March 3, 2001

Duty of Enjoining the Good and Eradicating the Evil


The duty of ‘amr bil ma’roof wa nahy anil munkar in the
contemporary Islamic movement.

The Quran is the eternal source of guidance for Muslims, indeed for all
mankind. According to a Prophetic hadith, the Quran yields ever greater insights
as human knowledge expands, yet contemporary Muslims have a frightening tendency
to indulge in trivia even concerning the Divine Book. Far from gaining deeper
insights into the meanings of the Qur?an, many Muslims channel their energies
into “proving” that modern scientific discoveries confirm Quranic
revelations, as if the Qur?an needs such validation. There are others who have
busied themselves with finding errors in the Bible. How many errors in the Bible
does it take to make one a better Muslim? Yet another group insists on tabligh
to fellow Muslims, leaving all other precepts of deen aside. These may still be
considered less serious in light of the frightful arguments Muslims get into
over where they should place their hands in salah, and whether ?ameen?
should be said softly or loudly in prayer.

It is at a more fundamental level that Muslims are guilty of willful
distortion of the meanings of the Quran, and of the Sunnah and Seerah of the
noble Messenger of Allah (saw). Nothing illustrates this better than the manner
in which Muslims have distorted the meaning of the ayah “amr bil ma’roof
wa nahy anil munkar
“. All English translations give: “To enjoin
good and forbid evil”, or minor variations to that effect. Let us first
remind ourselves that this phrase occurs at least 28 times in the Qur?an, in
various forms, which indicates its importance.

The key point to note is that the Arabic word ‘amr is an active
command, not a passive verb. Thus, Allah says: “You Muslims must command
the common good and forbid evil.” This is in stark contrast to the normal
Muslim understanding of the phrase as being passive. Moreover, it is not enough
merely to only command the common good; one must also forbid evil. Without
forbidding evil and wrong-doing, the duty of commanding the common good cannot
be fulfilled. It is like trying to clean a room while permitting others to
continue throwing rubbish into it.

How did Muslims come to distort the meanings of the noble Quran and move away
from its true commands, as well as proper understanding of the Sunnah and Seerah?
This has much to do with Islamic history. Soon after the khilafah was subverted
into mulukiyyah (kingship), the ‘ulama came under intense pressure from the
rulers to give them legitimacy. The rulers believed, probably correctly, that
they needed religious authority to be acceptable to the Muslim masses. Many ‘ulama
refused to oblige and suffered grievously for it ? Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik,
Imam Shafi’i and Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal all suffered much persecution at the
hands of the rulers ? but others succumbed to official pressure much more

The scholars’ acquiescence took several forms. Unable to change a bad
situation, they tried to limit the damage by justifying it under the pretext of
avoiding fitna (sedition), hoping that the situation would ultimately rectify
itself. Gradually, a body of “court ‘ulama” emerged who provided
religious sanction to the un-Islamic behaviour of rulers. The Quranic
prohibition on gheebah (backbiting, al-Qur’an 49:12) was represented to stifle
criticism of those in power. The prohibition applies to publicizing the errors
of ordinary Muslims, not to the un-Islamic behaviour of rulers. This
interpretation contradicts the Prophetic command that if you see an evil, stop
it by hand (i.e., use force); if unable to do so, speak out against it. If that
too is not possible, at least consider it evil in your heart but remember that
is the lowest form of iman (faith). At the same time, the duty of amr bil ma’roof
and nahy anil munkar was reduced to giving naseeha (advice).

Most Muslims today are guilty of abandoning the duty of amr bil ma’roof
wa nahy anil munkar
. Let us consider the divine punishment for such
dereliction. In surah al-A’araf, Allah (swt) narrates the
story of Bani Israel (Yahud) who lived on the banks of a river (al-Qur’an
7:163-166). They were prohibited from fishing on the day of the Sabbath. A group
among them started to subvert this prohibition by digging a channel from the
river, into which the fish swam. The channel was then blocked to prevent the
fishes’ returning to the river; the next day, they would be ‘caught’. When
another group of God-fearing Jews castigated them for this, a third group
reprimanded them for interfering unnecessarily. If God willed to punish the
first group, they argued, He would do so Himself. When God’s punishment came,
only the group that had spoken out was spared; the rest were all punished.

We need to bear in mind that these ayaat come after a long series of ayaat in
this surah in which the story of the Pharaoh’s rebelliousness is narrated in
great detail. He and his people were repeatedly punished, and after each
reprieve they returned to their evil ways. Finally, when the Pharaoh chased Musa
(as) and his followers across the Red Sea, Allah saved Bani Israel and the
pursuing Pharaoh and his army perished. The group of Yahud who were punished for
violating the Sabbath knew the consequences of Pharaoh’s rebelliousness, yet
they still thought they could cheat Allah. Equally revealing is
the punishment meted out to the second group which, although not involved
directly, failed to prohibit the munkar.

In yet another surah, Allah tells us that the transgressors of Yahud were
condemned by both the Prophets Dawud and Isa (peace be upon them). Further,
that those who do not prohibit evil deeds when they see them, they also stand
condemned and will be punished (5: 78-79). The duty of prohibiting munkar cannot
be abandoned without opening oneself to Allah’s wrath. In a hadith the
Prophet, upon whom be peace, has said that the Yahudi deviation began when one
person would see another indulging in evil and would tell him to stop it; but
the very next day, would dine with the offender. The Prophet then went on:
“You must command the good, forbid evil and prevent injustice, otherwise
you will incur Allah’s wrath” (Abu Dawud, 4336). In another hadith, he
says “If you abandon this duty (of commanding the good and forbidding
evil), you will earn Allah?s wrath and your prayers will go unanswered” (Musnad
of Ahmed ibn Hanbal, vol. 5, p.388).

Most Muslims today have clearly abandoned this Quranic duty, especially of
forbidding munkar. Seeking refuge in rituals is no substitute for honest
responsibility towards Allah’s deen. Is it any wonder, then, that Muslims’
prayers go unanswered in the face of such horrendous crimes against us as occur
in Palestine, Bosnia, Kosova, Chechnya, Kashmir and elsewhere? A small group of
Muslims are paying a very high price while most of us are silent spectators in
the face of these atrocities against fellow Muslims.

It is also important to understand where the fault really lies. There are at
least 56 Muslim nation-states. The Muslim world is not poor, but its rulers are,
with rare exception, cowards and agents of the west and have effectively
declared war on the Muslim Ummah. Most are also morally bankrupt, which makes
them unfit to govern; yet Muslims have remained largely oblivious of their duty
in this situation. The few who dare to speak out are often castigated by others,
accused of causing fitna. A few naive Muslims may sincerely fall for this
argument, but there are also hordes of paid agents of these regimes who
deliberately promote such thinking in order to cause confusion among Muslims.
Many of the petty fiqhi divisions among Muslims are similarly promoted by agents
of the west for the same reason.

An important principle rule of governance in Islam is that the greater the
authority of a person, the greater his responsibility to live up to Islamic
principles. Lying is bad if an ordinary person indulges in it, but it is
infinitely worse if someone in authority is guilty of it. The same holds true
for other offences. Yet in the Muslim world, the rules are applied ruthlessly
against the weak and poor, while the rich and powerful go free.

In his first sermon as khalifah, Abu Bakr Siddiq (ra) said: “I am not
the best among you for this position, but I have been charged with it. Obey me
so long as I obey Allah and His Messenger. If I go astray, you have no
obligation to follow me; rather, you must set me right”. Muslim rulers
today take exactly the opposite position. They indulge in every kind of vice but
the people must not speak against them. The heavy hand of the law is used
against those who do.

After the period of the khulafa ar-Rashidoon (the rightly-guided Khalifahs),
the rulers tried to enlist the support of the ‘ulama to legitimize their rule.
Many ‘ulama refused to cooperate. Imam Abu Hanifa, for instance, repeatedly
refused to accept the position of qadi under the Abbassid ruler Mansoor. On one
occasion, the Imam was lashed 30 times for displeasing the ruler. When Mansoor’s
uncle chastised him for offending such a great scholar, he sent 30,000 dirhams
as compensation. Imam Abu Hanifa refused to accept the money, and told the
courier to ask Mansoor whether he had a single coin in his coffers earned by
halal means. How many ‘ulama do we have today who can stand up to our rulers?

Let us look at the House of Saud, occupiers of the Haramain. Their moral
corruption is well-recorded. Were the hudood punishment of stoning adulterers
applied, few members of the House of Saud would escape; there may not even be
enough stones to do the job. Yet how many ‘ulama in the Arabian peninsula defy
them and fulfill their Quranic obligation of ‘amr bil ma’roof wa
nahy anil munkar
? Is it any wonder, then, that the prayers of Muslims remain

Such corruption is not confined to the House of Saud. In other places,
Tunisia or Turkey, for instance, Muslimahs are threatened with rape for daring
to practice their Islam. In Tunisia, this has actually happened, as it has in
Egypt. For Muslims to remain silent in the face of such crimes is for us to
become accomplices. One needs to remember the wrath that befell the Yahud for
violating the prohibition on fishing on the Sabbath: they were turned into apes.
The crimes that we Muslims are now guilty of are far worse.

Imam Ghazali, that great intellectual of Islamic history, has given excellent
advice in his masterpiece, Ihya Ulum al-Deen. “Shun those ‘ulama who go to
the courts of the rulers. Go and learn from those who shun the rulers”.
Perhaps there has never been greater need for this advice than today.

(courtesy of

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