Why does it say, “and obey His messenger”?
May 10, 2011 2 Comments
Kashif Ahmed Shahzada’s, The Quran’s Sole Authority, is the most comprehensive refutation of the traditionalist claim that hadith and sunnah are a requirement for islam. The work proves that the quran is the only source of divine guidance and that the messenger was bound by the message.
8/20 O you who believe! Obey Allah and His messenger and do not turn back from him while you hear.
As pointed out by Kashif Shahzada, the singular pronoun ‘him’ instead of the plural ‘us’ indicates that the obedience is one and the same. The messenger was not commanding anything different to what Allah was commanding. This is confirmed by:
4/80 Whoever obeys the messenger, he indeed obeys Allah, and whoever turns back, so We have not sent you as a keeper over them.
However, a remainder of this equation is often picked up on by opponents of the quranist position: why is the messenger mentioned at all? It is a valid question, given the argument is that obeying Allah and obeying His messenger are in fact one and the same. Is not the inclusion of the messenger then a redundant detail?
Mohammad Sheikh of IIPC in his January 2005 presentation titled Hadith, gave an explanation as to what the two obediences mean. Shaikh’s contention is that there are verses in the quran where the messenger is being commanded to proclaim something to the people, such as 2/219. These count as obeying the messenger. Other verses where Allah commands us directly is to obey Allah.
An alternative understanding is that the messenger is mentioned as a way of emphasis. Obeying the messenger is most certainly part of obeying Allah, but something in particular is being highlighted. The quran uses the word ‘and’ [wa] on occasions to highlight or emphasise a particular point.
2/238 Be guardians of your salawat, AND [wa] of salat al wusta, and stand with devotion to Allah.
The word ‘salawat’ is the plural of ‘salat’ and ‘salat al wusta’ is translated as ‘the balanced salat’. So isn’t salat al wusta (the balanced salat) part of the salawat (plural of salat)? If ‘wa’ can only mean ‘and’, then it looks like salawat is one thing, and salat al wusta is something different. Even traditional commentaries of this verse concede that the ‘wa’ in this instance does not indicate that salat al wusta is separate from salawat, but rather it provides emphasis. The verse is stressing the importance of the balanced salat.
21:48 We had given Musa and Harun al furqan, AND [wa] shining light, AND [wa] a reminder for the righteous.
Here again we see ‘wa’ being used when describing what Allah gave Musa and Harun. The verse does not seem to be suggesting the Prophets were given three separate things, but qualities and characteristics of the message they had been sent with. The repeated use of ‘wa’ helps to strengthen the idea that the guidance of Allah has different facets.
The above two examples demonstrate that the word ‘wa’ in quran is more expansive compared to the English translation ‘and’. The potential is there to use it as a means for emphasis.
With this in mind, is it possible that the ‘wa’ in the verses that say obey Allah and [wa] obey the messenger is there for emphasis? What is being emphasised, if anything?
42/51 And it is not for any human that Allah should speak to him except by revelation [wahy] or from behind a barrier [hijab] or that He sends a messenger to reveal [yuhiya], by His permission, what He wills. Indeed, He is Most High and Wise.
Three methods of communication are mentioned here: revelation, from behind a barrier, and via a messenger.
A premise we all seem to use is, obey Allah = obey quran. However, from 42/51 we are told that Allah can give commands via three different modes. When the quran says ‘obey Allah’ it must obviously include all of the aforementioned methods of communication and so obedience to Allah can potentially be more than ‘obey quran’. It can be understood that people must obey Allah’s command however it reaches them, whether that be through, for example, a personal revelation, a sudden, strong sense of morality or, of course, through verses in quran. Allah’s signs are not just in quran, but in nature and in all aspects of reality. Instruction from Him can come via different avenues. 42/51 gives us an idea of what ‘obey Allah’ can consist of.
However, the most important and consistent means of instruction from Allah is most certainly the quran. 42/51 says that Allah sends a messenger who reveals [yahiya] with His permission. What was revealed to the messenger?
42/7 And thus We have revealed [awhayna] to you a quran, flawless [arabiyyan], that you may warn the mother of towns and those around it and warn of the Day of Assembly, about which there is no doubt. A party will be in Paradise and a party in the Blaze.
42/51 and 42/7 confirm that Allah sent the messenger and revealed via him, the quran.
A different understanding comes about when now looking at those verses that say ‘obey Allah and obey His messenger’. As demonstrated by 42/51, obeying Allah includes obeying all commands received from Him via any of the various means Allah uses. When the verses add, ‘and obey the messenger’, we can see Allah is drawing attention and emphasising the most important and vital obedience necessary: obedience to what the messenger revealed i.e. quran as per 42/7.
This is of course inclusive of obeying Allah, but Allah deemed it worthy to provide clarity and emphasis in this regard. 42/51 explains why Allah doesn’t say ‘obey the message’. He refers to the messenger because messengers are the chosen form of communication for Allah.
Therefore, the understanding of the phrase is along the lines of:
Obey Allah (via all signs/instructions made apparent to you i.e. 42/51) and (specifically) obey His messenger (via the message revealed to him i.e. quran 42/7).
So we can see through examining similar structures in quran that the command to obey the messenger is to highlight the importance of obeying the revelation given to the messenger. This accounts for the remainder of the equation.