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Islamic Movement

Correct Understanding Of The Role Of Ulul Amr Essential

Salina Khan

Image Source - Pixbay Free Content

The Saudi regime appointed head imam of al-Masjid al-Haram in Makkah, Abdul Rahman al-Sudais created a firestorm last month when he called on Muslims to follow the lead of their ulul amr in handling the latest Israeli genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

“Muslim should not be divided on this fitna [in Palestine],” Sudais said. “They should go back to their ulul amr and their scholars. They should not be deceived into engaging in what they have no right to engage in.”

Sudais’ fatwa was based on this verse of the noble Qur’an:

“O You who have made a firm commitment to Allah, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and the ulul amr (those in authority among you). If you are in dispute over any matter, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you truly believe in Allah and the Last Day: that is better and fairer in the end” (Surah An-Nisa: 59).

At first glance, Sudais’ order seems in sync with Qur’anic injunctions and the kind of guidance Muslims currently need to once and for all free Palestine from 75 plus years of zionist occupation. However, the Saudi preacher’s understanding of the definition of ulul amr and who holds that powerful position today is so warped that, if Muslims were to follow it, not only will Palestine be wiped off the map but so will surrounding countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, parts of which the zionist entity has already usurped in its quest to create a ‘Greater Israel’.

Sudais and other so-called ulama closely aligned with the Saudi regime—which has condemned the Palestinian Resistance’s October 7 Operation Aqsa Storm as well as censured their armed struggle—assert that ulul amr are any governments, rulers, or groups that identify as Muslim and hold power in a Muslim-majority country. They preach that Muslims must obey unquestioningly and unconditionally these rulers even if they espouse positions and legislate laws against Islamic injunctions.

These preachers belong to the Madkhali-Salafi sect of the Sunni strand of Islam, named after 90-year-old cleric Rabee al-Madkhali. He propagated his pro-establishment ideas in the 1990s while a department head at the University of Madinah.

But the Madkhali definition does not line up with the two verses in the Qur’an that describe the term ulul amr in detail. The great Pakistani exegete Maulana Sayyid Maududi, translator of the Qur’an, Tafhimul Qur’an (Understanding the meanings of the Qur’an), considers the ulul amr verse quoted above to be the cornerstone of the religious, political, and social structure of Islam.

The other verse that elaborates on ulul amr is as follows: “Whenever news of any matter comes to them, whether concerning peace or war, they spread it about; if they refer to the Messenger and ulul amr (those in authority among them), those seeking its meaning would have found it out from them. If it were not for Allah’s bounty and mercy towards you, you would almost all have followed Satan” (Surah An-Nisa: 83).

It is interesting to note that Allah makes clear that not everyone will be able to identify and follow the ulul amr. There are three characteristics a person must have in order to be able to do so: 1) Have absolute faith in Allah; 2) [Truly believe in] the Last Day; and 3) Actively search for correct political direction, or “seek its meaning [news about peace and war].” Weakness in any of these areas will prevent one from identifying their ulul amr, even with the clearest descriptions in the Qur’an.

The following characteristics of ulul amr are derived directly from the Word of Allah. The exact phrases from the verses are referenced in parenthesis.

Who are ulul amr?

There are three attributes of ulul amr that can be established from these verses. One, they have great knowledge about Allah and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) enabling them to make decisions based on the Qur’an and the Sunnah (“refer it to Allah and the Messenger”). Second, they must be the most dutiful to Allah and the Prophet (pbuh) in their personal and collective lives. The divine command to “obey Allah and obey the Messenger and ulul amr” uses the same “obey” for both orders, forever connecting our obedience to ulul amr with ulul amr’s obedience to the Prophet (pbuh).

Third, ulul amr must have deep and correct political insight (“concerning peace and war”).

What do ulul amr do?

They exert power and influence over people (“those in authority among you”) concerning political matters (“whenever news of any matter comes to them, whether concerning peace or war… if they refer to the Messenger and ulul amr”). This means that while people may turn to scholars of their preferred school of thought for personal and family issues, they all have to take political direction from the ulul amr.

Where are the ulul amr? They are our contemporaries. They do not belong to the past nor are they people who will emerge in the future. They are living here on earth in our space and time (“among you”).

Why should we obey the ulul amr in political matters?

We should obey them because the fate of all of humanity hangs on it. Following ulul amr as they emerge victorious after navigating enemy traps allows justice and goodness to prevail (“that is better and fairer in the end”).

Complying with anybody other than ulul amr will create disruption on earth (“you would almost all have followed Satan”).

So, if we converge all these attributes of ulul amr, a persona appears. Allah is describing ulul amr as pious modern-day Islamic scholars who have the correct political insight and wield power and influence over people.

Next: Identifying real-life ulul amr in our times.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 10

Jumada' al-Ula' 17, 14452023-12-01

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