Bismi Llahir Rahmanir Rahim
by Naielah Ackbarali
One of the hardest religious duties to carry out is to enjoin the good and forbid the wrong (al-amr bil ma’ruf wa al-nahi ‘an al-munkar).
Enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong entails stopping another person from engaging in an unlawful act. This can be done in various ways, but at its most basic form, it is to tell another person that what they are saying or doing is sinful according to the Sacred Law.
Due to the personal emotions that may arise from the thought of pointing out a fault in another’s behavior, fulfilling this obligation can seem doubly difficult – especially if the person who you are exhorting is a close friend, older, or more knowledgeable.
The increased emotions of fear, anxiety or worry can diminish your determination to set things right. This internal struggle may create more hesitation, which could eventually lead you to suppress the urge to correct the person.
So, what does a believer do in this tricky circumstance?
Firstly, keep in mind that ignoring the wrong could potentially prolong it, which may make matters worse for that person or anyone involved. Focus your attention on the benefit that could potentially result from speaking up.
Moreover, remind yourself that you are only doing this out of worship to Allah Most High. Affirming this belief can give you the extra strength that is needed. InshaAllah you will be rewarded for guiding another believer towards the good and you will gain Allah’s good pleasure in the process.
Emotions are short-lived, and they may not even be credible. Who is to say that this person will really get upset over what you say? In fact, they may be grateful for your input. The truth is that no matter how righteous a person may be, everyone needs sincere advice and religious reminders.
Thus, the emotions that may surface cannot harm you or the other person. Rather, the real harm comes from not obeying Allah Most High’s orders.
What Is The Basis For The Obligation?
Allah Most High says, “And let there be amongst you a group inviting to virtue, commanding the good and forbidding evil. These are the successful ones.” [Qur’an 3:104]
From this verse, we come to understand that the true believer is not self-absorbed in their own world. Quite the contrary, the true believer is concerned about the spirituality and welfare of their family, friends, neighbors, community, and humanity as a whole.
Furthermore, as a nation of believers, if we desire to be successful, we must uphold the principles of what is right or wrong according to our religion. Once we stop, we slowly let go of our values and ethics. We eventually lose our moral compass at a communal level, and we may even begin to downgrade it at a personal level – which could result in a lack of God-given tawfiq in our lives.
The Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) warned us about leaving this great obligation when he said, “By the One in Whose hand is my soul, you must certainly command the good and forbid wrong, or else a punishment from Allah will soon be sent upon you, after which you will call upon Allah but your du’a will not be answered.” [Tirmidhi]
From this narration, we learn that overlooking the importance of enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong distances us from the mercy of Allah Most High. Consequently, our supplications may not be answered! Just imagine how weighty this action must be for the Most Generous and All-Giving to refuse His servant’s cry for help just for leaving it.
In addition to the non-acceptance of our supplications, negligence or laxity in carrying out this duty could result in severe consequences, such as the appointment of oppressive rulers, attacks by ruthless enemies, and affliction by way of widespread calamities.
In another narration, the Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Whoever among you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand [by taking action]; and if he cannot, then with his tongue [by speaking out]; and if he cannot, then with his heart [by feeling that it is wrong] – and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim]
‘Weakest of faith’ can also imply that a person who does not despise the wrong within their heart has little iman. This should push us towards self-introspection! Are our hearts in the right place? How much do we dislike the evil that we see and hear around us? Are we more comfortable with turning a blind eye and a deaf ear than making a conscious attempt to stop the wrong?
Thus, we learn from revelation that enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong is a distinguished symbol of our religion, and a marker of a believer’s strength of faith. The sincere believer must be avid to fulfill this great duty when needed.
Who Must Carry Out This Duty?
The duty to enjoin the good and forbid the wrong is a communal obligation, which means that if one person carries out this duty successfully, then the sin is lifted from the entire group.
Otherwise, the entire community is sinful for their inaction because silence in the face of sin is tantamount to being pleased with it.
However, this obligation is conditioned with other factors:
- You must possess the physical ability to do it.
- You will not be harmed for doing it (e.g. killed, beaten, dishonored, and the like).
- You know that there is a consensus amongst the scholars concerning the ruling of the act – that it is clearly deemed to be unlawful or obligatory. As for enjoining a sunna or recommended act – or censuring a slightly disliked act – it is recommended and doing it falls under the category of sincere counsel (nasiha).
It is not a condition that you practice what you are enjoining or avoid what you are prohibiting. Therefore, your personal shortcomings are not taken into consideration and they do not lift the obligation to condemn.
Furthermore, merely forbidding the wrong is not sufficient to be free of the obligation, but rather you must also hate the act and be angry about its performance for the sake of Allah Most High.
When Does It Become A Duty Upon You?
Enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong is not always incumbent. There are circumstances when the obligation may be lifted. The following is a useful breakdown given by scholars.
Based on your best estimation if you know that the person:
- would stop their wrongdoing, then doing it is obligatory and it cannot be left.
- would not take heed – as well as physically harm or defame you – then leaving it is best.
- would not accept what you say or do, but there is no fear of being injured or insulted, then it becomes a personal choice to either do it or leave it. Nonetheless, scholars emphasize that it is still better to do it to teach and remind others about the standards of Islam.
A major consideration to be aware of is that if correcting the person will worsen the situation and cause greater harm, then it is impermissible to do it. The goal is to stop the harm, but in a way that does not create a bigger harm. For example, if saying something may cause the other person to fall into more sin, more unlawful talk, or disdain for the religion, then you should stay silent and hate the wrong in your heart – intending that if you could effect change by using the tongue or hand that you would do so.
How Do You Do It?
Simply put: with wisdom. Enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong requires tact. Some situations are easier to tackle than others but emulating the Prophetic character is key.
Additionally, your intention must be to exalt the word of Allah Most High, and it cannot be for the sake of boosting your ego – like to show that you are more knowledgeable or pious. In truth, your motivation to correct others should be out of sincere love and care for them.
Furthermore, you must practice forbearance while rebuking. You should be patient with the other person’s reaction and not become annoyed with what is said in response.
The scholars suggest the following steps:
1. Inform the person of the nature of the act.
This is the default strategy. You must first notify the other person of the Sacred Law ruling, while taking care to convey it in a calm tone of voice. Outwardly, it appears as if you are giving a friendly reminder or educating them.
For example, backbiting (ghiba) and tale-bearing (namima) are unlawful, and listening to the person who is engaging in them is also prohibited. Thus, if someone is gossiping in your presence, you must stop it by alerting the person about what they are doing. It is possible to simply say, “I know that you’re upset, but I believe this is going too far and it is considered backbiting. It is not permissible to speak in this manner about someone. Let’s talk about something else.”
You should give others the benefit of the doubt. It could be that the person is unaware of the ruling, and if they were informed about it, they would immediately stop engaging in the wrong. If mentioning it in a religious context would offend the person, another option is to simply change the subject without specifying the ruling.
2. Advise the person by using a gentle approach.
Sometimes a gentle push towards another direction is all that a person needs. This means that you need to avoid yelling, putting the other person down, or making them feel bad. The point is to say what needs to be said out of sincere concern.
For example, if you notice that a family member is not praying Fajr on time, you could say, “MashaAllah I see that you’re really trying to be a good Muslim and pray your prayers. Fajr is the hardest prayer to pray for most of us, but there is so much reward in praying Fajr at the right time. I want what is best for you. Is there any way that I can help you to wake up for Fajr?”
Try to be a helping hand and not a slap in the face. No one likes to feel forced, and the truth is that permanent change only comes from personal choice.
You can also prohibit the act by making the person fear Allah through mentioning the hadiths of divine punishment for it, and reminding the person of how the early Muslims behaved – all of which should be done with sympathy and kindness, not harshness or anger.
The Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Verily, kindness is not found in anything but that it beautifies it, and it is not removed from anything but that it disgraces it.” [Muslim]
3. Censure the person by using harsh words.
In principle, it is permissible to resort to this method, but only when steps one and two do not work – meaning that you are unable to prevent the person’s actions by way of politeness.
Bear in mind that there are limits to what you can say. You cannot curse the person or use foul language. Humiliation must be avoided, and the scholars specifically note that it is not permissible to surpass the legislated limits of what can be said or done.
Some of our teachers mention that in today’s times people should be cautious about resorting to this tactic. Many Muslims are coming from broken backgrounds and speaking to them in this manner could further break them. Sensitivity, empathy, and wisdom are required so that you do not cause a greater harm by trying to remove a lesser harm. It may help to ask others of how to handle the situation before heading in this direction.
To conclude, it must be mentioned that there are more severe degrees of action that a person can take to enjoin the good and forbid the wrong, but they will not be mentioned in this article for the sake of brevity and relevancy.
What If The Person Does Not Stop?
If the person continues to carry on doing the wrong in your presence, then you must remove yourself from the situation, either by changing the subject, leaving the room, ending the phone call, or the like.
If the person persists in committing the wrong, it is incumbent to disassociate yourself from this individual, especially if it is done out of disdain for the Sacred Law ruling. If you cannot prevent others from the wrong, at minimum, your iman should prevent you from joining their company.
However, if the person is a spouse, family relative, or cutting them off would create a greater harm, then you need to be more creative in your response. It may help to give the person room to think about what you have said, turn it into an open discussion, or ask someone else who they trust to advise them in private. Nevertheless, you should still hate the wrong in your heart when you see it.
Allah Most High says, “You are the best nation produced (as an example) for mankind. You enjoin what is right and you forbid what is wrong and you believe in Allah.” [Qur’an 3:110]
Enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong is a major symbol of our religion. It is what makes us the best ummah to ever exist.
Allah will support and grant victory to the person who upholds this great religious duty. Allah Most High says, “And Allah will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might.” [Qur’an 22:40]
May Allah give all the believers tawfiq in upholding His Divine commands.
- Imam Ala al-Din Abidin, الهدية العلائية
- Imam Nahlawi, الدرر المباحة في الحظر والإباحة
- Imam Abu Sa’id al-Khadami, بريقة محمودية في شرح طريقة محمدية