Aga Khani Ismaili missionaries drill into the mind of average Ismaili from childhood that “Ulil Amr” is Aga Khan himself, including his predecessors and successors. The basis of this claim is Chapter 4:Verse 59 of the Qur’an:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ فَإِن تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى اللَّهِ وَالرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلًا
Yā ‘Ayyuhā Al-Ladhīna ‘Āmanū ‘Aţī`ū Allāha Wa ‘Aţī`ū Ar-Rasūla Wa ‘Ūlī Al-‘Amri Minkum Fa’in Tanāza`tum Fī Shay’in Faruddūhu ‘Ilá Allāhi Wa Ar-Rasūli ‘In Kuntum Tu’uminūna Billāhi Wa Al-Yawmi Al-‘Ākhiri Dhālika Khayrun Wa ‘Aĥsanu Ta’wīlāan
O you who believe! obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority from among you; then if you quarrel about anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you believe in Allah and the last day; this is better and very good in the end.
Aga Khanis usually quote the initial part of the verse to support their false belief due to the fear that their false interpretations will be exposed from the remaining part of the verse itself. They just quote:
Yā ‘Ayyuhā Al-Ladhīna ‘Āmanū ‘Aţī`ū Allāha Wa ‘Aţī`ū Ar-Rasūla Wa ‘Ūlī Al-‘Amri Minkum
“O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority (Ulil Amr) from among you (min kum).” (Qur’an 4:59).
…they deliberately leave the remaining portion of the same verse, which is:
Fa’in Tanāza`tum Fī Shay’in Faruddūhu ‘Ilá Allāhi Wa Ar-Rasūli ‘In Kuntum Tu’uminūna Billāhi Wa Al-Yawmi Al-‘Ākhiri Dhālika Khayrun Wa ‘Aĥsanu Ta’wīlāan
“…then if you quarrel about anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you believe in Allah and the last day; this is better and very good in the end”.
As we can clearly see in the second part of the verse which Aga Khanis avoid quoting, that Allah (swt) commands believers, that when there arises a dispute between believers and Ulil Amir, at that time they need to refer back to Allah and the Messenger. We shall analyze verse 4:59 in the sections which follow.
1. Unconditional Obedience is only for Allah and his Prophet
2. Proof from Quran that Obedience to Ulil Amr is Conditional
3. Proof from Hadith that Obidience to Ulil Amr is Conditional
4. Proof from Circumstances of Revelation for Verse of Ulil Amr
5. Conditions for Disobeying Ulil Amr According to Hadith
6. Imam Ali’s (ra) Understanding of Ulil Amr as in Nahjul Balagah
7. Proof from Quran that Ulil Amr Has Nothing to do with Imamat
1. Unconditional Obedience is only for Allah and his Prophet
This verse 59 of Surah An-Nisaa is precisely teaching the criteria for evaluating deen of a person. i.e., he or she should believe that: “Other than the Prophet himself, there is absolutely no other human who is perfect enough to be right all the time and whose words or actions could be followed on his own authority, without strong support from the Quran and Sunnah. Several verses of glorious Quran over and over clarify that absolute obedience is for Allah and his Prophet(pbuh) only:
Say, “Obey Allah and the Messenger.” But if they turn away – then indeed, Allah does not like the disbelievers. (3:32)
And obey Allah and the Messenger that you may obtain mercy. (3:132)
All who obey Allah and the messenger are in the company of those on whom is the Grace of Allah,- of the prophets (who teach), the sincere (lovers of Truth), the witnesses (who testify), and the Righteous (who do good): Ah! what a beautiful fellowship.(4:69)
And obey Allah and obey the Messenger and beware. And if you turn away – then know that upon Our Messenger is only [the responsibility for] clear notification. (5:92)
So fear Allah and amend that which is between you and obey Allah and His Messenger, if you should be believers. (8:1)
O you who have believed, obey Allah and His Messenger and do not turn from him while you hear [his order]. (8:20)
And obey Allah and His Messenger, and do not dispute and [thus] lose courage and [then] your strength would depart; and be patient. (8:46)
Allah says: “…Obey Allah and His Messenger…” (33:33)
One who disobeys God and His Messenger is in plain error.(33:36)
O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and do not invalidate your deeds. (47:33)
As it can be noticed from the above verses of Quran, that the absolute obedience is always for Allah and his Messenger(pbuh) only. However, the verse 4:59 adds a new element, it tells us to obey Allah and obey the messenger and those in authority (Ulil Amr).
2. Proof from Quran that Obidience to Ulil Amr is Conditional
Observe that the word “obey” (أَطِيعُوا) is placed in front of the words Allah and Messenger (pbuh) BUT NOT in front of the word “Those in authority (Ulil Amr)”. Allah did not say “wa atiu Ulil Amri minkoom” (and obey those charged with authority), rather Allah kept it merely at “and those in authority over you” (without adding the word “OBEY” before it) as a sign to indicate a conditional obedience. This is because their obedience is tied with the obedience of Allah and his messenger, if the ones in authority (Ulil Amr) obey Allah and Prophet (pbuh), then and only then do we obey them.
Since this verse is an exception, it is also accompanied by a condition, and the condition is that if we differ with the ones in Authority(Ulil Amr) we should return the matter to Allah and his Messenger (pbuh), WHY? Because only they are divine and infallible and their obedience is absolute. We CAN differ with the ones in authority (Ulil Amr) but we CANNOT differ with Allah and his Messenger (pbuh).
Let us look at the verse 59 of Surah An-Nisaa carefully and reflect on its contents. The verse commands believers to obey Allah (أَطِيعُوا اللهَ), who must be obeyed in His own right because He is the Creator, Owner, and Master. Then the verse repeats the command and says, “Obey the Messenger” (أَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ), who should also be obeyed in his own right as the Messenger of Allah, because Allah sent him and ordered us to obey him. He also told us in 4:80: “Whoever obeys Messenger, he in fact obeys Allah.”
In both of these segments the command “obey” (أَطِيعُوا) was repeated, because obedience to both was on their own authority and in their own right: One as the Creator and the second as His Messenger. Then the verse continues: “and those charged with authority” (وَأُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ). For this segment the command ‘Obey’ has not been repeated, indicating that the obedience to Ulil Amr (those charged with authority), although necessary for the existence of an organized community, is subservient to the obedience to Allah and His Messenger. The obedience to Ulil Amr must only be in matters and orders that are in line with and supported by clear injunctions from Allah and His Messenger. The Ulil Amr cannot demand obedience in their own right or on their own authority, but only in compliance of the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah with clear support from them. That is why the word ‘obey’ (أَطِيعُوا) has not been repeated for them. Had obedience to Ulil Amr not to be constrained within the provisions of the Quran and Sunnah, the style would have been different: Either It would have only one ‘obey’, i.e., “Obey, Allah, the Messenger and Ulil Amr” ; or, obey for all three parties, “obey Allah, obey the Messenger and obey Ulil Amr”. However, the contruct used was different than both of these formats.
The constraint upon the obedience to Ulil Amr is further clarified and emphasized by the next segment of the verse, “If you differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger”. That is: if there is a difference of opinion between rulers (Ulil Amr) and ruled (common people) or any segment of the Ummah, then the matter must be referred only to Allah and His Messenger (Quran and Sunnah). In other words, it must be decided and settled according to the Quran and Sunnah that are the basis of religion. There is no mention of Ulil Amr this time because their opinion or order is not on the basis of their own authority but rather it is acceptable only when it is clearly supported by the provisions of the Quran and Sunnah.
3. Proof from Hadith that Obedience to Ulil Amr is Conditional
3.1 Narrated `Imam Ali that the Prophet sent for a skirmish (sariya) under the command of a man from the Ansar and ordered the soldiers to obey him. He (i.e. the commander) became angry and said “Didn’t the Prophet order you to obey me!” They replied, “Yes.” He said, “Collect firewood for me.” So they collected it. He said, “Make a fire.” When they made it, he said, “Enter it (i.e. the fire).” So they intended to do that and started holding each other and saying, “We run towards (i.e. take refuge with) the Prophet from the fire.” They kept on saying that till the fire was extinguished and the anger of the commander abated. When that news reached the Prophet he said, “If they had entered it (i.e. the fire), they would not have come out of it till the Day of Resurrection. Obedience (to somebody) is required when he enjoins what is good.”(Sahih al-Bukhari 5.629)
Comment: From this narration we found that obedience to the one in authority was necessary but when there rose a dispute, the result was given in the favor of the ones who sided with the teachings of Prophet (pbuh), it was not said that the one in authority should have been obeyed, because what the one in authority commanded was against Allah and his Messenger (pbuh).
3.2 Sayyiduna Abd Allah (Allah be pleased with him) narrates that the Messenger (pbuh) of Allah said: A Muslim must listen to and obey (the order of his ruler) in things that he likes or dislikes, as long as he is not ordered to commit a sin. If he is ordered to disobey Allah, then there is no listening and no obedience. (Sahih al-Bukhari 6725 & Sahih Muslim 1839)
Comment: We find that obedience to ruler is compulsory in general case, as the first part of the verse(4:59) says us, but if the ruler orders to disobey Allah then there is no obedience to him. Thus proving that obedience to rulers is conditional.
4. Proof from Circumstances of Revelation for the Verse of Ulil Amr
Let us look at the ‘Sabab Al-Nuzool’ (“occasion/circumstances of revelation”) of the Ayah to further strengthen the fact that (4:59) was not revealed for the obedience of some future Ulil Amr Imams but those Ulil Amr who were appointed by the Prophet (pbuh).
4.1 Narrated Ibn `Abbas: The verse “Obey Allah and obey the Apostle and those of you (Muslims) who are in authority.” (4:59) was revealed in connection with `Abdullah bin Hudhafa bin Qais bin `Adi’ when the Prophet appointed him as the commander of a Sariyya (army detachment).This was narrated by Bukhari from Sadaqah ibn al-Fadl and also by Muslim from Zuhayr ibn Harb and both transmitter related it from Hajjaj. (Sahih al-Bukhari 6.108)
4.2 Said Ibn ‘Abbas, according to the narration of Badhan: “The Messenger (pbuh) of Allah (swt) sent Khalid ibn al-Walid in a military expedition to one of the Arab clans. He was accompanied in this expedition by ‘Ammar ibn Yasir. When he drew closer to them at night, he stopped to camp in order to try to conquer them the following morning. Meanwhile this clan was warned about the approaching military expedition which made them flee the area, except for one man who was a Muslim. This man asked his family to get ready to move and then he went to the camp of Khalid and entered in on ‘Ammar. He said to him: ‘O Abu’l-Yaqzan! I am one of you. But my people ran away when they heard you were coming. I stayed because I am Muslim. Is this of any benefit to me, or shall I flee as my people did?’ ‘Ammar said: ‘Stay, for it is beneficial to you’.The man returned to his family and told them to stay. The following morning, Khalid invaded the clan but found no one except this man, and so he imprisoned him and seized his property.‘Ammar went to him and said: ‘Let the man go, for he is a Muslim and I have already given him amnesty and told him to stay’. Khalid said: ‘You give protection from me to others while I am the leader!’ Ammar said: ‘Yes, I give protection from you to others while you are the leader’. And they exchanged angry words.Then they both went to the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, and informed him about the man. The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, gave the man amnesty, sanctioned the amnesty that ‘Ammar had given to the man and then forbade him from giving amnesty to anyone in the future without the express permission of his leader. ‘Ammar and Khalid insulted each other in the presence of Allah’s Messenger, Allah bless him and give him peace, and when ‘Ammar spoke very rudely to Khalid, the latter became very angry and said: ‘O Messenger of Allah, will you allow this slave to insult me? By Allah, if it were not for you, he would not insult me’. ‘Ammar, by the way, was a client of Hashim ibn al-Mughirah. The Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, said: ‘O Khalid, leave ‘Ammar alone, for whoever insults ‘Ammar, Allah will insult him, and whoever hates ‘Ammar, Allah will hate him’. Upon which ‘Ammar left. Khalid followed him, and held him by his cloak and asked him to forgive him, which he did. Allah, exalted is He, then revealed this verse, enjoining obedience to those who are in authority”. (Asbaab Al-Nuzool’ for 4:59 by Abu al-Hassan Ali ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Ali al-Wahidi)
5. Conditions for Disobeying Ulil Amr According to Hadith
5.1 It has been narrated on the authority of ‘Auf bin Malik that the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) said: The best of your rulers are those whom you love and who love you, who invoke God’s blessings upon you and you invoke His blessings upon them. And the worst of your rulers are those whom you hate and who hate you and whom you curse and who curse you. It was asked (by those present): Shouldn’t we overthrow them with the help of the sword? He said: No, as long as they establish prayer among you. If you then find anything detestable in them. You should hate their administration, but do not withdraw yourselves from their obedience. (Sahih Muslim Book 20, Number 4573)
5.2 It has been narrated (through a different chain of transmitters) on the authority of Umm Salamah (wife of the Holy Prophet) that he said: Amirs will be appointed over you, and you will find them doing good as well as bad deeds. One who hates their bad deeds is absolved from blame. One who disapproves of their bad deeds is (also) safe (so far as Divine wrath is concerned). But one who approves of their bad deeds and imitates them (is doomed). People asked: Messenger of Allah, shouldn’t we fight against them? He replied: No, as long as they say their prayer. (“Hating and disapproving” refers to liking and disliking from the heart.)
Comment: From the above narrations we find that Prophet (pbuh) himself declared that there would be Ameers (rulers) who would be doing bad as well as good deeds, yet Prophet (pbuh) commanded that they need to be obeyed. (Sahih Muslim Book 20, Number 4570)
5.3 Narrated Ma’qil: Allah’s Apostle said, “If any ruler having the authority to rule Muslim subjects dies while he is deceiving them, Allah will forbid Paradise for him.” (Sahih al-Bukhari Volume 9, Book 89, Number 265)
Comment: This hadith also proves that Ulil Amr could be ones who can be deceivers and therefore might command something which is not in line with Quranic commandments and Prophetic traditions.
5.4 Al-Nauman ibn Basheer told us: The Prophet (pbuh) said: ‘Prophethood will remain in you for as long as God decides for it to remain and then God will remove it when He decides to remove it. After Prophethood, there will be a Caliphate on the style of prophethood and it will exist for as long as God decides for it to exist, then He will remove it when He decides to remove it. Then there will be a kingdom in which people will face trials and tribulations and it will continue to exist for as long as God decides for it to exist. Then He will remove it, when He decides to remove it. After this, there will be an oppressive kingdom and it will continue to exist for as long as God decides for it to exist. Then He will remove it, when He decides to remove it. Then there will once again be a rule on the style of prophethood. After saying this, the Prophet (pbuh) was silent.’ (Takhreej Mishkat al Masabih #5306)
Comment: This shows that there would be a time when the ones in rule will be tyrants and oppressors. Aga Khan too, has been referred to as having an ‘earthly kingdom’ (Vanity Fair, February 2013)
6. Imam Ali’s (ra) Understanding of Ulil Amr as in Nahjul Balagah
Let us see Ali’s (ra) understanding and interpretation in his book “Nahjul Balagha (Peak of Eloquence)”. In the Letter #53 to al-Ashtar al-Nakha’ee whom He (ra) had appointed as the ruler of Egypt, he writes:
“Maalik, You must never forget that if you are a ruler over them than the caliph is the ruler over you and Allah is the Supreme Lord over the caliph. And the reality is that He has appointed you as the governor and tested you through the responsibility of this rulership over them.”
And then He says:
وَارْدُدْ إِلَى الله وَرَسُولِهِ مَا يُضْلِعُكَ مِنَ الْخُطُوبِ (1)، وَيَشْتَبِهُ عَلَيْكَ مِنَ الاْمُورِ، فَقَدْ قَالَ اللهُ سبحانه لِقَوْم أَحَبَّ إِرْشَادَهُمْ: (يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُولِي الاْمْرِ مِنْكُمْ فَإنْ تَنَازَعْتُمْ فِي شَيْء فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى اللهِ وَالرَّسُولِ)، فَالرَّدُّ إِلَى اللهِ: الاْخْذُ بِمُحْكَمِ كِتَابِهِ (2)، وَالرَّدُّ إِلَى الرَّسُولِ: الاْخْذُ بِسُنَّتِهِ الْجَامِعةِ غَيْرِ الْمُفَرِّقَةِ
“When you are faced with problems which you cannot solve or with a difficult situation from which you cannot escape or when uncertain and doubtful circumstances confuse and perplex you, then turn to Allah and the Holy Prophet (s) because Allah has thus ordered those whom He wants to guide: “Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger” The way to turn to Allah is to act diligently according to the clear and explicit orders given in His Holy Book and to the turn to the Holy Prophet (s) means to follow those of his Sunnah about which there is no doubt and ambiguity and which have been generally accepted to be correctly recorded.” (Nahj al-Balagha, Letter #53)
Therefore, Ali (ra) advised to Maalik, who was appointed in authority over Egypt, that if he faced any problem or difficulty then he needed to turn to Allah (swt) and Prophet (pbuh), because Allah mentioned in Quran the verse 4:59, and its later part commands to refer Allah and his Prophet during disagreement.
It is obvious from this letter of Ali (ra) that that Ali (ra) considered Maalik who was appointed in authority over Egypt as Ulil Amr (the one who is in authority) which is why He (ra) directed Maalik to the verse 4:59 which is about, what is to be done when their appears a dispute between Ulil Amr and Believers. Ali could have said if you face any problem refer to me, but He (ra) didn’t say anything as such. It is surprising that even Ali (ra) who is considered by Aga Khani Ismailis as Aga Khan’s predecessor never considered himself as Ulil Amr, but Aga Khan himself does consider himself one and has even gone to the extent of modifying or abolishing all pillars of faith.
7. Proof from Quran that Ulil Amr Has Nothing to do With Imamat
One final proof for those who would like to debate on the authenticity of Hadith and Nahj al-Balagha and on the different interpretations of 4:59 is to examine the Quran itself and see where else does Ulil Amr appear in the Quran. Interestingly, in the same Chapter 4 of the Qur’an, Allah (swt) again mentions Ulil Amr as follows in Verse 83:
وَإِذَا جَاءَهُمْ أَمْرٌ مِّنَ الْأَمْنِ أَوِ الْخَوْفِ أَذَاعُوا بِهِ ۖ وَلَوْ رَدُّوهُ إِلَى الرَّسُولِ وَإِلَىٰ أُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنْهُمْ لَعَلِمَهُ الَّذِينَ يَسْتَنبِطُونَهُ مِنْهُمْ ۗ وَلَوْلَا فَضْلُ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ وَرَحْمَتُهُ لَاتَّبَعْتُمُ الشَّيْطَانَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا
Wa ‘Idhā Jā’ahum ‘Amrun Mina Al-‘Amni ‘Awi Al-Khawfi ‘Adhā`ū Bihi Wa Law Raddūhu ‘Ilá Ar-Rasūli Wa ‘Ilá ‘Ūlī Al-‘Amri Minhum La`alimahu Al-Ladhīna Yastanbiţūnahu Minhum Wa Lawlā Fađlu Allāhi `Alaykum Wa Raĥmatuhu Lāttaba`tumu Ash–Shayţāna ‘Illā Qalīlāan
And when there comes to them information about [public] security or fear, they spread it around. But if they had referred it back to the Messenger or to those of authority among them, then the ones who [can] draw correct conclusions from it would have known about it. And if not for the favor of Allah upon you and His mercy, you would have followed Satan, except for a few.
Here, Allah asks the believers to confer to the Prophet or Ulil Amr, i.e., the appointed one in authority by the Messenger (pbuh) – which can be anyone high enough in rank and authority to have the knowledge, wisdom and resources of verifying news and drawing correct conclusions from it. The use of the term Ulil Amr here is the final clear evidence that Ulil Amr are general Muslim leaders and governors who were charged with authority during different times.
It is evident from the above article that:
(a) Obedience to Allah and His messenger is unconditional;
(b) Obedience to Ulil Amr is conditional;
(c) Ulil Amr (those in authority) were general Muslim authorities in the context of revelation of this verse; and
(d) It is our duty to reject the commands of Ulil Amr if it contradicts with Quranic commandments and the Prophetic traditions.
Extracted and summarized for Nizari Ismaili readers from ‘A multi-angular refutation of Shiite views on Ulil Amir’ at:
Please visit the above link for reading the complete article.