Traditionalist Islam tells us that Quran instructs us to follow the messenger. Therefore, we need to rely on Hadith literature and the practises of Sunnah in order to fulfil this instruction.
The Quranist Response: The verse which Traditionalists quote is 3/31:
قُلْ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللَّهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمْ اللَّهُ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ (آل عمران: 31).
Say: If you love Allah, follow me. Allah loves you and protects you from your shortcomings. Verily, He is protective, nurturing.
As usual, there is much assumption in the Traditional understanding of this verse. The first one being, there isn’t any ‘rasool’ at all mentioned in it. We must remember, the messenger recited this verse to people and if he said ‘qul’ (say) to them as per the verse, as believers, it would be their duty to fulfil that command from the messenger! Hence, they themselves would need to tell the people:
If you love Allah, follow me. Allah loves you and protects you from your shortcomings. Verily, He is protective, nurturing
The ‘me’ in 3/31 would thus be the believers themselves albeit on an individual level!
The second point to be made is with the word ‘ittiba’’ or follow. Assuming that we need to follow the messenger, we must ask, what does messenger himself follow? The following verse answers that question beautifully:
وَإِذَا تُتْلَى عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتُنَا بَيِّنَاتٍ قَالَ الَّذِينَ لاَ يَرْجُونَ لِقَاءَنَا ائْتِ بِقُرْآنٍ غَيْرِ هَذَا أَوْ بَدِّلْهُ قُلْ مَا يَكُونُ لِي أَنْ أُبَدِّلَهُ مِنْ تِلْقَاءِ نَفْسِي إِنْ أَتَّبِعُ إِلاَّ مَا يُوحَى إِلَيَّ إِنِّي أَخَافُ إِنْ عَصَيْتُ رَبِّي عَذَابَ يَوْمٍ عَظِيمٍ (يونس: 15).
But when our clariying signs are recited unto them, those who rest not their hope on their meeting with Us, Say: “Bring us a Quran other than this, or change this,” Say: “It is not for me, of my own accord, to change it: I follow naught but what is inspired unto me: if I were to disobey my Lord, I should myself fear the penalty of a Great Day (to come).”
This verse does not actually mention the word messenger but the context indicates that the subject is the messenger. This is especially evidence in 10/2 and considering that tilawah/recitation is a function of the messenger (2/129)
The verse is unambiguous. Both ‘our clarifying signs’ and ‘quran’ obviously shows that the Quran is being recited. Certain people asked the messenger to bring another Quran or change it. If he indeed did bring and followed any other source, he could not say ‘it is not for me to change it’. He simply said, ‘I follow what is inspired to me’. Hence it is clear and unequivocal – the messenger only follows the Quran.
Our third argument is the context of 3/31 itself. The verse lies as a bridge between the preamble of Chapter 3 and its first narrative which begins in 3/33. 3/31 tells the Reader to ‘say’ if he has achieved the process outlined in 3/1-30 which is about establish the organic system of Allah. This is why Allah’s love is the reward of following such a process.
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