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Shura: Teaching Children the Art of Consultation

Toward a Culture of Shura
By Sadaf Farooqi
Freelance Writer- Pakistan
father-son-talk
Consultation gives children self-confidence and a morale boost, making them feel worthy and valued as a family member with an opinion

“So which pair of shoes do you think will go better with your outfit tonight; the red, ankle-high sandals, or the golden flip-flops?”

The recipient of this question of mine is not some fashion-conscious diva. It is my seven-year-old daughter, who is getting ready for an extended family banquet.

She takes a minute to think, looking steadily at both pairs of shoes that I hold out in my hands. Then she tentatively points at the golden pair of shoes, and looks at me quizzically.

“Yes, they match your dress better. But if you plan on running around on the grass outside, your feet will get dirty in them,” I inform her rather matter-of-factly. I make it clear that the final decision is hers to make.

She nods, then looks at both pairs again. “How about if I don’t run around? I want to wear the golden ones…”

The matter is decided. I smiled and told her to do as she wishes. She now knows that if she does end up soiling her feet, she will be responsible for that, as the decision and choice was finally given to her.

This sense of responsibility that was created in my 7-year-old child would not be present had I forced her to wear what I unilaterally chose for her, being in a position of authority over her as her mother, and if I’d dictated my decision to her - of which I possess the Islamic, legal right - without taking her opinion first.

The resultant accountability and responsibility, as well as the accompanying motivation and self-worth that any person feels when their opinion is sought and valued, even if they are a small child/a minor, is precisely the intended outcome and motive behind shura (consultation).

Consultation: A Part of Islam

God commands Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in the Quran, to undertake consultation with his companions:

{It was by the mercy of Allah that you were lenient with them (O Muhammad), for if you had been stern and fierce of heart, they would have dispersed from around you. So pardon them, and ask forgiveness for them, and consult with them upon the conduct of affairs. And when you have resolved, then put your trust in Allah. Lo! Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him).} (Al-Imran 3: 159)

Prophet Muhammad used to undertake consultation before important decisions, with his companions, as well as his wives
Consultation is actually a pivotal part of Islamic ethics and social etiquette. It involves consulting other people before making a decision, and taking their opinions about it first. Whether this is done on a personal or communal level, it has many benefits attached to it. Prophet Muhammad used to undertake consultation before important decisions, with his companions, as well as his wives.

Even in the modern-day world, “consultancy” is a valued realm in almost every professional field. A consultant is usually an expert who has significant knowledge and experience in his particular professional career, who is available for people to seek advice from, usually in return for a fee. Boards of advisors in corporations and organizations also play a somewhat similar role.

God mentions consulting others in one’s affairs as a positive trait of righteous believers in another place in the Quran:

{And those who answer the call of their Lord and establish worship, and whose affairs are a matter of counsel, and who spend of what We have bestowed on them.} (Ash-Shura 42: 38)

The Wisdom Behind Consultation

The question is, why consulting others before making a decision?

The answer is wider in purpose than simply gaining benefit from their expertise and opinion, or to just make a better, more informed decision by averting failure, or at least, diminishing its possibility.

Since consultation requires contacting other people and sharing one’s predicaments, needs, problems, or other personal issues with them, it prevents a person from being socially isolated, and from leading a narcissistic, “only-I-know-what’s-best”, self-centered existence. It allows people to help each other, develop stronger bonds, and build relationships.

Teaching Children How to Consult Others

Since small children emulate and imitate their parents for the first 10-12 years of their lives, it is essential that Muslim parents ensure that their own behavior, lifestyle, choices, and other actions in general, are in accordance with Islamic injunctions and values.

Teaching by example is the best way for parents and other close family members to incorporate positive personality traits and characteristics into young children, who are like sponges, absorbing everything - good or bad - from their environs.

It is, therefore, important for children to see their parents consulting each other. This is possible only if the latter enjoy a close emotional bond, and an open relationship with free and frank communication, in which there are no secrets and no hypocrisy, for the children to grow up following their example.

As I have outlined in the practical example quoted at the start of this article, parents should also consult their children in day-to-day matters from a very young age, even if they do not intend to act upon their suggestions because they have already decided what to do. This gives children self-confidence and a morale boost, making them feel worthy and valued as a family member with an opinion.

For example, before going on a family outing, children might be asked in turns, where each of them would like to go. If the parents choose to turn down/veto a child’s suggestion, they should give a reasonable answer to justify the let-down, e.g. “No Abdullah, even though your idea is good, we cannot go to the park today because it is Saturday, and the play area will be too crowded. However, we will consider your suggestion for future outings, insha’Allah.”

Respecting Privacy - Consultation Should not Result in Meddling

Children should grow up knowing the standard according to which they should value and seek a consultant.

While consultation is a positive thing enjoined upon the believers in the Quran, there are do’s and don’ts for it that should be observed in order to make sure that it doesn’t result in more loss than benefit. It is up to the parents of the child to guide them about how to consult others, and for this there should be some clear guidelines, namely:

- Children should grow up knowing the standard according to which they should value and seek a consultant, and the primary, distinguishing benchmark in doing this should be righteousness (taqwa) and knowledge of Islam.

That is why, when consulting others regarding matters of religion and its practice, the counsel of people who do not act upon Islamic obligations, let alone its supererogatory recommendations, and whose verbal statements/outward actions clearly give away an obvious lack of taqwa (consciousness of God) and derision of faith should not be sought first.

This holds especially true regarding financial matters, such as career choices, spending and investments. This scribe has repeatedly witnessed people who do not follow Islam’s obligations, openly scoff at and deride the supposed “financial follies” of those who use their money to perform hajj and umrah, scrupulously give their yearly zakat, or avoid riba (interest) based investments.

- People who tend to interfere and meddle in others’ matters, have a habit of asking invasive, personal questions, and who try to force their opinions down others’ throats in an overbearing, bullying manner, should not be consulted. They should rather be advised, in an appropriate manner, to respect others’ freedom of choice.

In addition, some of one’s close relatives might openly suffer from diseases of the heart such as greed, envy, insecurity, or low self-esteem, thus making them prone to manipulate and control others in their family, primarily those younger than them.

Such people perceive invitations for consultations and requests for their opinions, as a chance to ‘bulldoze’ their way into the asker’s life, giving their advice in a forceful, domineering manner than at the cursory level at which it is requested. If the one who seeks their counsel before a decision chooses not to act upon it, such people then put them on the spot, instigating undeserved guilt for not doing exactly as they suggested.

It is prudent to avoid consulting such people in the future. This will demarcate boundaries and prevent a souring of the relationship with them.

- Wisdom dictates that consultations should be discreet. That is, a Muslim should not use the guise of consulting others for a personal problem to imprudently start “airing their laundry in public”, thus inviting gossip, ridicule and humiliation upon themselves.

I know of a sister who had problems early on in her marriage. She consulted many people for help in those early years, all of whom ended up knowing the intimate details of her fights with her in-laws.

Now that, many years on, she has thankfully moved on and settled down, unfortunately there is no going back: too many people know the truth about her in-laws and what they made her endure. Instead of divulging her problems to all and sundry, she should have consulted only a few, selected righteous people for advice - those who could be trusted to bury her past secrets in the sands of time for ever.

Consult - Individually and Communally

In order to bring up children to become wise, mature Muslim adults who undertake consultation in their affairs in the optimum manner prescribed in Islamic Shari’ah, parents, primarily mothers, should endeavor to not just consult them in family matters while they are minors, but should also employ consultation according to the sunnah in their own practical, adult lives.

Perhaps then, Muslim society, today and in the future, will depict the harmonious relationships that existed between Prophet Muhammad and his companions - forming a society based on the ideal model of Islamic ethics mandated by God in His Book, the Quran.

First published in November 2012.
Related Links:
Muslim Family in the West: Between Ideal & Real
Forming an Islamic Democracy
Muslim Women Education: Look at the Wider Picture
Nation and Nationhood: What Would Muhammad Do?
Tips for Stronger Family Ties
Sadaf Farooqi is a freelance writer based in Karachi, Pakistan. She has a postgraduate master degree in Computer Science and a diploma in Islamic education. She has seven years of experience as a teacher of Islamic education courses for women and girls. She has an award winning blog called Sadaf's Space, and has written for Hiba Magazine, SISTERS Magazine, Saudi Gazette and MuslimMatters.org. Sadaf has also authored a book titled Traversing the Highs and Lows of Muslim Marriage.

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