Enjoining Good and Forbidding Evil

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By Shaykh Rehan Ahmed Raza Al-Azhari

It is fitting to state that gratitude is due upon us, in the name of the All-Powerful, who created us as human beings, with intellect. Who created us with limbs and emotions, of senses and abilities. Most importantly, He created us from the Nation of His most Beloved – Prophet Muhammad (Peace & Blessings). This short article will discuss the major duty of enjoining good and forbidding evil and the evil consequences of abandoning this Prophetic duty.

If we were to analyse the Muslim World then we will realise that wherever we look then there is chaos and disarray throughout, be it at a political, religious, spiritual or educational level. Throughout the Qur’an Almighty Allah mentions many attributes of the believers, but one of the salient features of the Ummah is that they enjoin good and forbid evil. In order for progression and for society to flourish people must initiate, advise and attempt to guide each other, towards righteousness and deterring each other away from misconduct. Introducing the Muslim Ummah Almighty Allah says:


“You are the best community brought forth for (the guidance of) mankind: you command righteousness, forbid evil and believe in Allah.[1]

Although Allah Almighty has specified Muslims as the best of people among all Mankind, this superiority is conditional upon the following three qualities:

• Enjoining what is right (Good and righteous conduct and deeds)

• Forbidding what is wrong (All unlawful acts of vice, evil and transgression)

• Belief in Allah

Mujahid has said, "Being the best of all peoples is conditional in the characteristics mentioned in the verse."

Al-Qurtubi also states, "You are the best of peoples only if you enjoin good and forbid evil."[2]


In another verse Almighty Allah says:

“The believers, men and women, are helpers and friends to one another. They command good and forbid evil and establish Prayer and pay Zakat (the Alms-due) and obey Allah and His Messenger (blessings and peace be upon him). It is they on whom Allah will soon shower His Mercy. Surely, Allah is Almighty, Most Wise[3]

Almighty Allah referring to a group or organisation says:

“And from amongst you there must be a community comprising the people who would invite mankind towards piety, bid righteousness and forbid evil. And they are the successful people.[4]

From the preceding verses, the importance of the duty of enjoining good and forbidding evil becomes clear.  The reason why the Muslim Ummah has been declared the best Ummah is because of the fulfilling the duty of enjoining good and forbidding evil and believing in Almighty Allah. By adhering to that which has been prescribed by the Prophet (peace & blessings), we safeguard ourselves from retribution.  It is stated in the Holy Qur’an:

“So let those who go against the Messenger’s command (of veneration and devotion) feel afraid lest some trial should overtake them (here in the world) or a painful torment seize them in the Hereafter.”[5]

This is a categorical statement of Almighty Allah informs those who oppose the commands of Holy Prophet that they will suffer from severe consequences in this world and the world hereafter.  The state of the Muslim Ummah is a clear reflection of the sever warning and consequence pointed out in this verse.

Allah Almighty categorically warns the Muslim Ummah of the misfortunes of those who rebel against the commands of the Prophet (peace be upon Him). The current state of the Ummah is a depiction of the negligence of the Muslim Ummah, to the Qur’ān & Sunnah.

In Surah al-As’r Almighty Allah mentions four conditions for success, He Almighty Allah says:

“By the passing time, Indeed man is at a loss (for he is losing his valuable lifetime), Except for those who believe and do good deeds and exhort one another to Truth and exhort one another to patience (in the face of hardships and afflictions that are faced while preaching the Din [Religion] of Truth).”[6]

Four conditions are as follows:

  • To have Iman (faith)
  • To perform good deeds
  • To exhort one another to truth
  • To exhort one another to patience

It is a major responsibility of Muslims to refrain from that which is frowned upon and to partake in that which is praiseworthy. There are numerous verses some of which have been mentioned above and Prophetic traditions pertaining to this subject.

Allah's Messenger (Blessings and peace be upon Him) said:

"Whosoever amongst you sees Munkar (evil), he should change it by his hand. And if he does not have enough strength to do so (by hand), then he should do it with his tongue. And if he does not have enough strength to do it (with his tongue), then he should (abhor it) in his heart, and that is the least of faith." [Sahih Muslim]

In the above Prophetic tradition it highlights the various categories of faith in which people fall in.  Often people misunderstand the concept of changing a Munkar (evil) by hand.  This does not in any way imply that people pick up arms against their Governments because this is purely against the letter and spirit of the Qur’an and Prophetic teachings.  It is the responsibility of the Governments to stop evil through force.  Our duty is to launch a peaceful struggle in overcoming the evil within society through democratic and non-violent methods.  If we fail to fulfil the duty of enjoining good and forbidding evil then we will become cursed as the Children of Israel were cursed.   Abdullah bin Mas`ud (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Messenger of Allah (Belssings and peace be upon Him) said:

"The first defect (in religion) which affected the Children of Israel in the way that man would meet another and say to him: fear Allah and abstain from what you are doing, for this is not lawful for you.' Then he would meet him the next day and find no change in him, but this would not prevent him from eating with him, drinking with him and sitting in his assemblies. When it came to this, Allah led their hearts into evil ways on account of their association with others.'' Then he (PBUH) recited, Those amongst the Children of Israel who disbelieved were cursed by the tongue of Dawud (David) and ‘Isa, the son of Maryam (Jesus, the son of Mary). That is because they disobeyed and transgressed.  (And they were also cursed because) they would not prevent one another from the evil deeds they used to do. Certainly, evil were the deeds they used to do.  You will see most of them befriending the disbelievers. How evil that is which they have sent forward for their (accountability on the Last Day) and (that is) that Allah is (highly) displeased with them and they will suffer from the torment forever!  And had they believed in Allah and the (Last) Messenger (blessings and peace be upon him) and the (Book) that has been revealed to him, they would not have made friends with those (the enemies of Islam). But most of them are disobedient.” (5:78-81)

Then He (Blessings and peace be upon Him) continued:

"Nay, by Allah, you either enjoin good and forbid evil and catch hold of the hand of the oppressor and persuade him to act justly and stick to the truth, or, Allah will involve the hearts of some of you with the hearts of others and will curse you as he had cursed them.[7]

The wording in Al-Tirmidhi is: Messenger of Allah (Blessings and peace be upon Him) said,

"When the Children of Israel became sinful, their learned men prohibited them but they would not turn back. Yet, the learned men associated with them and ate and drank with them. So, they were cursed at the tongues of Dawud and `Isa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary), because they were disobedient and were given to transgression.'' At this stage Messenger of Allah (PBUH) who was reclining on a pillow sat up and said, "No, By Him in Whose Hand my soul is, there is no escape for you but you persuade them to act justly.'' [8]

It is a common misconception that if one feels they have met the prerequisites of a dutiful Muslim, they are exempt from caring about the rest of the Ummah and of what happens around them. Nonetheless, this is an unfamiliarity with what the Qur’ān & Sunnah have advised.

Sayyedina Abu Bakr As-Siddiq (May Allah be pleased with him) once reported:

"O you people! You recite this Verse: O believers! Take care of your own selves. No one who goes astray can do you harm, provided you have become rightly guided. (5:105) But I have heard Messenger of Allah (PBUH) saying: "When people see an oppressor but do not prevent him from (doing evil), it is likely that Allah will punish them all.''[9]

What  Sayyedina Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him) stated was that the verse mentioned in this Hadith was generally understood to mean that if a person is on the Straight Path, then it is not necessary for him to preach virtue and forbid vice because in that case he neither has the fear of being harmed by the disobedience and sins of others nor is he answerable to Allah for their misdeeds.

By narrating this Hadith, Sayyedina Abu Bakr (May Allah be pleased with him) refuted this interpretation of the verse and made it clear that it is the duty of the Ummah and each of its members to make the best possible efforts to check the vices prevalent in the society. So much so that if a Muslim has the ability to check the vices by means of force or speech but he does not do it, his negligence in this regard will become a cause of Divine wrath and punishment. The true significance of this verse is that if, in spite of the best efforts on the part of the pious ones there is no improvement, and people do not abstain from sins and disobedience of Allah, then the pious persons will not be held responsible for what the defaulters do, nor would they suffer on this account. This interpretation of the verse removes the conflict that seems to exist between the meaning of the Ayah and the Hadith.

The above Prophetic can be further understood through another tradition in which The Prophet (Blessings and peace be upon Him)  beautifully explains this concept through a metaphor and says:

“The likeness of the man who observes the limits prescribed by Allah and that of the man who transgresses them is like the people who get on board a ship after casting lots.  Some of them are in its lower deck and some of them in its upper [deck].  Those who are in its lower [deck], when they require water, go to the occupants of the upper deck, and say to them:  ‘If we make a hole in the bottom of the ship, we shall not harm you.’  If they (the occupants of the upper deck) leave them to carry out their design they all will be drowned.  But if they do not let them go ahead (with their plan), all of them will remain safe”[10]

Sayyedina Qais bin Abi Hazim (may Allah be pleased with him) reports that Sayyedina Siddiq al-Akbar (may Allah be pleased with him) stood on the pulpit and informed us that the Messenger of Allah (Blessings and peace be upon Him) said:

“Indeed, when people see a tyrant and then they do not stop him (from his transgression), then soon Almighty Allah will send His punishment (which will encompass everyone)[11]

From the above traditions we learn that the consequences of committing sins are not only restricted to those who perform the forbidden acts, but rather the whole society suffers.  Hence, it is of utmost importance that those whose habit has become committing sins in the society should be checked in order to safeguard the whole society from Divine punishment.

A person may question: ‘from where does vice and corruption originate from?’, ‘what is the cause of the proliferation of vice in society?  Remember that corruption comes from incompetent leaders, rulers and the rich within society. This reality has been mentioned in the Prophetic tradition , narrated by Qasim bin Mukhairah who said that the Holy Prophet (Blessings and peace be upon Him) said:

“If your sultan (leaders) becomes good then whole society will become better and if your sultan (leaders) becomes corrupt then your whole society will become corrupt”[12]

Therefore the integrity and righteousness of the Muslim Ummah lies in the integrity of its leaders, rulers and the rich.  If the rulers and rich become corrupt then the whole society will become corrupt because the others who are not classified as rich will follow them.  The same concept has been mentioned in the following verses of the Holy Qur’an:

“And when We resolve to destroy a town, We send (some) command to the rich and the affluent amongst them (so that the common man and the poor may make amends) but they act disobediently in (the town). Thus Our decree (of torment) becomes due against it. Then We totally demolish that town.”[13]

And they will say: ‘O our Lord, surely we followed what our chiefs and the influential ones directed, so they turned us away from the (straight) path.”[14]

And fear the plague which will not afflict exclusively those who are the tyrants amongst you (but its victims will also include those who are accomplices in tyranny or who remain indifferent to it).”[15]

The above verses are definitive that the           those who are less fortunate follow the leaders and influential members of the society who are violating the commandments of Allah and His Messenger (Blessings and peace be upon Him).  The last verse also gives a severe warning to those who become co-conspirators in tyranny that their fate will be with the tyrants.  They will be equally be involved in tyranny because they did not either practically do anything to stop the tyrant or raise their voice to condemn the tyrant.  If we look throughout the Muslim World we see the majority of the rulers, leaders and the affluent are involved in oppressing their nation and at the same time we see Muslims nations turning a blind eye to what's happening around them.  The sole reason why we have such oppressors and tyrants as our rulers is because of our own actions.  In the Qur’an Almighty Allah says:

Corruption and disorder has spread over land and sea on account of (the sins) which people have earned with their hands so that Allah makes them taste the outcome of some of their (evil) deeds that they have committed in order that they may desist.”[16]

We as Muslims are responsible for our own circumstances and we should not attribute the blame to external forces who may be solely responsible.  Our duty is to work at home and reconsider what is being practiced in our own vicinity by eradicating the internal threats and make it strong so that it is protected from external threats. Muslims are responsible for who rules over them, because that is what they want, when they engage in the disobedience of Allah and His Messenger (Blessings and peace be upon Him) then Almighty Allah places a tyrant upon.  Again in the Prophetic tradition a severe warning has been given to those who fail to fulfil the duty of enjoining good and forbidding evil that enemies will be placed over them to rule. It is reported by Jabir bin Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with Him) Holy Prophet (Blessings and peace be upon Him) said:

“When people will break their promises, Almighty Allah will place over them their enemy (as a ruler), when they will fail to enjoin good and forbid evil then Almighty Allah will place over them the worst of people, then the best amongst you will pray but their prayers will not be answered”[17]

In another version of the hadith Holy Prophet (Blessings and peace be upon Him) said:

“You will definitely enjoin good and forbid evil or else Almighty Allah will place over you the worst of people (as rulers), then the best amongst you will pray but their prayers will not be answered”[18]

The Prophetic traditions quoted so far reflect on our condition as a Nation, it's as if Holy Prophet (Blessings and peace be upon Him) is addressing our current situation.

One of the signs of the Day of Judgement is that the trust will be entrusted to people who are not deserving to entrust. This concept has also been elaborated in the Prophetic traditions because one of the signs of the Day of Judgment is that affairs will be entrusted to those who are contemptible. Abu Hurairah  related that a Bedouin asked the Messenger of Allah (Blessings and peace be upon Him) "When is the Hour?" He said,

"When the trust will be lost, then wait for the Hour." He said, "O’ Messenger of Allah, and how will it be lost?" He , said, "When the affair will be entrusted to those who do not deserve it, then wait for the Hour." [19]

The following is similar to the preceding narration:

"The Hour will not arrive until the most privileged of people will be Lakai ibn Lakai (an immoral person who is the son of an immoral person)."[20]

If we were to look at the majority of the leaders of the Muslims Nations you will see that they are corrupt, immoral, incompetent and tyrannical.  They are not worthy of being rulers, but yet the same people are voted into government by the people.  People do not realise the value of their vote, a vote is a trust (Amanah) which has to be given to those who are worthy.  Almighty Allah states in the Holy Qur’an:

“Surely, Allah commands you to entrust the belongings to those who are worthy of them”[21]

In another Verse Almighty Allah says:

O believers! Holding fast to the cause of Allah, bear witness based on justice.”[22]

Therefore it becomes incumbent upon the people to follow the commandment of Almighty Allah and confer the trust of those who are worthy and avoid entrusting it to the corrupt. If you do not find anyone worthy of the trust then you should not vote for anyone as this will be  you raising your voice against the corrupt system. Commenting on the verse of Surah al-Maidah Maulana Mohammad Shafi (Usmani) says in his Tafsir (Marif-ul-Qur’an (5:8) that voting can be a false evidence. In that case the evil fruits of your voting will be recorded in your deeds!

“To recapitulate our vote has three-pronged status:  Shahadah (evidence), Shafa’ah (recommendation), Wakalah (advocacy or reputation in common rights).  Under all three conditions, voting for good and deserving person brings great reward the fruits of which are bound to reach the voter.  Similarly, voting for someone undeserving and uncouth is false evidence, unjustified recommendation and impermissible advocacy all in one, so, the evil fruits of his thoughtless voting shall stand recorded in the voter’s log of deed.

Therefore, it is the duty of every Muslim, man and woman, that he or she must fully investigate into the background of the candidate being voted for well before vote is cast.  Let them make sure that the candidate is deserving, capable and honest – and not otherwise.  Negligence, apathy and heedlessness are poor reasons to go about committing such grave crimes.  If done for no reason, it is absurdity at its worst.

The following hadith is a clear picture of the current state of the Muslims in their countries and it will sum up what we see, it is narrated from Al-Hasan al-Basri who said, "I went forth, seeking knowledge. I reached Kufah, where I met 'Abdullah ibn Mas'ood , and I said, 'O Abu 'Abdur-Rahmaan, does the Hour have a sign that it is known by?"' He answered, "I asked the Messenger of Allah (Blessings and peace be upon Him) about that, and he said,

'Indeed, from its signs is that a child will be vulgar and the rain will be oppressively hot. Secrets will be revealed, the liar will be believed, the treacherous one will be trusted, the trustworthy one will be distrusted, every tribe will be led by its hypocrites, and every marketplace by its wicked ones. The Mihraabs will be adorned and hearts will be ruined. Men will suffice themselves with men, and women will suffice themselves with women. Alcohol will be imbibed. There will be an increase in Ash-Shurat (perhaps referring to the guards, and Allah knows best), in those who slander, and in those who backbite."[23]

Abu Hurairah  reported that the Messenger of Allah  said,

"Before the Hour are treacherous years; in them, the truthful person will be disbelieved, and the liar will be believed; the trustworthy one will be distrusted, and the treacherous one will be trusted. And the base, ignoble one will speak in that time (i.e., he has a voice that is heard by the people)." [24]

Imam Ibn al-Qayim says:  "The Shaitan has misled most people by beautifying for them the performance of certain voluntary acts of worship such as voluntary prayers and voluntary fasting while neglecting other obligatory acts of worship such as enjoining the good and eradicating the evil, to the extent that they do not even make the intention of performing them....For the essence of our religion is to perform what Allah ordered us to do. The one who does not perform his obligations is actually worse than the one who performs sins. Anyone having some knowledge about the revelation of Allah, the guidance of the Prophet and the life of the companions would see that those who are pointed at today as the most pious people are in fact the least pious... Indeed, what deen and what good is there in a person who witnesses the sanctities of Allah being violated, His religion abandoned, the Sunnah of His Messenger shunned, and yet remains still with a cold heart and a silent tongue - a dumb Shaitan. In the same way the one who talks falsehood is a speaking Shaitan. Isn't the misfortune of Islam due only to those who whenever their food and positions are secure, would not care about what happens to the religion? The best among them would offer a sorry face. But if there was a shortcoming in one of the things their heart is attached to like their rank or money, they would sacrifice and strive and strain and struggle and use the three levels of prevention (their hands, tongues and hearts, as mentioned in hadith according to their capability. These people, besides deserving the anger of Allah, are afflicted with the greatest calamity without even knowing it: They have a dead heart. Indeed the more alive a person's heart is, the stronger its anger for the sake of Allah and the more complete his support to Islam and Muslims"

We are completely aware of the above shortcomings but yet we still expect and hope for Allah’s Mercy.  We still hope that we will not be tried and afflicted with trials and tribulations.  The time has come for the Muslim Ummah to collectively repent in the court of Almighty Allah and strive to adhere to the teachings of Qur’an and Sunnah.

It is essential that Muslims look deep within themselves to discover what problems within themselves may be affecting the Ummah as a whole. We have yet to realise that we delve into major matters whilst ignoring the ones that taint our character each and every day. By simply being good people, you create an indestructible force around you that acts as a weapon against oppression. It is up to us to use the weapon of good character and compassion for humanity, against the forces of evil so heavily upon us. Reflect upon the state of your character, your household, your neighbour and your community. Be vigilant about the issues that hit us harsher than we can imagine. A revolution begins, with the initial changing of oneself.  I would like to sum up the whole article by the verse of the Holy Qur’an where  Almighty Allah says:

“Allah does not change the state of a people until they bring about a change in themselves. And when Allah intends to torment  people (due to their own evil works), then none can avert it. Nor is there any helper for them apart from Allah.”[25]

[1] Al-Qur’an, al-Imran 3:110

[2] Tafsir Jami’a li-Ahkam al-Qur’an

[3] Al-Qur’an, al-Tawbah 9:71

[4] Al-Qur’an, al-Imran 3:104

[5] Al-Qur’an, al-Nur 24:63

[6] Al-Qur’an, al-Asr 103:1-3

[7] Sunan Abu Dawud, Book of Battles, Chapter 17, Hadith No. 4338

[8] Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Book of Commentary, Chapter 6, Hadith No. 3048

[9] Sunan Abu Dawud, Book of Battles, Chapter 17, Hadith No. 4340

[10] Sahih al-Bukhari, Hadith No. 2540

[11]Imam Baiyhaqi, Sunan al-Kubrah, Hadith No. 20684

[12] Imam Dani, Al-Sunan al-Waridah fil-Fitan, , Hadith No. 298

[13] Al-Qur’an, Surah Isra, 17:16

[14] Al-Qur’an, Surah al-Ahzab, 33:67

[15] Al-Qur’an, Surah al-Anfal, 8:25

[16] Al-Qur’an, Surah al-Rum, 30:41

[17] Imam Dani, Al-Sunan al-Waridah fil-Fitan, , Hadith No 326

[18] Mu’jam al-Awsat, Hadith No. 1379, Musanaf Ibn Abi Shaibah, Hadith No. 37221

[19] Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Knowledge, Chapter 2, Hadith No.59

[20] Musnad Ahmad, Hadith No. 23351

[21] Al-Qur’an, al-Nisa, 4:58

[22] Al-Qur’an, Surah al-Maidah, 5:8

[23] Imam Baiyhaqi, Book of al-Ba’th wal-Nashoor

[24] Musnad Ahmad

[25] Al-Qur’an, Surah al-Ra’d, 13:11