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Consultation and Democracy

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The Quran talks about mutual consultation on collective affairs. Modern democracies are only an evolved form of consultation.

Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, emphasized the need for mutual consultation (mashwara) among Muslims on the issues that pertain to their social and collective life. In a Hadith, he said: “No individual would ever suffer a loss if he follows what emerges from consultation with wise and sincere people. Similarly, he would not attain any good by avoiding sane and sagacious advice.

An Interdependent World
We live in a society where each and every one of us is dependent on the others. There can be no person who can lead a standalone life, free from any support from others. The poor hinge their hopes on the rich for charity. The sick look towards the healthy and the able-bodied for physical as well as psychological support during their sickness. The rich and the affluent too cannot live without help from the poor for their security and investment. It is the labour from the not-so-affluent which contributes to make those investments to be profitable. The unlettered and the rural folk look for sound advice from the educated and the well-heeled to better their economic prospects. The entire work in big organizations, NGOs and the industries runs on the basis of expert advice which may even take the form of commands, circulars and GOs from the above if it is publicly funded. This may be the modern version of consultation. Top officials and men in public life, prime minister and chief minister maintain a battery of experts around them to seek advice to translate the Government schemes into reality. The State recruits such officials for the posts. Only such an administration today can run governments and the affairs of the State.
Collective Wisdom
Consultation not only brings the best out of collective wisdom, but also boosts the confidence in the leaders and administrators. The Governments these days are mandated to include representatives from all sections of the society in order to see that popular aspirations are reflected in the official decisions. All this forms the part of modern democracy which in the Prophet’s words constituted consultation. The glorious Quran while describing the attributes of the virtuous people says: Wa amrahum shoora bainuhum i.e., ‘And they consult among themselves on (important) issues and affairs’.
Even though the Prophet was guided by Allah through revelations, he set the convention of mutual consultation from among his colleagues. He would call for their advice prior to war or military expeditions. When some hypocrites made vile allegations against his wife Hazrat Ayesha, he consulted his group of advisors to evolve ways to deal with the vicious campaign. He consulted among the leading companions about the treatment of captives taken in the battle of Badr.
It is therefore incumbent upon the leaders to always seek advice from wise men and women and experts in various affairs. Only such organizations can carry forward the affairs smoothly that value the advice of the confidants. Since such decisions represent the collective wisdom, they are less likely to fail or falter.

The Hadith from the Holy Prophet enjoin Muslims to gather virtuous and experienced people for mutual consultation. It is also necessary for those who are consulted to offer sincere advice after due diligence. They are not supposed to talk openly of such matters that are discussed in such conclaves and discussions as decisions emerge only after accepting some advices and rejecting a few others. Confidentiality must be maintained about internal discussions. Those whose advices were not taken into consideration should also not feel dejected or neglected, as collective wisdom prevails in such consultations.
Democracy is an evolved form Modern democracies are an evolved form of what the Prophet talked about mutual consultation. Today such consultation is done through assemblies, parliaments and house of representatives. All such institutions must be respected as they represent the popular will and aspirations. The nations that have put in place such an evolved form of consultation are successful and have achieved progress and prosperity. Those that have monarchs, emirs, dictators and autocrats, have failed to make a grade among the comity of civilized nations. (MAS)