Bidding the right and forbidding the wrong is a collective duty like jihad, which is its completion. If no one fulfills this duty, everyone who is competent will be guilty to the extent he was capable, for it is incumbent upon everyone according to his ability. This is true of all duties. They produce, more good than evil, for if the evil consequences of a thing outweighed its good consequences God would not make it obligatory. The duty of bidding the right and forbidding the wrong is sometimes performed by hand, sometimes by tongue, and sometimes only by the heart, and that is the weakest form of faith one’ can have. Those who are to take up this duty should have a very good understanding of the things they enjoin and the things they forbid, they should be polite and lenient in performing it, and they should be prepared to suffer patiently the harms that might be inflicted on them by the people to whom they preach.
God has introduced His Prophet in these words: “He commands them what is just, and forbids them what is unjust, allows them as lawful what is good and prohibits them from what is bad” (9:157). This is the description of his mission. It is through him that God bids every good and forbids everything evil. The Prophet himself has described his mission in this way: “1 have been sent to perfect all the noble virtues.”755 In another liadith reported in both Sahih collections he has said, “I and other prophets form a house which was built by someone who completed the whole structure, but left just the place for a brick. Anyone who goes around the house is caught by its beauty, but wonders why one brick has not been placed. Know that I am that brick.”756 With him God completed His religion which commands all that is right and forbids all that is wrong, allows all that is good and pure, and prohibits all that is bad and foul…
God has introduced the ummah in a manner similar to how He introduced the Prophet. He has said, “You are the best of the peoples, evolved for mankind. You bid the right and forbid the wrong, and believe in God” (3:110); and, “The Believers, men and women, are protectors one of another; they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil.” (9:71). Abu Hurayrah757 put it in his own way when he said, “You are the best of the peoples for mankind. You bind them up in chains and lead them into Paradise.” God has made it very clear that this ummah is the best ummah for mankind and their greatest benefactor because they tell them what is right and what is wrong for them, and ask them to act upon that. They also strive with all their power and resources to establish the rule of justice and virtue and do that for no purpose but to please their Lord. This is the best they can do for mankind…
When we say that the good should be enjoined and the evil should be forbidden, we do not mean that every individual in the world should be addressed. This was not the part of the duty of the Prophet; how could it be the duty of his followers! What is required is that conditions should be created that people receive the message. If they themselves do not try to know the message while those responsible to preach it have done their duty, it is the people who are guilty…
Furthermore, the duty to enjoin the right and forbid the wrong is not an individual duty, it is a collective duty, as the Quran has said, and since jihad is the completion of that duty, it is also a collective duty. Hence, if those who have the power and ability to perform that duty fail to render it, every individual who has the ability will be guilty to the extent of his ability, for it is a duty on every person according to his or her ability. The Prophet said, “Whoever sees an evil should remove it with his hand. If he cannot do that he should speak against it; if he cannot do that, he should hate it in his heart, and that is the lowest degree of faith.”758
So this duty is sometimes performed with the heart and sometimes with the tongue, and sometimes with the hands. As for the heart, it must render that duty in every situation, since it involves no harm at all. Hence, if anyone fails in that, too, he is not a Believer. The Prophet has said, “That is the lowest or the weakest degree of faith,” or “Beyond that there is not a particle of faith there.” Ibn Mas`ud759 was asked, “Who are the dead among the people who are living?” He answered, “Those who neither approve of the right nor condemn the wrong.”
Two groups of people have gone wrong in this regard. One group abstains from enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong. They try to find justification for their action in the verse, “You who believe! Guard your own souls. If you follow (right) guidance, no hurt can come to you from those who stray” (5:08). In his time, Abu Bakr As-Siddig760 found some people behaving in the same wrong manner. He addressed them and said, “You read this verse and interpret it in the wrong way. I have heard the Prophet saying, `When people see wrong being done and do not try to remove it God is likely to inflict punishment on them all. “’76′ The second group wants to enjoin the right and forbid the wrong but they do not know how to do it, nor do they have the patience and forbearance required, or the understanding of what should be done and what should not, or what is feasible and what is not. Abu Tha’labah says that he asked the Prophet concerning this, and he said, “You should work together and enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, till you see people turning greedy, running after their desires, self-conceited, each defending his own whims, knowing nothing about the truth. At that time you should mind yourself, leave the people to themselves. You will be seeing days when to hold on to the right will be as difficult as to hold fire in the hand. Whoever does a right thing in those days shall have the reward of fifty people doing the same (in our days) .,,16′ This means that some people will be engaged in bidding the right and forbidding the wrong, believing all the while that they are serving God and obeying His Prophet but they will only be transgressing the limits He has set. A number of heretical sects like the Khawarij, the Mu`tazilah, the Rafidah and others do a lot of things wrong while performing the duty of bidding the right and forbidding the wrong; they do more evil than good. That is why the Prophet has advised the Believers to bear patiently the injustices which their rulers commit, and refrain from fighting them so long as they establish the salah. His words are, “Give them their due, and ask God for what is your due.”763
That is why one of the principles of the Ahl as-Sunnah wa al-Jama `ah is that one should adhere to the body of Muslims (jama `ah) and refrain from fighting the rulers. Heretical sects such as the Mu’tazilah, on the other hand, believe that people should fight the rulers; they consider it one of their basic principles… I have discussed in detail elsewhere the issue of fighting against rulers. The guiding principle in this regard, as in other similar cases, is this: whenever there is a conflict between the good and the bad consequences or between the right and the wrong aspects of a course of action, one must choose the course which is the better of the two. Even though the right we enjoin or the wrong we forbid is only meant to secure some good or ward off some evil, we have to see what consequences follow otherwise. If the good one loses or the loss one incurs is greater, then such a course of action will not be desirable. In fact, if the evils of an action outweigh its good, it will be forbidden. However, both good and the evil consequences have to be measured by the standards of the Shari’ah. The best policy in the matter is: Follow the texts, and do not go beyond them; when you do not have texts, exercise your mind, and take help from instructions in similar cases. It rarely happens that texts fail a person if he is aware of them and is versed in inferring from them.
Hence, if a person or a group of people faces a situation that has both aspects, good and evil, and are not able to isolate one from the other, and have either to accept them together or leave them together, they will not be asked to do the good alone or avoid the evil alone; they will have to study the case thoroughly. If the good outweighs the evil they will be required to do it, even though it involves some evil; they will not be asked to refrain from it, for that would involve the loss of greater good. To ask them to refrain from it would be blocking the way to God, obstructing the fulfillment of His will or the will of His Prophet, and undermining the realization of so much good. But if the evil outweighs the good they must refrain from it, even though it will mean the loss of some good, for to ask one to accomplish a good that involves greater evil is to ask him to sin against God and His Prophet. If the good and the evil balance each other one will not be asked to do either. This means that situations differ. One time it may be better to bid an action, another time to forbid it, and a third time to refrain from both, that is to say in case the good and the evil balance each other…
It was a situation of the last kind in which the Prophet abstained from doing anything with `Abdullah Ibn Ubayy and other hypocrites who had a large number of supporters. Had he done anything to remove the evil they were causing he would have risked a greater good. Their peoples would have come out in their support and would have shouted that Muhammad (pbuh) was killing his own friends and supporters. That was why when he addressed people at the occasion of the slander (against his wife `A’ishah) he excused `Abdullah Ibn Ubayy, and Sa’d Ibn Mu`adh761a spoke to him the good words that he said, and Sa’d Ibn . Ubaydah761b defended him even though Sa’d was a good Muslim.
The important thing here is that one’s love for the good and hatred for the evil and one’s willingness to do the former and eschew the latter should be subject to God’s likes and dislikes, love and aversion, which He has expressed in His revelations, and that he should work for the good and against the evil as much as he can. God does not require from a soul more than it can do. He has said, “Fear God as much as you can” (64:16). As for love or hate, desire or aversion, it should be perfect, and deficiency in it will mean deficiency in fait; but as for action, it should be according to one’s ability and power. If your love for the good or your hatred for the evil is perfect and you act as much as your powers allow, you will have the reward of a perfect worker.
Often the like or dislike, love or aversion of the people for a particular thing is determined by their natural love and aversion for the thing rather than by the love and aversion which God and His Prophet have for it. This may amount to self-indulgence, and if they proceed on that road they will only be pursuing their own desires. God has said, “And who is more astray than one who follows his own lusts, devoid of guidance from God?” (28:50). For lust in its essence is love of the self and aversion is only dependent upon it. Neither desire as such, which is the basis for love, nor aversion as such, which we have in ourselves, is something objectionable; people often do not have control over either. What may be objectionable is their translation into action. It is against them that God cautioned David when He said, “David! We did indeed make you a vicegerent on earth; so judge between men in truth (and justice) and never follow the lusts (of your heart) for they will mislead you from the Path of God” (38:26)…
Man’s duty, therefore, is to see whether his love and aversion are subject to God’s commands and the commands of His Prophet, and in the same measure as they would like. For it is `these commands which constitute God’s guidance, commands which He has revealed to His Prophet, and to which one should subject one’s likes and dislikes, and never ever exceed… Hence, one must acquire knowledge of the good and the bad, must be able to distinguish between them, and must know what things have been commanded and what have been forbidden… One must also be polite and considerate in calling men to them, and mind what the Prophet has said: “Politeness only adds to the beauty of a thing you do, and rudeness only adds to its ugliness.” He has also said, “God is lenient and loves leniency in everything, and gives to the lenient what He does not give to the harsh.”765
One must also be patient and forgiving of the wrongs one suffers; you just cannot escape them. If you cannot forbear and forgive, you will do more harm than good. Lugman taught that truth to his son when he said, “Enjoin what is just, and forbid what is wrong; and bear with patience whatever befalls you” (31:17). This is also the reason why God instructed His messengers, who were masters in this art to be patient and forgiving. To the Seal of the Prophets, for example, He has said, “Have patience with what they say, and leave them with noble (dignity)” (73:10), and “Patiently persevere, as did (all) messengers of inflexible purpose” (46:35).
To sum up: One must have knowledge and understanding, must be polite and lenient, and must be patient and persevering. Knowledge must be acquired before bidding the good and forbidding the evil, leniency must go along with it, and patience must follow it. All three must go together. This is stated in a tradition which has come down from the Elders, even believed to have emerged from the Prophet: “No one really bids the right and forbids the wrong except one who knows very well what he bids and what he forbids, who is polite and lenient in bidding as well as in forbidding, and who is forbearing and forgiving on both occasions.” Qadi Abu Ya`la has noted this tradition in his book,
Author: Ibn Taymiyyah
Islamic Topic: The purpose of government
Source: Book: [Fatawd 28:121-37] / Also mentioned in “Ibn Taymiyyah Expounds on Islam”