The Concept of Enjoining Good and Forbidding Evil

Hadith 34 Arabic text

On the authority of Abu Sa’id al-Khudri, radiyallahu ‘anhu, who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, say:

“When any one of you sees anything that is disapproved (of by Allah), let him change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then let him change it with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then let him change it with his heart, though that is the weakest (kind of) faith.”

[Muslim]


background

The essence of the Islamic da’wah is enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, since whenever a person conveys the Message, he is enjoining good and forbidding evil. Therefore, it is a mistake to consider these two as separate matters, since they are actually performed concurrently and are synonymous.

The main objective in fulfilling this obligation is to attain and maximize benefits, and to eliminate or minimize harm.

Qualities possessed by a Caller who enjoins the good and forbids the evil

  1. Ikhlas (Sincerity) – since enjoining the good and forbidding the evil becomes an action pleasing to Allah and accepted by Him only if it is done with sincerity for Him.
  2. ‘Ilm (Knowledge) – as Allah commands:
    Say: This is my path, I do call to Allah upon clear knowledge.
    [Surah Yusuf (12): Ayah 108]

    This is an important condition since the Caller must know what matters are good, so he enjoins it, and what matters are evil, so he forbids it. In Ibn Taymiyyah‘s al-Amar it is stated that it is necessary to possess the knowledge of good and evil and of the difference between them, and it is necessary to know the situation of the person being commanded or forbidden.

  3. Hikmah (Wisdom) – which means saying or doing the right thing in the right way at the right time to the right person, as prescribed by Allah in His statement:
    Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful admonition.
    [Surah an-Nahl (16): Ayah 125]

    Ibn Taymiyyah wrote: Enjoin the good in a good way and do not forbid the evil in an evil way.

  4. Hilm (Forbearance) and Rifq (Gentleness) – especially in the face of opposition from the people. As Allah said to His Messenger, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam:
    And by the Mercy of Allah you were able to deal gently with them. If you had been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from you.
    [Surah al-Imran (3): Ayah 159]

    The Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, also said: Indeed gentleness does not enter into anything except it beautifies it, nor is it removed from anything except that it makes it ugly [Reported by Imam Muslim].

  5. Sabr (Patience) – since the people whom the Caller opposes in enjoining good and forbidding evil, may be stubborn to his call and may even try to harm him.

Ibn Taymiyyah says in al-Istiqaamah, concerning the call to the good and away from the evil: Knowledge must precede it, gentleness must accompany it and patience must follow it. Shaikh al-Humaid, the teacher of Shaikh Ibn Baz, said, in an explanation of Surah al-‘Asr that Allah makes an oath that mankind will be in a state of deficiency, except with four conditions, which are: (a) iman, (b) good actions, (c) encouraging each other to the truth which means enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, and (d) encouraging each other to patience, which is required after enjoining good and forbidding evil. Furthermore each person will have a level of deficiency in accordance with the level of lack of any of these four.

  1. Tawaadu’ (Humility) – since the people will not heed if the Caller is arrogant or he seeks to put himself above others.

  2. Qudwah (Good example) – for the Caller himself becomes a model to the people to whom he calls, doing those things which he enjoins and leaving those things which he forbids. Allah says:
    O you who believe! Why do you say that which you do not do. It is a most hateful thing to Allah that you say that which you do not do.
    [Surah as-Saff (61): Ayah 2-3]

  3. Husnul-Istimaa’ (Good listening) – which is that the Caller is attentive to the needs and feelings and also the complaints of the people whom he calls.

  4. Shajaa’ah (Courage) – which does not refer to strength of the body; rather it is the strength of the heart, together with knowledge – this differentiates between true courage and mere recklessness.

  5. Karam (Generosity).

lessons

Scholars say that before using the hand, we should start with advice, warning the people of the consequence of evil and encouraging and motivating them to good actions. When this method has been fully utilised and there is no change in the people, only then is it permissible to use the hand.

Imam ash-Shatibi says that the Caller must predict the consequences of what he says or do, whether by hand or by tongue.

If it is very likely that, as a result of attempting to change the evil, the Caller himself or another person will be harmed, then changing the situation is no longer obligatory upon him. Here harm does not refer to insults or curses, but to physical injury such as being beaten or killed. Harm can also mean that a bad reputation is spread concerning the Caller. Ibn Qudaamah also includes financial loss, whether immediate or later, to such an amount which the Caller cannot afford.

People differ in their ability to change things; in general, when someone is higher in his rank or authority, then there is more responsibility on him to remove the evil.

Principles of Inkaarul-Munkar (Forbidding what is evil)

  1. Prioritise the evil, thus beginning with the higher priority before the lower.
  2. Tadarruj (Being gradual). Note the gradual method by which Allah made the drinking of wine forbidden: Firstly, by saying that there were benefits in it and harm in it but the harm outweighed the benefits; secondly, by forbidding the people to approach the prayer in a drunken state; and finally, by an outright prohibition. This step-by-step method does not imply that wine was not forbidden in the early stages, but it is a methodology from which we can benefit.

  3. Do not look for people’s faults. Qadi Abu Ya’laa has noted an exception to this principle, which occurs when there are clues or information that an evil is taking place or is about to take place. Thus one may be able to prevent an evil, such as a murder or rape, from taking place by following up on information.

  4. Establish that the evil is indeed taking place.

  5. Choose a suitable time to forbid the evil.

    • The Caller should not delay until the evil has finished.
    • The Caller should exploit situations in which the people are more likely to respond to his call, for example when Yusuf, ‘alayhi-salam, spoke to his companions in the prison about tauhid when they had been troubled by their dreams. Ibn Masoud said concerning this:
      Verily the heart has moments of yearning and responsiveness
      And moments of indifference and turning away
      So snatch it at the time of yearning and response
      And leave it at the time of indifference and turning away.

  1. Speak in private, as Imam ash-Shafie wrote:
    Come to me with your advice when I am alone
    And do not advise me in the crowd
    Because advice amongst the people is a scolding
    And I do not like to hear it aloud
    Then if you disobey me and do not heed my words
    Do not feel sad when you are not followed.
  2. Do not instigate or provoke the people, but use a good argument, as Allah says:
    Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful admonition, and argue with them with ways that are best.
    [Surah an-Nahl (16): Ayah 125]

    Imam Ghazali wrote: Don’t convey the truth in a challenging manner.

  3. Show forgiveness and kindness towards the people, and not to be affected by worry or anger in case the people show a negative response to the advice.

  4. If a difference of opinion arose as a result of ijtihaad, then the Caller who holds one opinion should not forbid the other opinion.

  5. Weighing the principles of benefits and harms, as Ibn Taymiyyah wrote in al-Amar: If enjoining the good and forbidding the evil would result in a greater evil, then it is haram to do it. Enjoining the good should not lead to a better deed being left out and forbidding the evil should not lead to a greater evil taking place.

Ibn Rajab states that in enjoining the good and discouraging the evil the conductor is motivated by different reasons:

  1. It could be by hope in Allah’s great reward for doing it.
  2. It could be by fearing Allah’s punishment for renouncing this obligation.
  3. It could be by getting annoyed by seeing violations to what Allah has prescribed.
  4. It could be due to being faithful to the community members who indulge in evil and by being kind and merciful to them by making the effort to save them from being subject to Allah’s anger, displeasure and punishment in this life and in the Hereafter.
  5. It could be by glorifying Allah and Loving Him much, for He deserves to be obeyed, remembered, and thanked.

Observing the last two motives alone can make burden of conducting this obligation a light, favorable one and will empower the conductor with enough potential belittle any difficulty or hardship he may encounter thereof.


conclusion

The last portion of the hadith clearly states that the least a Muslim can do in the case of witnessing an evil act is to change it by his/her heart. This means that he/she should dislike the evil he/she comes across. This is an action of the heart, such as saying: “O Allah, there is nothing that I can do to change this bad situation that You dislike and disapprove except that I hate it to take place. I do not agree to it. O Allah forgive me, guide me and save my heart to be influenced by it.”

Unless this action of the heart is practiced, the heart of the believer who witnesses that evil will be subject to be influenced by that evil. A dark spot will be placed in that heart (as stated in another hadith related by al-Bukhari).
With the repetition of such negative attitudes, the heart will be subject to more dark spots placed in it until it is concealed and no longer appreciates what is good and no longer dislikes what is bad or evil. This means that the Muslim who does not practice the lowest level of forbidding the evil, will be subject to turn into being an evil doer him/herself.

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