Submission – to use the dictionary definition – would be fulfilling the rulings, determinations, and decisions of an individual or a council comprised of various individuals who have been endorsed by the general public and are authorized to make decisions on different matters. These can be governmental institutions like the army and the police force, or civil society organizations. However, this does not mean that submission is to the individuals who are involved with the decision-making; especially for civil initiatives, no member has such a right to claim submission to themselves.
However, if the decision handed down is about a nationwide mobilization, then these decisions are crucial for collective success. As such, they should be obeyed. Under those conditions, consultation and submission are like the different faces of the same reality.
As mentioned in the question, matters accepted by a majority of a council may not seem reasonable to everyone and may not be accepted by everyone. To be absolved of responsibility before God, those who are members of the council can articulate the differences in their reasoning, refrain from rashly saying “yes,” and make a note of their opposition to decisions made. Actually, this is the real meaning of consultation. However, if a decision has been made on the issue at hand in spite of the opposition of some, then afterwards the opposing parties should not say a word against the decision and should conform to the decision. This kind of talk is back-biting, especially if the committee is convening to serve a lofty cause. Back-biting is a violation of the rights of a group that is serving the Truth and requires the one who back-bites to ask for forgiveness from each member of the council
Yes, we must respect decisions made through consultation. For example, imagine a consulting group decided to go someplace and then set out on their journey. Then, say, an accident took place on the road – may God prevent it. After the accident, those who had opposed the decision might be compelled to say things like, “Didn’t we tell you? If we had not gone, there would not have been an accident. We went, and this happened to us.” Not only is this criticism of fate, but it is also considered back-biting against the other friends.
The Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) determination on this matter is striking. He consulted with his Companions before the Battle of Uhud. His own view was to remain in Medina and fight on the defensive. However, as a result of the consultation, the decision was made to leave Medina and meet the enemy in the open. As a necessity of this decision, the Seal of the Prophethood went to Uhud. Sayyid Qutb’s excellent interpretation on this point is very appropriate: “When the Messenger of God set out for Uhud, if he had known not only that there would be 70 martyrs, but that Medina would be totally destroyed, he still would have gone in order to give the council its right.”
Yes, consultation has a very important place in Islam and the lives of Muslims. A destroyed Medina could be rebuilt, but if a principle of Islam had been destroyed, especially when its foundations were being laid down, it would have been impossible to reconstruct it. Consequently, everyone on a council should put forth his or her useful ideas to the group and they should enable everyone to understand those ideas. But then they should adhere to a decision even if it is contrary to their ideas.
The principles I have tried to present are related to submission to a decision. Another facet of this matter – which is just as important – are the responsibilities that fall on the shoulders of the decision-makers to ensure these decisions are acted upon. The Prophet’s life presents us many good examples from which we can derive general principles on this matter. Let’s take a bird’s-eye look at some historical events.
Arabs in the Age of Ignorance acted individually. Even the smallest incident could immediately cause families and tribes to fight against each other. It was impossible for the individuals of such a society to obey others. At that time there were many tribes in Mecca and Medina, and all of them had become splintered. When they could not find anyone outside to fight with, they would draw their swords and fight with each other. To develop the concept of obedience amidst such a society, and to gather them around one leader, is proof of the Prophet’s apostleship. In my opinion, this matter has been overlooked by researchers who study the life of the Prophet. Yes, the Seal of Prophets turned warring tribes into a civilized community that listened to each other and obeyed authority.
During the same time period, Arabs never looked at slaves as human beings, especially if they were black. Due to this attitude, Bilal al-Habashi, may God be pleased with him, did not even have the right to enter the room where Umayya b. Halaf ate. In other words, people debated whether or not a slave was even a human being, and, if black, whether the slave was a human or an animal. Islam came and raised slaves to such a high level that Bilal was able to intervene in events among notable citizens and express his own views. He also had the same rights as any other person when it came to approaching the Prophet.
Zayd b. Haritha was the freed slave of the Prophet. The Messenger of God appointed Zayd b. Haritha commander of the army, even though there were aristocrats and war heroes such as Jafar b. Abu Talib, Abdullah b. Rawaha, and Halid b. Walid (ra) serving in this army. When sent to war, the nobles put aside their views from the Age of Ignorance and obeyed their commander.
Abdullah ibn Huzafetu’s-Sahmi related another event, this one from during the Age of Happiness. The Prophet gave a battallion to this great man and sent him some place. Understanding that one of those under his command was lacking in his understanding of obedience, Abdullah had a fire lit and gave the command, “Throw yourselves into the fire!” In view of this order, some wanted to immediately jump into the fire. Some held back saying, “We escaped this fire and pledged our faith to the Messenger of God. Are we going to throw ourselves into the fire now?” Upon returning from the campaign, they related this incident to the Prophet. He replied, “If you had entered that fire, you would have remained in it eternally!” Because this would have been suicide. Suicide is an act prohibited by God. “Where there is rebellion against God, there is no obedience to a creature.” In matters that are definitely unlawful, no one is to be obeyed.
For example, within this framework, it is very important to act in accordance with Bediuzzaman’s measure, “A brother cannot be a father to his brother; the state of a master cannot be assumed.” This means that one should not use people like slaves and should not see one’s position as a means for pressuring others. Instead, a person should do work within the range of their capabilities.
Yes, if these can be put into practice, none of the negative things implied in the question will take place. Here the incident that occurred between Ubay b. Kab and Ibn Abbas should amaze us. One day while Ubayy was mounting a horse, Ibn Abbas held the horse’s stirrup. In response to this behavior, Ubayy b. Ka’b said, “What are you doing? You are the son of the Prophet’s uncle.” Ibn Abbas replied, “We have been commanded to show respect to our seniors.” Then Ubayy held Ibn Abbas’s hand and kissed it. “And we have been commanded to treat the Prophet’s family like this,” he said.
I think that if this reciprocity is developed, the obedient ones will not say, “We obey,” with disagreeableness, nor will their superiors have to reprimand those who do not obey them. In short, consultation is prophetic; acting all by oneself and disregarding consultation is not. Submission is a natural result of consultation. Although God’s Messengers were strengthened by revelation, they acted with consultation. To the contrary, if we look at the many “pharaohs” throughout history – from Ramesses to Amenhotep, and Caesar to Napoleon, up to the even crazier Hitler, Stalin and Lenin – they were despotic apprentices to the devil, who made solitary decisions and executions.
By Fethullah Gülen on .
This article has been published at Fountain Magazine‘s web site (Issue 114 / November – December 2016)