Refuting The Argument That The Only Duty Of The Messenger Is To Simply Deliver The Qur'an


Bassam Zawadi


Quranites usually point to the following verses of the Quran in order to prove that the Prophet's only mission was to deliver the Qu'ran to the people:


Surah 5:92

Obey God, and obey the Apostle, and beware (of evil): if ye do turn back, know ye that it is Our Apostle's duty to proclaim (the message) in the clearest manner.

Surah 24:54 

Say: "Obey God, and obey the Apostle: but if ye turn away, he is only responsible for the duty placed on him and ye for that placed on you. If ye obey him, ye shall be on right guidance. The Apostle's duty is only to preach the clear (Message).

Surah 64:12

And obey ALLAH and obey the Messenger. But if you turn away, then Our Messenger is responsible only for conveying the Message clearly.


However, not only does the Prophet (peace be upon him) have to deliver the message of the Quran, but he has to deliver it clearly as well. So if the Prophet's only mission was to show it to them then why would God not just say that the Prophet (peace be upon him) only had to show it to them? Why did God say "clearly"? Obviously the Prophet had to explain it to them and elaborate it to the people just as the next two verses indicate:

Surah 16:44

(We sent them) with Clear Signs and Books of dark prophecies; and We have sent down unto thee (also) the Message; that thou mayest explain clearly to men what is sent for them, and that they may give thought.

Surah 16:64

And WE have not sent down to thee the Book except that thou mayest explain to them that concerning which they have created differences and as a guidance, and a mercy for a people who believe.


These verses show that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was sent to explain the Quran. It doesn't just mean to "proclaim". To proclaim is to 'baligh', as one can see from the word's usage in Surah 5:67. However, here the word is "litubayyina", which means to explain just like how it is used in Surah 14 Verse 4:


We sent not an apostle except (to teach) in the language of his (own) people, in order to make (things) clear to them. Now God leaves straying those whom He pleases and guides whom He pleases: and He is Exalted in power, full of Wisdom.


The next verses will totally annihilate this false argument...


Surah 2:129

"Our Lord! send amongst them an Apostle of their own, who shall rehearse Thy Signs to them and instruct them in scripture and wisdom, and sanctify them: For Thou art the Exalted in Might, the Wise."

Surah 2:151

A similar (favour have ye already received) in that We have sent among you an Apostle of your own, rehearsing to you Our Signs, and sanctifying you, and instructing you in Scripture and Wisdom, and in new knowledge.

Surah 3:164 

God did confer a great favour on the believers when He sent among them an apostle from among themselves, rehearsing unto them the Signs of God, sanctifying them, and instructing them in Scripture and Wisdom, while, before that, they had been in manifest error.

Surah 62:2

It is He Who has sent amongst the Unlettered an apostle from among themselves, to rehearse to them His Signs, to sanctify them, and to instruct them in Scripture and Wisdom,- although they had been, before, in manifest error;-


Shaykh Faridi says regarding the verses above...


The purpose of sending the Messenger is, apart from "reciting His revelations, " firstly to "purify" them, for the proper understanding of the Book and "wisdom," and the ability to put them into practice, is unattainable unless a purification of the heart, the centre of the will and intentions, has not been achieved. This purification consists of the spiritual influence of the Holy Prophet's personality, and his continual exhortations to the believers by word and example in the light of the Qur'an to purify their thoughts and deeds. The next stage after this purification is the "teaching of the Book," that is, to explain and demonstrate the implications of the Book, and to apply it to the circumstances of human life in the most excellent way. Finally, the "teaching of wisdom" refers to the development into a science of certain subjects treated in general in the Qur'an, such as spiritual science, moral science, the science of the Shari'ah, of government etc., regarding all of which we can find valuable guidance both theoretical and practical from the Prophet. These four main functions of the Prophet have been instituted and carried out by the command under the guidance of God Himself, and constitute an integral part of God's message to mankind. To state that only the first function is of permanent significance is simply to flout the Word of God.  (Shaykh Shahidullah Faridi, Fallacies of Anti Hadith Argument, Source)


The Shaykh is absolutely correct. The verses clearly mention four roles of the Messenger. 

1) To recite the revelations of God unto the people (this is the only one that the Quranites accept)

2) To purify the people

3) To teach them the Book (meaning the Qur'an)

4) Teaching them the wisdom


I had some Quranites respond back by saying that the Prophet (peace be upon him) only taught his contemporaries and that he is not alive today to teach us. However, just because the man is dead, that does not mean that his teachings are. They are preserved in the authentic hadith. 


The false argument about the Prophet's only role to deliver the Qur'an by only reciting it to the people is refuted by the Qur'an itself. Delivering the message also includes delivering its proper understanding and application and this has to be taught to us. 


Another duty of the messenger is...


Surah 7:157-158 

"Those who follow the apostle, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures),- in the law and the Gospel;- for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him,- it is they who will prosper." day: "O men! I am sent unto you all, as the Apostle of God, to Whom belongeth the dominion of the heavens and the earth: there is no god but He: it is He That giveth both life and death. So believe in God and His Apostle, the Unlettered Prophet, who believeth in God and His words: follow him that (so) ye may be guided."


The Qur'anic verse here is indicating that one of the roles of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is to make things halal and haram (things which are not mentioned in the Quran e.g. the prohibition of silk and gold being worn by men, listening to music etc.). So why would this be a role for a Prophet if we can just go ahead and read the Quran ourselves and see what is halal and haram? Doesn't this mean that the Prophet (peace be upon him) made things halal and haram that can't be found in the Quran? So how do we know about those laws then? I know, you have to look at the authentic hadith!


Dr. Ahmad Shafaat says...


The messenger not just a delivery man

The view of the Qur'an-only Muslims would require us to think that the Prophet performed his prophetic work by simply delivering the Qur'an. Once the revelation of particular verses ended he was like an ordinary Muslim till the next set of verses were revealed. We will now show that the Qur'an does not support this highly mechanical view of the role of the Prophet. In this connection let us first examine the evidence that the Qur'an-only Muslims present in support of their position, of course, from the Qur'an itself. We consider some of the verses that seem to be most favorable to their position:

a.       The messenger is obliged only to convey (the message) (5:99, see also 3:20, 5:92, 13:40, 16:35, 82, 24:54, 29:18, 36:17, 42:48, 64:12).

This statement is interpreted by the Qur'an-only people to mean that the messenger's function was only to deliver the Qur'an and nothing else. The statement, however, does not say that conveying (the message) is simply reciting the Qur'an. The context shows the meaning to be that the Prophet is not responsible for the belief or unbelief of the people or for their obedience or disobedience to the message. His obligation is to simply convey the message. The verse is not meant to exclude some methods of conveying the message in favor of simply reciting the Qur'an.. In fact, if we use the Qur'an to explain the Qur'an we should consider also the following verse, where it is said regarding some people with very weak or hypocritical faith:

Let them be, but admonish them and say to them a word that effectively reaches their hearts (qawl baligh) (4:63).

Here admonishing and saying qawl baligh cannot be understood as reciting the Qur'an. Yet it is clearly a part of conveying the message.

But even if we identify balagh with reciting the Qur'an, the style of the Qur'anic language does not necessarily oblige us to limit the Prophet's divinely appointed functions to that one function. For when the Qur'an makes statements like "nothing but ..." they should not be taken in an absolute and literal sense but some common sense should be used in interpreting them. For example, in 98:5 it is said that the people of the book were not commanded but to serve God exclusively and wholeheartedly and to establish regular prayer and charity. If taken literally this would conflict with the well-established fact, also attested by the Qur'an, that there were many other commandments that were given to the Jews and Christians. But if interpreted in the light of common sense, the verse means that the basic religious truth behind what the people of the book were commanded consists of these three principles. The rest is either an elaboration of these or is of secondary importance. Similarly, when it is said that the messenger was responsible for nothing but balagh, this need not be understood literally to mean that the Prophet's function was simply to deliver the Qur'an like a postman. It should rather be understood to mean that the Qur'an was the main instrument through which he performed his divine mission.
(Dr. Ahmad Shafaat, The Sacred Hadith Project, Chapter 2: The Message and the Messenger, Source)


That the person of the Prophet is more important than just a deliveryman for the Qur'an is also shown by verses where we are asked to believe in the Prophet. For example,

Those alone are believers who believe in God and his messenger ... (49:15; see also 48:9, 13).

O believers! Believe in God and his messenger and the book that he has sent down upon his messenger and the book which he revealed aforetime ... (4:136).

While in some verses it may be possible to understand believing in the messenger as believing in the book he has been given, this is difficult in case of this last verse. Here believing in the messenger is mentioned apart from believing in the book and a natural way to interpret this would be that like the book the person of the Prophet is important in a religious way. This is again reinforced by the following passage:

And when it is said to them, Come unto what God has sent down and unto the messenger, you (O Prophet) see the hypocrites turn from you in aversion (4:61).

Once again notice that coming unto the Prophet is something apart from coming unto what God has sent down (Qur'an).

By the wise Qur'an! You are indeed one of the messengers (36:2).

Here the Qur'an's wisdom is used to support the claim that Muhammad is God's messenger. This would be somewhat strange if the entire focus of the Qur'an were on itself. The Qur'an often provides support for its claim that it is from God, e.g., when it challenges human beings to produce something similar. Such a proof that the Qur'an is from God would automatically prove that Muhammad is God's messenger if being a messenger meant being a deliveryman. (Ibid.)


In several verses, the Qur'an describes several functions of the Prophet which one cannot justifiably reduce to a simple delivery job. Thus in 2:129 Abraham and Ishmael pray:

Our Lord, and raise in their midst a messenger from among them who would recite for them your signs and teach them the book and the wisdom and sanctify them (or make them grow). You are the one mighty, the wise (2:129).

Several verses then state that the roles described in the prayer of Abraham and Ishmael were fulfilled by the Prophet Muhammad:

Even as We have sent unto you a messenger from among you who recites unto you Our signs and who sanctifies you (and/or helps you grow) and teaches you the book and wisdom and teaches you what you did not know (2:151).

God has verily shown grace to the believers by sending unto them a messenger from among them who recites unto them his signs and sanctifies them (and /or helps them grow), and teaches them the book and wisdom, although before they were in flagrant error (3:164).

He it is Who has raised among the unlettered ones a messenger from among them who recites unto them his signs and purifies them (and /or helps them grow), and teaches them the book and wisdom, although before they were in manifest error (62:2). (See also 2:231 and 4:113, where it is said the Prophet teaches the book and wisdom).

Prophets collectively are also given book and wisdom,

When God made a covenant with the prophets (saying), Behold, that which I give you of a book and a wisdom ... (3:81; see also 4:54).

Let us look at the various roles of the Prophet described in these verses:

1.      Reciting signs of God. This can be properly understood as delivering the Qur'an.

2.      Sanctifying people and/or helping them grow. This must surely involve more than delivering the Qur'an. To purify people and help them grow must have needed a great deal of teaching in different ways in order that they could overcome the special difficulties they faced in the path of moral and spiritual development. (As an interesting observation on the side, it may be noted that no other prophet is said in the Qur'an to perform this role.)

3.      Teaching the book. The book in the Qur'an may sometimes have a meaning wider than the Qur'an. It represents divine knowledge symbolically conceived as written in the form of a book in heaven. This is supported among other verses by 3:48, where it is said of Jesus that God "will teach him the book and the wisdom and the Torah and the Injil" (see also 5;110, 43:63). It is natural to understand here the "book" as something different from "the Torah and Injil". It probably represents the divine knowledge of which particular books such as the Torah, Injil and the Qur'an are particular representations. It is like the pen (qalam) mentioned in 96:4-5:

Read, for your Lord is bountiful; He taught with the pen: Taught man what he did not know.

It is at once clear that in these verses the "pen" is not any particular pen. Similarly, it should not be surprising if in some passages the book is not any particular book. Hence receiving the book is not receiving a book consisting of a number of statements. It means receiving a certain type of knowledge. Jews and Christian are thus people of the book (singular) even though their books (plural) are not the same. Thus we may say that the Torah, Injil and the Qur'an are books that are manifestations of the book. They are related to the book in the way my and your pens are related to the pen. All this finds further support in the words:

And unto you (O Muhammad) We have sent down the book in truth confirming whatever of the book is before it ...(5:48).

Notice how the same word the book (al-kitab) in the singular is used for that which is sent unto Muhammad and that which was sent down before it. Clearly, the Qur'an, the Torah, and the Injil are not the same books but they are manifestations of the same book (although, admittedly, the Torah and the Injil did not remain so).

But even if we identify the book with the Qur'an in the above verses, teaching the book is more than delivering the Qur'an. The following verse makes this fairly explicit:

And We have sent down unto you (O Muhammad) the dhikr that you may explain to humankind what has been sent down unto them that haply they may reflect (16:44)

Here dhikr is sent down to Muhammad and therefore it is some type of divinely inspired knowledge and this dhikr is to be used by the Prophet for explaining what has been sent down to them, which is most naturally to be interpreted as the Qur'an. The distinction between the function of delivering the Qur'an and explaining it could not be clearer. No matter how this verse is interpreted it is worded in such a way as to show that the Prophet's role was more than simply delivering the Qur'an. Another verse pointing in the same direction reads thus:

We have indeed sent down unto you (O Prophet) the book in truth that you may judge between people by what God shows you. And do not be a pleader for the treacherous (4:106).

Once again we see a clear mention of two distinct processes: sending down of the book unto the Prophet and then judging the people on its basis by what God shows him.

Once again we see a clear mention of two distinct processes: sending down of the book unto the Prophet and then judging the people on its basis by what God shows him.

But the above verses not only go against the Qur'an-only people. They also go against the traditionalists. For, they clearly give the Qur'an a definitely central position in the message of the Prophet and his judgments.

4.      Teaching the wisdom. Are the book and the wisdom the same things? Since they are mentioned together it is natural to think that they are not.

The Qur'an is certainly full of wisdom. It is called wise (36:2; see also, 3:58, 10:1. 31:2 ) and in 17:39 it is said about some verses in the Qur'an or the Qur'an as a whole that
"this is a part of the wisdom with which God has inspired you (O Muhammad)".

In some verses the Qur'an may be the focus as a manifestation of wisdom. For example,

And remember what is recited to you in your houses of the signs of God and (of ) the wisdom (33:34)

Here wisdom is part of what is recited and therefore the reference could be to the Qur'an. Similarly,

And remember God's grace upon you and that which he sent down on you of the book and the wisdom whereby He exhorts you (2:231; see also 4:113).

Once again hikmah is part of what is sent down on the community and it is possible that the reference is to the Qur'an. If we keep in mind what was said earlier of "the book" and the "open", it is possible to think that in case of "wisdom" also the Qur'an speaks of two levels: "wisdom" in general and specific manifestations of it. The meaning of the verse can then be expressed as follows: remember the Qur'an which is a manifestation of the book and a manifestation of the wisdom. In this way the book and the wisdom can be two different things but both are manifested in the same Qur'an.

While the book cannot be said to be given to any body - only to a prophet or a community through him - wisdom is something that can be given to any body, whether prophet or not. This is seen from 2:269: "He gives wisdom to whom he will and he unto whom wisdom is given has truly received abundant good". Nothing in the context of this verse suggests that the reference is to prophets or messengers. Also, Luqman is not explicitly said to be a prophet or a messenger. But he is given the wisdom:
We gave Luqman the wisdom, (teaching him), give thanks to God. (31:12).

In 2:251 we read about David that "God gave him the kingdom and the wisdom and taught him whatever he willed". Here wisdom is given as something that is not directly related to the book of David (the Psalms). In 54:4-5 the Qur'an speaks of "effective wisdom" (hikmah balighah) referring to some reports (anba') not necessarily identical with the Qur'an. In 16:125 the Prophet is asked to call people to the way of God with hikmah. This certainly does not mean that all he should do is to recite the Qur'an. Hikmah is here clearly something distinct from the Qur'an.

When we keep in mind all the verses in the Qur'an, it becomes clear that hikmah is something that is manifested in the Qur'an but is not limited to it or to any book. That does not mean that there is some wisdom that is not found in the Qur'an and we should look for it in the Sunnah. The correct way to understand this is that the Qur'an embodies all the wisdom but we need the Sunnah to understand it fully.

Imam Shafi`i in his al-Risala stated: "So, God mentions his book, that is the Qur'an, and wisdom, and I have heard from those who are knowledgeable in the Qur'an - those whom I agree with - say that wisdom is the traditions of the Prophet. This is the same as the word [of God himself]; but God knows better! Because the Qur'an is mentioned, followed by wisdom; then God mentions his favor to humanity by teaching the Qur'an and wisdom. So, it is not possible that wisdom means other things than the traditions of the Prophet ... ". Here Imam Shafi`i's argument, not understood by some Qur'an-only Muslims proceeds as follows: the Prophet according to the verse cited (2:129) taught the Qur'an and wisdom which are mentioned together. So wisdom is distinct from the Qur'an. Now where is this extra-Qur'anic wisdom that was taught by the Prophet found?. Of course, in the prophetic traditions! This conclusion is logical. Shafi`i's words "God knows better" probably apply only to the opinion of some knowledgeable people that "this is the same as the word [of God]".

Although Shafi`i's conclusion is perfectly reasonable and should be accepted, it needs to be qualified by two comments. First, only about the authentic traditions of the Prophet, not necessarily identical with any particular known collection of Hadith, can we be confident that they reflect the hikmah mentioned in the Qur'an. Second, the fact that the prophetic traditions reflect the divine wisdom does not mean that they contain some wisdom not found in the Qur'an. The prophetic traditions simply provide more of the same wisdom that is found in the Qur'an and as part of the context of the Qur'an they help us to more fully understand the Qur'anic wisdom.

Some think that teaching hikmah was done by the Prophet through the Qur'an while tazkiyah was done through the Sunnah. However, a sounder view seems to be that the two functions of the Prophet overlap and both are performed by both the Qur'an and the Sunnah.


It is also worthy to point out that it's also possible to say that the Prophet (peace be upon him) was only a delivery man. However, he did not only deliver the Qur'an but he also delivered its proper understanding and application of it as well. 


Taqi Usmani devotes a whole chapter about the Prophet's authority...


The Scope of the Prophetic Authority

The verses of the Qur'ân quoted in the previous chapter, and the natural conclusions derived therefrom, are sufficient to prove the authority of the "Sunnah" of the Holy Prophet. Its being a source of Islâmic law stands proved on that score. Yet the Holy Qur'ân has not only stressed upon the "obedience of the Messenger" as a general rule or principle. It has also highlighted the different shades of authority in order to explain the scope of his obedience, and the various spheres where it is to be applied.

Therefore, we propose in this chapter to deal with each of these spheres separately, and to explain what the Holy Qur'ân requires of us in respect of each of them.


The Prophet's Authority to Make Laws

A number of verses in the Holy Qur'ân establish the authority of the Holy Prophet as a legislator or a law-maker. Some of those are reproduced below:



And My mercy embraces all things. So I shall prescribe it for those who fear Allâh and pay zakâh (obligatory alms) and those who have faith in Our signs; those who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet whom they find written down in the Torah and the Injîl, and who bids them to the Fair and forbids them the Unfair, and makes lawful for them the good things, and makes unlawful for them the impure things, and relieves them of their burdens and of the shackles that were upon them. So, those who believe in him, and honour him, and help him, and follow the light that has been sent down with him- they are the ones who acquire success. (7:156-157)

The emphasized words in this verse signify that one of the functions of the Holy Prophet is "to make lawful the good things and make unlawful the impure things." This function has been separated from "bidding the Fair and forbidding the Unfair," because the latter relates to the preaching of what has already been established as Fair, and warning against what is established as Unfair, while the former embodies the making of lawful and unlawful, that is, the enforcing of new laws regarding the permissibility or prohibition of things. This function of prescribing new religious laws and rules is attributed here not to the Holy Qur'ân, but to the Holy Prophet. It, therefore, cannot be argued that the "making lawful or unlawful" means the declaration of what is laid down in the Holy Qur'ân only, because the declaration of a law is totally different from making it.

Besides, the declaration of the established rules has been referred to in the earlier sentence separately, that is, "bids them to the Fair and forbids for them the Unfair." The reference in the next sentence, therefore, is only to "making" new laws.

The verse also emphasizes "to believe" in the Holy Prophet. In the present context, it clearly means to believe in all his functions mentioned in the verse including to make something "lawful" or "unlawful."

The verse, moreover, directs to follow the light that has been sent down with him. Here again, instead of "following the Holy Qur'ân," "following the light" has been ordered, so as to include all the imperatives sent down to the Holy Prophet, either through the Holy Book or through the unrecited revelation, reflecting in his own orders and acts.

Looked at from whatever angle, this verse is a clear proof of the fact that the Holy Prophet had an authority based, of course, on the unrecited revelation, to make new laws in addition to those mentioned in the Holy Qur'ân.


The Holy Qur'ân says:


Fight those who do not believe in Allâh and the Hereafter and do not hold unlawful what Allâh and His Messenger have made unlawful. (9:29)

The underlined words signify that it is necessary to "hold unlawful what Allâh and His Messenger made unlawful," and that the authority making something unlawful is not restricted to Allâh Almighty. The Holy Prophet can also, by the will of Allâh, exercise this authority. The difference between the authority of Allâh and that of the Messenger is, no doubt, significant. The former is wholly independent, intrinsic and self-existent, while the authority of the latter is derived from and dependent on the revelation from Allâh. Yet, the fact remains that the Holy Prophet has this authority and it is necessary for believers to submit to it alongwith their submission to the authority of Allâh.


The Holy Qur'ân says:


No believer, neither man nor woman, has a right, when Allâh and His Messenger decide a matter, to have a choice in their matter in issue. And whoever disobeys Allâh and His Messenger has gone astray into manifest error. (33:36)

Here, the decisions of Allâh and the Messenger both have been declared binding on the believers.

It is worth mentioning that the word "and" occuring between "Allâh" and "His Messenger" carries both conjunctive and disjunctive meanings. It cannot be held to give conjunctive sense only, because in that case it will exclude the decision of Allâh unless it is combined with the decision of the messenger- a construction too fallacious to be imagined in the divine expression.

The only reasonable construction, therefore, is to take the word "and" in both conjunctive and disjunctive meanings. The sense is that whenever Allâh or His Messenger, any one or both of them, decide a matter, the believers have no choice except to submit to their decisions.

It is thus clear that the Holy Prophet has the legal authority to deliver decisions in the collective and individual affairs of the believers who are bound to surrender to those decisions.


The Holy Qur'ân says:


Whatever the Messenger gives you, take it; and whatever he forbids you, refrain from it. (59:7)

Although the context of this verse relates to the distribution of the spoils of war, yet it is the well-known principle of the interpretation of the Holy Qur'ân that, notwithstanding the particular event in which a verse is revealed, if the words used are general, they are to be construed in their general sense; they cannot be restricted to that particular event.

Keeping in view this principle, which is never disputed, the verse gives a general rule about the Holy Prophet  that whatever order he gives is binding on the believers and whatever thing he forbids stands prohibited for them. The Holy Qur'ân thus has conferred a legal authority to the Holy Prophet to give orders, to make laws and to enforce prohibitions.

It will be interesting here to cite a wise answer of 'Abdullâh ibn Mas'ûd, the blessed companion of the Holy Prophet, which he gave to a woman.

A woman from the tribe of Asad came to 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ûd and said, "I have come to know that you hold such and such things as prohibited. I have gone through the whole Book of Allâh, but never found any such prohibition in it."

'Abdullah ibn Mas'ûd replied, "Had you read the Book you would have found it. Allâh Almighty says: "Whatever the Messenger gives you, take it; and whatever he forbids you, refrain from it." (59:7). (Ibn Mâjah)

By this answer 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ûd pointed out that this verse is so comprehensive that it embodies all the orders and prohibitions of the Holy Prophet and since the questioned prohibitions are enforced by the Holy Prophet they form part of this verse, though indirectly.


The Holy Qur'ân says:


But no, by your Lord, they shall not be (deemed to be) believers unless they accept you as judge in their disputes, then find in their hearts no adverse feeling against what you decided, but surrender to it in complete submission. (4:65)

The authority of the Holy Prophet established in this verse seems apparently to be an authority to adjudicate in the disputes brought before him. But after due consideration in the construction used here, this authority appears to be more than that of a judge. A judge, no doubt, has an authority to deliver his judgments, but the submission to his judgments is not a condition for being a Muslim. If somebody does not accept the judgment of a duly authorized judge, it can be a gross misconduct on his part, and a great sin, for which he may be punished, but he cannot be excluded from the pale of Islâm on this score alone. He cannot be held as disbeliever.

On the contrary, the verse vehemently insists that the person who does not accept the verdicts of the Holy Prophet cannot be held to be a believer. This forceful assertion indicates that the authority of the Holy Prophet is not merely that of a customary judge. The denial of his judgments amounts to disbelief. It implies that the verdicts of the Holy Prophet referred to here are not the normal verdicts given in the process of a trial. They are the laws laid down by him on the basis of the revelation, recited or unrecited, that he receives from Allâh. So, the denial of these laws is, in fact, the denial of the divine orders which excludes the denier from the pale of Islâm.

Looked at from this point of view, this verse gives the Holy Prophet not only the authority of a judge, but also confers upon him the authority to make laws, as binding on the Muslims as the divine laws.


The Holy Qur'ân says:




They say, "we believe in Allâh and the Messenger, and we obey." Then, after that, a group of them turn away. And they are not believers. And when they are called to Allâh and His Messenger that he may judge between them, suddenly a group of them turn back. But if they had a right, they come to him submissively! Is it that there is sickness in their hearts? Or are they in doubt? Or do they fear that Allâh may be unjust towards them, and His Messenger? Nay, but they are the unjust. All that the believers say when they are called to Allâh and His Messenger that he (the Messenger) may judge between them, is that they say, "We hear and we obey." And they are those who acquire success. And whoever obeys Allâh and His Messenger and fears Allâh and observes His Awe, such are those who are the winners. (24:47-52)

These verses, too, hold that, in order to be a Muslim, the condition is to surrender to the verdicts of the Holy Prophet. Those who do not turn towards him in their disputes inspite of being called to him cannot, according to the Holy Qur'ân, be treated as believers. It carries the same principle as mentioned in the preceding verse: It is the basic ingredient of the belief in Allâh and His Messenger that the authority of the Messenger should be accepted whole-heartedly. He must be consulted in disputes and obeyed. His verdicts must be followed in total submission, and the laws enunciated by him must be held as binding.


The Holy Prophet's Authority to Interpret the Holy Qur'ân

The second type of authority given to the Holy Prophet  is the authority to interpret and explain the Holy Book. He is the final authority in the interpretation of the Holy Qur'ân. The Holy Qur'ân says:


And We sent down towards you the Advice (i.e. the Qur'ân) so that you may explain to the people what has been sent down to them, and so that they may ponder. (16:44)

It is unequivocally established here that the basic function of the Holy Prophet is to explain the Holy Book and to interpret the revelation sent down to him. It is obvious that the Arabs of Makkah, who were directly addressed by the Holy Prophet did not need any translation of the Qur'ânic text. The Holy Qur'ân was revealed in their own mother tongue. Despite that they were mostly illiterate, they had a command on their language and literature. Their beautiful poetry, their eloquent speeches and their impressive dialogues are the basic sources of richness in the Arabic literature. They needed no one to teach them the literal meaning of the Qur'ânic text. That they understood the textual meaning is beyond any doubt.

It is thus obvious that the explanation entrusted to the Holy Prophet was something more than the literal meaning of the Book. It was an explanation of what Allâh Almighty intended, including all the implications involved and the details needed. These details are also received by the Holy Prophet through the unrecited revelation. As discussed earlier, the Holy Qur'ân has clearly said,


Then, it is on Us to explain it. (75:19)

This verse is self-explanatory on the subject. Allâh Almighty has Himself assured the Holy Prophet that He shall explain the Book to him. So, whatever explanation the Holy Prophet gives to the Book is based on the explanation of Allâh Himself. So, his interpretation of the Holy Qur'ân overrides all the possible interpretations. Hence, he is the final authority in the exegesis and interpretation of the Holy Qur'ân. His word is the last word in this behalf.


Examples of Prophetic Explanations of the Qur'ân

To be more specific, I would give a few concrete instances of the explanations of the Holy Book given to us by the Holy Prophet. These examples will also show the drastic amount of what we lose if we ignore the sunnah of the Holy Prophet:

1. The salaah (prayer) is the well-known way of worship which is undisputedly held as the first pillar of Islâm after having faith. The Holy Qur'ân has ordered more than 73 times to observe it. Despite this large number of verses giving direct command to observe the salaah, there is no verse in the entire Book to explain how to perform and observe it.

Some components of the salaah, like ruku' (bowing down) or sujud (prostration) or qiyaam (standing) are, no doubt, mentioned in the Holy Qur'ân. But the complete way to perform salaah as a composite whole has never been explained. It is only through the sunnah of the Holy Prophet () that we learn the exact way to perform it. If the sunnah is ignored, all these details about the correct way of observing salaah are totally lost. Not only this, nobody can bring forth an alternate way to perform salaah on the basis of the Holy Qur'ân alone.

It is significant that the Holy Qur'ân has repeated the comand of observing salaah as many as 73 times, yet, it has elected not to describe the way it had to be performed. This is not without some wisdom behind it. The point that seems to have been made deliberately is one of the significance of the sunnah.

By avoiding the details about no less a pillar of Islâm than salaah, it is pointed out that the Holy Qur'ân is meant for giving the fundamental principles only. The details are left to the explanations of the Holy Prophet ().


2. Moreover, it is mentioned in the Holy Qur'ân that the salaah is tied up with some prescribed times. Allâh Almighty says:


Surely, the salaah is a timed obligation for the believers. (4:104)

It is clear from this verse that there are some particular times in which the salaah should be performed. But what are those times is nowhere mentioned in the Holy Qur'ân. Even that the daily obligatory prayers are five in number is never disclosed in the Holy Book. It is only through the sunnah of the Holy Prophet  that we have learnt the exact number and specific times of the obligatory prayers.


3. The same is the position of the number of rak'aat to be performed in each prayer. It is not mentioned anywhere in the Holy Qur'ân that the number of rak'aat is two in Fajr, four in Zuhr, 'Asr and 'Isha; it is only in the sunnah that these matters are mentioned.

If the sunnah is not believed, all these necessary details even about the first pillar of Islâm remain totally unknown, so as to render the salaah too vague an obligation to be carried out in practice.


4. The same is the case if zakaah (alms-giving), the second pillar of Islâm, which is in most cases combined with the salaah in the Holy Qur'ân. The order to "pay zakaah" is found in the Holy Book in more than thirty places. But who is liable to pay it? On what rate it should be paid? What assets are liable to the obligation of zakaah? What assets are exempted from it? All these questions remain unanswered if the sunnah of the Holy Qur'ân is ignored. It is the Holy Prophet who explained all these details about zakaah.


5. Fasts of Ramadan are held to be the third pillar of Islâm. Here again only the fundamental principles are found in the Holy Qur'ân. Most of the necessary details have been left to the explanation of the Holy Prophet which he disclosed through his sayings and acts. What acts, other than eating, drinking and having sex, are prohibited or permitted during the fast? Under what conditions can one break the fast during the day? What kind of treatment can be undertaken in the state of fasting? All these and similar other details are mentioned by the Holy Prophet.


6. The Holy Qur'ân has said after mentioning how to perform wudu', (ablution):


And if you are junub (defiled) well-purify yourself. (5:6)

It is also clarified in the Holy Qur'ân that while being junub (defiled) one should not perform prayers (4:43). But the definition of junub (defiled) is nowhere given in the Holy Qur'ân nor is it mentioned how should a defiled person "well-purify" himself. It is the Holy Prophet who has explained all these questions and laid down the detailed injunctions on the subject.


7. The command of the Holy Qur'ân concerning Hajj, the fourth pillar of Islâm, is in the following words:


And as a right of Allâh, it is obligatory on people to perform the Hajj of the House- whoever has the ability to manage his way to it. (3:97)

It is just not disclosed here as to how many times the Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah) is obligatory? The Holy Prophet explained that the obligation is discharged by performing Hajj only once in a life-time.


8. The Holy Qur'ân says:


Those who accumulate gold and silver and do not spend them in the way of Allâh, give them the news of a painful punishment. (9:34)

Here, "accumulation" is prohibited and "spending" is enjoined. But the quantum of none of the two is explained. Upto what limit can one save his money, and how much spending is obligatory? Both the questions are left to the explanation of the Holy Prophet who has laid down the detailed rules in this respect.


9. The Holy Qur'ân, while describing the list of the women of prohibited degree, with whom one cannot marry, has extended the prohibition to marrying two sisters in one time:


And (it is also prohibited) to combine two sisters together. (4:23)

The Holy Prophet while explaining this verse, clarified that the prohibition is not restricted to two sisters only. The verse has, instead, laid down a principle which includes the prohibition of combining an aunt and her niece, paternal or maternal, as well.


10. The Holy Qur'ân says:


Today the good things have been permitted to you. (5:5)

Here, the "good things" are not explained. The detailed list of the lawful "good things" has only been given by the Holy Prophet who has described the different kinds of food being not lawful for the Muslims and not falling in the category of "good things." Had there been no such explanation given by the Holy Prophet everybody could interpret the "good things" according to his own personal desires, and the very purpose of the revelation, namely, to draw a clear distinction between good and bad, could have been disturbed. If everybody was free to determine what is good and what is bad, neither any revelation nor a messenger was called for. It was through both the Holy Book and the Messenger that the need was fulfilled.


Numerous other examples of this nature may be cited. But the few examples given above are, perhaps, quite sufficient to show the nature of the explanations given by the Holy Prophet as well as to establish their necessity in the framework of an Islâmic life ordained by the Holy Qur'ân for its followers.............. 

The Time Limit of the Prophetic Authority

We have so far studied the two types of the Prophetic authority, first being the authority to make new laws in addition to those contained in the Holy Qur'ân, and the second being the authority to explain, interpret and expound the Qur'ânic injunctions.

But before proceeding to other aspects of the Prophetic authority, another issue should be resolved just here.

It is sometimes argued by those who hesitate to accept the full authority of the Sunnah, that whenever the Holy Qur'ân has conferred on the Holy Prophet an authority to make laws or to explain and interpret the Book, it meant this authority to be binding on the people of the Prophet's time only. They were under the direct control and the instant supervision of the Holy Prophet and were addressed by him face to face. Therefore, the Prophetic authority was limited to them only. It cannot be extended to all the generations for all times to come.

This contention leads us to the discovery of the time limits of the Prophetic authority. The question is whether the authority of the Holy Prophet was confined to his own time, or it is an everlasting authority which holds good for all times to come.

The basic question underlying this issue has already been answered in detail; and that is the question of the nature of this authority. It has been established through a number of arguments that the obedience of the Holy Prophet was not enjoined upon the Muslims in his capacity of a ruler. It has been enjoined in his capacity of a prophet. Had it been the authority of a ruler only which the Holy Prophet exercised, it would logically be inferred that the authority is tied up with his rule, and as soon as his administrative rule is over, his authority simultaneously ceases to have effect.

But if the authority is a "Prophetic" authority, and not merely a "ruling authority," then it is obvious that it shall continue with the continuance of the prophethood, and shall not disappear until the Holy Prophet no longer remains a prophet.

Now, the only question is whether the Holy Prophet was a prophet of a particular nation or a particular time, or his prophethood extended to the whole mankind for all times. Let us seek the answer from the Holy Qur'ân itself. The Holy Qur'ân says:


Say: O mankind! I am the Messenger of Allâh to you all. (7:158)


And We did not send you (O Prophet) except to the entire mankind, bearing good news and warning. (34:28)


And We did not send you save as a mercy unto all the worlds. (21:107)


Blessed be He Who has sent down the Qur'ân on His servant so that he may be a warner to all the worlds. (25:1)


And We have sent you (O Prophet) for mankind as a messenger. And Allâh suffices to be a witness. (4:79)


And the whole mankind is addressed when it is said:


O mankind! The Messenger has come to you with the truth from your Lord, so believe: it is better for you. And if you disbelieve, to Allâh belongs what is in the heavens and in the earth. And Allâh is All-Knowing, All-Wise. (4:170)


The first five verses need no elaboration. They are self-explanatory on the point that the Holy Prophet was sent to the whole mankind and not to a particular people; his prophethood was not limited either in time or in place.

The fifth verse addresses the whole mankind and enjoins upon all of them to believe in the Holy Prophet. Nobody can say that the belief of the Holy Prophet was restricted to his own time. It is, according to this verse, incumbent upon all the peoples, of whatever age, to believe in his Prophethood.

It is also mentioned in the Holy Qur'ân that the Holy Prophet is the last Messenger after whom no Prophet is to come:


Muhammad is not the father of any one of your men, but the Messenger of Allâh and the last of the prophets. And Allâh is All-Knowing in respect of everything. (33:40)


This verse made it clear that the Holy Prophet is the last one in the chain of prophets. The earlier prophets were often sent to a particular nation for a particular time, because they were succeeded by other prophets. But no prophet is to come after Muhammad. Hence, his prophethood extends to all the nations and all the times. This is what the Holy Prophet himself explained in the following words:


The Israelites were led by the prophets. Whenever a prophet would pass away, another prophet would succeed him. But there is no prophet after me. However, there shall be successors, and shall be in large numbers. (Sahih al-Bukhari Ch. 50 Hadîth 3455)


If the realm of his prophethood would not reach out to the next generations, the people of those generations would be left devoid of the prophetic guidance, while Allâh does not leave any people without prophetic guidance.

In the light of the verses quoted above, there remains no doubt in the fact that the Holy Prophet is a messenger to all the nations for all times to come.

If his prophethood extends to all times, there remains no room for the suggestion that his prophetic authority does no longer hold good and the present day Muslims are not bound to obey and follow him.

There is another point in the subject worth attention:

It is established through a large number of arguments in the first chapter that Allâh Almighty sent no divine book without a messenger. It is also clarified by Allâh that the messengers are sent to teach the Book and to explain it. It is also proved earlier that but for the detailed explanations of the Holy Prophet, nobody might know even the way of obligatory prayers.

The question now is whether all these Prophetic explanations were needed only by the Arabs of the Prophetic age. The Arabs of Makkah were more aware of the Arabic language than we are. They were more familiar with the Qur'ânic style. They were physically present at the time of revelation and observed personally all the surrounding circumstances in which the Holy Book was revealed. They received the verses of the Holy Qur'ân from the mouth of the Holy Prophet and were fully aware of all the factors which help in the correct understanding of the text. Still, they needed the explanations of the Holy Prophet which were binding on them.

Then, how can a man of ordinary perception presume that the people of this age, who lack all these advantages, do not need the explanations of a prophet? We have neither that command on the Arabic language as they had, nor are we so familiar with the Qur'ânic style as they were, nor have we seen the circumstances in which the Holy Qur'ân was revealed, as they have seen. If they needed the guidance of the Holy Prophet in interpreting the Holy Qur'ân, we should certainly need it all the more.

If the authority of the Holy Qur'ân has no time-limit, if the text of the Qur'ân is binding on all generations for all times to come, then the authority of the Messenger, which is included in the very Qur'ân without being limited to any time bond, shall remain as effective as the Holy Qur'ân itself. While ordaining for the "obedience of the messenger," the Holy Qur'ân addressed not only the Arabs of Makkah or Madînah. It has addressed all the believers when it was said:


O those who believe, obey Allâh and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. (4:59)


If the "obedience of Allâh" has always been combined with the "obedience of the Messenger" as we have seen earlier, there is no room for separating any one from the other. If one is meant for all times, the other cannot be meant for a particular period. The Holy Qur'ân at another place has also warned against such separation between Allâh and His Messenger:


Those who disbelieve in Allâh and His Messengers, and desire to make separation between Allâh and His Messengers and say, "We believe in some and disbelieve in some," desiring to adopt a way in between this and that? those are the unbelievers in truth; and We have prepared for the disbelievers a humiliating punishment. (4:150-151)


Therefore, the submission to the authority of the Holy Prophet is a basic ingredient of having belief in his prophethood, which can never be separated from him. Thus, to accept the prophetic authority in the early days of Islâm, and to deny it in the later days, is so fallacious a proposition that cannot find support from any source of Islâmic learning, nor can it be accepted on any touchstone of logic and reason.


The Prophetic Authority in Worldly Affairs

Another point of view often presented by some westernised circles is that the authority of the Holy Prophet () is, no doubt, established by the Holy Qur'ân even for all the generations for all times to come; But, the scope of this authority is limited only to the doctrinal affairs and the matters of worship. The function of a prophet, according to them, is restricted to correct the doctrinal beliefs of the ummah and to teach them how to worship Allâh. As far as the worldly affairs are concerned, they are not governed by the prophetic authority. These worldly affairs include, in their view, all the economic, social and political affairs which should be settled according to the expediency at each relevant time, and the Prophetic authority has no concern with them. Even if the Holy Prophet gives some directions in these fields, he does so in his private capacity, and not as a Messenger. So, it is not necessary for the ummah to comply with such directions.

To substantiate this proposition, a particular tradition of the Holy Prophet is often quoted, though out of context, in which he said to his companions:


You know more about your worldly affairs.


Before I quote this tradition in its full context, the very concept upon which this proposition is based needs examination.

In fact, this view is based on a serious misconception about the whole structure of the Islâmic order.

The misconception is that Islâm, like some other religions, is restricted only to some doctrines and some rituals. It has no concern with the day-to-day affairs of the human life. After observing the prescribed doctrines and rituals, everybody is free to run his life in whatever way he likes, not hindered in any manner by the divine imperatives. That is why the advocates of this view confine the Prophetic authority to some doctrines and rituals only.

But, the misconception, however fashionable it may seem to be, is a misconception. It is an established fact that Islâm, unlike some other religions which can coincide and co-exist with the secular concept of life, is not merely a set of doctrines and rituals. It is a complete way of life which deals with the political, economic and social problems as well as with theological issues. The Holy Qur'ân says,


O those who believe, respond to the call of Allâh and His Messenger when he calls you for what gives you life. (8:24)


It means that Allâh and His Messenger call people towards life. How is it imagined that the affairs of life are totally out of the jurisdiction of Allâh and His Messenger? Nobody who has studied the Holy Qur'ân can endorse that its teachings are limited to worship and rituals. There are specific injunctions in the Holy Qur'ân about sale, purchase loans, mortgage, partnership, penal laws, inheritance, matrimonial relations, political affairs, problems of war and peace and other aspects of international relations. If the Islâmic teachings were limited to the doctrinal and ritual matters, there is no reason why such injunctions are mentioned in the Holy Qur'ân.

Likewise the sunnah of the Holy Prophet deals with the economic, social, political and legal problems in such detail that voluminous books have been written to compile them. How can it be envisaged that the Holy Prophet entered this field in such detailed manner without having any authority or jurisdiction? The injunctions of the Holy Qur'ân and sunnah in this field are so absolute, imperative and of mandatory nature that they cannot be imagined to be personal advices lacking any legal force.

We have already quoted a large number of verses from the Holy Qur'ân which enjoin the obedience of Allâh and the Messenger upon the believers. This "obedience" has nowhere been limited to some particular field. It is an all-embracing obedience which requires total submission from the believers, having no exception whatsoever.

It is true that in this field, which is termed in the Islâmic law as "mu'âmalât," the Holy Qur'ân and sunnah have mostly given some broad principles and left most of the details open to be settled according to ever-changing needs, but in strict conformity with the principles laid down by them. Thus the field not occupied by the Qur'ân and sunnah is a wider field where the requirements of expediency can well play their role. But it does not mean that the Qur'ân and sunnah have no concern with this vital branch of human life which has always been the basic cause of unrest in the history of humanity, and in which the so-called "rational views" mostly conflicting with each other, have always fallen prey to satanic desires leading the world to disaster.

Anyhow, the fallacy of this narrow viewpoint about Islâm which excludes all the practical spheres of life from its pale, rather, to be more correct, makes them devoid of its guidance, cannot sustain before the overwhelming arguments which stand to rule it out totally.


The Event of Fecundation of the Palm-Trees

Let me now turn to the tradition which is often quoted to support this fallacious view. The details of the tradition are as follows:

The Arabs of Madînah used to fecundate their palm-trees in order to make them more fruitful. This operation was called ta'bîr which is explained by E. W. Lane (Arabic English Lexicon) as below:

"He fecundated a palm-tree by means of the spadix of the male tree, which is bruised or brayed, and sprinkled upon the spadix of the female; or by inserting a stalk of a raceme of the male tree into the spathe of the female, after shaking off the pollen of the former upon the spadix of the female."


Keeping this in view, read the following tradition, as mentioned by Imâm Muslim in his Sahîh:




The blessed companion Talhâ says:"I passed along with the Holy Prophet across some people who were on the tops of the palm-trees. The Holy Prophet asked, 'What are they doing?' Some people said, 'They are fecundating the tree. They insert the male into the female and the tree stands fecundated.' The Holy Prophet said, I do not think it will be of any use.' The people (who were fecundating the trees) were informed about what the Holy Prophet said. So, they stopped this operation. Then the Holy Prophet was informed about their withdrawal. On this, the Holy Prophet said, 'If it is in fact useful for them, let them do it, because I had only made a guess. So, do not cling to me in my guess. But when I tell you something on behalf of Allâh, take it firm, because I shall never tell a lie on behalf of Allâh."


According to the blessed companion Anas, the Holy Prophet has also said on this occasion:


You know more about your worldly affairs.


The words of this tradition, when looked at in its full context, would clearly reveal that the Holy Prophet in this case did not deliver an absolute prohibition against the fecundation of the palm trees. There was no question of its being lawful or unlawful. What the Holy Prophet did was neither a command, nor a legal or religious prohibition, nor a moral condemnation. It was not even a serious observation. It was only a remark passed by him by the way in the form of an instant and general guess, as he himself clarified later. "I do not think it will be of any use." Nobody can take this sentence as a legal or religious observation. That is why the Holy Prophet did not address with it the persons involved in the operation, nor did he order to convey his message to them. It was through some other persons that they learned about the remark of the Holy Prophet.

Although the remark was not in the form of an imperative, but the blessed companions of the Holy Prophet used to obey and follow him in everything, not only on the basis of his legal or religious authority, but also out of their profound love towards him. They, therefore, gave up the operation altogether. When the Holy Prophet came to know about their having abstained from the operation on the basis of what he remarked, he clarified the position to avoid any misunderstanding.

The substance of his clarification is that only the absolute statements of the Holy Prophet are binding, because they are given in his capacity of a prophet on behalf of Allâh Almighty. As for a word spoken by him as a personal guess, and not as an absolute statement, it should be duly honoured, but it should not be taken as part of Sharî'ah.

As I have mentioned earlier, there is a vast field in the day-to-day worldly affairs which is not occupied by the Sharî'ah, where the people have been allowed to proceed according to their needs and expedience and on the basis of their knowledge and experience. What instruments should be used to fertilise a barren land? How the plants should be nourished? What weapons are more useful for the purpose of defence? What kind of horses are more suitable to ride? What medicine is useful in a certain disease? The questions of this type relate to the field where the Sharî'ah has not supplied any particular answer. All these and similar other matters are left to the human curiosity which can solve these problems through its efforts.

It is this unoccupied field of mubâhat about which the Holy Prophet observed:


You know more about your worldly affairs.


But it does not include those worldly affairs in which the Holy Qur'ân or the sunnah have laid down some specific rules or given a positive command. That is why the Holy Prophet, while declaring the matter of the palm-trees to be in the unoccupied field, has simultaneously observed, "But when I tell you something on behalf of Allâh, take it firm."


The upshot of the foregoing discussion is that the sunnah of the Holy Prophet is the second source of Islâmic law. Whatever the Holy Prophet said or did in his capacity of a Messenger is binding on the ummah. This authority of the sunnah is based on the revelation he received from Allâh. Hence, the obedience of the Holy Prophet is another form of the obedience of Allâh. This prophetic authority which is established through a large number of Qur'ânic verses, cannot be curtailed, neither by limiting its tenure, nor by exempting the worldly affairs from its scope. (Taqi Usmani, The Authority of Sunnah, Chapter 2: The Scope of the Prophetic Authority, Source)



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