The misinterpretation of 4:59

O you believe, obey God and obey the messenger and those in charge among you.

4:59

This glorious verse has been subject to deliberate manipulation by the Muslim Imams and scholars in many Muslim countries. They used the words "those in charge among you" in order to claim that the religious figures have a right, according to the Quran, to have authority over people and that they should be obeyed without question.

When we analyse this verse we find that the first part of the verse is straightforward. It speaks of the Quranic command, which is repeated in other verses, to obey God and obey the messenger. It has been shown that obeying God and obeying the messenger are one and the same thing since the messenger's sole duty is to deliver God's message (5:92). For the details please see: Obey God and obey the messenger

This leaves us with the task of understanding the words "those in charge among you". Do these words rightly give the religious figures control over the people and be entitled to receive uncontested obedience from the believers?

The term "those in charge among you" covers a wide variety of people. In order to determine who is actually entitled to have authority, it would be quite logical to assert that this authority must be in accordance with God's law. In other words, it must be a God given authority, and not an authority that is self claimed.

The following are some examples of deserved authority that is in harmony with the Quranic teachings:

1- For a young boy/girl they should obey their parents who have authority over them during their younger dependent years.

2- For a wife, she must obey her husband's righteous instructions as God decreed in the Quran (4:34).

3- For an employee, he/she must obey their boss who has authority over them within the framework of the profession.

4- For citizens, they must obey the established authorities (e.g. the courts, the police, etc). They must obey the law of the land as long as it does not violate God's law.

Other cases may also be made that justify authority that must be obeyed by the people.

Now we may ask: Do the clergy and the religious figures have authority over the believers in accordance to 4:59?

It can be demonstrated that the authority God speaks of in 4:59 does not include the religious figures. The religious figures have no authority over the believers for a number of reasons.

First: The Quran stresses the fact that it is forbidden to follow any law other than the law of God, that being the Law of the Quran:

Shall I seek other than God as a law maker when He has revealed to you this Book (Quran) fully detailed? 6:114

Second: The Quran makes it very clear in numerous ayat that there is no compulsion in religion:

There shall be no compulsion in religion. 2:256

What this means is that the sole duty of the Imam or religious figure is to preach God's way and God's laws, but never to force the people or be entitled to blind obedience.

The prophet himself was warned very clearly by God that he is to deliver the message and then if the people do not accept it or follow it, that he should leave them alone and that he has no authority over them.

Had God willed, they would not have committed shirk. We did not appoint you as a guardian over them, nor are you a trustee over them. 6:107

If the prophet himself was given no authority over the people in religious matters, it would make no sense for any religious figure to claim this right for himself!

Third: It is common in many Islamic countries to find high religious figures issuing what is termed as 'fatwa'. These religious edicts become law and must be obeyed by all people. Needless to say, all fatwas are a violation of God's law in the Quran. For the details, please see: How lawful is a Fatwa?

To conclude, with the above analysis, it becomes clear that the message of 4:59 has been badly corrupted by various religious figures to claim for themselves an authority which God never gave them.