Obey God and obey the Messenger

Undoubtedly, the command to "obey God and the messenger", which appears in a number of Quranic verses such as 3:32, is one of the most misinterpreted Quranic commands! The hadith scholars use this Quranic command to advocate the legality of following the hadith as a source of religious jurisdiction. They claim that obeying God is achieved by means of obeying the Quran, whilst obeying the messenger is achieved by means of obeying his hadith (personal sayings) and his sunnah (methods). They add that if obeying the messenger was the same as obeying God's Quran, God would have only said "obey God". Thus, to their understanding, God's inclusion of "obey the messenger" implies that the messenger had his own set of religious teachings independent of the Quran which we must obey.

The error in this claim can easily be exposed. In the light of the Quran it can easily be seen that to "obey the messenger" means nothing other than to obey the message he delivered (the Quran).

1- Why does the Quran say 'obey the Messenger'?

It is necessary to inquire why did God not just say "obey God"? Why did God add the words "obey the messenger"? The following reasons demonstrate the need for the phrase "obey the messenger" and not just the instruction to "obey God":

A- The first and most obvious reason why the instruction "obey the messenger" was absolutely necessary is because God commanded the messenger (Muhammad) to say specific words to the people. It was thus necessary for God to also tell the people to "obey the messenger" when he tells them the words which God instructed him to say to them.
There is a total of 332 verses in the Quran in which God commands Muhammad to "say" specific words to the people. The following are some examples:

And they ask you (O Muhammad) about the orphans, say, "Improving their affairs is best and if you intermix with them, then they are your brothers." God knows the corruptor from the reformer. Had God willed, He could have made things difficult for you. God is Dignified, Wise." 2:220

They ask you (O Muhammad) about intoxicants and gambling, say, "In them are gross sins and benefits for the people, and their sinfulness is greater than their benefits." And they ask you what to give, say: 'al-affwoo'. God thus clarifies the revelations for you so that you may reflect.
2:219

B- Who among the companions of Prophet Muhammad ever heard any of God's revelations directly from God? No one! Consequently, they cannot obey God except through what came out of Muhammad's mouth. This makes it necessary for God to command the people to obey the messenger since he is the one who delivers to them God's message. Moreover, the messenger did not just deliver the Quran and vanish! Prophet Muhammad spent all his his years from the time he received the first revelation until his death, inviting his people to believe in the Quran and to follow it. Hence it is necessary for God to include the command to "obey the messenger" who is inviting them to accept the message (Quran).

C- The Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad in order to deliver it to a community which was primarily populated by idol worshippers as well as followers of the previous Scriptures, namely Jews and Christians (Nasara). For the benefit of the followers of the previous Scriptures, we understand the necessity of the phrase "obey the messenger". If the command in the Quran did not contain the phrase "obey the messenger" but only a command to "obey God", the Jews and the Christians (Nasara) would say: "But we already obey God! God has sent us the Scripture and we obey it". Hence, the Quranic command to "obey the messenger" who brings the new message, endorses the new message (Quran) and not just the previous Scriptures. The Quran was indeed delivered to all mankind and is the final revelation from God to all mankind (33:40) and therefore, the Quran supersedes all previous Scriptures:

And We brought down to you (O Muhammad) the Book, truthfully, confirming what is present of the Scripture, and superseding it. 5:48

2- The duty of the Messenger

You shall obey God and obey the messenger and beware; if you turn away, then know that the sole duty of Our messenger is the clear delivery (of the message of God). 5:92

Obey God and obey the messenger. If you shall turn away then the sole duty of the messenger is the clear delivery (of the message of God). 64:12

The duty of the messenger is well defined in the above Quranic words. These verses tell us that the only duty of any messenger is to deliver God's message. It follows that in the case of Prophet Muhammad, his only duty was to deliver the message of God (Quran).
We also have in the above Quranic verses a very strong link between:

1- Obeying the messenger
2- The sole duty of the messenger was to deliver the message

By adding 1 + 2 = Our obligation is to obey the message he delivered.

The word 'messenger' is derived from the word 'message'. A messenger delivers a message. If there were no message there would be no messenger.

3- Is it obey "Muhammad" or "obey the messenger"?

God is the most efficient in expressing any meaning. All Quranic words are chosen by God to convey a precise meaning. There are no coincidental words in the Quran.

We never read anywhere in the Quran words such as "Obey God and obey Muhammad" or obey Jesus, or Moses. The words used are always "obey the messenger". This is to emphasise that it is the "message" of God that is to be obeyed and not the personal words or views of the messenger.

4- The only 'message' revealed to Muhammad was the Quran

Some among the hadith scholars who promote the hadith as a source of Islam that must be obeyed, state that they have no problem with the fact that the only duty of Muhammad was to deliver the message, but they quickly add that the hadith and sunna of Muhammad are part of the "message" and that his hadith was inspired to him by God! They base this claim on an inaccurate interpretion of 53:3-4. As a matter of fact, they claim that besides the hadith of Muhammad (which they claim was inspired by God) they claim that Muhammad received additional revelation directly from God outside the Quran which they call the "Hadith Al-Qudsy" or the "sacred hadith".

For more information on the misinterpretation of 53:3-4, please see: The corruption of 53:3-4

With the guidance of the Quran it can be established that Muhammad did not receive any revelation from God other than the Quran. Muhammad was inspired by God in certain personal matters but he did not receive any revelation from God other than the Quran. One example of such inspiration is found in 66:3 where God inspired the Prophet regarding the truth of a domestic issue. This was an inspiration from God specifically for the benefit of Muhammad and not a religious revelation for the people to follow. The difference between inspiration and revelation is that God inspires all humans; note how God inspired the mother of Moses, 28:7 who was not a messenger. God also inspires the animals (see 16:68). This kind of inspiration is different from a revelation which is in the form of a Scripture and which is binding on the people to follow it.

We read in the Quran that Prophet Muhammad did not receive any revelation from God other than the Quran:

Say (O Muhammad), "What thing is the greatest testimony?" Say, "God is Witness between me and you that this Quran has been revealed to me to warn you with it and whomever it reaches. Do you bear witness that there are other gods besides God?" Say, "I do not bear witness". Say, "He is but One God and I am innocent of the shirk which you commit." 6:19

This testimony which God describes as "akbar shahada" (the greatest testimony) was for Muhammad to testify that He received the Quran from God. This testimony speaks of only one revelation received by Muhammad from God which is the Quran. If Muhammad had received revelations from God other than the Quran, it would have been included in the testimony of what Muhammad received from God.

Moreover, to insist that every word uttered by Prophet Muhammad was inspired by God would be in direct contradiction to another Quranic matter. We are given in the Quran six different cases where the Prophet committed errors for which he was reprimanded by God. Some of these errors were actually quite serious, such as when Muhammad prohibited something which was made lawful by God. Prohibiting what God makes lawful is a great sin:

Say, "Bring your witnesses who would testify that God has prohibited this." If they testify, do not testify with them, and do not follow the desires of those who disbelieve in Our revelations, and those who disbelieve in the Hereafter, and they equate others with their Lord. 6:150

You shall not utter lies which are portrayed by your tongues as: "This is lawful and this is unlawful", to fabricate lies and attribute them to God. Those who fabricate lies and attribute them to God will not succeed. 16:116

If every word uttered by Muhammad was inspired by God, then how was it possible that he committed errors for which God reprimanded him for? Was God inspiring errors to Muhammad then reprimanding him for such errors?

5- God promises to preserve the Quran and nothing else

Indeed, it is We who brought down the reminder (Quran) and We will surely preserve it. 15:9

These words proclaim God's promise to preserve the Quran. We do not read anywhere else in the Quran that God preserves the personal sayings of the messenger. As a matter of fact, previous Scriptures of God, such as the Torah and the Injeel, were not preserved. Only the Quran was promised preservation.

We also read in the Quran that anything which is not from God would ultimately contain many contradictions:

Will they not ponder on the Quran? If it were from other than God, they would have found in it numerous contradictions. 4:82

Despite these clear words, the advocates of hadith claim that a number of their hadith books, such as the collections of Bukhari and Muslim, are authentic (Sahih) and without contradictions or corruptions!

6- The documentation of the hadith

Out of the 6 sources of hadith we have today, which are labelled 'sahih' (authentic), we find that the first author of the 6 to be born is Imam Al-Bukhari. He was born in the year 194 after Hijrah. What this mean is that the hadith (regarded as authentic) was not written down before at least 200 years after the death of Muhammad.

If God's command to "obey God and the messenger" meant to follow the hadith as a source of Islam, then what was the case of the believers who lived in the first 2 centuries after the Hijrah? Did God not provide them with the means to obey His command?

7- The command to follow the Quran and nothing else

In the Quran, God commands all believers to follow the Quran alone. This command is found in numerous verses, the following are examples:

Shall I seek other than God as a law maker when He has brought down to you this Book fully detailed?" 6:114

The clear command in 6:114 confirms that believers should follow the Quran as the only source of law.

Another very clear command is found in the following Quranic verse:

You shall all follow what has been brought down to you from your Lord (Quran) and do not follow any allies besides Him. 7:3

The above words are crystal clear; the command is to follow the Quran and no other source.

8- Are we commanded to follow the sunna of Muhammad?

The followers of the hadith and sunna of Muhammad use a twisted meaning of 33:21 to imply that we should follow the sunna (methodology) of the messenger.

A good example has been set for you in the messenger of God for anyone who seeks God and the Last Day and who constantly thinks about God. 33:21

The words in 33:21 are very specific in pinpointing the capacity in which the messenger has set a good example. The good example lies in his constant thinking of God and how he sought God and the last day.

Sadly, the followers of the hadith and sunna have exaggerated the very specific meaning of the "good example", from being an example of one who constantly thinks of God and the last Day, into an example of how to eat, which foot to use to enter the toilet, which side to sleep on, how to urinate and other ridiculous trivial matters!

God asserts in the Quran that the only sunna is the Sunna of God. Nowhere in the Quran is there any mention of the sunna of Muhammad.

You will find that there is no substitute for the Sunna of God. 33:62 (also 35:43, 48:23).

For more details please go to: The manipulation of 33:21

9- Are we commanded to follow the hadith of Muhammad?

A number of Quranic verses make it very clear that the only hadith authorised by God is the Quran itself:

These are God's revelations that We recite to you truthfully. In which hadith other than God and His revelations do they believe? 45:6

Among the people there is one who trades in baseless hadith to mislead others from the path of God without knowledge and he does it as a mockery. For these is a humiliating punishment. 31:6

We also read in the Quran that God deliberately allowed the fabricators to spread false hadith as a test for all people; will they uphold the Quran as the only source of law (6:114), or will they follow other sources besides the Quran which ultimately exposes them as false believers (45:6 and 31:6)?

And thus We have made enemies for every Prophet, human and jinn devils, to inspire to one another fancy sayings in order to deceive. Had your Lord willed, they would not have done it. You shall disregard them and what they fabricate.
This is to let the hearts of those who do not believe in the Hereafter listen to it, accept it, and thus earn what they will earn. 6:112-113

10- Was the messenger authorised by God to issue any teachings besides the Quran?

God asserts that Prophet Muhammad was warned not to teach any other teachings, or to falsely attribute anything other than the Quran to God, or he would incur severe punishment from God:

A revelation (Quran) from the Lord of the worlds.
Had he (Muhammad) falsely attributed any sayings to Us,
We would have grabbed him by the right,
and We would have severed his aorta.
None of you would be able to prevent it. 69:43-47

Those who insist that the Prophet left for us a second source of religious law (hadith) are either accusing the Prophet of disobeying God's commands in 69:43-47, or at best, do not have good knowledge of the Quran.

11- The instructions left by the Prophet

In accordance with 6:114, 69:43-47, 45:6 and many other clear Quranic words, Prophet Muhammad himself commanded his people not to write his own hadith. This is documented in the very same books of hadith which they call 'sahih' (authentic):

"Do not write down anything of me except the Quran. Whoever writes other than that should delete it"

(Ahmed, Vol. 1, page 171.....also Sahih Muslim, Book 42, Number 7147)

For the first 200 years after the death of the Prophet, and in accordance with his instructions, the writing of his hadith was forbidden. As mentioned above, Imam Al-Bukhari was the first to be born of the hadith collectors. He was born in the year 194 after Hijrah. This means that no hadith, considered to be authentic, was documented in the first 200 years after the death of the Prophet.

To counteract the command left by Muhammad not to write his hadith, the hadith scholars claim that the Prophet issued these instructions (not to write his hadith) only in the first period of the Quranic revelation and only because he was worried that his hadith would be mixed up with the Quran! They add that these instructions were cancelled in his later years!

If that was the case, why do we not have a hadith which states that the Prophet had cancelled his earlier command? Even more important, if the command covered only the first years of the Quranic revelation, why do we have a gap of at least 200 years between Hijrah and the first record of what is called an authentic hadith?

Moreover, by making the claim that the Prophet was afraid that his hadith would be mixed up with the Quran, the hadith scholars show little confidence in God and His promises. In Sura 75 we are assured that God would secure the safe collection of the Quran:

It is We who will collect it and provide its recitation. 75:17

This promise from God about the safe collection of the Quran, plus the promise in 15:9 for the preservation of the Quran, reduces the claim of the hadith followers (that the Prophet was worried that his hadith would be mixed up with the Quran) to utter nonsense. Either they do not believe in God's words, or they are implying that the Prophet had personal doubts in God's ability to keep His promise!

12- Did the Prophet follow anything other than the Quran?

The answer to this question is decisively answered in the Quran:

Say (O Muhammad), "I am not a novelty among other messengers, nor do I know what will happen to me or to you. I follow nothing other than what is revealed to me (Quran). I am no more than a clear warner." 46:9 (also in 10:15).

If Muhammad followed the Quran and nothing else, then to follow Muhammad, the believers must do the same. It follows that whoever follows anything other than the Quran is not following what Muhammad followed.

And We brought down to you the Book, truthfully, confirming what is present of the Scripture, and superseding it. So rule among them in accordance with what God has brought down (Quran), and do not follow their desires in place of what has come to you of the truth. 5:48

God's command to the Prophet to follow only what was revealed to him (Quran) is loud and clear in both Quranic verses above.

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To conclude, the command to "obey God and the messenger" is one and the same; it means that the believers must follow the Quran, all the Quran, and nothing but the Quran.