What does the #Quran say about the concept of leadership in the community?


The first thing to note is that there is a leadership structure in Islam. The title “Imam”, which means leader or guide, was given to Nabi Ibrahem AS. Its important to note that this title is given by Allah, it is not something selected by people.

And remember that Abraham was tried by his Lord with certain commands, which he fulfilled: He said: “I will make thee an Imam to the Nations.” He pleaded: “And also (Imams) from my offspring!” He answered: “But My Promise is not within the reach of evil-doers.”

Its also important to note that being a leader, an Imam, came after some tests, it was not simply given, but earned. Ibrahem AS was already a practising Prophet at this point. The position of Imam is therefore a lofty one. Nabi Ibrahem AS asked if the position of Imam will be passed to his descendants, Allah answers in the affirmative, with an exception, that it will not pass to those who commit sin. Nabi Ibrahem AS also did not have the ability to appoint the Imam from his offspring, the matter is completely with Allah.


And We made them leaders, guiding by Our command; and We inspired them to do good works, and to observe the prayer, and to give out charity. They were devoted servants to Us.

Again, in this verse, it is Allah who appoints the Imam. It is not selected by anyone, nor given in a will, nor established by committee. The role of the Imam is also outlined, to guide, be an example, establish the religion and society.

It is a common theme that Allah alone appoints the true leaders.


Their prophet said to them, “God has appointed Talut (Saul) to be your king.” They said, “How can he have authority over us, when we are more worthy of authority than he, and he was not given plenty of wealth?” He said, “God has chosen him over you, and has increased him in knowledge and stature.” God bestows His sovereignty upon whomever He wills. God is Embracing and Knowing.

One interesting issue raised in this verse is that the people felt that Allah appointing Talut was not fair, as Talut did not have vast wealth or achievements. However, what they did not realise is that Allah had enhanced and prepared Talut for the role, and wealth is not significant in guiding the community.

Does the Quran mention anything about leaders after the Prophet Muhammad SAW though?


O you who believe! Obey God and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you dispute over anything, refer it to God and the Messenger, if you believe in God and the Last Day. That is best, and a most excellent determination.

This verse is very important, as firstly it establishes there are Imams after the Prophet SAW, so those that say there are not, are simply in denial of Allah’s words. A more subtle point is that the verse does not say, obey the person in authority, but those in authority, a plural. This means that there is more than two authorities at least to come.

يَوْمَ نَدْعُو كُلَّ أُنَاسٍ بِإِمَامِهِمْ ۖ فَمَنْ أُوتِيَ كِتَابَهُ بِيَمِينِهِ فَأُولَٰئِكَ يَقْرَءُونَ كِتَابَهُمْ وَلَا يُظْلَمُونَ فَتِيلًا
On the Day when We call every people with their leader. Whoever is given his record in his right hand—these will read their record, and they will not be wronged one bit.
Again, Allah says that there is a leader, and on the day of Judgement, we will be organised by our leaders. At this point the notion of authority in Islam should be clear, its obvious, and its denial is simply due to ignorance of the texts.
Generally though in the Quran, there are two types of leader, one that is calling to what is good, and what that calls to what is bad.
And We made them leaders calling to the Fire. And on Resurrection Day, they will not be saved.
وَجَعَلْنَا مِنْهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا لَمَّا صَبَرُوا ۖ وَكَانُوا بِآيَاتِنَا يُوقِنُونَ
And We appointed leaders from among them, guiding by Our command, as long as they persevered and were certain of Our communications.
The word “Imam” is mentioned 7 times in the Quran, and the word “A’iama” (plural) is mentioned 5 times, so a total of 12. They are as follows :


2:124, 9:12, 11:17, 15:79, 17:71, 21:73, 25:74, 28:5, 28:41, 32:24, 36:12, 46:12


We learn that the role of those in authority is to protect the community, and guide it.

When some news of security or alarm comes their way, they broadcast it. But had they referred it to the Messenger, and to those in authority among them, those who can draw conclusions from it would have comprehended it. Were it not for God’s blessing and mercy upon you, you would have followed the Devil, except for a few.

Its also clear that those Allah has put in authority are able to guide, they are equipped to understand the issues that the community may face and take the necessary steps. This is also rationally true, in any organisation, religious or otherwise, they have an authority hierarchy. For example a local mosque, or a small business or a huge international company, all have junior management, middle management and senior managers. Its inherently obvious this is needed for social systems to work.Islam is no different, and it was no different.

So who were the authority that Allah mentioned in the verse 4:59, and why is not clearer?

A man asked Imam Ja`far as-Sadiq [a] about the verse, “Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you” (4:59). The Imam replied, “This was revealed regarding `Ali b. Abi Talib, al-Hasan, and a-Husayn.” The man said, “The people say, ‘Then why weren’t `Ali and his Ahl al-Bayt mentioned by name in the Book of Allah?'” The Imam replied, “Say to them: The command for prayer was revealed to the Messenger of Allah (s), but Allah did not specifically mention [in the Quran] three or four units. It was the Messenger of Allah (s) who detailed that for them. The command to give alms was revealed to him, but He did not mention that it was applied to 1/40 dirhams. It was the Messenger of Allah (s) who detailed for them. The command for Hajj was revealed, but He does not say, ‘Circle [the Ka`ba] seven times’. It was the Messenger of Allah (s) detailed that for them. He revealed, ‘Obey Allah and obey the Messenger those in authority among you’ (4:59), and it was revealed regarding `Ali, al-Hasan, and al-Husayn. The Messenger of Allah (s) said, regarding `Ali, ‘Whoever takes me as a Master, then `Ali is his Master.’ And he (s) said, ‘I leave you with the Book of Allah and my Ahl al-Bayt, so I asked Allah to never separate them from one another until they return to me at the Pond [of Paradise], and He granted my prayer.’ And he said, ‘Do not lecture them, for they are more knowledgeable than you.’ And he said, ‘They will not lead you away from the gate of guidance, and they will not make you enter the gate of misguidance.’ Had the Messenger of Allah (s) kept quiet, it would not be clear who his Ahl al-Bayt would be, and the dynasties would have claimed it (that title). But Allah revealed it in in a Book, clarifying it to His Prophet (s). ‘Surely, Allah wishes to remove uncleanliness from you, Ahl al-Bayt, and purify you with a thorough purification.’ (33:33)”

Source: Al-Kafi

Grading: Sahih


Why Does the Imam have to be sinless?

Some have said, perhaps the Imam or leadership is just whoever is appointed by the people, and it is not a divine appointment. So either the Imam is appointed by God, and then they must be followed. If that is the case the Imam must be sinless and protect from sin. If the Imam is not appointed, then how and who should be the Imam? No such guidance has been outlined in the Quran or the Sunnah. However, lets assume this is the case, and God does not appoint the Imam, but they are to be followed. If that were the case, perhaps the Imam is bad, and evil? Such a leader should not be obeyed. In such a scenario there is an inherent contradiction. Firstly, to have such a position acknowledges that there is a concept of authority, the dispute is who occupies the role. If the role exists and God wants us to obey the person in the role, surely the person should be suitable for the role?


So be patient for the decision of your Lord, and do not obey the sinner or the blasphemer among them.


It would be like Allah saying, follow the Prophet, but the prophet is not good at being a prophet and he makes all sorts of mistakes etc. How can Allah command us to follow someone who is going to lead us astray? This is simply not possible.

So what if two people claim to be the Imam, one is genuine and one is not? The matter should then be referred back to the Quran and Sunnah. If one party can show they have the backing of the Quran and Sunnah to establish their right to be the Imam then they are legitimate.

If one party does not have the backing of the Quran and Sunnah in their claim, but they say they have the backing of the people, or they were appointed by council, or by will, this is not acceptable.


O you who believe! Obey God and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you dispute over anything, refer it to God and the Messenger, if you believe in God and the Last Day. That is best, and a most excellent determination.


There is a system of leadership in Islam, clearly outlined in the Quran. The leaders are to be obeyed, and they call to the truth. If someone claims to be the Imam, they must have the support of the Quran and the Sunnah for their claim that Allah has appointed them as an Imam.