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)


Shāh Walī Allāh on Obedience to the Caliph

The Prophet ﷺ has said: “Hearing and obeying is an obligation of every Muslim, whether he likes the command or dislikes it, as long as he is not commanded to commit a sin. If he is commanded to commit a sin, then he absolved of the obligation to hear and obey.” [Sahih Muslim].

(I say): Since an imām is installed for two kinds of public weal, by which religious and political affairs are regulated, and since the Prophet ﷺ was sent for their sake, and the imām is the Prophet’s deputy and an executor of his mission, therefore, obedience to the imām is indeed obedience to the Prophet ﷺ. And disobedience to him would be tantamount to disobedience of the Prophet ﷺ except when he commands to commit a sin. For then it would be evident that obedience to him is not longer an obedience to God, and in that event, he would cease to be a deputy of God’s Prophet ﷺ. This is why the Prophet ﷺ said: “Whoever follow an amīr, he indeed follows me, and whoever disobeys an amīr, he indeed disobeys me”. [Sahih Muslim]

Further, the Prophet ﷺ has said: “Verily the imām is a shield behind which his people fight their enemies, and through which they seek their own protection. If he commands piety and guides them toward it, he shall be entitled to a reward for it. But if he pursues any other path, then he shall have his portion of the evil consequences.” [Sahih Muslim]

(I say): The Prophet ﷺ regarded the imām as a shield because he is an instrument of inner cohesion among Muslims and a source of defence for them. The Prophet ﷺ has also said: “Whoever finds something in his amīr which he detests, he should tolerate it, because whoever separates himself a single span of hand from the community  and dies in that position his death shall indeed be in the state of Jāhiliyyah”. [Sahih Muslim]

(I say): This is because Islam is distinguished from Jāhiliyyah by addressing these two categories of public weal. And it is the khalīfah who deputises the Prophet ﷺ in carrying out the purposes of this public weal. Therefore, when someone separates himself from the executor of this public weal, he falls in the category of those who are living in the Jāhilī era.

The Prophet also said: “Any servant of God to whose care God gave a people, but he did not lend his fullest sincerity to their cause, he shall not [even] smell the fragrance of paradise”. [Bukhari]

(I say): Since the installation of [the] khalīfah takes place for the realisation of certain vital interests, it is necessary that the khalīfah is directed to fulfil these objectives. At the same time, the people should also be urged to follow him so that these stipulated interests are achieved from both sides.

[Shāh Walī Allāh, Selection from Hujjat Allah al-Balighah, English Translation by Muhammad al-Ghazali, Adam Publishers, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 116-117]