Obeying the Messenger
By Imaam ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah
From the book Ar-Risaalat ut-Tabukiyyah
Translation & Comments by Muhammad al-Jibaali

Decisions of Allaah and His Messenger
Allah (T) said: "It is not befitting for a believing man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allaah and His Messenger, to have any option about their decision." [al-Ahzaab 33:36]
This ayah indicates that when it is confirmed that Allah (T) or His Messenger (S) have made a decision or have informed about a particular matter, then no believer, male or female, may choose differently. Any opposing choice would contradict Iman.
Ash-Shafi'ee (r) reported a consensus among the scholars of the Sahaabah, the Tabi'een, and their followers, that: "If a sunnah of Allah's Messenger (S) becomes manifest to a person,
he does not have any choice but to follow it, regardless of what other people say."
No Muslim scholar disputes or doubts the truth of this statement. The only evidence that people are required to follow [besides Allah's Book] is the words of the Infallible (Muhammad (S)) "who does not say anything out of (his own) desire" [an-Najm 53:3)]
Other people's talks could, at best, be acceptable to follow. But in no way may they oppose or outweigh the Texts (of the Quraan and Sunnah). We ask Allah (T) to protect us from the failure [incurred on those who do not abide by this].

The Guidance Is in Obeying the Messenger

Also, Allah (T) said: "Say: Obey Allah and obey the Messenger: but if you turn away then he (the Messenger) is only responsible for the duty placed on him, and you for that placed on you. If you obey him, you shall be on right guidance. The Messenger's duty is only clear deliverance [of the Message]" [an-Nur 24:54]
Note that repeating the verb "obey" here has an important significance that will be discussed below.
Here Allah (T) makes obeying the Messenger (S) a condition for guidance; guidance cannot be acquired without this obedience. The duty of the Messenger (S) is to deliver the Message; and people's duty is to follow, obey, and submit to him.
Al-Bukhari (r) reported that Az-Zuhri1 said: "From Allah [comes] the knowledge; from the Messenger (S) [comes] the deliverance [of the knowledge]; and from us [comes] the
submission [to the Message]."
Thus if people neglect their duty of belief and obedience, they would harm themselves not him; his responsibility is not to make them believe, but only to deliver the Message to them; it is not required from him that people be guided and successful.

Addressing the Believers
And Allah (T) said: "Believers! Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger and those charged with authority among you; if you differ in anything, refer it to Allaah and the Messenger (for judgment) if you (truly) believe in Allaah and the Last Day: that is best, and most suitable for final determination" [an-Nisa' 4:59]
Allah (T) is requiring obedience to Him and to His Messenger (S). He starts the ayah with an address to the "believers", hinting that what is required thereafter is a consequence of that name with which they are addressed.
This is similar to saying, "You whom Allah has favoured and enriched with His bounties, be good to others as Allah has been good to you." And like, "Learned man, teach people what would benefit them." And, "Ruler, rule with justice." And so on.
For this reason, legislative matters in the Qur'an are frequently addressed to the believers, starting the address with "Believers". For example Allah says: "Believers, fasting is prescribed for you..." [al-Baqarah 2:183]
And He says: "Believer, when the call is proclaimed for prayer on Friday, hasten earnestly to the remembrance of Allaah..." [al-Jumu'ah 62:9]
And He says: "Believers, fulfill the contracts..." [al-Ma'idah 5:1]
Addressing the believers like this carries the implication that: "If you are true believers, you should perform the following action, because it is a requirement for the integrity and sincerity of Iman."

To Obey the Messenger Is to Obey Allaah
In the above ayah (an-Nisaa' 59), Allah demands obedience to Him, the Messenger, and those of authority. The verb "obey" is applied only once in regard to the Messenger and those of authority. One might expect the opposite - [that it would be applied only once in regard to both Allah and the Messenger] because: "He who obeys the Messenger obeys Allaah indeed" [an-Nisa' 4:80]
However, this usage here has a subtle meaning. It implies that the Messenger must be obeyed in all that he commands, even if it were not something specifically required in Qur'an.
Let one then not imagine that the Messenger (S) should only be obeyed when his commands confirm the Qur'an, otherwise he need not be obeyed. [In refutation of such fallacy, al-Miqdam bin Ma'di Yakrib (R) narrated that] he (S) said : "There will be a man with full stomach, reclining on his pillow, who will hear a command from me and say, "Let the judge between us (in this matter) be Allah's Book: we obey whatever we find in it."
[Know that] indeed, I have been given the Book and, with it, that which is similar to it (the Sunnah)." 2
However, obeying the people of authority is not required independently, but as part of obeying the Messenger (S). This fact is confirmed by the hadith (narrated by Ibn 'Umar (R)):
"One should listen and obey (those charged with authority) whether it were something he liked or hated, as long as he is not commanded to disobey Allaah (T). If he is commanded to disobey Allaah, he should neither listen nor obey."3
Toward the end of this ayah (an-Nisa' 59), Allah emphasizes obeying the Messenger (S) by saying (what means), "... refer it to Allaah and the Messenger ...." rather than saying, "... and to the Messenger ...". Referring matters to the Qur'an is equivalent to referring them to Allah and the Messenger. Also, Allah's judgement is the same as His Messenger's; and the Messenger's judgment is the same as Allah's.
Thus if you refer your disputes to Allah, i.e. to His Book, then you refer to His Messenger (S) as well. And if you refer to His Messenger (S), then you refer to Allah as well. This is one of the subtleties of the Qur'an.

The People of Authority
Two views have been expressed by the Sahaabah and the 'ulama (scholars) as to who are the ones "charged with authority". The first is that they are the 'ulama and the other is that they are the rulers.
In reality, it applies to both groups, because both the 'ulama and the rulers are in charge of the affairs concerning which Allah has sent His Messenger.
As for the 'ulama, they are charged with protecting the Deen, explaining it, teaching it, and refuting those who deviate from it or try to alter it. Allah (T) gave them this charge, as He said: "These [prophets] were the men to whom We granted the Book and Judgement and Prophethood; if these people [of the Scripture]
reject them, behold! We shall entrust their charge to a new people who do not reject them..." [al-An'aam 6:89]
This is indeed a great assignment to the 'ulama that requires from people to obey and follow them.
And as for the rulers, they are charged with establishing the Deen, safeguarding it, compelling people to adhere to it, and punishing those who deviate from it.
Thus these two groups are in charge of the affairs of people, and other people are their followers and subjects.

Matters of Dispute
Furthermore, there is in the above ayah (an-Nisa' 59) a clear evidence that all matters of disagreement, in all aspects of the Deen, should be referred to Allah and His Messenger (S) - and to no one else.
Anyone referring disputes to other than Allah and His Messenger opposes this command by Allah. And anyone who calls to other than Allah's and His Messenger's judgment to resolve disagreements, calls indeed with the call of Jahiliyyah4 .
One does not truly enter the realm of Iman until he refers all differences arising among people to Allah and His Messenger. For this reason, this ayah continues as, "... if you believe in Allah and the Last Day..."
Thus if this condition (of referring disputes to Allah and His Messenger) is not satisfied by a person, this implies the absence of Iman in him.
This ayah should be a sufficient clarification and guidance in this matter (of obeying the Messenger). It constitutes a protection and a support for those who abide by it; and it is a powerful refutation and attack against those who deny it, as Allah (T) said: "... That he who would perish might perish in clear evidence [of the truth], and that he who would remain alive might live in clear evidence [of the truth]. And verily Allaah is All-Hearing, All Knowing..." [al-Anfaal 8:42]
The earlier and later Muslims agreed that referring matters to Allah means referring them to His Book, and referring matters to the Messenger (S) means referring them to him personally during his life, and to his Sunnah after his death.

The Excellence of Obeying the Messenger
The above ayah (an-Nisa' 59) ends with, "... that is best, and most suitable for final determination..." This means, "That with which I commanded you (to obey Me and obey My Messenger and the people of authority, and to refer disputes to Me and My Messenger) is better for you in this life and in the Hereafter; it leads to your happiness in both lives. Therefore, it is best and most rewarding for you."
This indicates that obeying Allah (T) and His Messenger (S), and taking them as the referees, is the means to immediate and continued happiness.
Anyone who examines closely the evils of the world will find that each of them is caused by disobeying the Messenger (S). Similarly, every good in the world results from obeying him. Furthermore, all the evils and pains in the Hereafter result from disobeying him (S).
Thus, all the evils in both lives are caused by disobeying the Messenger (S) and by its consequences. If people obeyed him (S) properly, there would be no evil on earth. This applies equally to the general natural catastrophes and calamities, and to the personal evils, pains, and sorrow that occur to people.
In obeying him (S) is a refuge and a protection for those who want to prosper and be happy. And this prosperity and happiness cannot be achieved until one strives first to learn what the Messenger (S) taught, and then confirm it with true actions.

The Human Excellence
There are two additional actions which complete the happiness arising from truly obeying the Messenger (S). The first is to invite people to obey him (S), and the second is to have patience and perseverance in fulfilling this mission.
Thus the human excellence is confined to four matters:
First, knowing the Message of Messenger (S).
Second, acting in accordance with this knowledge.
Third, spreading this knowledge among people and inviting them to it.
Fourth, persevering and striving in accomplishing all this.
One who seeks to learn how the Sahaabah (R) lived and who want to follow them should know that this was indeed their way [so let him follow it). A poet once said:
"If you want to reach those folk, follow their way: It is quite manifest for those who aspire to it."