Command the good and forbid evil. Al Ghazali breaks down the principle.
Let there be a group among you who call ˹others˺ to goodness, encourage what is good, and forbid what is evil—it is they who will be successful. (3:104)
The believers, both men and women, are guardians of one another. They encourage good and forbid evil, establish prayer and pay alms-tax, and obey Allah and His Messenger. It is they who will be shown Allah’s mercy. Surely Allah is Almighty, All-Wise. (9:71)
They did not forbid each other to do wrong. How vile their deeds were! (5:79)
My own favourite ayah on this topic is:
You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah. If only the People of the Scripture had believed, it would have been better for them. Among them are believers, but most of them are defiantly disobedient. (3:110)
In Imam Ghazali’s Kitaab Al-Arba’in Fi Usul ad-Din, The Forty Principles of the Religion, in chapter 9, he sets out the principle of commanding what is good and preventing what is wrong.
The connection between commanding what is right and forbidding what is wrong and being the best Ummah
Allah Almighty made this Ummah the best Ummah from humanity, as it has the final message and the final book. It follows the best revelation delivered by the best prophet (peace be on him).
Allah Almighty is saying that Muslims are the best Ummah in humanity. He has connected the virtue of being the best Ummah with being the Ummah which promotes good and forbids evil, not with their being from a particular race, ethnicity or nationality.
Being the best Ummah is therefore dependant upon these terms and conditions, which are commanding the good (amr bil marouf) and forbidding the bad (al nahin anilmunkar).
The abuse of the concept
Many of us are fed up of hearing the words amr bil marouf, al nahi anilmunkar, as it has been commonly and widely misused and abused by people. People have bad memories of being beaten with a stick under the banner of this concept.
Now we see the Taliban coming into power, we hope they will not be lashing people, torturing and shouting at them as they did 20 years ago. Even in the local mosques and local communities people have bad memories of the way they were treated, (though we have good memories too, as they were not exclusively bad.)
The safety plug
Allah Almighty beautifully made commanding what is good and forbidding what is bad the safety plug for the Ummah. It gives us our anti-corruption mechanism.
Allah Almighty says that those who command what is good in the community and prevent others from doing what is wrong are the successful ones, because they save the community becoming rotten from corruption.
Recently we have seen the Afghan army collapse within 11 days of the US leaving because they had such levels of corruption over 20 years, that trillions of dollars disappeared down the slimy pockets of crooked politicians leaving their army completely ineffectual. This is not my statement, but according to the reports of the US and others.
It is instilled in the DNA of the Ummah that they cannot see something wrong and stay silent.
This concept has to be alive and practiced in our schools, madrasahs, universities and institutions. It must be evident on the streets and in the workplace; you have to stand up for what is right and not standby when there is corruption around you, otherwise you are not the best Ummah. This is why Ghazali mentioned it as a main principle of Islam.
When Allah Almighty said: ‘And the men believers and the women believers are patrons one of the other; they command what is right and forbid what is wrong’ (9:71), He made this mission universal, not just the domain of scholars.
It is everyone’s mission – the father, brother, sister, mother, aunty, the young and old, the scholar and lay person, the professional and the worker, to call people to what is good and forbid what is wrong with etiquettes.
When you see our history since the Prophet (peace be on him), for instance of the Andalusians, Umayyads and Abbasids, we can see clearly that our disasters occurred every time we had greed and corruption and our triumphs happened whenever we followed the concept of inviting others to good and preventing what was bad.
In Ibn Khaldun’s Introduction to his huge history book, Al Muqaddima, he talks about the rise and fall of civilisations and he highlights the main reason for collapse and failure of any civilisation or community (and I would add, any project or relationship) is due to corruption. This is why Allah Almighty made it so important.
Previous nations failed to root out corruption
When Allah Almighty said, ‘They did not forbid each other to do wrong. How vile their deeds were!’ (5:79) He is blaming previous nations who for ignoring this edict. By their failure to exhort each other to do what was right and turn a blind eye to sin in their community on the basis that it was not their problem, the fire was not in their house, so they felt no necessity to do something they were punished. Islam taught us not to allow corruption to fester. This is our continuous jihad.
Corruption is not confined to developing countries
In this country, corruption is concealed by suits. Channelling contracts to friends and family is not just a practice in developing countries, it occurs in developed countries too, and we have seen contracts for vaccines being given under the table. Allah Almighty is aware of this and wants the Ummah to take a stand against corruption whether it is inward or outward, at a personal level or ummah level. We should have zero tolerance for corruption.
In reality, we are sinking in corruption. However the revelation is showing us what we are meant to do in order to be successful. Those who invite others to do what is right, are the Muflihoon (successful) in dunya and akhirah. Unlike, those whom Allah Almighty blamed from the previous nations, who were eating, drinking and living corrupt lives.
Do not stay in corrupt environments
Even if you are a good person, being in a corrupt environment is toxic and it will affect you. Don’t allow this to happen to you. Build immunity against it and teach one another to stop it when you come across it in different scenarios.
Believers, you are responsible for your own souls; those who go astray cannot harm you if you are on the right path. All of you will return to God, and He will tell you what you used to do. (5:105)
Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) said in a sermon that the people were not understanding this ayah as it was supposed to be understood. This ayah does not mean that you do not have to do anything if you are a believer. This misconception has been there since his time which is why he clarified it. On the contrary, it means that if you see evil and you do not stop it, Allah will punish those who were bad as well as those pious people who stayed silent because their silence made them party to it.
Having a cowardly mentality does not belong to Islam
Hudhayfah ibn Al-Yaman reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“By the one in whose hand is my soul, you must enjoin good and forbid evil, or else Allah will soon send punishment upon you. Then, you will call upon Allah and it will not be answered for you.” (Tirmidhi)
This means that if being pious is not enough, you have to try and stop corruption around you. It is a strong deterrent. The purpose of punishment is to encourage people to speak up and fight corruption. If you keep your head down and say ‘I’m doing my salah and my fard’, you are ignoring the obligation to do this, which is fard as well. It is what defines the ummah. It is not a luxury but an obligation to be courageous and point out the limits to others wisely, with the right etiquette.
What to do when you see something wrong
Anything that effects the safety and dignity of the community has to be repelled. The one who sees it has an obligation to do something about it. For instance, the one who listens to backbiting, slander or other actions of disobedience is a party to it, unless they stop it.
Ghazali gives examples of this, for instance sitting with a man who is wearing silk or gold, as it is prohibited for men to wear these, or going to a Turkish bath where people’s awrah is exposed, and there are naked pictures on the walls, or there are utensils of gold and silver. Also this includes going to a mosque where they do not pray properly, for instance they do not complete their sujjud and ruku or they have introduced or promote innovations. It could be being present in a debate where there is foul language and obscenities. Avoid any situation where haram is being committed.
Whoever mixes with people will end up with more sins, even if he is a pious man, because when you are mixing with people they will introduce you to sins you were not committing, so be careful. Although the Prophet (peace be on him) did not want us to isolate our self. He said:
“The Believer who mingles with the people and endures patience over their harm is better than one who does not mingle with the people nor endures patience over their harm.” (Tirmidhi)
This means that when we are present, we do not overlook sins. By default we say something in a wise way to discourage it.
When you cannot forbid the evil, leave
There are two occasions when you do not have to do amr bil marouf and nahi al munkar. The first situation is when your saying something will have no effect.
The second is when you will be harmed for doing it. Allah Almighty stated:
Forbid evil and be patient with what afflicts you (31:17)
You need to assess is the potential harm and decide whether it is real or imaginary. Thus if you were to be beaten up of saying something, or will be mocked or ignored, then you it is incumbent on you to leave. Leaving a place where sin is occurring is important because it impacts you. If you do not leave, you are grazing on the boundaries of the haram.
Al-Nu’man ibn Bashir reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said:
“Verily, the lawful is clear and the unlawful is clear, and between the two of them are doubtful matters about which many people do not know. Thus, he who avoids doubtful matters clears himself in regard to his religion and his honour, and he who falls into doubtful matters will fall into the unlawful as the shepherd who pastures near a sanctuary, all but grazing therein. Verily, every king has a sanctum and the sanctum of Allah is His prohibitions. Verily, in the body is a piece of flesh which, if sound, the entire body is sound, and if corrupt, the entire body is corrupt. Truly, it is the heart.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
This means stay clear of doubtful matters, just as sheep will graze wherever there is grass, if you do not keep them away from property that does not belong to you, you will end up trespassing and taking what does not rightfully belong to you. By putting yourself in a position where you are close to the haram, you will end up committing haram though that may not have been your intention. This is why Allah Almighty set limits. You need to steer well clear of the limits, otherwise you will transgress.
Practically this mean do not put yourself near anything haram; do not sit with the haram, eat near the haram.
Toxic environments affect the purity of your heart so reject them in your heart
In the famous hadith, Abu Sa`eed al-Khudree (may Allah be pleased with him) said:
I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) say, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and 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 with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith.” [Muslim]
This means that if you cannot stop an evil, at the very least reject it in your heart. Say ‘O Allah this is wrong. It is against your commands’. Even though it is an internal dialogue, not a visible action, when you are in the presence of evil, it inevitably rubs off on you. Exposure to it, day in and day out, will affect your heart adversely. This is why you need to create the mechanism of rejection, otherwise your heart will gradually absorb the evil.
A friend of mine once commented on a time when he was not very practicing and he used to go to parties, initially he was aware that elements in those parties were haram, but slowly the more he went the more normal the set up appeared to him. Unless you actively reject it in your heart, you cannot defend your heart, and you will be attacked by shaytan.
Sometimes we fear everything. We don’t want to be called an extremist. But remember, you are just repeating the commands of Allah Almighty.
Do not allow the shaytan to make you a weak person. If you are there and you see people doing something wrong, you might say nothing out of fear. However if you have the right intention and right skills, they might listen to you. I have been in situations where deep down I felt apprehensive about saying something, but I felt I had to say something. And to my surprise I found that people did respond, even when I least expected it. When you use the right manner and words people will listen. Have tawakkul and prepare yourself to say the right thing.
The Prophet (peace be on him) wanted us to change evil, boost our immunity to it, minimise it and rid the community of it as much as possible. This requires wisdom and courage.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – The Thursday Class
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- How to deal with people according to their status. Ghazali rule 9-11
- Dealing with gossip and arguments. How to deal with people: Ghazali’s rules 7-8
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