Authority and Obedience in Islamic Jurisprudence

The basis of the legitimacy of political regimes in today’s world is voting and a deliberative opinion poll. Therefore, a regime that has been established through voting has a legitimate right to use coercive power to enforce the law.

The Taliban and similar fundamentalist groups do not believe in the majority rule, considering and promoting obedience to their rule a religious obligation. To force people to obey and submit, they refer to Surah An-Nisa, Ayat 59 in the holy Quran, which says: “Believers! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority (Ulul-Amr) among you.” The Taliban’s goal of linking this issue to religious teachings is to make people face the matter of faith and do not hesitate to follow their leaders. Most ordinary Muslims, who do not specialize in religious jurisprudence, remain confused in this situation, as they cannot ignore religious teachings, nor can they believe in the legitimacy of an authoritarian government.

Is obedience to everyone who call themself Ulul-Amr a religious obligation?

In order to know who is the Ulul-Amr, one should see what the commentators of the Quran have understood from that religious text. Imam Al-Qurtubi said in his commentary, the Tafsir al-Qurtubi: “Ikrama – Ikrimah ibn Abi Jahl, Companion of the Prophet, says that the meaning of the Ulul-Amr is Abu Bakr and Omar; Mujahid says that it refers to the companions of the Prophet; The Shiites have said that it refers to Imam Ali and Ahl al-Bayt; Jabir said that the people of the holy book are Ulul-Amr; Tawus ibn Kaysan says that Ulul-Amr are the possessors of wisdom and judgment.

Furthermore, Ibn Kathir has mentioned in his commentary: “Ibn Abbas said that what is meant by the Ulul-Amr is trustworthy and religious people.” Mohammad Abdu said in Tafsir al-Manar: “Ulul-Amr are commanders, judges, scientists, leaders of the army and influential figures that people turn to for problems solving and public issues.” Therefore, all those who have an opinion and are competent in a field, their decisions are valid within the framework of the law, and they are considered Ulul-Amr. This obedience does not have an aspect of worship and is only for organizing the affairs.

As we have seen, the word “Ulul-Amr” originally means a worker. That is, someone who is assigned to a job in terms of expertise or based on a legal mechanism and is considered competent in that field. This word is very common and has many examples. From the ruler elected by the people, to the minister appointed by the ruler, to the heads and managers chosen by the ministers, to the army commanders, to other institutions that have authority and responsibility in the public arena. In fact, this word does not refer to a specific person, but the meaning of this verse is that the affairs should be entrusted to its people and in the area where the people decide, their decision should be respected so that there is no room for confusion, chaos and continuous arguing.

If a political system is not formed on the basis of people’s consent, even if it calls itself Islamic, it will not gain legitimacy and obedience to it is not obligatory. Al-Qurtubi cites the opinion of one of the old scholars named Ibn Khuizmandad about the rulers of his time who were also Muslims and apparently were the first in command, who said: “It is not permissible to obey the rulers of our time, nor to cooperate with them, nor to respect them.” Instead of using religion as a tool, it is better for governments to give in to the will of the people and achieve their legitimacy through that. The philosophy of the emergence of political system and according to Thomas Hobbes, in Leviathan, is an important basis for understanding government in the present era.