[1]


According to the Qur’an, the system of government of an Islamic State is based on the principle: وَ اَمۡرُہُمۡ شُوۡرٰی بَیۡنَہُمۡ (38:42) (And their system is based on their consultation, (42:38)). The extensive meaning this short verse encompasses and the guidance obtained from it about the political set-up envisaged by Islam are detailed out below.

The first word that occurs in the verse is اَمۡرُ (amr).The word amr has many meanings in Arabic. Anyone who has a linguistic appreciation knows that for all such words the implied meaning is determined from the context in which they are used. Before we ascertain its implied meaning in the above verse, we shall examine its various connotations in Arabic.

In Yazid ibn al-Jaham al-Hilali’s following couplet it means “to urge” or “to advise”:[2]


لقد امرت بالبخل ام محمد

فقلت لھا: حثی علی البخل احمدا

Laqad amarat bilbukhli ummu muhammadi

Fa qultu laha: huththi ‘ala al-bukhli ahmada 

(Umm Muhammad urged me to be stingy; so I said to her: “If you must urge someone to be stingy then let it be your son Ahmad.”)

‘Amr ibn al-Ṣabghah al-Raqqashi uses it in exactly the same way we use “matters” for our general affairs of life:[3]


الا لیقل من شاء ما شاء انما

یلام الفتی فیما استطاع من الامر

ala liyaqul man sha’a ma sha’a innama

Yulamu al-fata fima istata‘a min al-amri

(Let anyone say what he likes, for a young man can only be reproached in matters which are under his control.)

In Abu Ṣakhar al-Hudhali’s following couplet, it denotes “commandments and authority”:[4]


اما والذی ابکیٰ واضحک والذی

امات واحیا والذی امرہ الامر

Ama wa alladhi abka wa adhaka wa alladhi

Amata wa ahya wa alladhi amruhu al-amru

(Listen! By Him Who made us weep and laugh, Who gave death and life and Whose commandments are the real commandments.)

Ṣafiyyah bint ‘Abd al-Muttalib uses it in a way in which together with “commandments and authority” it connotes “affairs of state”:[5]


الا من مبلغ عني قریشًا

ففیم الامر فینا والإمار

ala man mublighuṇ ‘anna Qurayshaṇ

Fa fima al-amru fina wa al-imaru

(Hark ! who will deliver my message to the Quraysh that as they do not accept our social position, so they should tell us that why are the affairs of state in our hands and why are we considered worthy of consultation?)


In the Qur’an also, it has been used in all these meaning, and at every instance it is the context which determines the meaning that is implied. In the verse of Surah Shura under discussion, it is quite evident from its context and placement that here it means “system.” This meaning has been incorporated in it from the depth found in its general meaning of “directive.” When the word “directive” becomes related to people, it prescribes certain limits for itself and establishes certain rules and regulations. In such cases, it implies both the directives which emanate from political authority and the collective affairs. Thus a little deliberation shows that the English word “system” is used to convey the same meaning.

Since the Qur’an has not specified it by any other adjective except by appending it to a pronoun, all sub-systems which are part of the political system must be considered included in its connotation. In fact, all affairs of state like the municipal, national and provincial affairs, political and social directives, rules of legislation, delegation and revocation of powers, dismissal and appointment of officials, interpretation of Islam for the collective affairs of life all of them fall under the principle laid down in this verse. In other words, no area or department under an Islamic government can be beyond the jurisdiction of this principle.

Next comes the word شُوۡرٰی (shura). It is a verbal noun (masdar) of the category فعلي (fu‘la) and means “to consult.” Owing to the fact that it occurs as an enunciative (khabar) in the given verse, the meaning of the verse is not the same as of the verse: شَاوِرۡہُمۡ فِی الۡاَمۡرِ ۚ فَاِذَا عَزَمۡتَ فَتَوَکَّلۡ عَلَی اللّٰہِ (Consult them in the affairs of the state and when you reach a decision, put your trust in God, (3:159)), which is often quoted as its parallel. To convey the same meaning as this verse, the words should, perhaps, have been something like وَ فيِ الاَمْرِ هُمْ يُشَاوِرُوْن (And in the affairs [of state] they are consulted). In this case, it would have been necessary that in the whole society the rulers and the ruled be distinct. The ruler in such a case would have to be divinely appointed or nominated by an innocent Imam or be someone who had seized power by force. Through whatever means he reached the position of head of state, he would have only been bound to consult people in matters of national interest before forming his own opinion. He would not have been bound to accept a consensus or a majority opinion. Acceptance or rejection of an opinion would have rested on his discretion. He would have all the right to accept a minority opinion and reject a majority one.

However, the style and pattern of the words اَمۡرُہُمۡ شُوۡرٰی بَیۡنَہُمۡ (their system is based on their consultation) demands that even the head of an Islamic State be appointed through consultation; the system itself be based on consultation; everyone should have an equal right in consultation; whatever is done through consultation should only be undone through consultation; everyone that is part of the system should have a say in its affairs, and in the absence of a consensus, the majority opinion should decide the matter.

The difference in meaning of the two verses can be appreciated if the following example is kept in mind. If it is said: “The ownership of this house shall be decided after consulting these ten brothers,” then it means that only the ten brothers have the authority to make decisions and the opinion of any one of them cannot prevail over the others. If all of them do not agree on the matter, a majority opinion would be decisive. But, if the above sentence is changed a little to: “In deciding the ownership of this house, these ten brothers shall be consulted.” then this sentence only means that someone else has the final say. It will be his opinion which will be carried out in the end. The only thing he must do is to consult the ten brothers before forming his own opinion. Obviously, he cannot be forced to accept the consensus or majority opinion of the brothers.

Since, in the opinion of this writer, the collective system of the Muslims is based on اَمۡرُہُمۡ شُوۡرٰی بَیۡنَہُمۡ (their system is based on their consultation), the election of their ruler as well as their representatives must take place through consultation. Also, after assuming a position of authority, they will have no right to overrule a consensus or a majority opinion of the Muslims in all the collective affairs.

Mawlana Abu al-A‘la Mawdudi comments on this verse in the following words:


The words اَمۡرُہُمۡ شُوۡرٰی بَیۡنَہُمۡ (their system is based on their consultation), by their nature and scope entail five things:

First, people whose interests and rights relate to the collective affairs should be given the freedom to express their opinion, and they should be kept totally aware of the actual way in which their affairs are being run; they should also have the right to object and to criticize if they see anything wrong in the way their affairs are being conducted and the right to change those in authority if the faults are not rectified. It is outright dishonesty to forcibly silence people or to run affairs without taking them into confidence. No one can regard this attitude to be in accordance with this verse.

Second, the person who is entrusted to run the collective affairs of the people should be chosen through their absolute free consent. Consent obtained through force and intimidation, greed and gratification, deception and fraud is no consent at all. The ruler of a country is not one who obtains this position by hook or by crook; the real ruler is the person whom people choose freely without any compulsion. 

Third, people chosen for consultation should enjoy the confidence of the majority. Consequently, those who are worthy of consultation can in no way be thought to enjoy the confidence of the people in the truest sense if they acquire this position through force, extortion, fraud or by leading people astray.

Fourth, people who are consulted must express their opinions in accordance with their knowledge, faith and conscience and should have complete freedom for such expression. If, because of fear, greed or some prejudice people are led to give opinions which are against their belief and conscience, then this is disloyalty and infidelity, and is a negation of the principle of consultation.

Fifth, a decision which is made through the consensus or majority opinion of the members of the shura or which has the mandate of the people behind it must always be accepted. Because if one person or group insists on an opinion, then consultation becomes useless. The Almighty has not said: “They are consulted in their affairs;” on the contrary, He has said: “Their system is based on their consultation.” Merely consulting people does not fulfil this directive; it is necessary that a consensus or majority opinion be considered as decisive in running the affairs.[6]


This principle of consultation as laid down by the Qur’an is also in accordance with the established norms of sense and reason. No Muslim can be free of faults or shortcomings. He can be the most distinguished as far as piety and knowledge are concerned; he can be the most suitable for the position of authority he holds and can even consider himself so. But even with these abilities, he cannot attain the position of head of state without the general opinion of the Muslims. Also, earning this position after being elected through a majority mandate does not suggest that he cannot err or has the prerogative to overrule a consensus or a majority opinion of the authorized people. The Prophet (sws) had this prerogative because he, being divinely guided, could not err. Even so, not one example can be cited from history in which he ignored a majority opinion in favour of his own.

A Muslim ruler is indeed only one individual and everyone will acknowledge that the opinion of a group of people has more chances of being correct than that of a single person. A God-fearing Muslim ruler should regard his own opinion in the way a great jurist has expressed: “We consider our opinion as correct but concede the possibility of an error, and consider the opinion of others as incorrect but concede the possibility of its correctness.”

Moreover, if the people consulted know that even their consensus and majority opinion have the possibility of being rejected, they would not agree to offer their opinion in the first place. Even if forced to do so, they would never take serious interest in it. They would never deeply reflect on the issue under discussion. They would reluctantly come to sessions conducted for consultation only to leave disappointed. They would never have mental and emotional involvement with the political system or the various institutions of the state. While delineating on this psychological aspect, Abu Bakr al-Jassas writes:


وغير جائز أن يكون الأمر بالمشاورة علي جهة تطييب نفوسهم و رفع أقدارهم ولتقتدي الأمة به في مثله لانه لو كان معلوما عندهم في استنباط ما شووروا فيه و صواب الرأي فيما سئلوا عنه ثم لم يكن في ذلك معمولا عليه ولا متلقي منه بالقبول بوجه لم يكن في ذلك تطييب نفوسهم ولا رفع لأقدارهم بل فيه ايحاشهم وأعلامهم بان أراء هم غير مقبولة ولا معمول عليها فهذا تأويل ساقط لا معني له فكيف يسوغ تأويل من تأوله لتقتدي به الأمة مع علم الأمة عند هذا القائل بان هذه المشورة لم تفد شيئا ولم يعمل فيها بشيء أشاروا به

It is not proper to consider that this directive of consultation is merely to please and honour the Companions of the Prophet nor is it proper to think that it has been given so that the ummah should follow the Prophet in this regard in such matters. On the other hand, if the Companions knew that their opinion would neither be followed nor held in any regard after they had used all their intellectual abilities to form it, this would not have pleased or honoured them; instead they would have been totally discouraged, considering that their opinions were neither good enough to be accepted nor fit enough to be followed. Therefore, such an interpretation of this directive of consultation is baseless and cannot be accepted. Furthermore, how can we regard as correct the interpretation that this directive was merely given to teach the Prophet’s way to the ummah, when actually the person who says this himself knows that the ummah is aware of the fact that giving such an opinion was neither of any use nor was it followed in a particular matter?[7]


Here, there is the possibility that someone might quote the offensive launched by the caliph Abu Bakr (rta) against those who in his times had desisted from paying zakah and his attitude about the departure of the army led by Usamah ibn Zayd as testimony against what has been said above. Consequently, it is necessary that the true nature of these two incidents be explained. Imam Amin Ahsan Islahi comments on these in the following words:


Deliberation on the action taken against those who were evading zakah reveals a few facts:


First, this matter had nothing to do with the caliph or the members of the shura. Abu Bakr (rta) had never presented this issue in the shura. Matters in which there is no direct guidance provided by the Qur’an and Sunnah or those which relate to the general well-being of the public are generally presented in the shura. The matter of zakah evasion has been explicitly dealt with in the Qur’an. In an Islamic state, people lose their rights of Muslim citizenship if they refuse to pay zakah to the public treasury. This is categorically laid down in the Islamic shari‘ah. Therefore, Abu Bakr (rta) was not required to present this matter before the shura. On the contrary, it was his responsibility as a caliph to implement a directive of the Qur’an. Consequently, this is precisely what he did. An example to illustrate this even further is that if a group of people creates a law and order situation in an Islamic state by going on a rampage of killing people, then the caliph is not required to ask the permission of the shura to deal with this nuisance; it is indeed his duty to freely use his authority to implement the punishment prescribed by the Qur’an for such criminals.

Second, those who had expressed their reservations on this action of the caliph Abu Bakr (rta) did so because they had misunderstood a Hadith of the Prophet (sws). Abu Bakr (rta) himself explained this Hadith in conjunction with another detailed Hadith, which he himself had heard from the Prophet (sws). This satisfied the people [and they never insisted on calling a meeting of the shura]. It is obvious that a Hadith which is narrated by Abu Bakr (rta) himself is extremely reliable and therefore has great importance.

Third, the declaration of the caliph Abu Bakr (rta) that he would fight alone with these evaders of zakah if he finds no one to fight with them is not an expression of veto from him; it is on the contrary an expression of the responsibility imposed on a caliph by Islam in implementing a definite and explicit directive. In Islam, the real responsibility of a caliph in implementing the directives of God and His Prophet (sws) is that he should try his utmost in their implementation even if no one supports him. He is not required to be bound by the opinion of the people in categorical matters of the shari‘ah. Only matters in which there is no direct guidance provided by the Qur’an and Sunnah or those which relate to the general well being of the public need the approval of the people eligible for consultation.

Similar is the case of dispatching the army led by Usamah (rta). All arrangements for this had already been completed in the life of the Prophet (sws) himself. It is he who had selected the people who would constitute this army. The Prophet (sws) himself had hoisted the flag of the army. If the Prophet (sws) had not fallen severely sick, the army would have been on its way. The Prophet (sws) could not recover from his sickness and died. Abu Bakr (rta) then assumed charge as caliph. He quite naturally thought that his greatest responsibility as a caliph was to send the army which had been prepared by the Prophet (sws) and about whose early departure the Prophet (sws) was very anxious. As the caliph, it was his great honour as well as his primary responsibility to execute a prior directive of the Prophet (sws). He was not required to consult his people for this because all matters concerning the army had already been settled by the Prophet (sws). As the successor to the Prophet (sws), it was his duty to enforce these directives instead of amending them. So, when some people, because of the peculiar circumstances which had arisen, regarded this campaign to be against the call of the day, Abu Bakr (rta) asserted unequivocally that he would not furl the flag which had been unfurled by the Prophet (sws).

Consequently, these two incidents can in no way be presented as evidence to the fact that a ruler can veto the decision of his shura members. The only thing to which they bear testimony is that in the enforcement of explicit directives of God and His Prophet (sws), no ruler is required to consult his shura members. In fact, his real duty is to implement them.[8]


According to the Qur’anic directive of اَمۡرُہُمۡ شُوۡرٰی بَیۡنَہُمۡ (their system is based on their consultation), the details of the methodology adopted by the Prophet (sws) and his Companions (rta) for the participation of the Muslims in the affairs of the state in their own times, keeping in view their social conditions, are based on the following two points:

I. Muslims shall be consulted in the affairs of state through their leaders in whom they profess confidence. It is recorded:


اَنَّ رَسُوْلَ اللّٰہِ صَلَّي اللّٰہُ عَلَیۡہِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ حِينَ اَذِنَ لَهُمْ الْمُسْلِمُونَ فِي عِتْقِ سَبْيِ هَوَازِنَ اِنِّي لَا اَدْرِي مَنْ اَذِنَ مِنْكُمْ مِمَّنْ لَمْ يَاْذَنْ فَارْجِعُوا حَتَّي يَرْفَعَ اِلَيْنَا عُرَفَاؤُكُمْ اَمْرَكُمْ

When Muslims at the Prophet’s behest consented to free the prisoners of Hawazin, the Prophet said: “I could not know who among you has shown his consent and who among you has not. Therefore, go back, and send your leaders that they may inform us.”[9]


It is narrated about Abu Bakr (rta):


فَإِنْ أَعْيَاهُ أَنْ يَجِدَ فِيهِ سُنَّةً مِنْ رَسُوْلَ اللّٰہِ صَلَّي اللّٰہُ عَلَیۡہِ وَسَلَّمَجَمَعَ رُؤسَ النَّاسِ وَخِيَارَهُمْ فَاسْتَشَارَهُمْ فَإِذا أَجتْمَعَرَأْيُهُمْ عَلَي أَمْرٍ قَضَي بِهِ

Then if he could not find a practice of the Prophet in this matter, he would gather the influential among his people and consult them, and when they would reach a conclusion, he would decide according to it.[10]


During the time of the Prophet (sws), the tribal chiefs held this position of trust. The people of the tribes of Aws, Khazraj and Quraysh professed confidence in every sense of the word in their respective leaders. Indeed, these leaders were neither elected to this position nor was an election needed in the social conditions which existed at that time. It was, because of their social status, intellect and experience that their people turned to these chiefs in all their political and collective affairs. Before the advent of Islam, it was their tribes’ complete faith in them which conferred this position on them and this state continued even after they accepted Islam. However, before accepting Islam, a person could say that his tribal chief had seized power by force and that he was not in a position to show his mistrust in him, but after accepting faith every person from among the Muslim public could express his lack of confidence in his chief in front of the Prophet (sws). If the majority in a tribe had expressed their lack of confidence in their leader, he could certainly not have retained his position.

The Prophet (sws) in his own times made all the important decisions after consulting these tribal chiefs and during the time of the Rightly Guided Caliphate also, the position of trust commanded by them continued.

While narrating the proceedings of a shura called to session in the time of the caliph Umar’s (rta) rule to decide the fate of the conquered lands of Syria and Iraq, Qadi Abu Yusuf writes:


قالوا : فاستشر قال: فاستشار المهاجرين الأولين فاختلفوا  فأما عبد الرحمن بن عوف رضي الله عنه فكان رأيه إن تقسم لهم حقوقهم و رأي عثمان و علي و طلحة و ابن عمر رضي الله عنهم رأي عمر فارسل إلي عشرة من الأنصار: خمسة من الاوس و خمسة من الخزرج  من كبرائهم و أشرافهم

The people said: you should now seek formal consultation. At this, he consulted the early Muhajirun and there existed a difference in their opinions. ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Awf maintained that the land should be rightfully distributed among them, while ‘Uthman, ‘Ali, Ṭalhah and Ibn ‘Umar were in agreement with ‘Umar’s view. Then he called ten people from the Ansar: five from the leading people of the Aws and five from those of the Khazraj.[11]


Umar (rta) while explaining his own position in relation to the members of the shura said:


أني لم أزعجكم ألا لان تشتركوا في أمانتي فيما حملت من أموركم فأني واحد كأحدكم … ولست اريد ان تتبعوا هذا الذي هواي

I have bothered you with the burden of coming here so that you can help me in my responsibilities owing to this position you have entrusted me with. I am a human being just like you … and do not want that you follow my desires in these affairs.[12]


The manner in which such sessions would be held was that first a person would loudly announce: اَلْصَلاَةُ جَامِعَة (al-salah jami‘ah); which meant that people should gather for prayer. When people would gather, ‘Umar (rta) would pray two rak‘at. He would then deliver a brief speech and would table the agenda on which he wanted to consult the people. The issues of the conquered lands of Syria and Iraq and the participation of the caliph himself in the battle of Nihawand were discussed and settled in these meetings. Similarly, the issues of the salaries of soldiers, appointment of representatives, organization of offices, freedom of trade for other nations and their taxes were all decided in these meetings. Baladhuri writes that there was another group of the leaders of the Muhajirun (the ruling party) who would see to the day to day affairs of the country and would regularly assemble at the Masjid-i Nabawi for this purpose:


كان للمهاجرين مجلس في المسجد فكان عمر يجلس معهم فيه و يحدثهم عما ينتهي إليه من امور الأفاق

In the mosque [of the Prophet], sessions of the Muhajirun would be convened in which ‘Umar would sit and present to them all the happenings and events reported to him from the various parts of his empire.[13]


II. The tradition was established that among the various groups present in an Islamic State, only that group assumed political authority which enjoyed the confidence of the majority of Muslims.

Before his death, the Prophet (sws) clarified that the Quraysh would be his successors and not the Ansar:


اِنَّ هَذَا الْأَمْرَ فِي قُرَيْشٍ لَا يُعَادِيهِمْ اَحَدٌ اِلَّا كَـبَّهُ اللّٰہُ فِي النَّارِ عَلَي وَجْهِهِ مَا اَقَامُوا الدِّينَ.

Our political authority shall remain with the Quraysh. In this matter, whoever opposes them as long as they follow Islam, God shall cast him face down in Hell.[14]


Consequently, he told the Ansar:[15] قَدِّمُوْا قُرَيْشًا وَلاَ تُقَدِّمُوهَا (In this matter, bring forward the Quraysh and do not try to supersede them). The Prophet (sws) stated thus the reason for the decision he had declared:


النَّاسُ تَبَعٌ لِقُرَيْشٍ فِي هَذَا الشَّأْنِ مُسْلِمُهُمْ لِمُسْلِمِهِمْ وَكَافِرُهُمْ لِكَافِرِهِمْ

People in this matter follow the Quraysh. The believers of Arabia are the followers of their believers and the disbelievers of Arabia are the followers of their disbelievers.[16]


Thus, the Prophet (sws) made it very clear that since the majority of the Arabian Muslims professed confidence in the Quraysh, they were solely entitled to take charge as the rulers of Arabia in the light of the Qur’anic directive اَمۡرُہُمۡ شُوۡرٰی بَیۡنَہُمۡ (their system is based on their consultation), and that they would be passed on the political authority after the Prophet (sws) not because of any racial precedence or superiority, but only by virtue of this position.

Those who have studied the history of the Arabs know that before the advent of the Prophet (sws), the Quraysh were at the helm of the state’s affairs and their leaders were considered as the leaders of the Arabs. After the battles of Badr and Uhud, though several of their leaders had been killed, yet in the capacity of a party they enjoyed the confidence of all the Arabs. All their prominent people who had accepted faith were present in Madinah and many of them had distinguished themselves in the service of Islam. It was these people who were called the Muhajirun and after the general acceptance of faith by the Arabs their leaders enjoyed the same confidence as the influential Arabs in the pre-Islamic era. Hence, elections were not needed to confirm this reality. There was no room for a difference of opinion in the fact that the Quraysh had the popular support of the masses behind them and that no tribe could challenge this position of theirs.

There is no doubt that as far as Madinah was concerned, the Ansar under Sa‘d ibn ‘Ubadah (rta) and Sa‘d ibn Mu‘adh (rta), the respective leaders of Aws and Khazraj, had more influence among the local population. They were no less than the Muhajirun as regards the services they had rendered for the cause of Islam. They had offered their unconditional support and help to the Muhajirun when the latter had migrated to Madinah. Together with them, they had fought gallantly in the battles of Badr, Uhud, Ahzab and Hunayn. The relationship of brotherhood and fraternity they had established with them was an exceptional one. Particularly, the way they had offered them monetary assistance to please the Almighty bears no parallel in history. Had the Islamic State been confined only to Madinah, it can be said with certainty that after the Prophet (sws), they would have assumed political authority. But after the conquest of Makkah, when a large number of Arabs of other territories accepted Islam, the political scene changed drastically. The extent of confidence commanded by the Muhajirun of the Quraysh out-proportioned that of the Ansar.

However, there was still a chance that owing to the perfectly natural emotions of tribal affiliation and owing to the spirit of outdoing each other in serving Islam, the Ansar might have come forward and challenged the Quraysh. Particularly, the fact that they commanded more influence locally in Madinah could have caused them to put undue trust in their strength. If such a situation, God forbid, had arisen the Munafiqun (Hypocrites) would have certainly tried to benefit from it, and keeping in view the social conditions which prevailed at that time, only a war could have settled their dissension.

Therefore, the Prophet (sws), sensing that this untoward situation might arise, decided once and for all the fate of this matter in his own life in the presence of Sa‘d ibn ‘Ubadah(rta), the supreme leader of the Ansar. He is reported to have said:[17]اَلاِئمَّةُ مِنْ قُرَيْش ([After me], the political leaders should be from the Quraysh). Consequently, in the Thaqifah of Banu Sa‘idah, when the leaders of the Ansar were delivering stirring speeches to prove their entitlement to the leadership of the Arabs, Abu Bakr (rta) reminded them of the Prophet’s above mentioned decision in the following words:


وَلَقَدْ عَلِمْتَ يَا سَعْدُأَنَّ رَسُوْلَ اللّٰہِ صَلَّي اللّٰہُ عَلَیۡہِ وَسَلَّمَقَالَ وَأَنْتَ قَاعِدٌ قُرَيْشٌ وُلَاةُ هَذَا الْأَمْرِ فَبَرُّ النَّاسِ تَبَعٌ لِبَرِّهِمْ وَفَاجِرُهُمْ تَبَعٌ لِفَاجِرِهِمْ قَالَ فَقَالَ لَهُ سَعْدٌ صَدَقْتَ نَحْنُ الْوُزَرَاءُ وَأَنْتُمْ الْأُمَرَاءُ

O Sa‘d! You know very well that the Prophet (sws) had said in your presence that the Quraysh shall be given the khilafah because the nobles among the Arabs follow their nobles and their commoners follow their commoners. Sa‘d replied: “What you say is correct, we are your advisers and you are our rulers.”[18]


In another report, the words are:


لَمْ تَعْرِفْ الْعَرَبُ هَذَا الْأَمْرَ إِلَّا لِهَذَا الْحَيِّ مِنْ قُرَيْشٍ

The people of Arabia do not acknowledge anyone’s political leadership except that of the Quraysh.[19]


After this verification by Sa‘d ibn ‘Ubadah (rta), the chief of the Ansar, it became clear to those present that they had strayed from the right course in the heat of discussion and that the right course was to elect their ruler from the group which held majority in the public; that whoever would be elected would be the khalifah of the Muslims and it would be obligatory to obey him; that this course had been outlined by the Prophet (sws) himself and they should not adopt a different one.

The Rightly Guided Caliphate was also founded on the basis of this decision declared by the Prophet (sws). When the leaders of the Ansar submitted to it, ‘Umar (rta), considering the delicacy of the situation which had arisen in the Thaqifah, proclaimed the rule of Abu Bakr (rta) being sure of the fact that the leaders of the Quraysh would not differ with him and would, in fact, endorse his step. Later, he himself stated this reason for his step and warned that no one should dare present it as a violation of the Qur’anic principle اَمۡرُہُمۡ شُوۡرٰی بَیۡنَہُمۡ (their system is based on their consultation):


فَلَا يَغْتَرَّنَّ امْرُؤٌ أَنْ يَقُولَ إِنَّمَا كَانَتْ بَيْعَةُ أَبِي بَكْرٍ فَلْتَةً وَتَمَّتْ أَلَا وَإِنَّهَا قَدْ كَانَتْ كَذَلِكَ وَلَكِنَّ اللّٰہَ وَقَي شَرَّهَا وَلَيْسَ مِنْكُمْ مَنْ تُقْطَعُ الْأَعْنَاقُ إِلَيْهِ مِثْلُ أَبِي بَكْرٍ مَنْ بَايَعَ رَجُلًا عَنْ غَيْرِ مَشُورَةٍ مِنْ الْمُسْلِمِينَ فَلَا يُبَايَعُ هُوَ وَلَا الَّذِي بَايَعَهُ تَغِرَّةً أَنْ يُقْتَلَا

No one among you should have the misconception that the oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr took place suddenly. No doubt, the oath was pledged in this way, but the Almighty protected the Muslims from its evil consequences [which might have arisen] and remember! There is none among you like Abu Bakr, whose greatness cannot be surpassed. Now, if a person pledges an oath of allegiance to someone, without the opinion of the believers, no one should pledge allegiance to him as well as to whom he [himself] pledged allegiance because by doing this both of them shall present themselves for execution.[20]


At the time of the death of Abu Bakr (rta) also, the Muhajirun of the Quraysh enjoyed the people’s confidence. Since no other tribe of the Arabs including the Ansar had challenged this position, they continued to hold their position of authority, and there was no need to turn to the general public in this regard. Therefore, the leaders of the Muhajirun of the Quraysh nominated ‘Umar (rta) as the new ruler and both the Ansar and the Muhajirun – the two big tribes of the Muslims – accepted the appointment. Consequently, without any difference of opinion, ‘Umar (rta), in direct accordance with the Islamic constitution, assumed the position of khilafah. Ibn Sa‘d reports:


أن ابابكر الصديق لما استعزبه دعا عبد الرحمن ابن عوف فقال : أخبرني عن عمر الخطاب  فقال عبد الرحمن ما تسألني عن أمر ألا وأنت اعلم به مني فقال ابوبكر : وان  فقال عبد الرحمن : هو  واللّٰہافضل من رأيك فيه  ثم دعا  عثمان  بن  عفان فقال : اخبرني  عن  عمر  فقال : أنت اخبرنا به فقال عثمان : اللهم علمی به أن سريرته خير من علانيته وانه ليس فينا مثله

When ill-health overtook Abu Bakr and the time of his death approached, he summoned ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Awf and said: “Tell me about ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab.” ‘Abd al-Rahman replied: “You are asking me about something of which you know better.” Abu Bakr said: “Although [this is correct yet I want your opinion].” ‘Abd al-Rahman answered: ‘”By God! He is even better than the opinion you hold about him.” Then he [Abu Bakr] called ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan and asked him: “Tell me about ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab. ‘Uthman replied: “You know him better than us.” Abu Bakr said: “Still! O Abu ‘Abdullah! [I want your opinion].” [At this], ‘Uthman answered: “Indeed, in my opinion, his inner-self is better than his outer-self and no one among us can parallel him.”[21]


Ibn Sa‘d mentions that Abu Bakr (rta), besides these two, consulted all the prominent leaders of the Ansar and the Muhajirun:


و شاور معهما سعيدبن زيد أبا الأعور و اسيد بن الحضير و غير هما من المهاجرين و الأنصار فقال اسيد: اللهم اعلمه الخيرة بعدك يرضی للرضی  و  يسخط  للسخط  الذي  يسر  خير  من  الذي يعلن و لم يل هذا الأمر أحد أقوى عليه منه

And he, besides these two, consulted Abu al-A‘war Sa‘id ibn Zayd and Usayd ibn al-Hudayr as well as other prominent leaders of the Ansar and the Muhajirun, so Usayd said: “Indeed after you O Abu Bakr! I consider him the best. He is happy on happy occasions and sad on sad occasions. His inner-self is better than his outer-self. No one is more suited to bear the burden of this khilafah.”[22]


After this, Ibn Sa‘d reports that some people differed from Abu Bakr’s (rta) opinion but he satisfied them. He then called ‘Uthman (rta) and said:


اكتب : بسم اللّٰہالرحمن الرحيم هذا ما عهد ابوبكر بن أبي قحافة في أخر عهده بالدنيا خارجاًمنها وعند أول عهده بالأخرة داخلا فيها حيث يؤمن الكافر و يوقن الفاجر و يصدق الكاذب اني استخلفت عليكم بعدي عمر بن الخطاب  فاسمعوا له و أطيعوا

Write: “In the name of God the Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful. This is the will of Abu Bakr ibn Abi Quhafah which he made at the end of his worldly life, when he is about to leave it and at the beginning of his next life when he is about to enter it, at a time when disbelievers accept faith, the defiant express belief and liars speak the truth. I make ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab your khalifah. Therefore, listen to him and obey him.”[23]


This letter was sealed. According to Abu Bakr’s (rta) directive, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (rta) and Usayd ibn Sa‘id (rta) accompanied ‘Uthman (rta), who took the letter out to the people and said:


أتبايعون لـمن في هذا الكتاب؟فقالوا نعم

Will you pledge allegiance to the person in whose favor a will has been made in this letter. The people said: “Yes.”[24]


Ibn Sa‘d reports:


فاقروا بذلك جميعاً و رضوا به و بايعوا ثم دعا ابوبكر عمر خالياً  فأوصاه بما أوصاه به

All accepted and agreed to pledge allegiance to ‘Umar. Then Abu Bakr called ‘Umar in solitude and gave him whatever advice he wanted to.[25]


When ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (rta) was severely wounded and his death looked imminent, the political situation was still unchanged. The Muhajirun of the Quraysh still enjoyed the majority mandate of the Muslims. Therefore, according to the Islamic constitution, only an election of a leader by the majority group was required. The people who held responsible positions asked ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (rta), as reported by Ibn Sa‘d:[26]اَلاَ تَعَهْدُ اِلَيْنَا اَلاَ تُوَمِّرُ عَلَيْنَا (Will you not leave a will for us? Will you not appoint a ruler for us?). ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (rta), however, adopted another way: instead of appointing a khalifah by consulting the shura members, as had been done by Abu Bakr (rta), he entrusted the matter to six prominent leaders:


أني قد نظرت لكم في أمر الناس فلم أجد عند الناس شقاقاً ألا إن يكون فيكم فان كان شقاق فهو فيكم وانما الامرالي ستة : ألي عبد الرحمن و عثمان و علی و الزبير و طلحة و سعد

I have deliberated on the matter of khilafah and have reached the conclusion that there is no difference among the people in this affair as long as it is one of you. If there is any difference, it is within you. Therefore, this matter is entrusted to the six of you: ‘Abd al-Rahman, ‘Uthman, ‘Ali, Zubayr, Ṭalhah and Sa‘d.[27]


What he meant was that since the people only looked to them for khilafah and if they agreed to accept anyone among them as khalifah, the people would not differ with their decision.

He further said:[28]قُوْمُوْا فَتَشَاوِرُوْا فَاَمِّرُوْا اَحَدَكُمْ عَلَيْكُم (rise, consult and make anyone amongst yourselves as the ruler). However, since there was a chance that some miscreants might create disorder or that these six might prolong matters, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (rta) appointed the Ansar as the custodians over the six because, being a minority group, they were not a party to the whole affair. Ibn Sa‘d narrates through Anas ibn Malik:


أرسل عمر بن الخطاب إلی أبي طلحة الأنصاري قبل أن يموت بساعة فقال : يا أبا طلحة كن في خمسين من قومك من الالنصار مع هولاء النفر: أصحاب الشورى فانهم فيما احسب سيجتمعون في بيت أحدهم فقم علي ذلك الباب بأصحابك فلا تترك أحدا يدخل عليهم ولا تتركهم يمضي اليوم الثالث حتي يومروا أحدهم

‘Umar ibn al-Khattab just before his death summoned ‘Abu Ṭalhah Ansari. When he arrived, ‘Umar said: “Abu Ṭalhah take fifty men from your tribe Ansar and go to these people of the shura. I reckon they will be present at the house of someone amongst themselves. Stand at their door with your comrades and let no one go inside and do not give them more than three days for electing a leader.”[29]


‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (rta) instructed them in the following words about the leaders of the Ansar:


احضروا معكم من شيوخ الأنصار وليس لهم من أمركم من شيء

Call the leaders of the Ansar to you, but they have no share in political authority.[30]


Ibn Sa‘d reports that when all of them had assembled, ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Awf (rta) opined that three of them should withdraw themselves in favour of three others. Consequently, Zubayr (rta) withdrew in favour of ‘Ali (rta), and Ṭalhah (rta) and Sa‘d (rta) withdrew in favour of ‘Uthman (rta) and ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn ‘Awf (rta) respectively. Then he asked ‘Uthman (rta) and ‘Ali (rta) to give him the right to decide, if he withdraws. When both agreed, he said to ‘Ali (rta):


أن لك من القرابة من رَسُوْلَ اللّٰہِ صَلَّي اللّٰہُ عَلَیۡہِ وَسَلَّمَ والقدم واللّٰہعليك لئن استخلفت لتعدلن ولئن استخلف عثمان لتسمعن ولتطيعن.

You have the honour of being among the earliest who accepted Islam as well as being a relation of the Prophet of God. By God! If you are entrusted with khilafah, promise that you will rule with justice and if ‘Uthman (rta) is made the khalifah, you shall listen to him and obey him.[31]


After Ali (rta) agreed, he turned to ‘Uthman (rta) and repeated what he had said; when both showed their approval, he said: “O ‘Uthman! Extend your hand! When he did so, ‘Ali and others pledged their oath of allegiance to him.”[32]

There can be two opinions about the khilafah of ‘Ali (rta). This difference however, is not about any basic principle, but about whether the Muhajirun of the Quraysh elected their leader with freedom or under coercion. This discussion is not relevant to our topic. Therefore, even if it is left out, the fact remains that throughout the period of the Rightly Guided Caliphate, power remained with those who commanded the majority support of the Muslims ie. the Muhajirun of the Quraysh and that their prominent leaders elected the ruler. This is also a reality that all the four caliphs were elected basically by the same principle. They were elected from the leaders of the majority group and all the leaders of the other groups were also consulted in this election. The only difference is that when they agreed on ‘Umar (rta), Abu Bakr (rta) himself enforced this decision, and ‘Umar (rta), when he found that their difference was betweeen six eminent leaders, entrusted the responsibility of electing one from among the six on the six persons themselves.

(Translated by Dr Shehzad Saleem)


[1]. The Qur’an (41:38).

[2]. Yahya ibn ‘Ali ibn Khatib al-Tabrizi, Sharh Diwan al-hamasah li Abi al-Tammam, vol. 2 (Beirut: Dar al-qalam, n.d.), 340.

[3]. Ibid., vol. 2, 162.

[4]. Ibid., vol. 2, 66.

[5]. Ibid., vol. 2, 276.

[6]. Abu al-A‘la Mawdudi, Tafhim al-Qur’an, 3rd ed., vol. 4 (Lahore:Idarah tarjuman al-Qur’an, 1984), 509-510.

[7]. Abu Bakr Ahmad ibn ‘Ali al-Jassas, Ahkam al-Qur’an, vol. 2, (Beirut: Dar al-kitab al-‘arabi, 1997), 41.

[8]. Amin Ahsan Islahi, Islami Riyasat, 1st ed., (Lahore: Makatbah markazi anjuman-i khuddam al-Qur’an, 1977), 37-37.

[9]. Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, vol. 5, 2625, (no. 6755).

[10].Abu Muhammad ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Darimi, Sunan, 1st ed., vol. 1 (Beirut: Dar al-kitab al-‘arabi, 1407 AH), 69, (no. 65).

[11].Abu Yusuf Ya‘qub ibn Ibrahim ibn Habib ibn Sa‘d, Kitab al-khiraj, 1st ed (Cairo: Al-Maktabah al-azhariyyah li al-turath, n.d.), 35.

[12]. Ibid., 35-36.

[13].Ahmad ibn Yahyaibn JabirBaladhuri,Futuh al-Buldan, (Qum: Manshurat al-Arummiyyah, 1404 AH), 266.

[14]. Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, vol. 6, 2611, (no. 6720).

[15]. Abu al-Fadl Ahmad ibn ‘Ali ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani, Al-Talkhis al-Habir fi takhrij ahadith al-rafi‘i al-kabir, vol. 2 (Beirut: Dar al-kutub al-‘ilmiyyah, 1989), 96.

[16]. Muslim, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, vol. 3, 1451, (no. 1818).

[17]. Ahmad ibn Hanbal,Musnad, vol. 3, 129, (no. 12329).

[18]. Ibid., vol. 1, 5, (no. 18).

[19]. Ibid., vol. 1, 55, (no. 391).

[20]. Al-Bukhari, Al-Jami‘ al-sahih, vol. 6, 2505, (no. 6442).

[21]. Ibn Sa‘d, Al-Ṭabaqat al-kubra, vol. 3, 199.

[22]. Ibid.

[23]. Ibid., vol. 3, 200.

[24]. Ibid.

[25]. Ibid.

[26]. Ibid. vol. 3, 343.

[27]. Ibid., vol. 3, 344.

[28]. Ibid.

[29]. Ibid., vol. 3, 346.

[30]. Abu Muhammad ‘Abdullah ibn Muslimin Qutaybah, Al-Imamah wa al-siyasah, vol. 1 (Beirut: Dar al-ma‘rifah, n.d.), 28.

[31]. Ibn Sa‘d, Al-Ṭabaqat al-kubra, vol. 3, 339.

[32]. Ibid.