The Role of the Sultan in Enjoining Right and Forbidding Wrong in Tafsir al-Qurtubi

tafsir qurtubi“Not everyone is capable of carrying out the actions necessary to enjoin right conduct. However, this can be performed effectively by the ruler [Sultan] because he holds the authority to frame laws that will be in accord with the Shari‘ah. As ruler, he has the final word in matters of consequence, such as the legislation of laws, the prosecution of punishable offences and the treatment of prisoners. The role of head of state must be entrusted to an honest, strict, and righteous person since he holds the responsibility of enforcing the dictates of the Shari‘ah in all matters. It is incumbent on the ruler to appoint suitable, powerful and just persons in every city for this purpose. This is because Allah says, “[They are] those who, if We give them power in the land, establish [regular] prayer and give [regular] charity, enjoin right and forbid wrong; with Allah rests the end [and decision] of [all] affairs.” (22:41)”



[Imam al-Qurtubi, الجامع لأحكام القرآن, vol. 4, p. 47. Translated by Syed Amin Ashraf in Ma‘roof & Munkar, Jalaluddin Umari, International Islamic Publishing House, Riyadh, 2008 (2nd Revised Edition), p. 119]

Imam al-Qurtubi is Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Abu Bakr ibn Farah, Abu ‘Abdullah al-Ansari al-Qurtubi, of Cordova (in present-day Spain). A Maliki scholar and hadith specialist, he was one of the greatest Imams of Qur’anic exegesis, an ascetic who divided his days between worship and writing. Educated in hadith by masters like ‘Ali ibn Muhammad al-Yahsabi and al-Hasan ibn Muhammad al-Bakri, we wrote works in the sciences of hadith and tenets of faith, though his enduring contribution is his al-Jami‘ li ahkam al-Qur’an (The Compendium of the Rules of the Qur’an), from which he mainly omitted the stories and histories customary in other commentaries, and recorded instead the legal rulings contained in the Qur’an and how scholars have inferred them, together with the usage of Arabic grammar. Scholars have used it extensively ever since it was written. It is related that Qurtubi disdained airs, and used to walk about in a simple caftan with a plain cap (taqiyya) on his head. He travelled east and settled in Munya Abi al-Khusayb in upper Egypt, where he died in 671H (1273 CE) [Excerpted from Reliance of the Traveller by Shaykh Nuh Keller, p. 1090]

The Caliphate in Tafsir al-Qurtubi

When your Lord said to the angels,

‘I am putting a khalif on the earth,’

they said, ‘Why put on it

one who will cause great corruption on it and shed blood

when we glorify You with praise

and proclaim Your purity?’

He said, ‘I know what you do not know.’ [2:30]


‘I am putting a khalif on the earth,’

“Putting” in this context means creating, as aṭ-Ṭabarī said. The earth means Makka. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “The earth was smoothed out from Makka,” which is why it is called the Mother of Cities. Khalīfa (khalif) has the form of an active participle, meaning “the one who replaced the angels before him on the earth”, or other than the angels, according to what has been reported. It is possible that it is in the passive mode, in which case it means one who is sent as a representative.

This āyat is sound evidence for having a leader and a khalif who is obeyed so that he will be the focus for the cohesion of society, and the rulings of the khalifate will [be] carried out. None of the Imāms of the Community disagree about the obligatory nature of having such a leader, except for what is related from al-Aṣamm [1] (lit. the Deaf), who lived up to the meaning of his name and was indeed deaf to the Sharī‘a, and those who take his position who say that the khalifate is permitted rather than mandatory if the Community undertakes all their obligations on their own without the need for a ruler to enforce them.

The Companions agreed to make Abū Bakr khalif after the disagreement which took place between the Muhājirūn and the Anṣār. If it had been a definite obligation that the ruler had to be from Quraysh, there would have been no point in the argument and the debate which took place. When Abū Bakr died, he delegated the task of being khalif to ‘Umar and no one said that it was not mandatory. Its obligatory nature indicates that it is one of the pillars of the dīn which support the Muslims. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds.

[Tafsir al-Qurtubi: Classical Commentary of the Holy Qur’an, translated by Aisha Bewley, Dar al-Taqwa, London, 2003, p. 203]

[1] al-Aṣamm was a well-known Mutazilite