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CHAPTER SEVEN » Enjoining Good and Forbidding Evil

Among the most important religious obligations are enjoining good (al‑amr bil‑maʿrūf) and forbidding evil (al‑nahy ʿan al‑munkar). Allah the Exalted states in the Noble Qur’an:

وَلْتَكُنْ مِنْكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُوْنَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُوْنَ بِالْمَعْرُوْفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَأُوْلٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُوْنَ

There must be a nation among you summoning to goodness, enjoining good, and forbidding evil. It is they who are felicitous.[1]

It has been reported that the Most Noble Messenger (Ṣ) said:

لَا تَزَالُ أُمَّتِيْ بِخَيْرٍ مَا أَمَرُوْا بِالْمَعْرُوْفِ وَنَهَوْا عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَتَعَاوَنُوْا عَلَى الْبِرِّ فَإِذَا لَمْ يَفْعَلُوْا ذٰلِكَ نُزِعَتْ مِنْهُمُ الْبَرَكَاتُ وَسُلِّطَ بَعْضُهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ وَلَمْ يَكُنْ لَهُمْ نَاصِرٌ فِيْ الْأَرْضِ وَلَا فِي السَّمَاءِ

My nation will always be with good as long as its people enjoin good and forbid evil and assist one another in righteousness. If they do not do that, then blessings will be taken away from them and some of them will impose their rule over others, and there will be no helper for them on the earth or in the sky.[2]

It has been reported that His Eminence Amīr al-Muʾminīn [Imam ʿAlī] (ʿA) said:

لَا تَتْرُكُوْا الْأَمْرَ بِالْمَعْرُوْفِ وَالنَّهْيَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ فَيُوَلَّى عَلَيْكُمْ شِرَارُكُمْ ثُمَّ تَدْعُوْنَ فَلَا يُسْتَجَابُ لَكُمْ

Do not abandon enjoining good and forbidding evil; otherwise, the evil people among you will take charge over you, and then when you supplicate, you will not be answered.[3]

Ruling 1867.* Enjoining good and forbidding evil becomes obligatory (wājib) when performance of the good deed in question is obligatory and performance of the evil deed in question is unlawful (ḥarām). In this situation, enjoining good and forbidding evil is a collective obligation (al‑wājib al‑kifāʾī), meaning that if some people act according to this duty, then everyone else is excused from it. However, it is incumbent on everyone to not be indifferent if they encounter something unlawful being done or something obligatory being abandoned, and they express their aversion in their speech and actions. Acting to this extent is an individual obligation (al‑wājib al‑ʿaynī).[4] It has also been reported that His Eminence Amīr al-Muʾminīn [Imam ʿAlī] (ʿA) said:

أَمَرَنَا رَسُوْلُ اللهِ (ص) أَنْ نَلْقَی أَهْلَ الْمَعَاصِيْ بِوُجُوْهٍ مُكْفَهِرَّةٍ

The Messenger of Allah (Ṣ) commanded us to meet people of disobedience with sullen faces.[5]

When the good deed being enjoined is a recommended (mustaḥabb) act (and not an obligatory one), or the evil deed being forbidden is a disapproved (makrūh) act (and not an unlawful one), enjoining good and forbidding evil is recommended.

Furthermore, when a person enjoins good and forbids evil with respect to recommended and disapproved acts, the status and personality of the other party must be taken into account so that he is not troubled or disrespected. In addition, one must not be so severe and harsh that the wrongdoer becomes averse to the religion and religious activities.

Ruling 1868. The following five conditions must exist for enjoining good and forbidding evil to be obligatory.

One must know what is good and what is evil, albeit in a general sense. Therefore, enjoining good and forbidding evil is not obligatory for someone who does not know what good and evil are and does not distinguish between them. Indeed, to enjoin good and forbid evil, it is sometimes obligatory to learn and know what is good and what is evil as a prerequisite.

One must deem it probable that it will have an effect on the wrongdoer. Therefore, if he knows that his speech and words are ineffective, the opinion held by most jurists (mashhūr) is that he is under no duty and it is not obligatory for him to enjoin good and forbid evil. However, the obligatory precaution (al‑iḥtiyāṭ al‑wājib) is that he must express in any way possible his disapproval and displeasure with the wrongdoer’s improper actions, even if he knows that it will not have any effect on him.

The wrongdoer must intend to continue doing the improper and wrong actions. Therefore, in the event that the wrongdoer does not want to repeat his wrong actions, it is not obligatory to enjoin him to good and forbid him from evil.

The wrongdoer must not be legally excused (maʿdhūr) in his improper and wrong actions; i.e. he must not believe that the improper act he did was permissible (mubāḥ), nor must he believe that the good act he abandoned was not obligatory.

However, if the evil deed is something that the Holy Legislator [Allah] is never pleased with – such as the killing of an innocent person – then it is obligatory to prevent it, even if the perpetrator is legally excused and he is not duty-bound (mukallaf).[6]

The person enjoining good and forbidding evil must not be in danger of significant harm being inflicted to his person, reputation, or wealth. Furthermore, it must not cause excessive difficulty (mashaqqah) or unendurable hardship, except in the case where the good or evil act in question is regarded by the Holy Legislator [Allah] as being so important that one must endure harm and hardship in its cause.

If the person who enjoins good and forbids evil is not in danger of any significant harm being inflicted on himself but other Muslims are – whether that be to their person, reputation, or wealth – then it does not become obligatory for him to enjoin good and forbid evil. In this situation, the level of harm must be compared with the act in question, and sometimes even when harm is caused, he will not be excused from enjoining good and forbidding evil.

Ruling 1869.* Enjoining good and forbidding evil is carried out at different levels:

displaying heartfelt aversion; for example, by turning away one’s face from the wrongdoer, or not speaking to him, or not keeping company with him;

verbally advising and guiding;

physically enforcing; for example, by hitting or imprisoning the wrongdoer.

It is necessary for one to start at the first or second level and to choose a method that will be the least troublesome and the most effective. If that method does not yield any result, he must gradually increase the severity and harshness of the methods he uses. If displaying heartfelt aversion and verbally advising and guiding – i.e. the first and second levels – prove ineffective, he must progress to the physical level. However, at this level, the obligatory precaution is that he must get authorisation from a fully qualified jurist (al‑ḥākim al‑sharʿī). Furthermore, it is necessary that he start in a way that causes the least displeasure and trouble, and if that does not yield any result, he must increase the severity and force he uses in his methods; however, it must not reach a point where it causes a bone to break or the body to become wounded.

Ruling 1870. The obligation to enjoin good and forbid evil on every mukallaf is greater with respect to his family and relatives. Therefore, if with regard to his family and relatives he feels that they are inattentive to, and unconcerned about, religious obligations such as performing prayers (ṣalāh), keeping fasts (ṣawm), paying the one-fifth tax (khums), and suchlike, or if he sees that they are careless and fearless with regard to committing unlawful acts such as backbiting and lying, then he must prevent improper actions being performed by them and invite them to do good deeds with a greater sense of importance while observing the three levels of enjoining good and forbidding evil.

However, with regard to one’s mother and father, the obligatory precaution is that he must guide them by adopting a soft and gentle approach, and he must never be harsh with them.

[1] Āl ʿImrān (Chapter 3), verse 104.

[2] M. Ḥ. al-Nūrī, Mustadrak al‑Wasāʾil wa Mustanbaṭ al‑Masāʾil, Qum: Muʾassisah Āl al-Bayt ʿAlayhim al-Salām, 1987, vol. 12, p. 181.

[3] M. Al-Raḍī (compiler), Nahj al‑Balāghah, Qum: Hijrat, 1993, Letter 47 (Ṣubḥī al-Ṣāliḥ arrangement).

[4] This is an obligation that every duty-bound person must perform irrespective of whether others have also performed it or not.

[5] M. al-Kulaynī, al‑Kāfī, Tehran: Dār al-Kutub al-Islāmiyyah, 1986, vol. 5, p. 59.

[6] A mukallaf is someone who is legally obliged to fulfil religious duties.
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