Consultation

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The Messenger’s wisdom was demonstrated when he consulted his Companions. This practice is so important in Islam that he never reached a decision, especially in public affairs, without it. Sometimes he even held counsel about his personal affairs. To cite only a few examples:

 

• ‘A’isha accompanied the Prophet on the Banu Mustaliq campaign. At one halt, she lost her necklace and set out to find it. She returned to find that the army had left without her, as the camel drivers thought she was in her litter. Safwan, charged with collecting what was lost or left behind caravans, found her and brought her back to the army. In the ensuing scandal, her fidelity was questioned, mainly by the Hypocrites.

The Messenger knew she was innocent. However, since the Hypocrites used this incident to slander him, he consulted some of his Companions like ‘Umar and ‘Ali. ‘Umar said that ‘A’isha was undoubtedly chaste and pure, and that she had been slandered. When asked how he knew, he replied: “O The Messenger, once you were praying. You stopped and explained that Archangel Gabriel had come and informed you that there was some dirt in your slippers. If there were some impurity in ‘A’isha, God certainly would have informed you.” [1] The Messenger, who once said: “Whoever takes counsel, does not regret it in the end,” [2] always consulted those who could give informed advice on a particular matter.

• He consulted with his Companions before Badr, the first major post-Emigration military encounter, about whether the Muslims should fight the approaching Makkan army. The Muslim forces numbered 305 or 313, while the Makkans numbered around one thousand. As mentioned, one spokesman each for the Emigrants and the Helpers stood up and proclaimed their readiness to follow him wherever he might lead them. [3] During his life, all Companions continually promised to follow him in every step he took, and to carry out all of his orders. Despite this, the Messenger consulted with them about almost every community-wide matter so that this practice would become second nature.

• During Badr, the Muslim army was positioned somewhere on the battlefield. Hubab ibn Mundhir, who was not a leading Companion, stood up and said: “O Messenger, if God has not ordered you to assume this place, let’s arrange ourselves around the wells and then seal all but one to deny water to the enemy. Set up your camp at the side of that open well (from which we will take water), and we will encircle you.” The Messenger adopted this view. [4]

• In 5 ah, the Quraysh allied themselves with certain desert tribes and the Jewish Banu Nadir, who had emigrated from Madina to Khaybar. The Prophet, forewarned of their plans, asked for ideas about how to defeat the enemy offensive. Salman al-Farisi suggested digging a defensive trench around Madina, a stratagem hitherto unknown to the Arabs. The Messenger ordered it to be done. This war was forever after known as the Battle of the Trench (or Ditch). [5]

• The Muslims found the Treaty of Hudaybiya unpalatable, and were reluctant to obey the Prophet’s order to sacrifice their sacrificial animals without making the pilgrimage. (One condition of the treaty was that they could not enter Makka that year.) The Messenger consulted with his wife Umm Salama. She replied: “O Messenger, don’t repeat your order lest they disobey you and perish. Sacrifice your own animals and take off your pilgrim dress (ihram). When they understand the order is decisive, they’ll obey you without hesitation.” The Messenger did as she suggested.

 

[1] Halabi, Insan al-‘Uyun, 2:613.
[2] Maythami, Majma’ al-Zawa’id, 2:280.
[3] Ibn Sa’d, Tabaqat, 3:162 ; Muslim, “Jihad,” 83 ; Ibn Hisham, 2:266–7.
[4] Ibn Hisham, 2:272.
[5] Ibn Hisham, 3:235; Ibn Sa’d, 2:66.