From Issue: 1028 [Read full issue]

Persuasive Authority

Deferring to God and honouring the text (instructions), requires a human being to exercise self-restraint in speaking for God and the text. But discharging the obligations of human agency mandates that the reader (agent) take his or her role very seriously by aggressively and vigorously investigating both God and God's instructions. "God knows best" is not an invitation to intellectual complacency and smugness, but, as the Quran states, to realize that "over every knowledgeable person is a One more knowledgeable." (12:76)

Submission to God is at the core of the Islamic creed, but it does not mean blind submission to those who claim to represent God's law, and it does not mean submitting to the contentment and comfort of arrogant self-reference. Submission to God means the will and act of engaging the intellect and body in the pursuit of God, but also the humility of knowing that no intellect or body can ever fully represent God. The Quran sums up this point by reminding the Prophet that even he has not been sent to control or dominate people, but to admonish and teach. (88:21-22)

This reminder is particularly pertinent to those who place themselves in the position of the devoted sages of the Divine instructions. Those special agents accept the responsibility of doing what is not feasible for everyone to do, and that is devote a lifetime to the study of the instructions. As the Quran states, the task of these special agents is to study the instructions and to share the results of their search with the common agents who ultimately bear the responsibility of acting according to the dictates of their conscience. (9:122) The authority of these special agents is not inherent or institutional - it is persuasive. The common agents will and should defer to the determinations of those special agents, but only to the extent that the special agents are honestly and diligently representing what the special agents believe to be the Will of the instructions.

Compiled From:
"Speaking in God's Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women" - Khaled Abou El Fadl