Consultation: Restrictions and Outcomes
By: Ayatullah Shaheed Sayyid Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim
It is necessary to mention the subject of consultation and display some of its laws, limits, and outcomes because consultation is a significant foundation of social structure and an important goal of social relations.
Significance of Consultation
Islam and the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) have imparted a special significance to the question of consultation in their concept of government¯50¯ and social relations.
In his book of al-Mahasin, al-Barqi has reported that Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) quoted the Holy Prophet (S) as saying: Seeking the counsel of the reasonable well-wisher is a sign of judiciousness, being blessed, and guidance to success by Almighty Allah; so, if a reasonable, well-wishing man gives you any advice, beware of defiance lest you come upon destruction.¯51¯
According to another narration also cited in the previous book, Imam al-Baqir is reported to have said: In the Torah are the following four lines (of wisdom): He who does not seek the advice of others will surely regret. Poverty is the greatest death. If you subjugate, you will surely be subjugated. He who holds a position of leadership will surely act arbitrarily.¯52¯
Imam ‘Ali the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) is reported to have said: Consultation is the very core of true guidance.¯53¯
To acquaint ourselves with the significance of consultation, we shall cite the following points that have been pointed out by the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a):
Power and Backing
Consultation is the best support for man in his activities and advancement. It is therefore an actual reliable power in social relations.
In this regard, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) has reported that the Holy Prophet (S) instructed Imam ‘Ali the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) by saying: No poverty is harsher than ignorance, no fortune better than the intellect, no loneliness drearier than pride, no victory like counseling, no intellect like moderation, no lineage like good manners, and no worship like pondering (over things).¯54¯
Confirming this fact, Imam ‘Ali the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) is reported to have said: No wealth is comparable to intelligence, no poverty comparable to ignorance, no heritage comparable to good manners, and no support comparable to consultation.¯55¯
Determination and Perseverance
Consultation reflects resolve and determination because one who counsels with others naturally feels tranquil, steadfast, and eager to do the act for which he has sought consultation.
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) has reported on the authority of his fathers (‘a) that the Holy Prophet (S) was once asked to define perseverance. He answered: Perseverance is to consult with the judicious people and then follow their advice.
The Best Way to Understand Reality
Consultation is the best way to get to know reality and truth. Through consultation, man gains insight into reality. The objective, unbiased, selfless opinions of experienced people make him adopt a certain view, position, or action.
Traditions of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) stress this fact. For instance, Imam ‘Ali (‘a) is reported to have said: He who acts solely according to his own opinion will be ruined, and he who consults other people shares in their understanding.¯56¯
Consultation is the very core of true guidance.¯57¯
Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: Seek the advice of the reasonable and pious men, because they order you to good. Beware of defying them, because to defy reasonable and pious men brings about corruption in religious and worldly affairs.¯58¯
Teaching Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah to seek consultation and take advantage of the opinions of reasonable people in order to attain the truth and arrive at the most apposite solution, Imam ‘Ali (‘a) is reported to have said the following in his instructive words to his son: Compare different opinions of men with each other and then choose the one closest to reality and remotest from suspicion… He who depends solely upon his opinion takes risks, and he who receives different opinions will certainly learn to recognize erroneous ways.¯59¯
Characteristics of Advisers
According to the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), persons whose advice is sought and opinions considered must be:
• Religious, pious, devout, and God-fearing
• Sincere in advising
• Wise and experienced
• Able to keep a confidence
• Moderate in personal moral standards (i.e., not characterized by stinginess, cowardice, or avarice)
• Upright in social circumstances
• Moderate in emotion¯60¯
Let us now cite a set of traditions mentioning the characteristics of advisers: Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: In your affairs, seek the advice of those who fear their Lord.¯61¯
Imam ‘Ali (‘a) is reported to have said: In your affairs, seek the advice of those who fear Allah.¯62¯
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is reported to have said: What prevents you, when you encounter an unbearable problem, from counseling with a wise, religious and pious man? If you do so, Almighty Allah will never disappoint you, but will raise you and lead you to the best solution and the one closest to Him.¯63¯
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is also reported to have said: Actually, seeking advice must be within limits, so if one ignores (or violates) these limits, the harm will be more than the benefit. The first of these limits is that the consultant must be wise. The second is that he must be honorable and religious. The third is that he must be a brotherly friend. The fourth is that when you tell him about your secret, he must know it exactly as you know it and then he must keep it in confidence. If the consultant is wise, you will then benefit from his advice. If he is honorable and religious, he will make all possible efforts to give you the best advice. If he is a brotherly friend, then he will conceal your secret after you reveal it to him. If he knows your situation well, then he will give perfect counsel and advice.¯64¯
Imam al-Ridha (‘a) has reported on the authority of his fathers that Imam ‘Ali (‘a) quoted the Holy Prophet (S) as saying to him: Never counsel with a coward because they narrow the possibilities in your eyes. Never counsel with the niggardly because they hamper you from attaining your goal. Never counsel with the greedy because they beautify evil in your eyes. Be it known that cowardice, niggardliness, and greed are inclinations that when gathered give a false idea about things.¯65¯
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) has reported from his fathers that the Holy Prophet (S) instructed Imam ‘Ali (‘a), saying: O ‘Ali, women are not required to attend the Friday Congregational Prayers…They must not hold the office of chief justice and their guidance must not be sought. O ‘Ali, ill manners are inauspicious and obedience to women brings remorse. O ‘Ali, if inauspiciousness is found in something, it will be found on the tongues of women.¯66¯
According to another narration of a valid chain of authority, Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) quoted the Holy Prophet (S) as saying: Do not listen to women in right things lest they enjoin you to do wrong things. Ask Allah’s protection against evil women and be cautious of the good ones.¯67¯
Duties of Advisers
The previous narration shows that it is imperative for an adviser to be honest and sincere in giving advice and exert all possible effort to guide towards the truth and actuality. A tradition holds that an adviser is a trustee.¯68¯
Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) is also reported to have said: If one whose advice is sought by his brother-in-faith does not give the best advice, Almighty Allah will deprive him of good reason.¯69¯
In addition to honesty and sincerity, an adviser is required to conceal the secrets of the advice-seeker, as is understood from the Holy Imam’s statement, “An adviser is a trustee.”
The previous discussion sufficiently proves that the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) highlighted seeking advice in the field of social relations as being most important.
50. - Further discussions of this question have been cited in my book of al-hukm al-islami bayna al-nazariyyah wa’l-tatbiq (Islamic Government, Theory and Application); Chapter: Constitutional System, a Genuine System, pp. 113-137.
51. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:426, H. 6.
52. - Al-Barqi, al-Mahasin 2:436.
53. - Nahj al-Balaghah, Maxim No. 211.
54. - Ibn Shu’bah al-Harrani, Tuhaf al-’Uqul (Masterpieces of Intellects), pp. 10, translated into English by Badr Shahin; Ansariyan Publications – Qum, 2001.
55. - Nahj al-Balaghah, Maxim No. 54.
56. - Nahj al-Balaghah, Maxim No. 161.
57. - Nahj al-Balaghah, Maxim No. 211.
58. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:426, H. 5.
59. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:429, H. 2.
60. - Some narrations have warned against seeking the advice of women. This may be because women are generally known for inclination to their emotions, and was a general feature of the women of that age. The same thing can be applied to the warning against seeking the advice of slaves because the social surroundings and the education of servants, at that time, made them unqualified to give good advice. However, al-Barqi, has mentioned in his famous book, al-Mahasin (2:437), that Imam Musa al-Kazim (‘a) sought the advice of some of his slaves at times. When he was asked about that, the Imam (‘a) would answer, “…It sometimes happens that Almighty Allah presents the most accurate opinion on the tongue of this slave.”
61. - Khalid al-Barqi, al-Mahasin 2:436.
62. - Khalid al-Barqi, al-Mahasin 2:436.
63. - Khalid al-Barqi, al-Mahasin 2:438, H. 26.
64. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:426-427, H. 8.
65. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa'il al-Shi’ah 8:429, S. 26, H. 2. A similar words have been included with the famous epistle of Imam ‘Ali (‘a) to Malik al-Ashtar, as mentioned in Nahj al-Balaghah.
66. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 8:429, S. 25, H. 1.
67. - Al-Hurr al-’Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi’ah 14:128, S. 94, H. 1. It is not improbable that such traditions about women and other social classes were said in consideration of the nature of general circumstances and morals of the women of that age, or in consideration of the sentimental side that can overcome women.
68. - Al-Barqi, al-Mahasin 2:436.
69. - Al-Barqi, al-Mahasin 2:438.