The Real Meaning of Ulul-Amr
We now turn to the correct interpretation of the above verse, that is the interpretation of the verse by Ahlul-Bait. Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq (the 6th Imam) said that this verse was revealed about Ali, al-Hasan and al-Husain, peace be upon them. Upon hearing this, someone asked the Imam: "People say, why did Allah not mention the name of Ali and his family in His Book?"
Imam answered: "Tell them that there came the command of Salat (prayer), but Allah did not mention whether three or four units to be performed; it was the Messenger of Allah who explained all the details. And (the command of) Zakat (religious tax) was revealed, but Allah did not say that it is one in every forty Dirhams; it was the Messenger of Allah who explained it; and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) was ordered but Allah did not say to perform Tawaf (turning around Ka'ba) seven times; it was the Messenger of Allah who explained it. Likewise, the verse was revealed: Obey Allah, and obey the Messenger and those vested with authority from among you, and it was revealed about Ali and al-Hasan and al-Husain (who were the only living Imams at the time of the Prophet)." It is quite obvious that if Allah would have ever mentioned the name of Imam Ali (AS) in Quran explicitly, those who bore mountains of hatred against him would have attempted to alter the Quran.
Thus this was the Grace of Allah that He codified all the branches of knowledge of religion in Quran to be understood ONLY by the processors of the understanding mind. And in this way, Allah kept Quran intact. On the commentary of the verse 4:59 of Quran in which Allah orders us to obey Ulul-Amr, al-Khazzaz in his book, Kifayatul Athar, gives a tradition on the authority of the well-known companion of the Prophet (PBUH&HF), Jabir Ibn Abdillah al-Ansari (RA): When the verse (4:59) was revealed, Jabir asked the Prophet (PBUH&HF): "We know Allah and the Prophet, but who are those vested with authority whose obedience has been conjoined to that of Allah and yourself?" The Prophet (PBUH&HF) said: "They are my Caliphs and the Imams of Muslims after me.
The first of them is Ali; then al-Hasan; then al-Husain; then Ali son of al-Husain; then Muhammad son of Ali who has been mentioned 'al-Baqir' in the Torah (the old testament). O Jabir! You will meet him. When you see him, convey my greetings to him. He will be succeeded by his son, Ja'far al-Sadiq (the Truthful); then Musa son of Ja'far; then Ali son of Musa; then Muhammad son of Ali; then Ali son of Muhammad; then al-Hasan son of Ali. He will be followed by his son whose name and nick name will be the same as mine. He will be Proof of Allah (Hujjatullah) on the earth, and the one spared by Allah (Baqiyyatullah) to maintain the cause of faith among mankind. He shall conquer the whole world from the east to the west. So long will he remain hidden from the eyes of his followers and friends that the belief in his leadership will remain only in those hearts which have been tested by Allah for faith." Jabir said: "O Messenger of Allah! Will his followers benefit from his seclusion?"
The Prophet said: "Yes! by Him who sent me with prophethood! They will be guided by his light, and benefit from his leadership during his seclusion, just as people benefit from the sun even though it is hidden in the clouds. O Jabir! This is from the hidden secrets of Allah and the treasured knowledge of Allah. So guard it except from the people who deserve to know." (Kifayatul Athar, by al-Khazzaz, p53). Now that we know who "those vested with authority" are, it is evident that the question of obeying tyrant and unjust rulers does not rise at all. Muslims are not required by the above verse to obey rulers who may be unjust, tyrannical, ignorant, selfish and sunk in debauchery.
They are, in fact, ordered to obey the specified Twelve Imams, all of whom were sinless and free from evil thoughts and deeds. Obeying them has no risks whatsoever. Nay, it protects from all risks; because they will never give an order against the order of Allah and will treat all human beings with love, justice, and equity.