There is difference between obeying (ata,at) and following (itb,a). Obeying is related to commandment; whereas following is related to every act/saying whether commanded or not. We are under obligation to obey Allah; we are not under obligation to follow Allah. The reason is simple; we do not have capability to follow Allah, and we are not required to follow Allah. Allah is owner of life and death and everything; we as humans cannot be owner of everything. Allah is limitless in His every Quality; but we cannot. Allah is owner of ‘Day of Judgment’; but we cannot. Allah is Creator and Sustainer of this universe; but we cannot. Allah is ‘samad’/ Self Sufficient; but we cannot. There is no equivalent to Allah; but we have so many equivalents. It is true Allah commands us to follow His some Qualities and Acts; but following such Qualities and Acts of Allah is called obedience to Allah because Allah has commanded us to follow those His Qualities and Acts, and secondly following any such Quality of Allah is subject to obedience to Allah; in other words, we should not follow any such Quality of Allah to the extent where we should fail to obey Allah. The reason is simple; primarily, we have been created to worship/obey Allah, NOT to imitate Allah.
It may be appreciated Deen cannot be practiced in its true spirit without keeping in view the difference between obeying Allah and following Allah. Allah’s Mercy is limitless but we have been ordered to do ‘qattal’, if required, in certain situations for certain objectives. We are not to follow Allah’s Quality i.e. Mercy to the extent where it may become a hurdle in the way of obedience to Allah regarding ‘qattal’. Similarly Allah is the most Benevolent but we are ordered to enforce Islam over all other non-Islamic systems no matters how much it angers non-Muslims; we are not to follow Allah’s Quality of Benevolence to the extent it becomes a hurdle to enforce Islam over non-Islamic systems. Similarly Allah is free from all needs and worries, but we are ordered to fulfill needs of others. Allah is the most Loving, but we are ordered to be strict and indiscriminately in enforcing laws contained in Deen; we should not make our love a hurdle in the way of enforcement of laws. Similarly Allah is One but we are not to pursue oneness to the extent where difference between ‘Hizb ul Shaitan’ and ‘Hizb ul lah’ is blurred, and where difference between the Creator and the creation is blurred. In short, we are under no obligation to follow Allah’s Qualities; we are under compulsion only to obey Allah. Even in cases in which a few Qualities of Allah are to be followed, they are to be followed only to the extent where obedience to Allah is not hampered.
When any group of Muslims ignores the difference between obeying Allah and following Allah, they allow non-Islamic ideas and practices to creep into Islam. One example is un-Islamic practices and ideas penetrated into body of Islamic mysticism. In the Sub-continent negative implication of ignoring the difference between obeying and following Allah has been manifested in the form of Bhakti Cult adopted as one shade in Islamic mysticism. Bhakti Cult preached ‘Unity of God’; that all religions preach for the same God, no matter if methods are different. It was a methodology to attain salvation through ‘sheer love to God’ without pursuing any specific form of worship. Because Islam also gives importance to love for Allah, some Muslim mystics in India, being influenced by Bhakti preachers, made ‘love for Allah’ as a tool to follow Allah’s Qualities to such an extent where difference between obeying Allah and following Allah was ignored. As a result, the movement for Unity of Religions got impetus in Muslim India. This movement generated a real threat to Muslims’ identity which Shaikh Ahmad (r.a) stood for.
Ignoring difference between obeying Allah and following Allah impacted Muslims’ mysticism in similar manner in the whole Muslim world, and this distorted Muslims’ mysticism became one of the major causes of Muslims’ downfall. When following Allah’s Qualities became sign of religious devotion for Muslims, they started ignoring obedience to Allah. Actually it is obedience to Allah which formulates collective social laws leading to rise of a nation; whereas following Allah aims at individual purification by developing Allah’s Qualities in individual. We have already seen in http://secondriseofislam.blogspot.com/2016/02/individual-reformation-vs-collective.html that rise and fall of a nation is related to collective deeds of the nation, not to individual deeds. Therefore when Muslims started giving higher priority to following Allah and ignoring obedience to Allah, the process of downfall of Muslims started. It may be appreciated that Islam is not a religion; it is a Deen. As a Deen, in Islam, the way to individual purification and spiritual elevation goes through obedience to Allah; it does not pass through following/developing Allah’s Qualities in the individual as is the way found in religions.
In the present age too, some scholars undermine obedience to Allah by declaring that spiritual transaction/ Eman is something to be judged by Allah only; it cannot be judged on the parameter of obedience to Allah. Such so called enlightened scholars though do not believe in giving higher priority to following Allah but they undermine importance of obedience to Allah as much as the people believing in following Allah do. In Islam Eman depends upon obedience to Allah, and it increases or decreases with the increase or decrease in obedience to Allah respectively.
Some people (e.g. qadyanis whose prophet used abusive language in his books) believe in rightness of using abusive language against certain persons; they contend because Allah has used stiff language in Quran for certain people, they are also right in using abusive language. Such people also need to differentiate between following Allah and obeying Allah (it need not emphasize that obedience to Allah is following our Nabi (s.a.w.w); for details plz see https://secondriseofislam.blogspot.com/2012/01/concept-of-fee-sabilillah-in-allahs-way.html). Surely Allah has cursed some non-Muslims in Quran but it does not mean we should start cursing other non-Muslims or Muslims which we think deserve to be cursed. We cannot follow Allah; we can only obey Allah.