For Traditionalists, this ayat is interpreted in the following way:
- Obey Allah = Obey the Qur’an.
- Obey the Messenger = Obey the Hadith.
- Obey those in authority (Ulu Al-Amr) among you = Obey the Caliph / Imam / Scholars / Clergy (Ahbār).
- The common belief among the Traditionalists is that the phrase “those in authority” is used to refer to the elite classes, people such as scholars, socio-political leaders, various nobilities, and according to some, even dictators are included among “those in authority”, which is obviously not based upon any Qur’anic injunction, rather it is based upon untrustworthy, man-made collections of hadith.
Those who have accepted the Qur’an Alone as their sole source of guidance in matters pertaining to Deen (Universal System and Order of Allah known simply as Islam (Peace/Submission)) reject the Traditionalist interpretation of this ayat, because it is inconsistent with the Qur’an as a whole. When understood from a purely Qur’anic perspective it looks more like this:
- Obey Allah = Obey the Qur’an
- Obey the Messenger = Obey the model of the Messenger as defined in the Qur’an, not the example as defined in Hadith or sources other than the Qur’an. Therefore, to obey the messenger would mean that one must follow the same QUR’ANIC System of Judgment that was enjoined by Allah UPON ALL PROPHETS and their followers with respect to their authorized religious texts. Never, in the history of mankind, has Allah permitted or commanded His servants to seek judgments from sources outside of their revealed texts. We do not find any mention of a Sunnah that is to be followed, nor any mention of a book that is to be used in conjunction with the revealed books of Allah, and that is an undeniable fact based upon the Qur’an itself.
- Obey those in authority (Ulu Al-Amr) among you = Obedience to those who urge the people towards acts of righteousness and obedience to the divine laws, as detailed for us in the Qur’an. Outside of this, there is no other recognized authority in the Deen of Islam. The same applies to any man-made clerical hierarchies, titles, ranks, or positions that have been authorized by man, but not by the Qur’an.
- All matters of dispute are to be settled using the Qur’an Alone. We are to submit to the ruling just as the Prophets submitted to it. The words “obey Allah and obey the Messenger” does not mean that there are two separate entities, both of which we must obey in different aspects of Deen. In reality, it means to obey Allah by obeying the instructions detailed in the Qur’an as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, which he delivered word-for-word to mankind without adding anything of his own.
Obey Allah and the Messenger summed up in one ayat…
4:127 And they request from you, [O Muhammad], a [legal] ruling concerning women. Say, ” Allah gives you a ruling about them and what has been recited to you in the Book…
- They came to the Prophet for a ruling…
- Allah responds with “Say… Allah gives you a ruling about them…”. The ruling came from Allah, not the Messenger…
- The ruling is revealed as a part of the Qur’an and made public so that people can see the question and the response.
This theme is repeated in the Qur’an…
“And they ask you about…, Say…”
This is OBEYING ALLAH ==> & <== THE MESSENGER
Islam vs. Taghut
Most people who argue in favor of Hadith using 4:59 never seem to notice the ayat that immediately follows it…
4. Surah An-Nisā’ (Verse 60)
أَلَمْ تَرَ إِلَى الَّذِينَ يَزْعُمُونَ أَنَّهُمْ آمَنُوا بِمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ وَمَا أُنزِلَ مِن قَبْلِكَ يُرِيدُونَ أَن يَتَحَاكَمُوا إِلَى الطَّاغُوتِ وَقَدْ أُمِرُوا أَن يَكْفُرُوا بِهِ وَيُرِيدُ الشَّيْطَانُ أَن يُضِلَّهُمْ ضَلَالًا بَعِيدًا
Have you not seen those who claim to have believed in what was revealed to you, [O Muhammad], and what was revealed before you? They wish to refer legislation to Taghut, while they were commanded to reject it; and Satan wishes to lead them far astray.
When we read 4:59-60 together we see a comparison made between the system proposed by Allah (Islam), and any system devoid of the Qur’anic System of Judgment (Taghut). This alone is enough to tell us that Allah, the Messenger, and those in authority among us all represent the same Qur’anic System. Allah is the source of the legislation, the Messenger delivers the legislation to the people, and those in authority are those who uphold the Pure Qur’anic System, not those who uphold systems based on something other than Qur’an. Those systems are called Taghut and we have been commanded to reject those systems outright, but there is no harm in obeying reasonable laws in society that do not conflict with Qur’an. This is the Sunnah (established way, method, pattern, or system) of Allah that does not change, ever.
I have yet to see anyone refute the above argument, which proves without a doubt that Islam does not sanction either blind-following (taqleed) or the reliance of sources of Law outside of Qur’an.