Shura is an Arabic word for consultation and it is this that forms part of the four cardinal principles (human dignity justice and equality) in the Islamic organisation of social policys and politics. It was a method that the pre Islamic tribes of the Middle East would use to make major affecting decisions. The term Shura is mentioned several times in the holy Quran and is also used as a name in parliaments of Muslim majority countries. “Consultation applies to the choice of the head of state as well as to all the decisions executed by the state." (Waines, 2009)
Muslims believe that all decisions should be made by and for society by the Shura of the local surrounding community. Traditionally Islam requires submission to the ruler no matter how that ruler is chosen, as long as that ruler rules according to Islamic or Sharia law. Shura is also mentioned in the holy Quran. (Incidentally the 42nd sura of the holy Quran is known as the Shura sura.) “and those who answer the call of their lord and establish prayer and whose affair being a matter of counsel among themselves and who spend of that wherewith we have provided them :”( Q. 42:38) The 159th verse of the 3rd sura gives instruction to the profit Mohamed (pbuh) to consult with followers of Islam when dealing with difficult situations or problems.
There were many debates, disagreements and problems over and involving Shura and they began with who should succeed after the prophets Mohamed (pbuh) death in 632 CE. The situation began with a fraught meeting at Saqifah and as a result Abu Bakr was selected to succeed the prophet as leader of the Muslim world. But this selection threw up problems simply because the consultation meeting did not include some of the prophet’s companions in particular Ali Ibn Abu Talib. (His followers would later split from mainstream Islam to form the minority sect of Islam the Shi’a movement and over the question of succession.) It is traditionally thought that the first four Caliphs otherwise known as the rightly-guided Caliphs were in fact chosen by Shura. They were Umar Ibn Al Khattab, Uthman, and Ali Ibn Abi Talib.
During the Caliphate of Ali there was much fighting and eventually the Muslim world fell into civil war. The later Caliphs had nominal control over the Islamic states, but interestingly none of them were brought to power by Shura; they all gained control via inheritance or force. Most of today’s Islamic countries have at least some aspects of their government or ruling management based on Shura. In Egypt the upper house of their parliament is known as the Shura council. Saudi Arabia appointed a Shura council in 1993 but all real power is held by the king. Saudi Arabia seeming to all the world as a country that follows Islamic law to the letter with its rules and regulations regarding women, punishment etc yet conveniently they shy away from giving total real power over to the system of Shura; the power remains with the king of Saudi Arabia.