Islamic Historic Roots of the Term "Al-Tadawol Al-Aam" (Public Deliberation)
By Dr. Mohammad Al-Mikhlafi
The real meaning of the term "Al-Tadawol Al-Aam" (in English, "Public Deliberation") is to engage citizens in the discussion and debate on public decisions and policies related to their interests and public affairs, both at the national and local levels. In the meeting of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy, held in Casablanca from 29 to 31 March 2007, discussions were aimed at finding an Islamic term expressing the content or meaning of "Public Deliberation". In the course of the meeting, some participants considered that the term "Shura" (which means consultation) should be used as an equivalent Islamic term to the western term "Public Deliberation". However, other participants considered that the root of the term "Shura", in terms of its form and meaning, is substantially different from the term "Public Deliberation". Since there is a different understanding of the term "Shura", I was charged with defining the source and meaning of that word. Going back to the historic roots of the term, I made the following discoveries:
The term "Shura"
- The root of the term "Shura":
Referring back to historic sources based on the archeological engravings discovered so far, we can see that the Qatabani State (865 – 240 B.C.), Saba' State (115 – 850 B.C.)(1), and Hmeir State (115 – 525 B.C.)(2) used to promulgate laws bearing the same features as Parliamentary legislations, in terms of the authority which used to promulgate such laws. In fact, legislations were not just compilations of custom laws or rules inspired from customs or royal decrees; rather, legislations were promulgated by special legislative councils. According to contemporary concepts, such councils can be considered as representative parliamentary authorities. For instance, in the Qatabani State, the Council was called "Mashour" (Consultative Authority), whereas in Saba' State, the Legislative Council was called "Mouzawid or Mousawid" (Issuing Authority or Drafting Authority), and in Hmair State, it was called "Mashour"(1) as in the Qatabani State. We believe that the word "Shura" is derived from "Mashour".
Therefore, Al-Shura in the old states of Yemen is the Central Consultative Council in addition to the local consultative councils. These councils were first created in the 9th century B.C. at the Qatabani State(2).
The Consultative Council (Mashour) used to perform the following tasks:
1. Promulgate laws
2. Explain and interpret laws
3. Give private lessons on legal affairs, and on martial laws and commercial laws; participate in the approval of public policy matters, notably those related to peace and war, as mentioned in the Holy Koran, by Queen Balqis of Saba' State: "She said: O chiefs! Give me advice regarding my affair: I never decide an affair until you are in my presence."(3)
In addition to the "central" legislative council "Al Mashour", every city used to have a local legislative council in charge of publishing and interpreting laws.
Therefore, we can see that "Shura" (or consultation) refers to the Parliamentary State, and is conducted by an official parliamentary representative council. "Public Deliberation" is not usually performed by an official institution, but it is a civil activity fulfilled by citizens to discuss their concerns and participate in the elaboration of a common vision or perspective about the decisions to be taken with respect to their affairs, in the framework of social forums. Therefore, the use of the term "Shura" to refer to "Public Deliberation" is not applicable here. The confusion about the meaning of "Shura" is attributed to the lack of knowledge about the historic root of the term and to the fact that governors of the Islamic State under the Rachid era were not aware of the real meaning of "Shura", since Rachid Caliphs belonged to the northern Arab Peninsula which did not know about the State before Islam. Moreover, the term "Shura" was directly mentioned in two Koran verses: First, as a reference to a historic fact - "and their rule is to take counsel among themselves"(4(1)) - Second, as an order to the Prophet (peace be upon him) to consult his companions "and take counsel with them in the affair"(1(2)). The third verse is Verse (32) of the Ant chapter, which records a fact related to the "consultation" practice in Yemen. Therefore, it is not possible to know the real meaning and nature of consultation, especially that such councils were absent in the wake of Islam. Thus, we suggest the term "Al-Tadawoul Al-Aam" (or Public Deliberation) to be used according to its common and well-recognized meaning.
(1) Refer to: Mr. Abdulaziz Salem: Pre-Islamic History of Arabs.
(2) Refer to: Mohammad Ali Al-Akwaa Al-Hawali: "Green Yemen". The Oppressing Culture, 1971, p.307-380
(1) Refer to: Jawad Ali "Pre-Islamic History of Arabs", Cairo – Baghdad 1960 Part 2, p. 29 and the following
(2) Refer to: George Zeidan, Pre-Islamic History of Arabs, Cairo. No date, p. 41 and the following. Jawad Ali, idem, p. 49 and the following.
(3) Verse (32) of the Ant chapter
(1) Verse (38) of the Counsel chapter (Shura)
(2) Verse (159) of the Family of Imran chapter