Wherever Allah speaks about His obedience in the Qur’an, it is accompanied by mention of following Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. There are approximately nineteen places in the Qur’an wherein the obedience of Allah and His Rasul have been mentioned together. Co-incidentally, those places where it was mentioned in the form of a command amount to twelve places.
It is only in one of those twelve, that the instruction of obeying the Ulu al Amr (people of authority) appears along with obeying Allah and His Rasul. The explanation of this verse will appear shortly, Allah willing. Further, it is undisputed that the obedience of Allah in this verse translates as adhering to the Qur’an and obeying Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam translates as following his Sunnah. Ruh al Ma’ani states:
قال فى روح المعانى فان المراد باطاعة الله العمل بكتاب و باطاعة الرسول العمل بالسنة
The statement of ‘Ali radiya Llahu ‘anhu which is recorded in Nahj al Balaghah (vol. 2 pg. 24) is emphatic regarding this. This quotation will be presented under the fourth quotation from Shia sources.
Now have a look at those verses in which the instruction of obedience to Allah and His Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam appear together.
قُلْ اَطِیْعُوا اللّٰهَ وَالرَّسُوْلَۚ فَاِنْ تَوَلَّوْا فَاِنَّ اللّٰهَ لَا یُحِبّ الْکٰفِرِیْنَ
Say: “Obey Allah and the Rasul.” If they turn away then surely Allah does not like the disbelievers.
وَاَطِیْعُوا اللّٰهَ وَالرَّسُوْلَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُوْنَ
Obey Allah and the Rasul so that mercy is shown to you.
وَاَطِیْعُوا اللّٰهَ وَاَطِیْعُوا الرَّسُوْلَ وَاحْذَرُوْاۚ فَاِنْ تَوَلَّیْتُمْ فَاعْلَمُوْٓا اَنَّمَا عَلٰی رَسُوْلِنَا الْبَلٰغُ الْمُبِیْنُ
Obey Allah and obey the Rasul and beware. If you turn away then know that the responsibility of the Rasul is only the clear conveying.
فَاتَّقُوا اللّٰهَ وَ اَصْلِحُوْا ذَاتَ بَیْنِکُمْ۪ وَ اَطِیْعُوا اللّٰهَ وَ رَسُوْلَهٓ_ اِنْ کُنْتُمْ مُّؤْمِنِیْنَ
So fear Allah, correct your mutual relations, and obey Allah and his Rasul if you are Mu’minin.
یٰٓاَیُّهَا الَّذِیْنَ اٰمَنُوْٓا اَطِیْعُوا اللّٰهَ وَ رَسُوْلَه_ وَلَا تَوَلَّوْا عَنْهُ وَاَنْتُمْ تَسْمَعُوْنَ
O you who have iman! Obey Allah and His Rasul, and do not turn away from him while you are listening.
وَاَطِیْعُوا اللّٰهَ وَرَسُوْلَه_ وَلَا تَنَازَعُوْا فَتَفْشَلُوْا وَتَذْهَبَ رِیْحُكُمْ وَاصْبِرُوْاؕ اِنَّ اللّٰهَ مَعَ الصّٰبِرِیْنَ
Obey Allah and His Rasul, and do not fall into dispute with each other, for then you will become cowardly and your strength will be lost. Exercise patience; for verily Allah is with those who exercise patience.
قُلْ اَطِیْعُوا اللّٰهَ وَاَطِیْعُوا الرَّسُوْلَۚ فَاِنْ تَوَلَّوْا فَاِنَّمَا عَلَیْهِ مَا حُمِّلَ وَ عَلَیْكُمْ مَّا حُمِّلْتُمْ
Say, “Obey Allah and obey the Rasul.” If they turn away then the Rasul is responsible only for what he has been entrusted with and people are responsible for what you have been entrusted with.
وَ اَقِمْنَ الصَّلٰوةَ وَ اٰتِیْنَ الزَّکٰوةَ وَ اَطِعْنَ اللّٰهَ وَ رَسُوْلَه_
Establish salah, pay zakat, and obey Allah and His Rasul.
یٰاَیُّهَا الَّذِیْنَ اٰمَنُوْٓا اَطِیْعُوا اللّٰهَ وَ اَطِیْعُوا الرَّسُوْلَ وَ لَا تُبْطِلُوْٓا اَعْمَالَكُمْ
O you who have iman! Obey Allah, obey the Rasul, and do not invalidate your deeds.
فَاَقِیْمُوا الصَّلٰوةَ وَ اٰتُوا الزَّکٰوةَ وَ اَطِیْعُوا اللّٰهَ وَ رَسُوْلَه_ؕ وَ اللّٰهُ خَبِیْرٌ ۢ بِمَا تَعْمَلُوْنَ
Establish salah, pay zakat, and obey Allah and His Rasul. Allah is informed of what you do.
وَ اَطِیْعُوا اللّٰهَ وَ اَطِیْعُوا الرَّسُوْلَۚ فَاِنْ تَوَلَّیْتُمْ فَاِنَّمَا عَلٰی رَسُوْلِنَا الْبَلٰغُ الْمُبِیْنُ
Obey Allah and obey the Rasul. If you turn away then the responsibility of the Rasul is only clear propagation.
یٰٓاَیُّهَا الَّذِیْنَ اٰمَنُوٓا اَطِیْعُوا اللّٰهَ وَاَطِیْعُوا الرَّسُوْلَ وَ اُولِی الْاَمْرِ مِنْكُمْۚ فَاِنْ تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِیْ شَیْءٍ فَرُدُّوْهُ اِلَی اللّٰهِ وَالرَّسُوْلِ اِنْ كُنْتُمْ تُؤْمِنُوْنَ بِاللّٰهِ وَالْیَوْمِ الْاٰخِرِؕ ذٰلِکَ خَیْرٌ وَّ اَحْسَنُ تَاْوِیْلًا
O you who have iman! Obey Allah; obey the Rasul, and those in authority among you. If you dispute regarding any matter, then refer it to Allah and the Rasul; if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. This is best and gives the best result.
The above twelve verses have cleared all doubts that there could have been regarding the authorities in Islam. That is, unquestioning obedience is due only to Allah Ta’ala and His Rasul salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. After the demise of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, obedience to him will take the form of following his esteemed Sunnah. If Allah Ta’ala wants any matter to happen, he merely needs to indicate towards it. However, we find that in this instance, twelve verses were revealed for one and the same matter.
The question that we need to ask ourselves at this moment is: Did Allah mention the incumbency of following the Ahlul Bayt and ‘itrah (direct obedience or even indirect obedience) in any of the verses that mention the incumbency of obeying Allah and His Rasul? The answer to this question removes any possible ambiguity that could have existed regarding this matter. Allah did not even mention them once. Yes, attempts have been made to prove them by adding on some narrations, but definitely not directly from the Qur’an.
Clarification is still needed regarding one more matter. That is, what is meant by Ulu al Amr in this verse (fifty-nine) of Surah al Nisa’? Who does it refer to? Is it possible that it refers to the ‘twelve Imams’ as claimed by our ‘friends’?
The answers to these questions require some preludes, which we will present below:
Firstly, the word ‘اولوا’ is the plural form of the word ‘ذو’. (Generally, in the Arabic language, the plural form of a word is derived from the singular form of that word). The word ‘اولوا’ is not derived from its singular tense. It is used to refer to males, example:
اولوا العلم – اولوا الفضل
people of knowledge, people of virtue.
The equivalent of this word for the feminine gender is ‘اولات’ which is the plural form of the word ‘ذات’, for example:
Those who are pregnant.
The meaning of the word ‘الامر’ is a matter or a command. Thus ‘اولوا الامر’ would mean ‘people of authority’.
Secondly, the word ‘اولوا الامر’ in this verse is interpreted by the vast majority of the Ahlus Sunnah to mean Muslim rulers. The pre-requisite of being Muslim is obvious as the verse states, “from among you”. Some of the ‘ulamaʼ are of the opinion that this could refer to the people of knowledge as well, just as the learned Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum were referred to as ‘اولوا الامر’ in another verse of the same surah.
وَ اِذَا جَآءَهُمْ اَمْرٌ مِّنَ الْاَمْنِ اَوِ الْخَوْفِ اَذَاعُوْا بِهٖؕ وَلَوْ رَدُّوْهُ اِلَی الرَّسُوْْلِ وَ اِلٰٓی اُولِی الْاَمْرِ مِنْهُمْ لَعَلِمَهُ الَّذِیْنَ یَسْتَنْبِطُوْنَه_ مِنْْهُمْؕ وَلَوْ لَا فَضْلُ اللّٰهِ عَلَیْكُمْ وَرَحْمَتُه_ لَاتَّبَعْتُمُ الشَّیْطٰنَ اِلَّا قَلِیْلًا
When any matter of peace or fear comes to them they broadcast it. If they had referred the matter to Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam and those of them who have understanding, it would surely be known to those of them who investigate the matter. If it were not for Allah’s grace and mercy on you, you would surely follow Shaitan except for a few.
Nevertheless, whether it refers to Muslim leaders or to ‘ulamaʼ, it cannot be restricted to any fixed number, tribe, or family. Thus, it is compulsory, in the light of Qur’an and Sunnah, to obey the Muslim leaders and ‘ulamaʼ. This is supported by the following hadith as well:
ومن اطاع اميرى فقد اطاعنى ومن عصا اميرى فقد عصانى
Whoever obeys my amir has obeyed me and whoever disobeys my amir has disobeyed me.
These are the rules laid down by the Qur’an and hadith. They are quite general, not specific. Therefore, they include all the members of the Ahlul Bayt and progeny of Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Whoever from amongst them occupied a post of leadership, or scholarship immediately became deserving of obedience. Similarly, the ‘ulamaʼ and leaders who did not belong to the Ahlul Bayt were also deserving of obedience. However, the obedience of these two classes of people was always conditional to their instructions being in accordance to the Qur’an and Sunnah as explained in the following ahadith:
لا طاعة لمخلوق فى معصية الخالق
There is no obedience to the creation if it demands disobedience of the creator.
و انما الطاعة فى المعروف
Obedience (to any human) only applies to that which is permissible.’
Unconditional obedience to any human has been negated in the above two ahadith. This rule was also noted by the famous ‘ulamaʼ, for example:
ثم ان وجوب الطاعة لهم ما داموا على الحق فلا يجب طاعتهم فيما خالف الشرع
Obedience to them is only as long as they are upon the truth. Therefore it is not necessary to obey them in those matters which contravene the laws of the Shari’ah.
وكذالك حكمهم بعد النبى صلى الله عليه و سلم فى لزوم اتباعهم و طاعتهم ما لم تكن معصية
Similarly is the law regarding them after the demise of Nabi salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, vis-à-vis the incumbency of following them and obeying them as long as it does not involve sin.
In summary, if the instructions of the rulers are in conformity with the laws of Islam, it will be necessary to obey them. However, if their instructions are not in conformity with the laws of Islam, they will not be obeyed.
Furthermore, if we ponder of this verse, it will become apparent that the obedience of the ‘those in authority’ does not occupy the same position as obedience to Allah and His Rasul. This is established from the fact that the word اطيعوا ‘obey’ was used initially when the command was issued to obey Allah. Thereafter it was repeated when the instruction of following Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam was issued. However, the command of following those in authority was not preceded by this word. Rather, it was adjoined to the command of following Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. This structure of the command highlights to us the difference in rank between the obedience of Allah and His Rasul compared to those in authority.
Thirdly, the Shia hold the view that ‘Those in authority’ in this verse refers exclusively to the Twelve Imams. A famous tafsir amongst them, Majma’ al Bayan states under this verse:
و اما اصحابنا فانهم رووا عن الباقر والصادق ان اولى الامر هم الائمة من ال محمد اوجب الله طاعتهم بالاطلاق كما اوجب طاعته و طاعة رسوله
As for our scholars, they have narrated from al Baqir and al Sadiq that the Imams from the progeny of Muhammad salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam are the ‘اولوا الامر’. Allah made it incumbent to obey them unconditionally, just as he commanded obedience of Himself and His Messenger.
We need to ponder over this verse in the light of the above explanation. Does the verse make sense or not? It definitely does not! These are the reasons why:
Therefore a degree of disagreement is allowed as far as the ‘اولوا الامر’ are concerned. If they really were infallible and deserving of unhesitant obedience, then there would remain no meaning to the portion of the verse which commands, ‘If you dispute regarding any matter, then refer it to Allah and the Rasul’.
Pondering over the above-listed facts removes all doubts that the Shia interpretation is nothing but wishful thinking . The correct interpretation is as stated by the Ahlus Sunnah. Interpreting this verse to mean ‘the Twelve Imams’, as our Shia friends have done, can never be justified and proven.
 Ruh al Ma’ani Vol.5 Pg.66
 Surah Al ‘Imran: 32
 Surah Al ‘Imran: 132
 Surah al Ma’idah: 92
 Surah al Anfal: 1
 Surah al Anfal: 20
 Surah al Anfal: 46
 Surah al Nur: 54
 Surah al Ahzab: 33
 Surah Muhammad: 33
 Surah al Mujadalah: 13
 Surah al Taghabun: 12
 Surah al Nisa’
 Mukhtar al Sihah
 Surah al Nisa’: 83
 Ibn Hibban and Musnad Ahmed
 Bukhari and Muslim
 Ruh al Ma’ani vol. 5 pg. 66
 Ahkam al Qur’an vol. 2 pg. 258 – The chapter on obedience to those in authority.
 Majma’ al Bayan pg. 269
 Refer to Ahkam al Qur’an of al Jassas (volume 2 page 258, under the ayah of Ulu al Amr) and al Tafsir al Kabir of al Razi (volume 3 page 359, under the ayah of Ulu al Amr).
 Ahkam al Qur’an and al Tafsir al Kabir, under the ayah of Ulu al Amr.
 Ahkam al Qur’an, under the ayah of Ulu al Amr.