ENJOINING GOOD AND FORBIDDING EVIL
From: Tazkiyatan-Nufuswa Tarbiyyatuha kama Yuqarriruhu ‘Ulama as-Salaf. Compiled from the works of Ibn Rajabal, Ibn al-Qayyim, and imam al- Ghazali
Enjoining good and forbidding evil, amr bi’l-ma’ruf wa’n-nahiy an al-munkar, is the pivot and most important principle in Islam and it is the main reason why Allah sent His Prophets and Messengers to His creatures. If this principle is not implemented and put into practice, then prophethood is ineffective, the deen fades away, misguidance, corruption and ignorance prevail, civilizations decline, and nations are destroyed.
Whenever this principle has been extinguished, people follow their desires and whims, ignore their Lord, and live like animals — and then you can hardly find anyone who adheres to the principle of enjoining good and forbidding evil, even though the reward of putting it into practice is great in the sight of Allah.
The Obligation to Enjoin Good and Forbid Evil
Allah says: “Let there be a community among you who call to the good, and enjoin the right, and forbid the wrong. They are the ones who have success.” [3: 104]
Allah also says: “They are not all the same. There is a community among the People of the Book who are upright. They recite Allah’s Signs throughout the night, and they prostrate. They have iman in Allah and the Last Day, and enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, and compete in doing good. They are among the salihun.” [3: 113-114]
In the above verse, Allah does not accept their righteousness just by their believing in Allah and the Last Day, until He has added to it the principle of enjoining good and forbidding evil.
In another verse, Allah says: “The men and women of the muminun are friends of one another. They command what is right and forbid what is wrong.” [9: 72] Here Allah refers to the believers as those who enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil — therefore, anyone who forsakes this pillar is excluded from the ranks of the believers.
In another verse, Allah has cursed some of the tribe of Israel for abandoning the principle of enjoining good and forbidding evil. He says: “Those among the tribe of Israel who were kafir were cursed on the tongue of Dawud and that of ‘Isa, son of Maryam. That is because they rebelled and overstepped the limits. They would not restrain one another from any of the wrong things that they did. How evil were the things they used to do!” [5: 78-79]
Whereas, Allah has praised those who have implemented the principle of enjoining good and forbidding evil. He says: “You are the best nation ever to be produced before mankind. You enjoin the right, forbid the wrong and have iman in Allah.” [3: 110]
Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah say, ‘He who amongst you sees something objectionable should change it with the help of his hand; and if he does not have the strength to do it, then he should reject it with his tongue; and if he does not have the strength to do it, then he should reject it in his heart — and that is the least of faith.”
This hadith shows that rejecting evil should be done according to your strength and ability, but should be done at least with your heart, because if your heart does not deny evil, this means that your iman is gone. Therefore you must change evil with your hand and tongue if you are able to do so, but in any event you must reject it with your heart — and this is an obligation and the least of faith — otherwise Allah’s punishment will come.
Hudhaifah related that the Prophetﷺ said, “By Him in Whose hand my soul is, you must enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil, or Allah will certainly soon send punishment from Him to you. Then you will make supplication and not receive any answer.”
An-Nu’man Ibn Bashir related that the Prophetﷺ said, “The metaphor of a person who complies with Allah’s orders and prohibitions in comparison to those who violate them is like the metaphor of some people who drew lots for their seats in a boat. Some of them were given seats on the upper deck, and the others on the lower deck. When those on the lower deck needed water, they would have had to go up to fetch the water, so they said, ‘Let us make a hole in our part of the ship and save those who are above us from our troubling them.’ If the people on the upper deck let the others do what they suggested, all the people in the boat would be destroyed, but if they prevented them, both groups would be safe.”
Abdullah Ibn Mas’oud related that the Prophetﷺ said, “There was never a Prophet sent before me by Allah to his nation who did not have among his people disciples and companions who followed his ways and obeyed his command. Then after them came their successors who said what they did not do, and did what they were not commanded to do. Whoever strove against them with his hand was a believer; whoever strove against them with his tongue was a believer; and whoever strove against them with his heart was a believer; and beyond that there was no faith, not even as much as a mustard seed.”
Abu Bakr related that the Prophetﷺ said, “If acts of disobedience occur among any people and they do not change them even though they are able to do so, Allah will soon punish them all.”
Guidelines on Enjoining Good and Forbidding Evil
In order to enjoin good and forbid evil, you must know the principles governing them and how to distinguish between them. Actions will not be any good if they are not done with full knowledge and wisdom. `Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz said, “Whoever worships Allah without knowledge, will do more damage than what he puts right.”
Mu’adh Ibn Jabal said: “Knowledge should precede action, because if action and intention are done without knowledge, then ignorance, misguidance and desires will prevail.”
So if a believer knows that by forbidding a particular evil, his action will lead to a greater evil, then he should not forbid that evil in the first place; or if his action will lead to the elimination of what is of greater benefit to the Muslims, then again, he should not forbid that evil.
The Prophetﷺ did not kill Abdullah Ibn Ubai Ibn Salul, the leader of the hypocrites, and his friends, because they enjoyed significant support from among their tribes. So the Prophetﷺ avoided killing Abdullah Ibn Ubai Ibn Salul, because people might think that he was killing his companions, and also because Abdullah Ibn Ubai Ibn Salul’s tribe might have risen up against the Prophetﷺ, and sought to avenge their leader’s death.
Accordingly, you must consider the issues of maslaha and mafsada before embarking on enjoining good and forbidding evil.
You should be kind and gentle in enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. The Prophetﷺ said, “Be gentle, for if gentleness is present in anything, it adorns it – and if it is absent from anything, it damages it.” The Prophetﷺ also said, “Allah it likes gentleness in all matters and rewards it more than He rewards harshness.” Jarir related, “I heard the Messengerﷺ of Allah say, “Whoever is deprived of gentleness is deprived of good.” Sufyan ath-Thawri said, “Only he who has the following qualities can enjoin good and forbid evil: he should be gentle and just and he should know the principles of enjoining good and forbidding evil.”
Whoever intends to enjoin good and forbid evil must have patience in the face of adversities and hard times. He should know, beforehand, that he will be subjected to tribulation, just as Luqman told his son:
“My son, establish salat, and command what is right and forbid what is wrong and be steadfast in the face of all that happens to you. That is certainly the most resolute course to follow.” [31: 16]
Allah also ordered His Messengerﷺ to be patient: “You who are enveloped in your cloak! Arise and warn! Magnify your Lord. Purify your clothes. Shun all filth. Do not give out of a desire for gain. Be steadfast for your Lord.” [74: 1-7]
And: “Be steadfast in the face of what they say and cut yourself off from them but courteously.” [73: 9]
So you must have three qualities: knowledge, gentleness and patience; knowledge before enjoining good and forbidding evil, gentleness in carrying this out, and patience after it.
Reasons for Enjoining Good and Forbidding Evil
There are many incentives which encourage you to enjoin good and forbid evil: to receive a reward from Allah to avoid His punishment, to defend Allah’s commands and His Shari’a, to give sincere advice to the believers and to save them from Allah’s anger and punishment both in this world and in the next, to glorify Allah it by implementing His orders, by obeying Him, by thanking and praising Him and by expending your life and wealth in His way.