[Explanation in the light of Surah an-Nisa Ayah 59]
So, from within the framework of this brief ayah, some basic principles emerge. These are:
By beginning the first sentence of the ayah with
إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُكُمْ
It has been clearly indicated that the real command and rule is from Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. All rulers of the mortal world are the carriers of His command. This establishes that the supreme authority, the ultimate sovereignty belongs to none but Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.
The offices of the government are not the rights of the residents of a country which could be distributed on the basis of the ratio of population. They are, trust obligations placed on our shoulders by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala which can be given only to those who are capable and deserving of them.
Man’s rule on this earth can be legitimate only as a deputy or trustee. While formulating the laws of the land, he will have to be bound and guided by the principles laid down by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, the Absolute Sovereign, and which have been given to man through revelation.
It is the standing duty of those in authority that they should, whenever a case comes to them, give a judgment based on equity and justice without making any discrimination on the basis of race, country of origin, color, language, even religion and creed.
After having enunciated these golden principles of state structure, it has been said towards the end of the ayah that the counsel thus given to man is good counsel, good as it can be, because Allah hears everyone. He observes the state of a person who does not have ability to speak, not even the power or means to protest. Therefore, the principles made and given by Him are such as will be practice-worthy in every country, every age, always. Principles and orders made by human minds are restricted within the parameters of their environment. They have to be inevitably changed when circumstances change. So, the way those in authority were the addressees in ayah 58, people at large have been addressed in the ayah 59 by, “O those who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you.”
Those in Authority:
translated here as ‘those in authority’ refers to those in whose hands lies the management and administration of something. Therefore, Ibn Abbas, Mujahid and Hasan al-Basree the earliest commentators of the Qur’an, may Allah be pleased with them, have said that uli’l-amr fittingly applies to scholars and jurists since they are the succeeding deputies of the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam and the proper regulation of religion is in their hands.
Then, there is a group of commentators, including Abu Hurairah radhiAllahu anhu which says that uli’l-amr signifies officials and rulers who hold the reins of government in their hands.
However, it appears in Tafseer Ibn Katheer and al-Tafseer al-Mazhari that this expression includes both categories, that is, the scholars and jurists as well as the officials and rulers because the system of command is inevitably connected with these two.
A surface view of this ayah shows three ‘obediences’ being commanded here – of Allah, the Messenger and those in authority. But, other ayaat of the Qur’an have made it very clear that command and obedience really belong to none but Allah – from Him the command and to Him the obedience. The Qur’an says,
إِنِ الْحُكْمُ إِلاَّ للَّهِ
“The command belongs to none but Allah” [Surah Yusuf:40]
But, the practical form of the obedience to His command is divided over four parts.
Forms of Obedience to Allah’s Commands
First of all come commands about something which Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has Himself revealed very explicitly in the Qur’an and which do not need any explanation – for example, the extremely serious crime of shirk and kufr (the ascribing of partners to the divinity of Allah, and disbelief); the worship of Allah, the One; the belief in akhirah (the life-to-come), and in Qiyamah (the Last Day); and the belief in the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam as the Last and True Messenger of Allah; the belief in and the practice of salah (prayers), sawm (fasting), Hajj (pilgrimage) and Zakah (alms) as fard (obligatory). All these are direct Divine commands. Carrying these out means a direct obedience to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.
Then, there is the second part consisting of ahkam or commands which need to be explained. Here, the Qur’an often gives a terse or unspecified command the explanation of which is left to the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam. Now, the explanation or enlargement of the subject which the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam takes up through his ahadith is also a kind of wahi (revelation). If these explanations, based on personal judgment, miss something or fall short in any way, correction is made through wahi. Finally, the word and deed of the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam as it is in the end, becomes “the” interpretation of the Divine command.
Obedience to the Divine commands of this nature is, though, the very obedience, of the commands of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala in reality, but, speaking formally, since these commands are not physically and explicitly the Qur’an as such – they have reached the community through the words of the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam therefore, obedience to them is academically said to be an obedience to the Divine, does have a status of its own if looked at outwardly. Therefore, throughout the Qur’an, the command to obey Allah has the allied command to obey the Messenger as a constant feature.
The third category of ahkam or commands are those which have not been explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an or in the Hadith, or if they do appear in the latter, the narrations about such commands found in the enormous treasure-house appear to be conflicting. In the case of such ahkam, Mujtahid Ulama (scholars having the highest multi-dimensional expertise in religious knowledge through original sources) delve into the established texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah along with a close study of precedents and parallels offered by the problem in consideration, giving their best thought and concern to arrive at the appropriate rule of conduct while staying within the parameters of the imperatives of the sacred texts. This being so, the obedience to these rules is one and the same as the obedience to the Divine because it has been, in all reality, deduced from the Qur’an and Sunnah. But, when seen formally, these are known as juristic edicts or fatawa as popularly understood and are attributed to religious scholars.
Under this very third category, come the ahkam which are free of any restrictions from the Qur’an and Sunnah. In fact, here people have the choice to act as they wish. This, in the terminology of the Shariah is known as Mubahat (plural of Mubah) meaning ‘allowed’). The formulation, enforcement and management of orders and rules of this nature has been entrusted with rulers and their officials so that they can make laws in the background of existing conditions and considerations and make everybody follow these.
Let us take the example of Karachi, the city where I live. How many post offices should there be in this city? Fifty or hundred? How many police stations? What transit system will serve the city best? What rules to follow in order to provide shelter for a growing population? All these areas of activity come under Mubahat, the allowed, the open field. None of its aspects are rated wajib (obligatory) or haram (forbidden). In fact, this whole thing is choice-oriented. But, should this choice be given to masses, no system would work. Therefore, the responsibility of organizing and running the system has been placed on the government.
Now, returning to basics it can be said that, in the present ayah, the obedience to those in authority means obedience to both ulama and hukkam (religious scholars and officials). According to this ayah, it becomes necessary to obey Muslim jurists in matters which require juristic research, expertise and guidance as it would be equally necessary to obey those in authority in matters relating to administrative affairs.
This obedience too is, in reality, the obedience to the ahkam or commands of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. but, as seen outwardly, these commands are not there in the Qur’an or the Sunnah. Instead, they are either enunciated by religious scholars or the officials. It is for this reason that this particular call for obedience has been separated and placed at number three and given the distinct identity of ‘obey those in authority’. Let us keep in mind that, the way it is binding and necessary to follow the Qur’an in the specified textual provisions of the Messenger, so it is necessary to follow Muslim jurists in matters relating to jurisprudence, matters which have not been textually specified, and to follow rulers and officials in matters relating to administration. This is what ‘obedience to those in authority’ means.