The Difference between Shura and Democracy


The reference of Shura (consultation) is divine, but the application is human.

By Sheikh `Abdullah Bin Bayyah

Shura (consultation) and democracy differ in the following points:

First, the reference of Shura:

The reference of Shura is divine, but the application is human. This means that it is man who chooses the ruler through the process of paying the pledge of alliance and Shura and it is up to him to set the systems that guarantee the success of the process.

These systems may be affected by time and place and by the public interest that constitutes the basis of the shari`ah, according to the words of Ibn Al-Qayyim (a renowned Muslim scholar). Nevertheless, a distinguished characteristic of the Islamic system is the belief that everything belongs to Allah, for He is the Creator of this universe but He did not leave people after their creation. He rather gave them commands and prohibitions. This relation between creation and systemization is pointed out by the verse,

Most surely, to Him belongs all the creation and all the command. Blessed be God, Lord of [All] the Worlds. (Al-A`araf 7:54)

This dualism between the absolute sovereignty of the Creator with regard to the command, which stands for the fundamentals and invariables of the legislation and the determination of the truth and falsehood, and the possibility- or rather the injunction – that man should use his mind and thought to reach the public interest may be the reason for some to refrain from describing the Islamic system as democratic, theocratic or aristocratic; because none of these systems applies to it.

The symmetry of this duality constitutes the cornerstone in the Islamic system and this is what keeps it away from theocracy which is a divine delegation of authority to the ruler. This is more clarified by the words of `Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the second Caliph, when his scriber wrote in a message he ordered him to write “This is what Allah has shown to `Umar”, whereupon `Umar reproached him saying “Write: ‘This is what `Umar views.’” This is because such description is only restricted to the Prophet (peace be upon him). `Umar intended to bear the responsibility of his opinion, be it right or wrong.

Therefore, the censorship is three-folded to ensure proper application of man’s proper application of his succession in the earth

Therefore, say [to them]: Do works [of righteousness]! For God will assuredly see your work, and so will His Messenger and the believers. (At-Tawbah 9:105)

The watchfulness of Allah effects religious scruple and that of the messenger of Allah leads to following his Shari`ah as explained by the scholars. Therefore, the Moroccan scholar Al-Yusi said to Sultan Mawlai Al-Rashid, “Scholars judge over ruler.”

As for the supervision of the believers, the pledge of alliance is given by them and so is the consultation. Thus the nation is the source of governance in a sense.

Nevertheless, the pledge of alliance is considered a religious bond between the ruler and the subjects. Obedience to the ruler depends on the application of the Shari`ah. The people of Shura are guarded by stipulating their piety and righteousness. Thus, the ethical and religious side has a share in addition to the secular side. This is an important and subtle characteristic in the Islamic system that caused some researchers to claim mistakenly that one of the early Muslim caliphs was secular; but this was not as he thought. The nature of the Islamic system gives people a big role not only in the application of rulings but also in their deduction and even their establishment according to a set of evidences known as istihsan (juristic preference) and masalih mursalah (unrestricted public interests) with full respect to the invariable objectives of the Islamic Shari`ah.

Thus, when dealing with democracy, a Muslim may feel unfamiliar with its reference, though some may view this as a terminological issue.

Second: The polls

Resorting to polls as a basis of democracy to take a decision without establishing a background and an impenetrable ceiling constantly brings about a resentful group, namely, is the minority which could be about half of the voters. This makes the majority less inclining to reconciliation and balancing between interests. If there is no established tradition with the individuals that the opinion of the majority, which is not on their side, is correct and that they should sacrifice their interests on the basis of other considerations of interest such as considering this as the best possible or the best ever, if this is not established in minds and practice, democracy will turn to be a source of constant dispute and disorder. Belonging to a party could be the only way for an individual to have some freedom or to practice a serious political activity and contribute through the party leader or the sectarian class that dominates the party. Accordingly, the independent individual who does not go with partisanship and its techniques will be considered isolated and ineffective no matter how high his opinions or thought may be or he will be treated as a second-class citizen.

It is noted that the slogan of democracy opens a wide door for partisanship and for the evils of partisan bigotry and thus the existence of too many parties has become a danger for the stability of the western liberal democracy which has been torn by uncontrolled whims. On the contrary, excessive domination of one party is the worst evil that plagues public, communist, or military democracy and leads to despotic collective dictatorship exercised by a party that monopolizes the political activity and prevents anyone who does not belong to it from practicing his political rights on equal footing with the members of the party.

On the contrary, the principle of Shura opens a wider door for thinkers and intellectuals to contribute with their opinions as individuals regardless of their partisan orientation and thus they contribute in the cultural, social, political, or economic activity more than under democracy that is based on the majority and multi-party system that opens the door for partisan extremity which misuses the principle of the supremacy of the majority. Therefore, the abolishment of parties has become the slogan of revolutions and de coup. Hence, some of the advocates of Shura oppose the partisan systems.

Third: Media

The voter falls under kinds of deception; particularly through modern media that has possessed massive ability and high potency to exercise influence the public opinion and to introduce the bad as the best and the ugly as the most beautiful.

Therefore, it has not become a characteristic of the third world to elect a person with the majority of votes and then after a while he becomes accused of corruption and other charges. This indicates that the choice was influenced by propaganda in addition to the influence of other unfair means and this makes public interests a victim of individual interests or personal whims.


Source: Taken with modifications from

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