Shura: why we need it, how to do it

Gender relations in Islam are not based on male-female competition as is seen in a number Western societies today. Rather, this relationship is based on gender cooperation.   “And covet not the thing in which Allah hath made some of you excel others. Unto men a fortune from that which they have earned, and unto women a fortune from that which they have earned. (Envy not one another) but ask Allah of His bounty. Lo! Allah is ever Knower of all things.” (Quran: 4:32).

In the context of the family, the husband is the leader (Qawwam) of the family as defined by God.  However, the power of this leader, like that of all other Islamic leaders, is limited on the one hand by the Quran and the Prophet’s teachings, and on the other by Shura or mutual consultation – amruhum shura bainahum

“And those who answer the call of their Lord and establish worship, and whose affairs are a matter of counsel, and who spend of what We have bestowed on them,” (Quran 42:38). Shura in this verse is mentioned by Allah (swt) as one of the essential characteristic of a believer along with prayers and justice.  The Muslim family, therefore, like all other Muslim institutions, formal or informal, must be run with mutual consultation.

One major cause of problems in the Muslim society today is the absence of Shura. The Shura process, if adopted as a personal behavior and nourished by the family as a way of life, will benefit the Ummah in the long run.

Here are some guidelines for Informal Shura

Informal Shura is like talking to each other. It may happen at any place and at any time. Here are some examples of informal Shura you can use:

  • Shura doesn’t have to be about family affairs: mutual consultation in the family could be about any topic. It was the advice of Umm Salamah, the wife of Prophet Muhammad (SW), which the Prophet followed when Muslims were reluctant to obey him at the end of Hudaybiyah
  • A serious topic could be introduce gradually if Shura is not the norm of the family
  • Spouses should brief each other about what is going on in their life, world events, Muslim concerns, and each other’s activities. Mutual information is necessary for mutual consultation
  • A  calendar will help tremendously for Shura.  For example, In family meetings , go over next month’s dates (teacher conferences, activities, next family meetings, etc.).  This keeps the whole family close, informed and unified in their goals.
  • A family leader must encourage Shura by being sensitive, supportive, constructive and above all willing to listen rather that talk.  If your wife or children are afraid of your reaction, they will not participate in Shura.

Here are some Guideline for formal Shura

Formal Shura is a process to reach an agreement on an issue of mutual interest. Everyone should participate in Shura with an open mind. Some pointers on how to do this are:

  • Begin the Shura with Allah’s Hamd (thanks), Sana (gratitude) and Salawat (prayer) on our Prophet
  • you have to be willing to sacrifice your opinion if it is not accepted even if you are sure of its soundness
  • Learn the details of the topic under consultation before you speak
  • Listen attentively to what others are saying, rather than just pretend that you are listening and waiting to talk again!
  • Be respectful in discussing each other’s point of view, especially, it you disagree.  Shaitan loves this moment to interject between loved one and break the ties!
  • Remember that the process of Shura involves abiding by what is agreed upon
  • Involve all children in the formal Shura of the family. Trust me, they come up with brilliant ideas with their innocent minds.
  • Avoid being defensive or sarcastic. Be rational and reasonable
  • Make Dua (supplication) for Barakah (blessings) in your decisions at the end

Some other good considerations:

In case of family Shura, in stead of calling this meeting a “Family Meeting” or “Family Circle”, I suggest that it is a better title for “Family Shura”.  This carries a Muslim atmosphere that will be based on Islamic principals . Also, it is  suggested that this forum should include some related discussion of any topic from the Quran, Sunnah to your current discussions.  So Allah (SW) will bless your meeting, discussions and decisions.

Criticism is a type of Shura as well

Shura does not just entail basic discussion and positive comments. It can also include criticism.  However, it should be remembered that there are some etiquettes of giving input and feedback in Islam. Some of these are:

  • Check your motives (Niyyah) first before opening your mouth. You should be giving constructive criticism only to help someone, not to make yourself feel better than others
  • Make Dua for yourself and the person you are approaching before you actually do it
  • Think beforehand and choose appropriate words
  • Don’t sound critical, condescending, or judgmental
  • Timing is always important: don’t do it when you sense conflict on the way
  • Criticism is best received and accepted when done one on one; yes, even with your children.
  • Remember the Prophet said “Al-Mumin (believer) is a mirror to another Mumin.” So just state what you see. Don’t exaggerate.
  • Keep in mind that your information or even your conclusions may be wrong
  • Listen to the explanation attentively and accept it even if it is partially correct in your view
  • Avoid debating the point – know when to stop. Don’t drag out the discussion if it’s not going anywhere

Just as it’s important to know how to give criticism, it’s crucial to know how to receive it. Here are some etiquette suggestions:

  • Thank the person who considers your improvement important enough to help you with his/her thoughts.
  • Welcome the feedback. Ask advice about how it could be improved
  • Explain if there is any misunderstanding
  • Admit mistakes; only the best of us recognize their mistakes and errors!
  • Bad timing should not deter you from listening and benefiting
  • Do not turn the table and start criticizing that person in the same sitting.
  • Make Dua’a for the person who is criticizing you.
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