Take for example Catholicism. They have the Pope, their highest leader. He is said to be infallible; he cannot say anything about religion or its practice that is wrong; anything he says about religion or its practice is immediately considered fact.

Is there such a belief in Islam? Are certain authority figures "always right" and is it wrong to challenge them? What about within the family? Is it wrong for a son to respectfully challenge his father even if the son is an adult man? If either of those persons tell you to do something must you do it?

I would like to see answers with quotes from sacred text.

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    No, only the prophets are infallibles. But the shiite think there are normal people like pope in christianity who are considered infalliable see this to know more about the prophets: islam.stackexchange.com/questions/7289/…
    – Sohaeb
    Feb 18, 2013 at 21:49

2 Answers 2


Islam has a similar concept called 'Ismah, which denotes a divinely-ordained freedom from error (in religious matters). Who does (or does not) possess 'ismah is a point of contention between the major sects.

While the Qur'an itself does command followers to "obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you," Sunnis and Shi'ites disagree as to whether this automatically confers 'ismah to "those in authority." (or, vice-versa, whether this prevents those who don't possess 'ismah from becoming "those in authority.")

The Shi'a belief, based in part on the related revelation that "Allah does not order immorality," is that God's command to obey those in authority means that such obedience cannot possibly involve immorality. The Shi'a Imams are thus considered Infallible in much the same sense as the Catholic Pope is.

Sunnis, however, typically only consider the prophets themselves to have 'ismah, and interpret these ayat differently: The fact that God does not command immorality is treated as a limit to obedience; even if ordered to obey, it is not incumbent to follow a command that is known to involve disobedience to God. As such, some degree of questioning-of-authority is to be expected (and accepted), even though commands in matters that do not involve transgression are still to be obeyed.

(What does, or does not, qualify as "disobedience to God" thus can again be a point of contention.)

As for lesser forms of authority (e.g. as in the question, a son to his father), it is commonly believed by both Sunni and Shi'a that obedience is akin to the Sunni position above: It is only mandated when it does not otherwise involve sin.

  • Would you say then that the stories I have heard of adult children being harshly punished for not obeying their father either not true or cultural? Does there come a point where a man does not have to obey his father on anything?
    – user2151
    Feb 18, 2013 at 23:01
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    @fredsbend it's more cultural than religious; being dutiful to ones parents is commanded, but "no obedience in transgression" still limits that (from the Islamic perspective). as to what extent an adult still needs to obey his or her parents, or to what extent a parent may discipline a disobedient child, those may be better posted as separate questions.
    – goldPseudo
    Feb 18, 2013 at 23:13

Well I could say, the probability of one doing an error increases in this fashion...

God < Prophets < Imams(Shias) < A person who sticks to Qur'an and abides by it < A normal believer < Non Believer < Satan.

Are certain authority figures "always right"?

Well God is of course, Errorless. The rest varies. Some say, prophets could be error less, while some say, prophets could've done minor negligible errors but aren't errorless. Some say, Imams (Shias) are infallible alongside the prophets, while some say, anyone could do mistakes. Again, this is solely opinion based as described in the above order.

Is it wrong to challenge them?

Again, opinion based. But yes of course, we can't question the prophets, but the rest, as described above, if one feels a higher authority could do humanly error, then yes, then he would definitely ask not challenge in a polite way for the explanation for his action taken.

What about within the family? Is it wrong for a son to respectfully challenge his father even if the son is an adult man? If either of those persons tell you to do something must you do it?

As goldPsuedo has answered, parents are to honored by Muslims at any cost as you could see from here.


But if they (both) strive with you to make you join in worship with Me others that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not, but behave with them in the world kindly, and follow the path of him who turns to Me in repentance and in obedience. Then to Me will be your return, and I shall tell you what you used to do. (Qur'an 31:15)

I hope the above verse is clear.

May the creator guide us all.

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