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Is it appropriate to disagree with the Khalifah in some matters?

A Hadith has been misunderstood by some to justify disobedience of the Holy Prophet sas and Khulafa’. It is narrated that the Holy Prophet sas saw people pollinating trees and asked what they were doing. When he was informed, he sas is related to have said the following in different narrations:

I do not find it to be of any use.

(Sahih Muslim, Book 43, Hadith 184)

If you were not to do it, it might be good for you.

(Sahih Muslim, Book 43, Hadith 185)

It may perhaps be good for you if you do not do that.

(Sahih Muslim, Book 43, Hadith 186)

If they did not do that it would be better.

(Sunan Ibn Majah, vol. 3, Book 16, Hadith 2,471)

I do not think that this will do any good.

(Sunan Ibn Majah, vol. 3, Book 16, Hadith 2,470)

As a result, the companions did not pollinate their trees that year and the yield of their crops suffered losses. When the Holy Prophet sas was informed of this, he sas said:

If there is any use of it, then they should do it, for it was just a personal opinion of mine, and do not go after my personal opinion; but when I say to you anything on behalf of Allah, then do accept it, for I do not attribute lie to Allah, the Exalted and Glorious.

(Sahih Muslim, Book 43, Hadith 184)

You have better knowledge in the affairs of the world.

(Sahih Muslim, Book 43, Hadith 186)

I am a human being, so when I command you about a thing pertaining to religion, do accept it, and when I command you about a thing out of my personal opinion, keep it in mind that I am a human being.

(Sahih Muslim, Book 43, Hadith 185)

The common strand in these ahadith is that he sas simply gave his opinion as to what he thought was best, he did not command them that they should not pollinate their trees. When a Prophet or a Khalifah gives a personal opinion on something, then obedience is not binding. However, when a Prophet or Khalifah chooses to give a command on something, then it becomes binding. Whether that order has to do with spiritual or secular matters, the fact that a command has been given automatically makes it binding. Islam gives commands about both spiritual and secular matters, and so if a Prophet or Khalifah chooses to give commands on secular matters, it becomes binding just as obedience is binding in spiritual matters.

Explaining the meaning of “nor disobey thee in what is ma‘ruf (right)'” (60:13), Hadrat Khalifatul-Masih IV rta said:

The word ma‘ruf means, “We will not only obey you in commandments of the shari‘ah, but we promise that we will obey you in every good thing, whether it is mentioned as a command in the shari‘ah or not. Whatever you say, we will not disobey you.” Ma‘ruf expands the circle of obedience, it does not confine it.

This does not at all mean that the Holy Prophet sas can give any command that is contrary to ma‘ruf. It simply means that, although in matters of shari‘ah there is no question of disobeying his sas commands, but the good things that he sas says aside from the shari‘ah, there you will not disobey him either. These two things have a clear difference. With ma‘ruf, the gravity of the subject of bai‘at [allegiance] does not become lighter, rather it becomes more severe. Restrictions are increased, not decreased… There is no question of going contrary to the shari‘ah. The restriction is that, aside from the clear do’s and dont’s of the shari‘ah, when he sas tells you general good things of the world, then promise that you will not disobey in that either.

(Urdu Tarjamatul Quran Class #43, 3:111–122, March 15, 1995;
Urdu Tarjamatul Quran Class #27, 2:235–246, Dec 14, 1994)

Each person is free to choose whether he wishes to give himself over to the Khalifah in bai‘at or not. However, once we choose to give allegiance, then it is no longer our place to publicly disagree with the Khalifah of Allah or to try to define what his authority is.

In the course of a conversation with Sahibzadah Mirza Bashir-ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad he (Khawajah Kamal-ud-Din) observed, as if casually: “Miyan, we have slipped into a mistake which can be corrected only by our somehow defining the authority of the Khalifah. He should take the pledge of allegiance from new members, should lead the Prayer services, should perform marriages and lead funeral prayers and no more.” This was a sounding to which the Sahibzadah’s reaction was: “It is too late for the entertainment of any such notion.

You should have thought of it before taking the pledge of allegiance. The Khalifah had made it quite clear that the pledge would involve complete obedience. We took the pledge on this understanding. Our relationship with the Khalifah is now of master and servants. We have no right to define the authority of our master.”

(Hadrat Maulavi Nur-ud-Din Khalifatul Masih I, p. 158)

Once we choose to he give ourselves in bai‘at to a Prophet or Khalifah by accepting that he is chosen by God, we forego our right to try and limit his authority. A Prophet or Khalifah knows best what their authority is because they have been appointed to that authority by God Almighty Himself.

Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra explained that obedience is necessary in all matters, including secular matters. He ra said:

Some time ago, a complaint was made to me about a debate that took place here. In it, the point being debated was on whether India should have a combined or a separate election, despite the fact that I have expressed my opinion on this. It is disrespectful, knowing that I have expressed my opinion on a subject, to bring it under debate. Those matters about which God Almighty, or His Messenger, or His Khulafa’ have expressed their opinion, to debate about them is insolence and disrespectful. Someone could say that such debates are just trivialities, but can anyone disgrace his father and consider it trivial?”

(Mash‘al-e-Rah, vol. 1, p. 108)

The proper etiquette of disagreeing with a Khalifah is to not share that disagreement with others, but to share that disagreement with the Khalifah himself. Hadrat Musleh Mau‘ud ra said:

Another thought has been conveyed to me: some people say that, “since disagreement with the Khalifah is permitted, thus, we disagree with him in these matters.” However, everything has a context, and to go beyond it is not a sign of wisdom and intelligence. Look, can someone say that every opinion of a doctor is correct? Absolutely not. Doctors make mistakes, but despite this, no one says that since a doctor’s opinion can be wrong, therefore we will write our own prescription. Why? Because a doctor has formally learned medicine and his opinion is superior to ours. Similarly, lawyers make mistakes, but in court cases it is their opinion that is given weight, and whoever knows a subject better, therein his opinion is respected. Thus, there should be limitations to disagreement.

A person who gives bai‘at at the hand of a Khalifah should understand that khulafa’ are appointed by God, and the work of a Khalifah is to guide people and reflect on religious issues day and night. Respect for his opinion in religious matters is necessary, and disagreement with his opinion can only be permitted when the disagreeing person knows with certainty that what he is saying is correct. Then, it is also a condition that he first present that disagreement before the Khalifah and say that “I have this doubt concerning this matter,” and he should remove that doubt through the Khalifah as a patient sometimes tells a doctor that “I have this pain, reflect further on the illness.” Thus, it is the obligation on one who disagrees that he present the matter in which he disagrees before the Khalifah, not that he start spreading it himself. Otherwise, if it is permitted that a person starts telling whatever comes to his mind, then nothing will be left of Islam, because every person does not have the capacity to make the right decision. Otherwise, it would not have come in the Holy Quran that when you hear something about peace or fear then take it to “those in authority” (Surah an-Nisa’, 4:60). Do “those in authority” not make mistakes? They do, but their opinion has been granted honor, and when their opinion has been honored, then why should the opinion of khulafa’ not be honored. Each individual is not capable of reaching the correct conclusion in every matter.

Thus, each person cannot understand everything correctly, and for the unity of the Jama‘at, it is necessary that if someone has a disagreement in something, he should present it before the Khalifah. If someone does not do this, and giving disagreement room in his heart he spreads it among the general public, then he rebels and he should reform himself.

(Anwarul ‘Ulum, vol. 9, p. 162–163, Minhajut-Talibin)

This does not at all mean that Islam forbids us from asking questions, rather it encourages questions. The difference between a believer and a disbeliever is that when a believer asks a question about a teaching of Islam, he asks from the perspective of understanding the greater wisdom of that teaching. When a disbeliever asks a question about a teaching of Islam, he asks from the perspective of understanding whether the teaching is true or false. To teach us this distinction, Allah Almighty tells us the story of how Hadrat Ibrahim as asked Allah Almighty a question, and Allah Almighty said, “Hast thou not believed?” Hadrat Ibrahim as said, “Yes, but I ask this that my heart may be at rest.”A believer never stops asking questions; he just changes the way he asks questions. For example, the people of Hadrat Musa as asked a question, and Hadrat Musa as asked the same question. About the people of Hadrat Musa as, Allah Almighty says:

And remember when you said: ‘O Moses, we will by no means believe thee until we see Allah face to face;’ then the thunderbolt overtook you, while you gazed.

(Surah al-Baqarah, 2:56)

About Hadrat Musa as, Allah Almighty says:

And when Moses came at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, ‘My Lord, show Thyself to me that I may look at Thee.’

(Surah al-A‘raf, 7:144)

The question was the same, but the difference of intention made all the difference.

Updated on February 23, 2019

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