THE OBEDIENCE OF THE PROPHET AS DISTINCT FROM THE OBEDIENCE OF A RULER


Chapter 1, Hadith & Seerah, The Authority of Sunnah / Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

From the above conclusions, which are based purely on the verses of the Holy Quran, another possibility, often overemphasized by some quarters while opposing the authority of the Sunnah, is completely ruled out. It is sometimes said that the Holy Quran, when it ordains the obedience of the Holy Prophet (SAWS), means his obedience in the capacity of a ruler or a head of the state, and not in the capacity of a prophet. Since the Holy Prophet (SAWS) was also a ruler of ‘the Muslims, they were ordered to ‘obey’ and ‘follow’ him. But after he passed away, his personal obedience is no more necessary. Now, whoever takes over the rule shall stand for the Holy Prophet (SAWS) in the matter of obedience, and the Muslims should follow him.

This fallacy is based on the misconception that the Holy Prophet (SAWS) was ordered to be obeyed in his capacity of a ruler, and not in the capacity of a prophet or messenger.

But the verses already quoted leave no room for this misconception. The reasons are as under:

(1) wherever the Holy Quran has directed toward the ‘obedience of the Holy Prophet (SAWS)’ it has always referred to the ‘obedience of the Messenger’ and not to the obedience of the ruler’, nor to the obedience of ‘Muhammad (SAWS)’ in his private capacity. It clearly indicates that he must be obeyed on account of his being a messenger.

When I say, to someone, ‘Obey your father’, it means that his being father is the basic cause of his being obeyed. If I say, ‘obey your teacher’, it is evident that his being a teacher is the reason of his obedience being due. Nobody can reasonably interpret these sentences conversely. So, when Allah Almighty says ‘Obey the Messenger’ how can it be reasonable to say that his messengership is not the cause of his obedience?

(2) At one occasion, at least, the Holy Quran has removed even the remotest possibility of this wrong interpretation, when it said:

“O those who believe, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you” (4:59)

Here, the obedience of the messenger has been separated and distinguished from that of the ruling authorities, which means that the ‘messenger’ and ‘those in authority’ both are to be obeyed in their different capacities.

It is important to note that in the case of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) both the capacities were combined in him. He was a Messenger as well as a ruler. Therefore, if the Holy Quran intended to restrict the obedience of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) to his lifetime only, it could easily be said, ‘Obey Muhammad (SAWS)’. But by avoiding this expression, the Holy Quran explicitly differentiated between his two capacities, and mentioned each of them separately to remove even the slightest apprehension of this misconception, and thus left no room for confusing one capacity with the other.

Moreover, there is another point to note in this verse. The word ‘Messenger’ used here is in singular, whereas the phrase ‘those in authority’, is in plural. This is to signify that the Holy Prophet (SAWS) is the last messenger after whom no prophet will come. So, his obedience as a prophet shall always be confined to himself alone. Nobody can share with him in this obedience in future. On the other hand, the ruling authorities shall be in a large number, coming one after the other. This kind of obedience is not restricted to the ruler present at the time of revelation; it, rather, extends to all the ruling authorities coming after him.

(3) It has been established earlier that the obedience of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) was based on the ‘unrecited revelation’ he used to receive from Allah. That is why the Holy Quran has held it to be the ‘obedience of Allah’ Himself. On the other hand, no ruler or a head of a state can claim to receive any revelation of any kind.

It is for this reason that a ruler can enjoy an administrative authority over his subjects, but he cannot lay down the rules of Shari’ah. His orders are purely administrative, which are to be obeyed by the citizens in that capacity alone. He cannot override any rule of Shari’ah enshrined in the Holy Quran and Sunnah, nor can his orders be regarded as imperatives for all times to come, as those of Shari’ah, because they are not based on any revelation from Allah. They are effective only in a sphere where the Shari’ah has not given any definite rule, and left the matter on the discretion of a ruler.

The case of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) is totally different. He, as a messenger, receives revelation from Allah, recited and unrecited both. His prophetic orders, therefore, are not just administrative orders based on his personal perception. They are based on the revelation, or, at least, are confirmed by it. Let me now explain both situations:

The orders of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) are sometimes based on the revelation in the sense that the revelation ‘recited or unrecited’ is their original Source. But for this revelation, he would not deliver such orders. There can be no doubt in their divine nature. Hence, they form part of the Shari’ah.

In some cases, however, the origin of the orders is not a revelation. They are based originally on the Holy Prophet’s (SAWS) own analysis of the affairs. But they are confirmed by a revelation later on. This confirmation again is of two kinds: sometimes it occurs in explicit terms, whereby the decision of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) is upheld by a revelation, and sometimes it happens to be an implied confirmation. If Allah Almighty does not object to a certain act of the Holy Prophet (SAWS), it necessarily implies that the act has been confirmed by Him.

The reason is obvious. A prophet of Allah, being a spokesman of His pleasure, remains under a constant divine supervision. If he says something or does something, which is not in complete consonance with Allah’s pleasure, he is always warned about it. In a number of verses, the Holy Quran has expressed Allah’s disapproval of some acts done or intended by the Holy Prophet (SAWS). Thus, no act of the Holy Prophet (SAWS) has ever gone unchecked.

In this perspective, if the Holy Prophet (SAWS) does some thing or issues an order, and no revelation, recited or unrecited, comes to disapprove the same, it necessarily implies that the act or order has been approved by Allah Almighty, because if the converse were true, the revelation would never remain silent; it would certainly come to correct the error, as it came in certain cases where disapproval was conveyed in direct terms to the Holy Prophet (SAWS).

Thus, whatever he says or does in his capacity of a messenger, and no revelation comes to the contrary, it is deemed to be an implied confirmation of his saying or act.

It is, therefore, true to say that all his orders and acts are either based on the revelation, or confirmed by it, explicitly or implicitly.

No such authority can be attributed to any ruler after him, because the revelation after him came to an end. This is why the Holy Quran highlights the obedience of the messenger as distinct from that of the ruling authorities.

On these three major grounds, there is no room for the misconception that the ‘obedience of the Messenger’ emphasized by the Holy Quran means the ‘obedience of the ruling authority’. In fact, his Obedience is necessary for the sole reason that he is a prophet, and his orders and acts, reflect the pleasure of Allah. Hence, the ‘Sunnah’ which is nothing but a record of his sayings and acts, enjoys a binding authority on all Muslims who believe in Allah and His Holy Book.

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