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Are All the Commands in the Qur’an To Be Understood Literally As Obligations?

Answered according to Shafi'i Fiqh by Seekersguidance.org

Question:

Are all the commands in the Qur’an literally to be understood as obligations?

Answer:

Wa alaykum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

Dear questioner,

Thank you for your important question.

The default assumption when reading the Qur’an and Sunna is that a command entails that we are obliged to comply with the command, that we would be sinful if we did not, and that we are threatened with punishment. That is the default assumption irrespective of whether it is in the Qur’an or in Hadith. [Jam’ al-Jawami’, Subki]

Now, just because it is the default assumption, it does not mean there are not countless exceptions. However, those exceptions are only known through other verses, Hadiths, or by the context telling us that there is no obligation.

For example, when Allah says, “And when you exit the state of pilgrim sanctity, go and hunt,” it does not mean that we have to hunt. [Qur’an, 5:2] It merely means that we can.

Similarly, He says, “Do whatever you want. He sees full well all that you are doing.” [Qur’an, 41:40] This is clearly not a command for people to do whatever they want. It is actually a threat. It is as if He said, “I am warning you. If you go about just doing whatever you want, I will punish you because I can see everything you are doing.” There are many similar examples in the Sunna.

There are many, many metaphorical uses of the command structure: a command that means merely a recommendation, a command that means that something is merely permissible, a command that is a challenge, a command that is a term of endearment or kindness, a sarcastic command, etc. The list is almost never-ending.

However, despite the various and nuanced rhetorical uses of the command, the default assumption is that it implies moral obligation, as mentioned above.

I pray this helps.

[Ustadh] Farid Dingle

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies, he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to craft lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language.

This answer was collected from Seekersguidance.org. It’s an online learning platform overseen by Sheikh Faraz Rabbani. All courses are free. They also have in-person classes in Canada.

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