The Qur’an and Sovereignty
The entire enterprise of Islam – defined by Muslims as a commitment to live according to Divine Will – is predicated on and proceeds from the speech-act of Qur’anic revelation. For Muslims, the Qur’ān is God’s unadulterated speech and thus the most authoritative source of sacred truth. Although Muslims regard sacred law as having its basis in the Qur’ān, the Muslim holy book is often mischaracterized as a comprehensive legal manual or bulletin. Of the Qur’ān’s 6,000 ayāt (“signs,” verses), only about 500 can be described as recognizably legislative formulations. On the subject of humankind’s relationship with God and the question of sovereignty, the Qur’ān presents three noteworthy verses. The first of these presented below is the aforementioned mithāq (covenant) verse:
§ And when your Lord took from the Children of Adam, from their loins, their seed, and made them testify concerning themselves, ‘Am I not your Lord?’ they said, ‘Yes, we testify.’ (Q 7:172)
§ Say: ‘Lord, Sovereign of all sovereignty, You bestow sovereignty on whom You will and take it away from whom You please; You exalt whomever You will and abase whomever You please. In Your hand lies all that is good; You have power over all things.’ (Q 3:26)
§ O you who believe, obey God and obey the Prophet and those in authority among you. If you should quarrel on anything, refer it to God and the Prophet, if you believe in God and the Last Day; that is better and fairer in the issue. (Q 4:59)
Quran Search. Islamicity. Link to resource (accessed April 20, 2010). Qur’an search tool for finding specific verses (with audio of recitation).
Professor of Iranian and Central Asian History, and of Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations
Outreach Coordinator, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Chicago
1. What are the key elements of the relationship between God and his followers?
2. What might some of the social implications of Q 3:26 and 4:59 be for a Muslim in Muhammad’s time? For a Muslim today?