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Obeying people of authority

Answered according to Hanafi Fiqh by DarulUloomTT.org

Q. I was reading this verse that says “obey Allah and his messenger and those vested with authority from amongst you. My question is who are those vested with authority?

I have read some views indicate the rightly guided caliphs. But even if this is true are they appointed by Allah or mankind? And if by Allah wouldn’t they be infallible? I’m just asking logically, I really can’t understand why Allah would tell us follow people and they make mistakes like me. To me makes no sense. Can you clarify please?


A. During the course of our lives, there will always be people who have been given an authority over us in many different ways. For example, as children our parents have been made in charge of us and hence, have an authority over us. On account of this, we have to obey them in all matters, except in cases when it brings about violating of the teachings of Islam.

Similarly, in a Jamaat, the Imam has been made our leader and so, on account of this authoritative position, we are asked to obey him. Likewise, when Muslims live under an Islamic rule, a Hakim or an Ameer is made as their leader. On account of his status, those under him are required to obey him. In all these cases, obedience is given only in matters when the laws of Islam are not violated.

The issue is not about a leader being fallible or infallible. Instead, it is about being obedient to those who have been given an authority over us. It is in this regard, the Prophet (SAS) is reported to have said, ‘I advise you to fear Allah, and listen and obey even though an Abyssinian slave is made your Ameer (leader). (Mishkaat).

If infallibility was a condition for one to be obeyed then the Shariah of Islam would not have asked us to be obedient to our parents, and the Prophet (SAS) would not have asked his followers to obey their leader. Obviously, parents and leaders are not infallible, yet, they are to be obeyed in all matters which do not contradict or oppose the teachings of Islam.

With respect to the verse in question which orders the Muslims to ‘Obey Allah and the Messenger and those of authority’, the exegetes and commentators have given a number of explainations.

In this regard, they have mentioned that ‘Ulul Amr’ ‘those vested with authority’, refer to the scholars and jurists (Ulama and Fuqaha). This is the opinion of the great exegetes and commentators like Abdullah bin Abbas (RA), Jabir bin Abdullah (RA), Ata bin Abi Rabah, Dhahak,Mujahid, Ibn Abi Najih, Ata bin Saib, Hasan Basri, Abul Aliyah and others. (Tafseer Ibn Jareer At Tabari vol.5 pg 179). (Print- Dar Ihya Turath Al Arabi Beirut)

Some scholars like Ikrama have stated that ‘Ulul Amr’ refers to the Sahabahs (Ibid).

Some commentators have stated that ’those vested with authority’ refers to rulers and leaders (Ibid). While reconciling between these opinions, the great jurist and exegete of the Holy Quran, Imam Abu Bakr Al Jasas states that there is no contradiction between the two opinions. In fact, both are implied. Rulers should be followed in political matters and state affairs, and scholars are to be followed in matters of the Shariah and the lawful and unlawful. (Ahkamul Quran by Jasas vol.2 pg.210) (Print Suhail Academy Lahore, Pakistan).

While explaining the issue of ‘Ulul Amr’, the great scholar, Hafiz Ibn Qayyim says, ‘leaders and rulers are followed when they gave orders in accordance to the requirements of knowledge. So following them is subject to following scholars. For certainly, obedience occurs only in acts of goodness and what knowledge necessitates. So just as following the scholars is subject to following the Prophet (SAS), so too following the rulers (leaders) are subject to following the scholars. Hence, when the establishment of Islam occurs with these two groups, the scholars and rulers, and all the people follow and obey them, then the goodness of the world is with the goodness of these two groups, and the mischief of the world is with the mischief of these two groups’ (Ilam Al Muqi’een vol.1 pg. 17) (Print- Maktaba Darul Bayan, Damascus)

From these quotations, it can be seen that ‘those vested with authority’ as mentioned in the verse, refers to the scholars and jurists of Islam as explained by the greatest scholars of Tafseer. Hence, they are from amongst those who must be obeyed and followed.

And Allah knows best.

Mufti Waseem Khan

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