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An Excerpt from Akyol’s chapter: Freedom from the State

Among the many episodes from the life of the Prophet Muhammad, two are exceptionally curious. The first is a short discussion between the Prophet and one of his companions right before the famous Battle of Badr, which took place in 624, between Medinan Muslims and Meccan pagans. The night before the battle, the Muslim army had to camp nearby, and the Prophet, as commander in chief, suggested one location. Yet one of his men, al-Mundhir, felt that staying on higher ground would be preferable. So he walked up to the Prophet and asked, “O Messenger of God, is your opinion based on a revelation from God, or is it war tactics?” “No revelation, the Prophet replied. “Just war tactics.”

“Then this is not the most strategic place to camp,” al-Mundhir said. He gave advice that the Prophet liked and followed. It was advice, Muslim tradition holds, that helped win the battle.

What is interesting about this story is that it illustrates distinction the early Muslim community made between God revelation and the Prophet’s personal judgment. The latter, apparently, you could dispute-provided there was a good reason.

The second episode underlines the same principle. Here, reportedly, the Prophet advised his fellow Muslims about date farming, but his suggestions proved unhelpful. So he declined to offer further advice, saying, “I am only human. If I ask you to do something concerning religion, then accept it. But if I ask you to do something on the basis of my personal opinion, then, [remember], I am only human.”

From both of these anecdotes, which appear in harmony with the Qur’anic verses that emphasize the humanness of the Prophet, Muslims can derive two important lessons. First, only God is all-knowing and all-wise. All human beings, including the messengers of God, can err. Since they are most righteous and they receive God’s revelation, the messengers still have authority over believers, which is why the Qur’an orders Muslims to “obey God and His Messenger.” Yet even the messenger of God can be disputed, with all due respect, when he acts based on his personal judgment and not from direct communication with God.

Second, in a world in which even the Prophet cannot be regarded as an unquestionable authority, nobody can.    

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 January 2014 on page no. 21

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