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Section Nine
Enjoining Good and Forbidding Evil


Directing people towards good (al amr bil ma'rouf) and directing them away from evil (an nahy anil munkar) is among the most important religious and social duties of every Muslim vis-ä-vis his brethren. It is the duty of every Muslim to direct people to act according to the precepts of Islam and to abstain from improper behavior.

Tradition related from the Infallibles (a.a.) has it, "By enjoining good, the obligations are upheld,, gains are made lawful, wrong-doings prevented, the earth prospers, and the oppressed get their right from the oppressor. And forbidding evil and co-operate with one another to do good. Failure to do so will result in depriving them of the bliss; they may turn against one another and there will be no help coming their way either from the earth or from Heavens".

This tradition illustrates clearly how pivotal this obligation is and how important the inroads it makes into other aspects of life. Although this worship is asymmetrical with the other obligations, i.e. which are predicated on the niyyah of qurbah, yet we discuss it alongside such acts of worship as is commonly practiced by jurists. That said, this act of worship is not bereft of the essence and the spirit of worship, which is an embodiment of obeying Allah's commands and directing people to abide by them.

It will transpire from the discussion of this topic that enjoining good is not a mere limited relationship between two Muslims giving counsel to one another that remains lackluster; rather it could grow into a torrent capable of igniting a revolutions by the believers against wayward leadership, when giving counsel, opposition, and peaceful protest prove fruitless.

What is meant by "enjoining good and forbidding evil" is the enterprise of opposing the person who turns their back to good deeds by counseling them to take to doing deeds and abandoning wrongdoing that they do as a matter of course, by any of the methods laid down by the shari'a. This, however, does not apply to the person who is not in a position to draw a line between what is obligatory and what is harram.

What we mean by "good" is every good deed enjoined by the shari'a by way of making it obligatory to uphold or to embark on voluntarily.

What we mean by "evil" is every evil deed the shari'a forbade by making it harram to embark on, or at least to keep one's distance from. Should "evil" be of the haraam type, forbidding it becomes obligatory (wajib); and it be makrouh (abominable), forbidding it becomes mustahib.

Anything which is either lawful or unlawful cannot be described as such, unless the good aspect or the evil one becomes predominant in it, which in turn determines how it should be treated, i.e. good or evil. For example, warding off harm from a person and saving him from imminent danger, becomes obligatory to embark on, when they are adamant not to drink from the water that is sanctioned for drinking which is necessary for their survival.

However, it has to be borne in mind that enjoining good and forbidden evil should not be carried out in a manner that may hurt the feelings of people and drive them further away from Islam. Neither should it be insulting and offensive to others; if so, it will be haraam. In a counsel to Imam Ali (a.s.), the Prophet (p.) had these words for him, "O Ali! This religion is solid, so to penetrate it deeply, you have to be gentle (in your approach)". This illustrates vividly that it is very important to put forward the truth in a wise and tactful enough manner that is commensurate to the capability of the intended person.

151. Enjoying good and forbidding evil are two obligatory duties of the wajibun kifa'ie type. However, its being obligatory never ceases in cases where evil is prevalent. It remains so in certain cases where the particular culprit is unrelenting in his flagrant defiance of the dictates of religion. The obligation is not waived as soon as the obligation is practiced, even if it does not prove effective.

152. The obligation of enjoining good and forbidding evil is not the exclusive preserve of a certain category of people. When the need to practice it arises, it becomes obligatory on all, the ulama and the laymen, the just and the wayward, the ruler and the ruled, the wealthy and the poor, and men and women.

1. Who should carry out the obligation?

Enjoining good and forbidding evil is every mukallaf's business; however, such a mukallaf should fulfill the general conditions of takleef, e.g. adulthood and reason coupled with the following:

i. Knowledge of what is good and what is evil. Thus, it is not correct for anyone, who is not conversant with the laws of Islam, albeit at a level necessary to conduct himself properly, to embark on this duty. This measure of knowledge should be adequate, unless the situation arises where there is not another person more knowledgeable than him; in this case, he has to widen his knowledge to equip himself with the tools necessary to carry out the responsibility of standing against corruption. What is applicable to an individual is applicable to group of people who are more qualified, as a matter of wajibun kifa'ie, than others to carry out the job of enjoining good and forbidding evil. That is, if one member of the group took it upon himself to increase their knowledge in the realm of the laws of Islam, the remaining members of the group are absolved of the responsibility.

ii. The persons upholding this principle should ensure their personal safety, honor, and property from injury. Assessing the level of harm which may befall them hinges upon each individual's life style. However, this condition extends to cover the safety of other Muslim's life, honor, and property; such may be members of his immediate family, neighbors, of fellow countrymen.

It is also conditional that the mukallaf should not subject himself to untenable situations, such as his staying outside his normal residence for security reasons, leaving a cozy job for another more demanding one, and so on and so forth which could put his relations under undue strain.

153. The definition of "harm" entails:

i. Personal physical/psychological injury, such as one getting killed or maimed or mentally scarred…etc.

ii. moral (as opposed to material) injury, such as the persons becoming the object of ridicule, mockery, and calling them names, etc.

The minimum level of injury is that determined by sensible men, which they normally ward off themselves. So, any perceived threat to one's well-being or that of his family of Muslims at large is a sufficient reason not to embark on enjoining good and forbidding evil.

As for injury to one's honor, it covers sexual attack of any kind, whether the victim of it is male of female; there is no bottom or ceiling to this type of potential injury. The injury here is universal, i.e. it is not confined to the person practicing this duty; it extends to cover the person in question, his family and other Muslims who may be victimized as a result.

Injury falling on property covers total or partial loss or damage, at a level normally recognized as injurious by sensible men; property covers all possessions, be they money, assets, real estate, livestock, etc.

154. According to shari'a terminology, haraj (difficulty or putting one in an untenable situation) is different from harm or injury. It is all that which causes one's normal personal lifestyle, on all levels, to turn sour so much so that it becomes unbearable. The final arbiter to decide such a case is the mukallaf himself, as he knows best what is good or bad for him.

Just as potential injury is a sufficient reason for not embarking on enjoining good and forbidding evil, difficulty is too. This too does not stop at the individual's level; rather it goes beyond to protecting family members and Muslims at large.

155. It is not necessary that one reaches a conclusion that injury would necessarily ensue if the person carried out the obligation of enjoining good and forbidding evil. Any perceived danger, of the sort which is regarded thus by sensible people, is an acceptable reason for not carrying out the duty.

As for "difficulty", it is a real thing, i.e. it does not come about unless it is experienced. Thus, it is not sufficient for one to feel it is necessary for them not to embark on enjoining good and forbidding evil because of a perceived danger of being put in an untenable situation.

156. In certain situations, it may become obligatory to bear the injury to oneself or others, should one conclude that embarking on enjoining good and forbidding evil is so great in the view of Allah and the criteria of shari'a that sustaining the injury can be tolerated.

This is especially true in situations of great showdowns to annihilate oppression and corruption and establish a just system. However, since reaching such a prognosis is difficult, it is necessary to consult the Marji' who is in a position to identify the need and the amount of injury that is permissible to be sustained.