“The Koran (4:59) says: “O you who believe, obey God, and obey the Messenger and those of you who holds authority (ulul amr)”
Some tend to interpret ulul amr as the rulers. This interpretation is irrational as it is solely based on the twists of history. The majority of the Muslims have remained as a vassal of the monarchs and rulers, interpreting and reinterpreting Islam and the Koran to strengthen their own kingdom. The history of Muslims is replete with the names of rulers whose injustice, debauchery and tyranny have tarnished the name of Islam. If God were to order us to obey such kings and rulers, an impossible situation would be created for Muslims. The wretched followers would be condemned to the displeasure of God, no matter what they do. If they obey these rulers, they have disobeyed the Command of God: “Do not obey a sinner” (76:24). And if they disobey such rulers, they have again disobeyed the Command of God: “Obey the Muslim rulers” (if it would mean so). Therefore if we accept this interpretation, Muslims are condemned to eternal disgrace whether they obey or disobey their fallible (sinful) rulers. Also, there are Muslim rulers of different schools and persuasions. There are Shafi’is, Hanbalis, Malikis, Hanafis, as well as the Shi’ites and Ibadis. Now, according to this interpretation the Sunnis residing under an Ibadi king (like in Jordan) should follow Ibadi tenets; and those residing under a Shi’ites ruler (like in Iran) should follow the Shi’ites beliefs. Do these people have the conviction of courage to follow their professed interpretation to its logical end?
The Koran explains the meaning of authority (amr) in stage-wise. At first, it insists that the authority of giving decision is the sole prerogative of God: “The authority rests with none but God. He commands you not to surrender to anyone else than Him. This is right way” (12:40) and “Beware! Creation is His and authority is (also) His” (7:54)
The Koran further declares that all prophets are representatives of God on earth, and convey His commands to the mankind, and thus are entitled to be obeyed from those who accept them as such. The Koran says: “Whoso obeys the messenger, obeys God” (4:80), and “Each and every messenger who was sent by Us was sent for the sole purpose that he should be obeyed by God’s sanction” (4:64)
The Koran further says: “Surely! We have revealed this Book to you with truth that you may judge mankind in the light which God has shown to you” (4:105), and “Nay, by your Lord, they will not be believers until they accept you as the judge in all their disputes and submit to your decision wholeheartedly with entire submission” (4:65).
From the above Koranic verses, it is clear that God, the Sole Authority invests all the prophets in general and the last Prophet in particular with absolute powers to reign over the faithful. Yet, it is impossible to affirm that the divine law could remain forceful only upto the time of the Prophet and after his passing away this important mission was to be left to the choice of the masses, so that they could select someone from among themselves and appoint him to spiritual sovereignty. But, God warns the believers against it: “Follow that which has been sent down to you from your Lord and do not follow the guardians (awliya) other than Him” (7:3). Ulul Amr are those who deserve to be leading the believers to the knowledge of God. They have gained authority first and foremost and have knowledge that can lead others to ultimate reality.
In order to save mankind from making wrong decisions, God enjoins on the believers the obedience of ulul amr. The Koran says: “O you who believe, obey God, and obey the Messenger and those of you who holds authority” (4:59). The question is who is the ulul amr?
This verse obliges the Muslims to obey two things: First, to obey God; second, to obey Messenger and those vested with authority (ulul amr). The arrangement of the words shows that the obedience of ulul amr is as much obligatory as is the obedience of the Messenger because Koran uses just one verb for both of them without repeating the verb again. Naturally, it means that ulul amr should be of the same importance as the Messenger; otherwise God would not have joined them together in this verse (waw of atf) under one verb.
It is also clear from the above verse that ulul amr are not restricted to Messengers otherwise God would only have said: “Obey God, and Obey Messenger only.” But He added ulul amr (those who are given authority). This is one of the places where the concept of Imams and the necessity of obedience to them come from. According to Imam Muhammad al-Bakir, the Imams are the ulul amr.
In the Arabic language, the letters alif and lam are used for specification, forming the definite article al in the phrase ulul amr (those in authority). This phrase refers to Ali bin Abu Talib. God has combined these three commandments in one verse. While the Koranic term for obedience is ita’ah, including other forms such as ati’yu, atiyuna and ata’a frequently occur in the Koran.
In his Forward Message in Muhammad a Mercy to all the Nations (New Delhi, 1937, p. 14) by Qassim Ali Jairazbhoy, Imam Sultan Muhammad Shah writes, “We maintain that the Prophet only ordered prayer, fasting and gentleness in all human relations, kindness and consideration for all beasts and animals from the smallest worm to the largest mammal. By the institution of the ulul amr