Obedience to the Prophet (PBUH) Part 3 – Dr. Mansoor Alam

Obedience to the Prophet (PBUH)  Part 1 – Dr. Mansoor Alam
Obedience to the Prophet (PBUH)  Part 2 – Dr. Mansoor Alam

In this part of our article on the Prophet’s Sunnah we will concentrate on how the Prophet (P) liberated human beings from all kinds of oppressions and opened the door of true freedom for humanity. But first, let us briefly summarize the main points of the first two parts of this article.

In the first part, we discussed some of the basic issues relating to our Prophet’s Sunnah. Contrary to popular belief, we saw that our scholars are divided on the Sunnah. As a consequence, Sunni and Shi’ia scholars (and even Sunni scholars among themselves) disagree on the definition or interpretation of our Prophet’s Sunnah. It is a myth to say that all Muslim scholars agree on a common definition or interpretation of Sunnah. Concrete examples were given to illustrate this point.

In this part we also presented those verses from the Quran that clearly mention that the ultimate goal of the Prophet’s mission (and therefore his Sunnah) was to establish the unity of humankind. This is a necessary consequence of the belief in the unity of God.

The achievement of this high goal was discussed in the second part of the article. We saw that the Prophet (P) did not achieve this goal by rituals and dogmas alone. Nor did he accomplish it by supernatural means. He (P) and his companions (R) persevered and struggled to create social and political change through Quranic education and training. They challenged the secular, tribal, and temporal forces of exploitation and corruption. They torched the path to freedom by removing the chains placed on human beings by these forces. The Quran enjoins us to “…lift from them their burdens and the shackles that were upon them…” (7:157).  This struggle of our Prophet (P) and Sahaba (R) gave unimagined freedom to oppressed human beings. Thus the darkest period in human history (quotation from Denison) was turned into a most enlightened one. We had concluded that this is the real Sunnah of our Prophet (P).

Our Approach to Sunnah

But what is our approach to sunnah? We mostly concentrate on the Prophet’s Sunnah related to his private and family life and to religious rituals and practices. We ignore or evade the larger issues of Sunnah, which affected humanity. If we look beyond our comfort zones, we will see large-scale human suffering, humiliation, exploitation, subjugation, torture and discrimination. Our prayers and rituals alone will not solve this massive human problem, nor will our charities and fund raising make a dent in it. Remember, we can recognize a tree by its fruits. What fruits have we Muslims reaped from the tree of Islam for the last 1300 years, or, for that matter, for the last 20 years, other than humiliation, subjugation, and discrimination?  Surely, it is time to examine our claim to Islam, time to examine our lives and our action, to see why Islam is not yielding the same fruits for us as it did for the Prophet (P) and his companions (R).

Reciting praises in the Prophet and his family’s name before a fundraising or a sermon while ignoring the root cause of exploitation and subjugation of the Muslim masses by kings, dictators, religious scholars, politicians and capitalists is not the way to practice Sunnah. Why do we ignore how our Prophet (P) actually brought about social, political, economical, and judicial change in the society? No doubt, family life is an important aspect of the Prophet’s Sunnah, but this was only a means to achieve an end (i.e., the unity of the Ummah) and not an end in itself. Therefore, that should be our goal, too.

However, the fulfillment of that goal requires a clear, unambiguous, and practical definition of our Prophet’s Sunnah— a definition on which all our Islamic scholars agree, and which does not leave room for more than one interpretation. But this is precisely where the problem lies.  From our multiple interpretations we have created a) sects in Islam, and b) controversies regarding the status of the Quran and hadith/sunnah.

 Creating Sects in Islam is Shirk

Some Muslims evade the issue of sectarianism by insisting that all Muslim scholars do agree on a single definition of Sunnah.  Why, then, are there different sects and divisions among Muslims? Why are Sunnis and Shi’ias divided to an extent that they each have their own Fiqh and Shari’ah, their own books of ahadith and history, their own imams and their own forms of prayer? It is well-known that a Sunni cannot be appointed an imam of a Shi’ia mosque and a Shi’ia cannot be the leader of a Sunni mosque. Is this what our Prophet (P) taught? Can we claim to be the followers of a single Prophet (P)? Is this the way we proclaim there is no disagreement in the definition of Sunnah?

On the other hand, some imams and scholars brush aside this issue by refusing to discuss it, saying it is too controversial. Thus, they perpetuate the issue of sectarian divisions in Islam while ignoring God’s clear command in the Quran:

“And do not be like the Mushrikun. Those who split up their religion,

  and become sects, – each sect rejoicing in that which is with itself.”   (30:31,32)

 “As for those who divide their religion and break up into sects, you (Muhammad) have no part in them in the least.” (6:159)


The above verses clearly indicate that dividing the Ummah is a serious offense against Allah and the Prophet (P).  It is shirk.   Is it not just as serious, then, to ignore and/or perpetuate this division?

In addition, the Prophet said that if you see something wrong in society, you must talk about it and try to change it.  If someone is trying to follow this Sunnah of the Prophet (P) by raising a voice against the present sectarian divisions among Muslims, is it not just as serious, then, to stop his/her voice?   Daily, we practice and surround ourselves with this kind of shirk, sectarianism and its perpetuation, failing to realize our serious offense, all the while claiming to be lovers of our Prohet’s Sunnah. 

Controversy Regarding the Quran and Hadith/Sunnah

Is the Quran above the hadith or vice versa?  As mentioned in the first part of this article, Sunni and Shi’ia imams compiled the majority of hadith books almost two hundred years after the Prophet’s death through an oral chain of narration.  The Ahlul-hadith Sunni scholars ascribe equal status as the Quran to books such as Bukhari and Muslim. Many of these scholars even proclaim that hadith can supersede the Quran in certain issues. They argue that the deficiencies in the Quran are made up by hadith.   Accepting this logic is tantamount to saying that the Quran was incomplete and it required hadith for its completion. Yet Allah tells us clearly that the Quran is complete (6:115); that nothing essential has been left out of it (6:38, 6:59, 10:61, 34:3); that it cannot be challenged (10:38, 11:13, 52:34).

On the other hand, equally famous Sunni scholars (e.g., Haafiz ibn ‘Hajar, Maulana Shibli No’mani, Maulana Azad, Sheikh ‘Abdul ‘Haq Muhaddith Dehlavi, Allama Hameeduddin Faraahi, Maulana Amin Ahsan Islahi, and Syed Sulaiman Nadvi) disagree with the Ahlul-hadith sunni scholars. They hold the view that the Quran can never be superseded by hadith in case of a conflict between the two.

But, as Allama Iqbal points out, whatever may be the controversies surrounding hadith and Sunnah, one thing is absolutely clear:

In the first place, we should bear in mind that from the earliest times, particularly up to the rise of the Abbasids, there was no written law of Islam apart from the Quran. (Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, page 131.)


[See Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought, by Daniel Brown for a detailed discussion of this continuous conflict between the proponents of the superiority of Sunnah and hadith over the Quran and vice versa. He has given several hundred references (covering 36 pages) from the works of prominent Islamic scholars from the Arab world and the Indian subcontinent. It is a must reading for those Imams and scholars who brush this issue aside or wish it away.]

The Prophet’s Real Miracle

Under our Prophet’s leadership and his Sunnah, the world was transformed briefly, as people were given freedom to develop their human potential. Even today, historians and philosophers marvel at how the most backward and barbarous people became the most advanced, most civilized in such a short time.  Yet, sadly enough, today, instead of being astonished, we are perplexed at how the succeeding Muslim generations came to lose that glory.

At the dawn of 21st century, Muslims are oppressed in their own homelands.  Why? Could it be that we have extinguished the light of freedom borne by our Prophet (P) and his companions (R), the light that liberated common people from exploitation and subjugation (of the Byzantine and Persian empires, for example)?  If so, how can we bring back that luster? How can we enlighten the present consciousness of Muslims, as well as non-Muslims? The only way to do that is for us to re-turn to the pristine message of the Quran.  We must remove the non-Quranic dust that has settled over Islam through centuries of dictatorship and priesthood, resulting in the suffocation of that very freedom of thought, which our Prophet (P) gave to humanity.

Sunnah and Freedom of Thought in Islam

Over and over again, Allama Iqbal emphasizes the importance of independent thought.  He says:

The only course open to us is to approach modern knowledge with a respectful but independent attitude and to appreciate the teachings of Islam in the light of that knowledge, even though we may be led to differ from those who have gone before us( page 78). …The teaching of the Quran that life is a process of progressive creation necessitates that each generation, guided but unhampered by the work of its predecessors, should be permitted to solve its own problems (Page 134). …False reverence to past history and its artificial resurrection constitute no remedies for a people’s decay. ‘The verdict of history’, as a modern writer has happily put it, ‘is that worn-out ideas have never risen to power among a people who have worn them out.’ The only effective power, therefore, that counteracts the forces of decay in a people is the rearing of self-concentrated individuals. (Page 120, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam)

Iqbal goes on to explain the meaning of “self-concentrated individuals.”  Individuals must have freedom of thought to be able to develop the self.  In a well-known couplet, he compares the “self” or “khudi” to a unique pearl, urging individuals to focus on the development of   “self” through freedom of thought, and not to destroy it by blind following:

“Taqlid se naakaara na kar apni khudi ko

            Kar iski hifaazat ki yeh gauhar hai yagana”

Blind Following (Taqlid)

Iqbal’s cry for freedom of thought is in stark contrast to the situation today, in which some religious leaders, politicians, reformists and would-be restorers of Muslim power ask Muslims to follow them blindly as the unquestioned Ameers, just as “sheep follow a shepherd” [Why Tanzeem-e-Islami? Page 3, by Imran Hosein, Director of Da’wah for Dr. Israr Ahmed’s Tanzeem-e-Islami of North America].

This blind following is called taqlid in Shari’ah terminology. Taqlid comes from the Arabic root q-l-d. Al-Iqlidu is the camel’s nosering through which the leash is passed. Thus anyone who is doing taqlid (i.e., blindly following) is on a leash.  As pointed out by Allama Iqbal, our ‘Ulema’s insistence on Taqlid contributes to the rapid decay of the general condition of Muslims.  It is important to note here that the ability to think differentiates human beings from animals.  If this freedom is taken away, human beings descend to the level of animals.

That the need for Muslims to be released from the leash, controlled by the ‘Ulema and Imams who insist on Taqlid or strict adherence to the status quo (the man-made Shari’ah), is both obvious and urgent. But how can we do this?   This task is rendered even more difficult because these ‘Ulema and Imams pretend to speak in the name of God.  Allama Iqbal says:

 Khud badalte naheen Quran ko badal dete hain

        huwey kis darja faqeehane haram be taufiq


These people don’t change themselves but they change the Qur’an (by their interpretations). How unfortunate are these custodians of haram (Islam).  He further says:

Ahkam tere haq hain magar apne mufassir

taaweel se Quran ko bana sakte hain Pazhand

O Allah! Your guidance is no doubt the Truth.  But our interpreters can turn Qur’an into Pazhand (1) by their interpretations.


This is what the Jewish and Christian priesthood did (2:79). And, sadly enough, this is what the priesthood in Islam (represented by the majority of ‘Ulema and Imams) has done, as well. Muslims have been led to believe by these ‘Ulema and Imams that their man-made Shari’ah is God-made Shari’ah.  Having hijacked the train of Islam and put it on a different track that Allama Iqbal refers to it as the ‘Ajmi Islam, these ‘Ulema and Imams, with their manmade Shari’ah, have brought unprecedented humiliation and defeat to Muslims.  It is imperative that this shackle ofTaqlid, which has choked freedom of thought among Muslims for more than a thousand years, be broken.    Then only will we be truly in accordance with the Sunnah of our Prophet (P).


“Those who follow the messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures),- in the Torah 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 (i.e., all human beings) 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 (i.e., the Quran) which is sent down with him,- it is they who will prosper.” (7:157)  [Yusuf ‘Ali]


That is, until the shackles are removed, Muslims will not prosper. However, before the shackles of Taqlid can be removed, Muslims must first understand and differentiate between the concepts of freedom of thought as opposed to freedom itself, and the human urge for freedom.

What is Freedom?

If we turn back the pages of history and observe the struggles of past nations, or if we study the present social and political movements, we find one common thread: the human urge for freedom.  Human beings, no matter when or where, will invariably rebel against oppression and yearn for freedom.   However, freedom itself must be bounded, otherwise, like an uncontrolled flood, it, too, will lead us to destruction, anarchy and chaos.  Iqbal likens freedom to an evergreen tree, which is free as well as restrained.  From these same restraints, he says, we must gain our freedom:

Sanoober bagh mein azaad bhi hay pa-ba-gil bhi hay

Inheen paabandyon se haasil azaadi ko tu kar le

This is a very creative definition of freedom. While every tree is subjected to the same restrictions by nature, these restrictions are imposed to optimize the growth and development of a tree’s latent potential.  The same principle can be applied to human society.  And the application of this principle is what our Prophet (P) accomplished in Medina. He implemented, in Medina, a socio-economic and political infrastructure within the boundaries of the Quranic principles. The Quran constitutionally protected the human rights and freedom of all people.  Everyone was equal, including the Prophet (P), before the law. Within these Quranic limits, human beings enjoyed full freedom of thought, which, in turn, gave human beings the opportunity to realize and nourish their God-given latent potential.    Hence, the glory of Islam in its early years!

This concept of freedom is the Prophet’s greatest contribution to humanity, not just to Muslims. How ironic, then, that today the West talks about freedom and freedom of thought, while religious Muslims who emphasize Sunnah so much, proclaim that slavery is allowed in Islam and that Muslims are bound by Taqlid.

Western Concept of Freedom

The West is proud — and rightly so — that its system is based on the rule of law. This implies obedience to a constitution rather than to an individual or group of individuals. However, the western concept of freedom is flawed because the question remains: who should make the laws and draft the constitution?

In this system, a group of people, mostly nominated, forms a constituent assembly. They draft, debate, discuss, and eventually come up with a final constitutional document, usually by consensus.  However, even before the constitution is voted on and approved, representatives of the constituent assembly usually start discussing amendments to the constitution only because it is primarily a man-made document based on trial and error.

In addition, the representatives specify a process by which it is finally approved as the constitution of the country.  Once officially adopted as a constitution, it provides the rule of law. This is the best system as yet devised by human beings because, in it, sovereignty belongs to a constitution rather than to any person or group of persons. Thus, human beings are released from the burden of dictators and religious priests and become subject only to the sovereignty of a single constitution and its rule of law. People are free within the limits set by the constitution.

Shortcomings of the Western Concept of Freedom

Although the Western concept of freedom has liberated its people from the clutches of the church and dictators, it, nevertheless, suffers from the fatal flaw of giving the unlimited power of lawmaking to human beings. No doubt, the West has made a great contribution to the concept of human freedom since the French revolution, but, in principle, here, too, human beings are not free from obedience to other human beings, e.g. the power of lobbies.

In the final analysis, while people in the west obey the collective will of the framers of the constitution (this is much better than obeying priests and kings), it must not be forgotten that the framers of the constitution, were, after all, human beings, no matter how noble their character and how great their constitutional abilities. No human being can separate his/her personality from his/her emotions and beliefs. And emotions and beliefs are essentially subjective. They cloud one’s judgement and foresight. Therefore, human lawmakers cannot totally separate their personal emotions and beliefs from their duties as lawmakers.

There is no doubt that selfless service and dedication drive most pioneers and architects of human rights and freedoms, as, indeed, was the case with the framers of the U.S. constitution. Nevertheless, the constitutional document cannot but reflect the vision of its architects. If their vision is clear and broad and in line with fundamental human rights and freedoms, then the constitution becomes a protector and guarantor of the people’s rights, as indeed the U.S. constitution is.  However, the U.S. Constitution does not extend to other nations.  In fact, historically, the U.S. has been known to trample the rights of other peoples for its own strategic, material interests.

Protection of Freedoms and Rights of All

Humanity has survived two world wars but it may not survive a third one. In recent years, the intensity and scope of human rights abuses, worldwide, have been increasing at an unprecedented level.  It is important to recognize and protect the rights and freedom of all human beings, if humanity is to survive. This is not possible except through constitutional means.  But, since the sovereignty of the U.S. constitution guaranteeing human rights and freedoms ends with the U.S. borders, human beings elsewhere do not enjoy the same constitutional rights and freedoms. This is the real issue.  Why should human beings elsewhere be denied the basic human rights and freedoms?  Is it possible to have a single universal constitution embracing all humanity?  If so, can human beings come up with a universal constitution that can serve as guarantor and protector of universal human rights and freedoms?  Can human minds even conceive such an all-encompassing, clear, and unbiased document?

 Need for a Universal Constitution for Entire Humanity

Although many great intellectuals of the West e.g., Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, Henri Bergson, and Robert Briffault among others, have tried, the goal of creating even a basis for a universal constitution has remained elusive. However, the need for its formulation has never been as great as at the present time, because many of the barriers that separated human beings have already fallen, and the remaining ones are falling at electronic speed. Many envision the world as a global village that is being increasingly (and tightly) connected by the so-called information super highway.  Immediately, the urgent question becomes: who should rule this global village?  The multinational corporations?  They who have plundered the resources of the world and polluted its environment? It will indeed be unfortunate for humanity if they become the de facto rulers of the world.  In fact, they already are, to a large extent.  With the help of their governments, they have created a new economic paradigm based on exploitation of the poor by the rich in the guise of free market and economic progress and in the name of freedom and opportunity. History bears ample testimony that this kind of deceptive and large-scale exploitation leads to human catastrophe. Therefore, this is not the way to protect universal human rights and freedoms.

The questions pertaining to universal human rights, equality, and freedom may not have occupied the minds of the framers of the U.S. Constitution in the same way as they did, for example, Einstein in recent years, who, confronted with a very different world situation, examined these issues in great depth in his book Out of My Later Years.  Although the immediate goal of the framers of the Constitution was to preserve the rights of people within the union by gaining independence from Great Britain, the document they prepared does contain elements of universal (self-evident) truths: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” However, the real question remains: how to extend these to the entire human race?

Quran as the Universal Constitution for Humanity

About fourteen hundred years ago, Prophet Muhammad (P) gave to humanity a document, containing universal truths including those mentioned in the Declaration of Independence. This also was a declaration of independence, based on permanent values, but it was for the entire human race. It was a declaration of universal human rights and freedoms, of universal peace and security, of universal trust, of a universal code of ethics, of universal human dignity, of universal freedom of thought and expression.  In short, it was a declaration of the universal brotherhood of humankind. This document is called the Quran. Can it serve as the constitution for entire humanity?   Can it save humanity from the destruction that seems to be its destiny?  It boldly proclaims that it can.

The only way for the world to judge this high claim of the Quran is to put it to the test and prove it on its intrinsic value and on its own merit — without any human corruption. This is a challenge for the world; not so much because it is difficult — indeed, it is easy as Allah says in many verses– but Muslim scholars have made it difficult by layering it with their own thoughts and ideas. This, indeed, is unfortunate for the world, because the intellectuals who are searching for a universal constitution do not know that it is right there in front of them. For this, we Muslims, alone are to be blamed. Once the Prophet (P) established the Quran as the Constitution in Medina, it was our duty to present its message to the world based solely on its intrinsic value. Instead, we shrouded it with our thoughts and emotions and thus made it ineffective not only in our own lives, but deprived the rest of the world, too, of its values.


The system that can guarantee equal rights and freedoms for all human beings irrespective of race, color, language, ethnicity, etc. must be based on permanent values.  Since human thinkers and philosophers, searching for permanent values, are limited by time and space, it becomes obvious they cannot find these except through trial and error. This is basically an inductive approach, which requires considerable time. It might take hundreds or even thousands of years to find just a few permanent values.   For example, it took almost 400 years for the U.S. to reject slavery.  On the other hand, if we are able to structure our society based on the permanent values contained in the Quran, then humanity will not only be assured dignity and equality, but it will also be set free to realize its God-given potential, as it did 1400 years ago in the glorious days of early Islam. The challenge for us is to prove to the world that the Quran is the only book that contains the complete set of Permanent Values.

Are we, Muslims, ready for this challenge?  Are we ready to challenge the Pharaohs, the Hamans, and Qaroons of the world with the Quran?  This is what our Prophet (P), whom we love so dearly, did to liberate human beings. This is how he “… lift[ed] from them their burdens and the shackles that were upon them” (7:157).  Today, the Muslim world is still dominated by modern Pharaohs (kings, dictators, corrupt politicians), modern Qaroons (capitalist parasites), and modern Hamans (priests, sectarian imams, professional Islamic scholars, and defenders of the status quo). It is our duty to liberate the masses from their clutches through the message of the permanent values contained in the universal constitution of Al-Quran.

This must be done, however, through constitutional and peaceful means. It requires, firstly, great wisdom, up-to-date knowledge, objective reasoning, and deep understanding of the Quran as a universal constitution, not as a religious book.  Secondly, it requires great focus, great patience, and great tolerance. This is what our Prophet (P) struggled for throughout his life. And, therefore, this is his most important Sunnah for us to practice. We certainly cannot follow our Prophet’s Sunnah by being divided into sects, by paying lip service to the Prophet (P), by singing poems in his honor and celebrating his birthday, by evading controversial issues, by passing fatwas against others, by engaging in subjective arguments and endless debates, by resorting to emotional and psychological tactics, by labeling others who disagree, by spreading rumors, suspicions and propaganda, or by resorting to violence.

The most urgent task before us is to get down to cleaning our house first before we point fingers at others.

Note to the reader: Now that you have read my presentation, please make up your own mind. You do not have to agree with me. You have every right to write and present your point of view just as I have. Islam is not a monopoly of Islamic scholars; it is for every body. If you think I am wrong, please write a rebuttal providing proofs. This is according to the Sunnah of the Prophet (P) because he said to those who disagreed:”Haatu burhaanakum inkuntum saadeqeen.”


  1. Pazhand is the book compiled by the followers of Zoroaster which according to them is the interpretation of Avesta, the original book of Zoroaster in which his followers inserted their own thoughts.

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