Understanding the Theme of Commands in the Quran

A Thematic Interpretation of the Quran - 8

The Quranic theme that we’re going to discuss this time is the theme of commands, (al-awamir in Arabic). When Allah has ordered us for something or forbade us from something. The do’s and the do not’s in the Quran (awamir & nawahi).

The do’s and the do not’s in the Quran sometimes come in these Arabic verbs that mean do or do not, and sometimes they come in various forms of commands through the essence of the story, or an event that happened in this life in our history, or in the after life as conversation…

So the do’s and the don’ts are not only the four hundred verses as some scholars claimed that are what they called “Ayat al Ahkam” (the verses of the commands, or verses of the rules). The rules are everywhere and the commands are everywhere in the Quran.

And it is a theme in a certain angle that you can look at the whole Quran, and, of course, the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) explaining it through so that you can see what Allah is ordering us to do as commands.

Two Different Rules

When we look at the commands, though, in the Quran, we have to look at the higher commands and the more detailed commands. If you wish, the maxims or the basic rules, the basic commands and the detailed commands. And these are two different rules.

They are important so that the detailed commands revolve around the major commands. The maxims are hegemonic over the details; otherwise, if we only look at the details, which is the usual methodology when people read the Quran, they look at the details.

For example, when Allah divided the inheritance this way, or put laws and rules for the family law this way, or put rules and laws for trade this way, or for war and peace…

Higher Rules vs. Detailed Rules

But the maxims or the higher level of commands are the guides through which we can understand the detailed commands properly.

It is through the higher objectives and the higher values of the family that we can understand the rules of the family; otherwise, if we took the rules of the family law away from the higher rules of the family law and the higher objectives of love and mercy, and the higher concepts of the family and relatives…

If we take the higher rules out of the picture and we are left with the detailed commands, then the detailed commands could be put in the wrong context and could be understood in a way that defies the purposes and defies the points behind the detailed commands.

If we understand the commands of trade and so on, superficially through just looking at the detailed verses without looking at the higher level of equity, the higher forbiddance of forbidding monopoly of wealth, then we are not able to put the detailed commands in the right context.

Therefore, the specific commands have to be integrated with the higher commands.

The Sunnah in Light of the Quran

When we look at the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as commands, we have to also find the integration between the commands that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave in the context of place and time of his time and the commands of the Quran.

So, he made judgeship according to particular rules and particular commands that he (peace be upon him) put that integrates the Quran. But they have to also be put in the context of the higher rules and the detailed rules of the Quran.

Because some of the rules he (peace be upon him) had judged are specific to his context to the kind of currency they dealt with, to the kind of land ownership and land-rentals they dealt with, to the kind of social culture when it comes to family, weddings, that he dealt with.

Therefore, the commands in the Quran are higher. Not that the command of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) have any issue or any problem from an Islamic point of view, but they have a problem from a methodological point of view if we don’t integrate them with the higher commands of the Quran.

Integrating Rules

The approach to rules has to be also an approach that integrates the rules with all of the other themes that we talked about so far. It is not possible to look at the rule or the command without the objective of the command.

When I know that I am fasting so that I can acquire taqwa or heedfulness, then heedfulness will be my objective.

When I know that I am following the rules of the family so that we can achieve love and mercy, then love and mercy are hegemonic over the rules. The objectives of the rules are very important.

The concepts of the rules are very important too. It’s very important when we deal with rules related to knowledge, we go to the concept of knowledge in the Quran.

When we deal with rules related to the masjid, we go to that concept of the mosque: what is the mosque? What is the role of the mosque?

When we deal with rules related to certain groups, and this was one of the themes we discussed, we have to integrate the groups that Allah talked about according to the Quranic description of these groups with the rules that have to do with that.

The groups of poverty and richness, for example, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had dealt with that according to the currency of the time, and the poverty and richness of that time. But the poverty and richness today are different, and therefore, we have to go back to the Quran and integrate the meanings and try to understand what is

really the criteria upon which we can say that this is a person that belongs to the category of the poor or belongs to the category of the rich.

The Bigger Picture

Therefore, the categories in that theme is very important also to look at.

The theme of values that we discussed, there are no rules without values! And often times we understand rules in a partialistic way and we don’t integrate them with the moral value, or the beauty values that are associated with the rule, or the benefits and harms…

So, we apply the rule without looking at the benefits and harms, or we apply the rule without looking at the moral value behind the rule, and that is a misguided application of the rules and the commands.

Therefore, the commands have to be put within the bigger picture.

Logic & Reason

The commands have to also be reasoned according to the reasoning in the Quran that has a particular way of defining logic and a particular way of defining fallacies.

Therefore, when Allah said:

And no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another. (35:18)

That is a higher rule that should govern our understanding of the commands, of responsibility, punishment, and anything that is related to that because nobody should carry the burden of another person.

When Allah said:

There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. (2:256)

This is a higher command that should govern all the other commands that we put under that so that we do not impose faith on anybody, but to educate, to advice, and to give a good example…

Real Freedom

That is how the commands are integrated with the rest of Islam. It is not possible to cut the ties between the commands in the book of Allah and the rest of the value system, the conceptual framework, and the objectives framework of Islam so that the commands are practiced properly and put in the right context.

Commands and forbiddences are very important theme of the Quran. When we read the Quran, we should look at the do’s and the don’ts that Allah has ordered us. And this is part of worship that we follow His commands.

This is not against our freedom or our interests as Muslims, but this is how we could be free by being slaves and submissive only to Allah.

When I am a slave only of Allah, this is freedom, because He created me, He knows what is best for me, so He commanded me to do, and He knows what harms me, so He forbade me from doing.

We ask Allah guidance and forgiveness.

Part 1 – Part 2 – Part 3 – Part 4 – Part 5 – Part 6Part 7

About Dr. Jasser Auda
Jasser Auda is a Professor and Al-Shatibi Chair of Maqasid Studies at the International Peace College South Africa, the Executive Director of the Maqasid Institute, a global think tank based in London, and a Visiting Professor of Islamic Law at Carleton University in Canada. He is a Founding and Board Member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, Fellow of the Islamic Fiqh Academy of India, and General Secretary of Yaqazat Feker, a popular youth organization in Egypt. He has a PhD in the philosophy of Islamic law from University of Wales in the UK, and a PhD in systems analysis from University of Waterloo in Canada. Early in his life, he memorized the Quran and studied Fiqh, Usul and Hadith in the halaqas of Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo. He previously worked as: Founding Director of the Maqasid Center in the Philosophy of Islamic Law in London; Founding Deputy Director of the Center for Islamic Ethics in Doha; professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada, Alexandria University in Egypt, Islamic University of Novi Pazar in Sanjaq, Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies, and the American University of Sharjah. He lectured and trained on Islam, its law, spirituality and ethics in dozens of other universities and organizations around the world. He wrote 25 books in Arabic and English, some of which were translated to 25 languages.