From the explanation of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny), we know the Ulil Amr are those appointed by Allah, particularly the Imams of the Ahlul Bayt.
“O my Allah, make me attend to Your cause, sincerely, in every respect following in Hussain’s footsteps, in this world and the Hereafter.” – Ziyarat Ashura
One of the major issues associated with the lives and sacrifices of our Imams (peace be upon them) has been the concept of Ulil Amr. In the Qur’an, Chapter 4, Verse 59, Allah says “O you who believe – obey Allah, and obey the Messenger, and the Ulil Amr” (those who are authorized to command from among you).
From the explanation of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny), we know the Ulil Amr are those appointed by Allah, particularly the Imams of the Ahlul Bayt. Imam Ali and Imam Hasan (peace be upon them) did not recognize anyone as Ulil Amr other than themselves. Even though they may not have had political authority at any or every time, they believed that they had religious authority over mankind as per Qur’an 4:59, according to the pronouncement of the Prophet by the command of Allah. So they continued to guide people as the religious leaders of the Ummah.
Yazid son of Muawiyah was well-known as a tyrant and a corrupt ruler. He demanded an oath of allegiance from Imam Hussain (peace be upon him). He wanted Imam Hussain to swear fealty to him as Ulil Amr. Imam Hussain was obliged to refuse because it would be a lie against the appointment and commandment of God to do so, and if he did so, then the people forever after would be permanently confused as to the real Islam by this recognizing and giving Islamic authority to one furthest from Islam. It is very clear that an oath of allegiance (Bay’at) is a serious matter because it indicates support of someone’s agendas and practices.
If the Imam is designated by Allah as Ulil Amr, then it is not something the Imam or anyone else can give away. None of the Imams did so.
Given the general importance of bayat, it is possible we today could be held to account for whom who gave our votes and allegiances. Democracy is preached as a process that helps ensure good leaders, but in practice it does nothing of the sort. A king who inherits his rule is no less likely to be judged as a quality ruler than someone voted in by the people.
Today, many Muslims have in essence given their bayat to democracy. This is considered by some as one of the greatest tragedies and mistakes of the modern era, for we owe our bayat only to Allah, the Prophet, and the Ulil Amr. The Qur’an itself tells us so (4:59). We cannot give bayat to both democracy and to the way of Allah, for they are not the same way. Either our allegiance, our minds, our hearts, our souls, our lives are given and dedicated to the way of Allah or to another way.
Imam Hussain and 72 honorable souls with him gave their lives for Allah’s way. They gave their lives that we may be able today to find that way and follow it rather than it being lost to Yazid’s horrible way.
If we do not take the task to find the right path and adhere to it entirely, then we belittle and refuse their sacrifice. If we do not give our allegiance to those worthy of Amr, those bestowed that rank by Allah, then we turn away from the right path. The crux of our duty thus lies in investigating and determining whom Allah has appointed as Ulil Amr even in this age, and then dedicating every aspect of our lives to obeying Allah, the Prophet (saw) and that Waliyul Amr. Obedience to whomever is Waliyul Amr would never in any way contradict Allah or the Prophet, because obedience to one and to all is the same.
There is no doubt that love and allegiance are closely connected matters. It is not the way of Allah to call for allegiance by us to someone who is not worthy and deserving of our love. True bayat requires that we love the one to whom we give our allegiance, because without that love the allegiance is incomplete. Obedience to Allah without the love of Allah is incomplete; obedience to the Prophet without the love of the Prophet is incomplete, and obedience to the Ulil Amr without the love of Ulil Amr is also incomplete.
If Imam Hussain was Waliyul Amr of his time, then he is worthy of our love and allegiance even today, just as the Waliyul Amr of our age is worthy. Thus, as we observe the rites of Muharram, we should take time to examine our allegiances and ensure that we purify them of anything contrary to the love and recognition of the ultimate authority of the One God and those appointed by Him to lead humanity.