The following is the translation of a chapter from the Arabic book 'Al-Fikr al-Islami' (The Islamic Thought) by Sheikh Mohammad Mohammad Ismael Abduh, an Assistant Professor at the Egyptian University (now known as Cairo University) in the past.
Muslims are obliged, in this life, to proceed in accordance with the orders and prohibitions of Allah. His (swt) orders and prohibitions came at the tongue of Rasool ul-Allah Muhammad (saw) in the Book and the Sunnah. From these two sources we derive the ahkam and what can be evidences with them, for the ahkam, which are ijmaa’ us-Sahabah and the qiyas (analogy).
These ahkam are erived from the orders and prohibitions that came in the Book and the Sunnah. The orders and prohibitions that came in the Book and Sunnah are not confined to the form of the imperative (seeghat fi’lul amr).
They rather came in many forms. Therefore, it is wrong to think that the meaning of the order of Allah (swt) that He orders of a thing by the form do (if’al). He might rather order with the imperative form (do) as well as with other forms.
When Allah (swt) says:
“Fasting has been prescribed upon you.” [TMQ Al-Baqarah: 183], He orders with fasting.
And when He (swt) says:
“It is duty upon (Muslim) people to make pilgrimage (Hajj) to the House.” [TMQ Ali-‘Imran: 97], He orders with Hajj. He (swt) also orders with the form of imperative (seeghat ul-amr) as in His (swt) saying:
“Establish the prayer.” [TMQ Al-Baqarah: 43], and
“When you contract a debt for a fixed time, record it in writing.” [TMQ Al-Baqarah: 282]
So the order from Allah (swt) is the request from us to do the matter, whether He (swt) ordered of it in the imperative form or information form.
It is incorrect to say this matter is not obligatory (wajib), because there is not a text that orders us of it, for there is no imperative form and it came in the informative form. Nor it is correct to say this matter is obligatory (wajib) because it came in the imperative form. This is because the matter might be obligatory and it came in other than the imperative form; and it might be not obligatory and it came in the imperative form. Since what is meant by the order (amr) is the request of (doing) the matter regardless of the form in which the request came; for there is no specific form for the order.
As regards to the form of do (if’al), it is not specific to the order alone. It is rather common (mushtarak) for the order (amr) and others. It might be for warning (tahdeed) direction (irshad) and allowance (ibahah); and all of these are not orders. The common (mushtarak) word, in the language, that has many meanings, is suitable for all the meanings it indicates in the language if it came detached for qaraa’in (connections). It is not assigned to a specific meaning unless there is a qareenah (connection) that indicates that.
As an example, the word ‘al-‘ayn’ is a word common (mushtarak) between many meanings. It is called upon ‘al-‘ayn’ (the eye), ‘al-jasoos’ (spy), ‘al-‘ayn al-jariyah’ (fountain), and ‘an-naqd’ (currency). There is no preference of any of these meanings over the others with a qareenah (connection), for it represents the true (haqeeqi) in some of them and metaphoric (majazi) in others.
Likewise the form (seeghah) of do (if’al) is a common (mushtarak) between many meanings. It is called to mean the order (amr), to mean giving choice (takhyeer), to mean threatening (tahdeed) and to mean gratitude (imtinan). Not any one of these meanings is preferred to the others without a qareenah (linkage). This is because it represents the true meaning of each one of them; and it is not true (haqeeqi) in some of them and metaphoric (majazi) in the others. The Qur’an has come with these meanings (for the amr) in many explicit ayah that are not subject for interpretation (ta’weel).
It appears for examining the ayah that came with the imperative form (seeghatul amr) that the Qur’an called it in different accounts and did not specify it with the order. It came to mean obligation (wujoob) as in His (swt) saying:
“Establish the prayer.” [TMQ Al-Israa’: 78]
It also means preference (nadb) as in His (swt) saying:
“… Write for them…” [TMQ An-Nur: 33]
It means direction (irshad) as in His saying:
“… So seek witness…” [TMQ Al-Baqarah: 282]
Which means if you wanted to conclude a transaction, it is more convenient that you have witnesses on it so that your right is not lost. It is for allowance (ibahah), such as His (swt) saying:
“…But when you have left the sacred territory, then go hunting (if you will)…” [TMQ Al-Maidah: 2]
And His (swt) saying:
“And when the prayer is ended, then disperse in the land…” [TMQ Al-Jumu’a: 10]
It is also for gratitude (imtinan) as His (swt) saying:
“Eat of what Allah provided to you.” [TMQ Al-An’am: 42]
It is for honouring (ikram) as His (swt) saying:
“Enter them (the gardens) in peace, secure.” [TMQ Al-Hijr: 46]
It is for threatening (tahdeed) as His (swt) saying:
“Do what you like.” [TMQ Fussilat: 40]
“Take your ease (enjoy yourselves) a while.” [TMQ Az-Zariyat: 43]
It is for mockery (tashkeer) as His (swt) saying:
“Be you apes, despised and hated!” [TMQ Al-Baqarah: 65]
It is for incapacitation (ta’jeez) as His (swt) saying:
“Be you stones or iron. Or some created thing that is yet greater in your thoughts!” [TMQ Al-Israa’: 50-51]
It is for humiliation (ihanah) as His (swt) saying:
“Taste! Lo! You are might, full of honour.” [TMQ Ad-Dukhan: 49]
It is as well for equalization (taswiyah) as His (swt) saying:
“Be patient or don’t be…” [TMQ At-Tur: 16]
Thus the imperative form (seeghatul amr) carries many meanings. If it came free of the qaraa’in (connections), then it is necessary to seek for the qareenah (linkage) in the text it came in or in other texts that came in the same subject or case, in order to assign what is meant of the command in that text. In other words, this is to determine the intended meaning of the imperative form in the text.
In this manner, it becomes possible to understand the divine text (an-nuss ash-shar’i), and to derive the hukm of Allah (swt) meant from that text. Thus man would follow the halal as it came and not as what the person wishes. He avoids the haram that came and not what the person himself views. In such a way man would have followed the halal and avoided the haram in the manner that Allah (swt) wanted.