Ibn Hajar on Obeying and Disobeying those in Authority

kuranThe following is from the translated meaning of the Qur’an (4:59):

“O Believers, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you; and if you have a dispute concerning any matter, refer it to Allah and the Messenger if you are [in truth] believers in Allah and the Last Day.” [Rendered by Shaykh Gibril Haddad]

The above verse is cited by Imam Bukhārī in his Ṣaḥīḥ as the heading of the first chapter of Kitāb al-Aḥkām (Book of Judgments). Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī says in his commentary of this section of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī:

‘The subtlety of repeating the verb for the Prophet – upon him blessings and peace – in Obey Allah and obey the Messenger but not for and those in command among you – although the one being obeyed in reality is Allah – is that the sources by which one determines one’s legal responsibility are the Qur’ān and the Sunna. It is as if Allah Most High were saying: “Obey Allah in whatever He textually stipulates for you in the Qur’ān and obey the Messenger in whatever he elucidates from the Qur’ān for you and textually stipulates in the Sunna,” or “Obey Allah in all He commands you in the revelation instituted for worship-through-recitation, and obey the Messenger in all he commands you in the revelation that is other than the Qur’ān.” Al-Ṭībī said (d. 743/1342): “He repeated the verb and obey the Messenger as a sign that the Prophet – upon him blessings and peace – is obeyed independently, but he did not repeat it for and those of you who are in authority as a sign that some of them do not have to be obeyed. Then He expounded this by saying and if you have a dispute concerning any matter, as if saying: if they do not act according to right, then do not obey them, and refer to whatever you differed about to the judgment of Allah and His Messenger.” ’

[Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalānī, فتح الباري شرح صحيح البخاري (Fatḥ al-Bārī Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī), translated in Integrated Encyclopedia of the Qur’ān (IEQ) by Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad, Sherwood Park and Seattle, Centre for Islamic Sciences, vol. 1 p. 279. For brief biographical details of Ibn Ḥajar, see the previous post on this blog entitled Ibn Hajar on Arab Rulers]


Post Script

The meaning of those in authority among you is elaborated by al-Bayḍāwī (d. 684/1286) in his tafsīr (commentary) of 4:59: “it comprises caliphs, judges, and military commanders … as long as they stand for truth” [see IEQ, p. 278].

Also, Ibn Kathīr cites the following in his tafsīr of the verse in question:

“Umm al-Ḥusayn said that she heard the Messenger of Allah giving a speech during the Farewell Ḥajj, in which he said:

‘Even if a slave was appointed over you, and he rules you with Allah’s Book, then listen to him and obey him.’ [related in Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim].” (Ibn Kathīr, vol. 2, p. 497)


Imam Ghazali’s ‘Definite Proof’ that Appointing a Caliph is Obligatory


Despite the fact that Imam Ghazali’s al-Iqtiṣād fi al-I‘tiqād is a book on beliefs (‘aqīda), he includes a whole chapter on the imamate (caliphate) in this work. At the beginning of this chapter, he includes a discussion of what he describes as ‘definite legal proof’ (al-burhān al-qaṭ‘ī al-shar‘ī) that appointing an imam is an obligation. In this discussion, he also says that ‘religion (dīn) and sultan are twins’:

“We should not think that this obligation derives from the intellect. We have explained that obligations derive from the revelation, except when ‘obligatory’ is interpreted to designate an act, such that there is benefit in performing it or harm in refraining from it. According to this interpretation, it cannot be denied that appointing an imam is obligatory, since it leads to benefit and prevents harm in this worldly life. However, we present a conclusive legal demonstration [البرهان القطعى الشرعى] that it is obligatory. We will not rely solely on the consensus [ijmā‘] of the Muslim community; rather we bring attention to the basis of this consensus.

Hence we say:

Well ordered religious affairs are decidedly a purpose of the man with the revelation [Muhammad] (ﷺ). This is an unquestionable premise about which no dispute is imaginable. We add to it another premise, which is that well-ordered religious affairs can only be achieved through an imam who is obeyed. The correctness of the proposition that the appointment of an imam is obligatory follows from these two premises.

If it is said that the last premise, which is that well-ordered religious affairs can be achieved only through an imam, is not conceded, then we say: “Its demonstration is that well-ordered religious affairs can be achieved only by well-ordered worldly affairs and well-ordered worldly affairs can be achieved only by an imam who is obeyed.” These are two premises: which one is the subject of dispute?

It might be said: “Why do you say that well-ordered religious affairs can be achieved only through well-ordered worldly affairs? On the contrary, it can be achieved only by destruction of worldly affairs, for religious affairs and worldly affairs are opposites, and hence to be occupied with making one of them flourish is the ruin of the other.”

We say:

This is the argument of someone who does not understand what we intend here by ‘worldly affairs’. For it is an ambiguous term that may be used to designate luxury and pleasure and being excessive beyond what is needed and necessary, or it may be used to designate all that is required prior to one’s death. One of the designations is opposed to religion and the other is its very condition. It is this way that the one who does not distinguish between the meaning of ambiguous terms errs.

We thus say:

Well-ordered religious affairs are achieved through knowledge and worship. These cannot be achieve without the health of the body, the maintenance of life, the fulfillment of needs – such as those for clothing, shelter and food – and security from the onset of calamities. How true this is: “When a man wakes up safe among his family, with a healthy body, and in possession of his daily sustenance, it is as if the whole world is made available to him.”[1] A man does not achieve security in his life, body, wealth, home, and sustenance under all circumstances but [only] under some. Religious affairs cannot flourish unless security is achieved in these important and necessary matters. Otherwise, if one spends all his time being occupied with protecting himself against the swords of oppressors, and with winning his sustenance from exploiters, when would he find time for working and seeking knowledge, which are his means for achieving happiness in the hereafter? Therefore well-ordered worldly affairs – I mean the fulfillment of needs – are a condition for well-ordered religious affairs.

As for the second premise, which is that worldly affairs and security in life and wealth can be maintained only through an imam who is obeyed, it is confirmed by observing the periods of social upheavals when the sultans and imams die. If these periods are prolonged and not quickly terminated by the appointment of another sultan who is obeyed, the killing would continue and the sword would dominate, famine would spread, livestock would diminish, and industry would collapse; and whoever wins would plunder; and no one who manages to stay alive would have time to worship or seek knowledge; and the majority would die under the shadows of the swords. For this reason it has been said that religion [dīn] and sultan are twins, and also that religion is a foundation and the sultan is a guard: that which has no foundation collapses and that which has no guard is lost.

In sum, no rational person doubts that if mankind, given their different classes, diverse desires, and disparate opinions, are left to their own devices without decrees that they obey and that unify their factions, they would all end in ruin. This is an epidemic that has no remedy other than a strong sultan who is obeyed and who unifies their disparate opinions. This shows that a sultan is necessary for achieving well-ordered worldly affairs, and well-ordered worldly affairs are necessary for achieving well-ordered religious affairs, and well-ordered religious affairs are necessary for achieving happiness in the hereafter, which is decidedly the purpose of all the prophets. Therefore, the obligation of appointing an imam is among the essential requirements of the law – a requirement that by no means can be ignored.”

Later on in the chapter, Imam Ghazali argues that necessity dictates that in some circumstances a caliph who does not fulfill all the conditions (as was the case in his time) should still be recognized and obeyed, because of the dire consequences of not having an imam:

“I wish I knew how someone who does not accept this [principle] could judge that the imamate in our time is invalid insofar as its conditions are not fulfilled, while he is unable to replace the imam with someone who seeks it, for even he cannot find someone who fulfills its conditions. Which of his states is better; to say that the judges are dismissed, appointments are invalid, marriages are annulled, all the decrees of the governors everywhere in the world are unenforceable, and all of mankind are [on the verge of] engaging in what is unlawful [ḥarām]; or to say that, based on the current state and necessity, the imamate is valid and the decrees and appointments are enforceable?”

[1] This is a ḥadīth. It is reported by Ibn Maja, Sunan, XXXVII.9, No. 414; and Tirmidhi, al-Jāmi‘ al-Ṣaḥīḥ, XXXVII.34, No. 2347

[Al-Ghazali’s Moderation in Belief: Al-Iqtiṣād fi al-I‘tiqād, translated by A M Yaqub, Unviersity of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 2013, pp. 229-231 and 234 (some words in square brackets have been added)]

A Brilliant Qadi (Judge)


Iyas ibn Mu‘awiyah al-Muzani [d. 121H, 739CE] was a man of consummate eloquence and intelligence, proverbial for his reason and quick wit. It is said that once every hundred years a person is born with a perfect mind, and that Iyas was one such person.

He narrates how, when still a child at a primary school [maktab] in Damascus, a group of Christians gathered around and began to make fun of Muslims who claim that in paradise food leaves behind no excrement. ‘“Teacher,” I said, “would you not agree that most food is taken up and dispersed in the body?” “Yes,” he replied. I said: “Why then do you deny that in paradise the Almighty can make the remainder disappear totally inside the body?” He said: “You are a little devil.”’

Two men once came to plead before him. One of them said: ‘I went down to the river to bathe. I had a brand new green djellaba that I took off and placed by the bank of the river. This other man came wearing an old red djellaba. He took it off and went into the water. When he came out he ran ahead of me and took my green djellaba.’ Iyas asked them: ‘Do either of you have any proof?’ They said no. So he ordered a comb to be brought into the court and had them combed. Some green woollen threads were found in the hair of the owner of the green djellaba so Iyas ordered it restored to him.

A Persian squire [dihqan] came to see him and asked him about intoxicating drink, and whether it is licit [halal] or illicit [haram]. ‘It is illicit,’ said Iyas. ‘How so?’ said the squire. ‘Tell me, are dates licit or illicit?’ ‘Licit,’ said Iyas. ‘What about dodder?’ ‘Licit,’ said Iyas. ‘And water?’ ‘Licit,’ replied Iyas. ‘So what is it that makes these things incompatible? Is not date wine made from dates, dodder and water? What is it that makes date wine illicit and all these other things licit?’

Iyas answered: ‘If I were to take a handful of earth and throw it at you, would you feel pain?’ The squire said: ‘No.’ ‘What if I cupped my fingers and threw some water at you, would that pain you?’ ‘No,’ said the squire. ‘And what if I took a handful of straw and hit you with it, would that cause you pain?’ ‘No,’ said the squire. ‘If I now took the handful of earth, and kneaded it with water and straw making it into lumps, and I left it out to dry and then hit you with it, would this cause you pain?’ ‘Yes,’ replied the squire, ‘it may even kill me.’ Iyas said: ‘So also with dates, water and dodder. If mixed together and then aged they become illicit.’

Iyas once said, “I was reduced to silence by only one man. I was sitting in my court chamber in Basra when a man entered into my presence and testified that a particular orchard – and he specified its borders – was the property of so-and-so. I asked him: ‘How many trees does it have?’ He fell silent then said: ‘May I ask his honour the judge how long he has been judging in this chamber?’ ‘Since such-and-such a time,’ I replied. The man asked: ‘How many beams are there in this ceiling?’ ‘You are quite right,’ I replied, and I allowed his testimony.”

[Ibn ‘Asakir, Tahdhib al-Tarikh al-Kabir, 3:11 and al-Safadi, Al-Wafi bi’l Wafayat, 9:465-467 translated by Khalidi, Tarif ­In An Anthology of Arabic Literature: From the Classical to the Modern, Edinburgh University Press, 2016, pp. 50-51]

When the Second Caliph Umar was Overruled by the Judge


Sa‘eed bin Musayyib narrates that Hadhrat Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) once intended to take the house* of Hadhrat Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) to include it in the Masjid. However, Hadhrat Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) refused to hand the house over. When Hadhrat Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) resolved that he would certainly have possession of the house, Hadhrat Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) proposed that they appoint Hadhrat Ubay bin Ka‘b raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) to pass judgement between them. Hadhrat Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) agreed and they both approached Hadhrat Ubay raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him). After they had related the matter to him, Hadhrat Ubay raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said, “Allah sent revelation to Hadhrat Sulayman bin Dawud instructing him to construct Baytul Maqdis [in Jerusalem]. The land belonged to a man whom Hadhrat Sulayman 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) approached to buy it from him. However, when Hadhrat Sulayman 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) handed over the money to the man, he [the man] asked, ‘Is this price that you are paying better or is that which you are taking from me better?’ Hadhrat Sulayman 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) replied, ‘Certainly that which I am taking from you is better.’ ‘In that case,’ said the man, ‘I shall not accept it.’

Hadhrat Sulayman 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) then gave the man a higher price. The man then did the same thing two or three times until Hadhrat Sulayman 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) made the condition with him, ‘I am buying the land from you at the price you fix. You may therefore not ask me which of the two is better.’ Hadhrat Sulayman 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) took the purchased land from him at the price he fixed, which happened to be twelve thousand Qintar of gold (one Qintar equals four thousand gold coins). Hadhrat Sulayman 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) then felt that the amount was too big to give the man. Allah then sent revelation to him saying, ‘If you are paying him from something that is your own, then you know best (what you have to do). However, if you are paying from what We have provided for you, then give him whatever he is pleased with.’ Hadhrat Sulayman 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) then paid the amount.”

Hadhrat Ubay raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) continued, “I feel that Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) has a greater right to his house, which cannot be taken from him until he is pleased.” Hadhrat Abbas raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) then said, ‘Since you have made the decision in my favour, I wish to make it Sadaqah [a charitable gift] for the Muslims.’

[Hayatus Sahabah (The Lives of the Companions), by Maulana Muhammad Yusuf Kandhelwi, excerpted from the English translation by Mufti Afzal Hoosen Elias, Zam Zam Publishers, Karachi, June 2013, vol. 2, pp. 133-134 (related by Abdur Razzaq, as quoted in Kanzul Ummal vol. 4 p. 260. Also related by Ibn Sa‘d vol. 4 p. 13. Ibn Asakir relates a similar narration, as do Bayhaqi and Ya‘qub bin Sulayman – quoted in Kanzul Ummal vol. 7 p. 65). Words in square brackets have been added.]

*His house was next door to Masjidun Nabawi