Shūrā as a Productivity Principle

This is an extract from my latest book Productivity Principles of ʿUmar II. You can learn more about the book here.

The Shūrā Committee of ʿUmar II

When ʿUmar II was governor of Medina, he surrounded himself with a panel of pious and experienced consultants. When he became king, he maintained this system, and once again put together a team of experts to consult with on every major decision.

The practice of consulting experts has always been a recommended practice for Muslims. In the Quran, there is an entire chapter titled the Chapter of Shūrā (Consultation) which includes the verse, “And their affairs are decided through consultation among themselves,”[1]

Prophet Muhammad (s) said, “If your brother requests your consultation, let him give counsel.”[2] It was also the practice of the Rightly Guided Caliphs to have a committee of consultants to discuss all important issues. In Islam, such committees are called shūrā committees and are very important for success in any project.

ʿUmar II wanted to emulate the leadership style of the Prophet Muhammad (s) and the Rightly Guided Caliphs. Based on their example, he set up shūrā committees to consult whenever he was in a position of power. He first established such a committee when he was governor of Medina. His committee at that time included ten of Medina’s leading scholars. This included ʿUrwa b. al-Zubayr, ʿUbaydullāh b. ʿAbdullāh b. ʿUtbah, Abū Bakr b. ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, and many other leading scholars from the second and third generation of Muslims.[3]

This council was given several tasks, which included giving ʿUmar their opinion on any action he planned to take, informing him of any misconduct in his region, and advising him on matters of policy. Based on the advice of this council, he made several improvements to the social structure of Medina. This resulted in a large number of people migrating to Medina during his short reign.[4]

When he was appointed caliph of the Muslim world, ʿUmar again set in place a shūrā council to guide his decisions. This committee included leading scholars from across the Muslim world including Sālim b. ʿAbdullāh, Muhammad al-Qurṭubī, Rajāʾ b. Ḥaywa and Yazīd b. al-Muhallab.[5]

Surrounded by such exemplary individuals, and in contact with various others throughout the Muslim Empire via letters, ʿUmar’s policies and decisions were guided by sincere advice, experience, and piety. This led to some of the most important decisions that shaped the history of the Muslim world.

Because of the wise and righteous advice of these consultants, ʿUmar II was able to set up various long-term projects that benefited the Muslim community for centuries.

Some of the decisions that resulted from consultation include the removal of various unjust taxes, increasing the salaries of religious scholars, sending scholars to teach Islam to the newly conquered regions, and the compilation of hadith into books. Each of these decisions played an important role in improving the lives of the Muslim community.

ʿUmar II’s High Regard for Consultation

ʿUmar II once said, “Nobody is entitled to be a judge unless he has five qualities. He must be chaste, gentle and patient, knowledgeable of the past, accustomed to seeking the consultation of others, and indifferent to criticism from others.”[6]

Among the five most crucial qualities of a judge, ʿUmar II included seeking consultation. A judge cannot always rely on his own opinion or view of a matter, and neither can he always trust his own ability to remain unbiased. A just judge will seek the opinion of righteous experts before making a decision.

ʿUmar II advised his governors, judges, and contemporary scholars to seek consultation on every important issue.

He once wrote to ʿUrwah a letter in which he mentioned, “You have written to me asking about the practice of issuing legal rulings and settling people’s dispute. That heart of the judicial practice is adherence to what you find in the Book of God, the issuing of rulings based on the example set by the Messenger of God as well as the judgments handed down by the Rightly-Guided leaders, and consultation with the learned whose points of view can be trusted.”[7]

In these two quotations, we can see the high status ʿUmar II gave to consultation. He considered it among the most important sources of decision making, policy making, deduction of laws, and application of principles. He would not make any major decisions without consulting experts on the topic, and he advised others to do the same.

Consultation is one of those principles that ʿUmar both practiced and preached, and it is one of the most important principles that led to his success in various fields.

The Benefits of Consultation

There are many benefits of seeking the counsel of experts. Ahmad al-Raysuni, in his book al-Shūrā, lists ten major benefits of consultation.

These are:

  1. Choosing the most correct opinion
  2. Protecting the decision from bias and desire
  3. Preventing tyranny
  4. Promoting humility
  5. Giving people their due
  6. Promoting an atmosphere of freedom
  7. Improving one’s thinking and planning capabilities
  8. Building support structures
  9. Promoting unity and goodwill
  10. Increasing the ability to deal with unwanted consequences.[8]

Each of these is important for achieving maximum productivity from one’s goals. When we consult others, we increase the chance of arriving at the correct opinion and therefore increase our chances of succeeding at our goals.

Sometimes when we make decisions on our own, these decisions are clouded by bias or desire. Seeking the counsel of someone unbiased helps us see past these distortions and helps us arrive at a better conclusion. In doing so, we also protect ourselves and others from any unintentional tyranny that our biased opinions may cause.

It takes humility to seek the counsel of others. This makes consultation an act that strengthens humility and reduces arrogance. This increases the chance of success, as humble people are far more likely to excel than the arrogant.

Consultation with specialists actively demonstrates appreciation and respect for the experts. This is a way of giving people their dues, promoting an atmosphere of freedom and discussion, as well as promoting unity and goodwill among people.

The more we discuss our ideas with others, our thinking and planning capabilities grow accordingly. Each discussion teaches us a new way of looking at things and refines our thinking process.

Finally, consultation is a team task. When you consult others, they become invested in your outcome, which gives you a stronger support structure and an increased ability to deal with any obstacles or problems that may arise.

These are just ten benefits of consultation.

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[1] Quran 42:38

[2] Ibn Mājah 3747

[3] As-Sallabi, ʿUmar Bin ʿAbd al- ʿAzīz, pp. 77-78

[4] Ibid. pp. 78-81

[5] Ibid. pp. 115-118

[6] Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, Fatḥ al-Bārī, vol. 15, p. 50

[7] Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, Jamiʿ Bayan al-ʿIlm, vol. 2, p. 30

[8] Al-Raysuni, al-Shura, pp.24-40

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Productivity, 0 comments
NEW RELEASE: Productivity Principles Of ʿUmar II

NEW RELEASE: Productivity Principles Of ʿUmar II

Productivity Principles Of ʿUmar II is a powerful book for serious individuals who want to Show Up, Take Responsibility for their lives and Take Action in attaining the Best and most Productive version of their true selves.

‘Time is money’, as the saying goes. With limited time on this planet, ‘how’ we use this most valuable currency of time is what truly differentiates success from failure – regardless of what we do.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Books, 2 comments
The upbringing of ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz

The upbringing of ʿUmar bin ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz

This article is made up of selected passages from my latest book; Productivity Principles Of ʿUmar II. To learn more about this book, click here.

Family Background

ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, aka ʿUmar II, was a descendant of the Umayyads on his father’s side and a descendant of ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb on his mother’s side. He was named after his maternal great grandfather.

On his father’s side, he was ʿUmar, son of ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, son of Marwān, son of al- Ḥakam, son of Abī al-ʿĀṣ, son of Umayyah.[1] King ʿAbd al-Mālik was his father’s brother, and that made Walīd and Sulaimān his first cousins.

On his mother’s side, he was ʿUmar, son of Layla, daughter of ʿĀṣim, son of ʿUmar, son of al-Khaṭṭāb. The story of how his grandparents met is often retold in Muslim circles due to its mythical and mysterious nature. When ʿUmar I was caliph, he had a habit of going around at night in disguise to see if anybody needed help. One night, he overheard a conversation between a young lady and her mother. The mother was telling her daughter to mix milk with water and sell it in the market. Her daughter reminded her that Caliph ʿUmar had prohibited such practices. The mother said, “ʿUmar cannot see you.” To which the daughter replied, “But the Lord of ʿUmar can.”

ʿUmar was so impressed by this reply that he asked his servant to find out who that young lady was. When he learned more about her, he approached her with an offer to marry his son ʿĀṣim. She accepted the offer, and they got married. It is narrated that later ʿUmar had a dream, after which he used to say, “I wish I knew the man from my descendants, with a scar on his face, [2] who will fill the earth with justice, just as it was full of injustice and oppression.”[3] Many Muslim historians claim that the just ruler ʿUmar saw in his dream was actually ʿUmar II.

How he was raised

Greatness does not occur in a vacuum. Great people are often the products of extraordinary parenting, and the parents of ʿUmar II were extraordinary.

In this section, I will focus primarily on ʿUmar’s mother Layla and how she raised him. The reason for this is twofold: First, as a governor, ʿUmar’s father was very busy running the province, therefore there are fewer narrations about the role he played in his son’s life. As a result, most stories are about ʿUmar’s mother and the choices she made. Secondly, we live in a time in which motherhood is often demeaned and overlooked. Women are taught to choose careers and money over children and parenting, and stay-at-home mums are frowned upon. Because of this, entire generations are losing out on one of the most important factors that contribute to success: extraordinary mothers.

ʿUmar II was born into the second generation of Muslims following Prophet Muhammad (s), at a time when traditional culture was still the norm. Traditional culture dictates that fathers work to provide for their families, while the mother plays the primary role in raising and nurturing the children. This view of clearly identified and balanced roles is part of the Islamic tradition, as well as the tradition of many other cultures and religions, and it is a precept that worked perfectly. It was only in recent times that the dominant culture has changed, and the results have been disastrous.

So, as was the norm at the time, ʿUmar’s father worked to support the family, and his mother focused on raising her children as best as she could. The results of her efforts are clear: an extraordinary and pious king, ʿUmar II.

Layla made several decisions that highlight her concern for her ʿUmar’s upbringing. She sent him to the greatest scholars of Medina to study Islam, so that he would not just learn the knowledge of the religion but would also see the active example of his teachers’ piety and personal virtues. Her decision gave ʿUmar the opportunity to emulate the behavior of the scholars as well as learning the knowledge they shared. ʿUmar’s mother chose ʿUmar’s grand-uncle ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar to be his mentor so that ʿUmar could absorb the religion and piety directly from the first generation of Muslims. (Ibn ʿUmar was a companion of Prophet Muhammad) And when she migrated to Egypt, she left her son back in Madina so that he would grow up in the best possible environment.[4]

The decision to leave ʿUmar in Madina was particularly difficult. ʿUmar lived in an era before technology. By leaving him in Medina, his mother was sacrificing being physically close to her son in exchange for him growing up in a better environment. This would be an extremely difficult sacrifice for any parent to make, but the results speak for themselves.

As a result of these this mother’s three amazing decisions: educating ʿUmar in Medina under the scholars of Islam, choosing ʿUmar’s grand-uncle ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar to be her son’s mentor, and leaving ʿUmar behind when she moved to Egypt, ʿUmar grew up to become one of the most extraordinary Muslims of his generation. ʿUmar benefited greatly from the environment of Medina. He became more religious, knowledgeable, and empathetic than his cousins. His growth into an extraordinary individual can be directly attributed to the amazing sacrifices his mother made in raising him.

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[1] As-Sallabi, ʿUmar Bin ʿAbd al- ʿAzīz, p. 48

[2] ʿUmar II had a scar on his face from a horse-accident during his childhood. His parents took this as a good sign that the vision was about him. (As-Sallabi, ʿUmar BinʿAbd al- ʿAzīz, p. 55)

[3] al-Dhahabī, Siyar aʿlām al-Nubalāʾ, vol. 5, p. 122

[4] As-Sallabi, ʿUmar Bin ʿAbd al- ʿAzīz, pp. 59-60

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Leadership, 1 comment
20 Facts about the Islamic Golden Ages

20 Facts about the Islamic Golden Ages

This article serves as a simple fact sheet on the Golden Ages, to help readers remember some core facts about these beautiful parts of our history.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Leadership, 0 comments
4 Fiqh Maxims for General Life Guidance

4 Fiqh Maxims for General Life Guidance

In this brief article, however, I want to show a different usage of these same maxims. I believe that these maxims can be used by the general public, not to make fatwas, but rather to guide their lifestyle choices and to keep their lives within an Islamic framework.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar in Islam, 1 comment