Imām Al-Barbahārī (rahimahullāh) stated: “Enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil is an obligation except when you fear a person’s sword or staff.”
Explanation of Shaikh Sālih Al-Fawzān:
Abu Sa’eed Al-Khudri narrated that Allāh’s Messenger (ﷺ) said, “Whoever among you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand. If he is unable, then with his speech. If he is unable, then with his heart.” (Muslim, 49) This is likewise stated in the Qur’an where Allah (the Most High) said:
كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ ۗ – 3:110
“You [the true followers of the Prophet] are the best of people ever raised up for mankind. You enjoin what is good and forbid all that is evil, and you believe in Allah.” And Allah said:
وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ ۚ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ – 3:104
“Let there arise out of you a group of people inviting to good (i.e. Islam), enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil – it is they who are successful.” Allah also stated:
وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتُ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ ۚ يَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَيُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَيُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَاةَ وَيُطِيعُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ سَيَرْحَمُهُمُ اللَّهُ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ – 9:71
“The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong. They establish the Prayer, pay the Zakāh and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah will have mercy on them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise.” The hypocrites, male or female, are the opposite to this. They enjoin what is evil and they forbid what is good. We ask Allah for well-being and protection. Allah (the Most High) said:
الْمُنَافِقُونَ وَالْمُنَافِقَاتُ بَعْضُهُم مِّن بَعْضٍ ۚ يَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمُنكَرِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَقْبِضُونَ أَيْدِيَهُمْ ۚ نَسُوا اللَّهَ فَنَسِيَهُمْ ۗ إِنَّ الْمُنَافِقِينَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ – 9:67
“The hypocrite men and hypocrite women are of one another. They enjoin what is wrong and forbid what is right and they close their hands. They have forgotten Allah, so He has forgotten them [accordingly]. Indeed, the hypocrites – it is they who are the defiantly disobedient.” They “close their hands” from giving in charity in Allah’s cause. They do not stretch out their hands to give in charity or in offering to do good because they do not believe and because wealth is more beloved to them than everything else. The believing man and women are different – they establish the Prayer, they pay the Zakāh, they obey Allah and His Messenger alongside enjoining the good and forbidding the evil. This is for the purpose of establishing the Religion purifying society from corruption.
It is not sufficient for a person to say, “There is no responsibility upon me except for myself.” So he takes care of himself and abandons the rest of the people. Indeed it is also upon him to rectify others to his ability because that is from offering good advice and wishing good for the people. So for you to enjoin good on your brothers and to forbid him from wrong is an obligation on you. It is also a right that he has upon you that if you see him falling into error that you do not leave him to be destroyed while you are able to correct him. It is not as the people of hypocrisy and evil say that, “enjoining the good and forbidding the evil is meddling in the affairs of the people or assuming guardianship over them” as is written nowadays in the news media. This is the saying of the people of hypocrisy and falsehood. As for the people of Imān, they see that this good behaviour is from giving sincere advice to their brothers and removing them from harm into what is beneficial for them, and out of darkness into light. Allah stated:
إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ – 103:3
“Except for those who have believed and do righteous deeds and advise each other to truth and advise each other to patience.“ (Al-‘Asr 3) And the righteous Luqmān said:
“O, my son! Perform the Prayers, enjoin the what is good, and forbid from all that is evil and wrong, and bear with patience whatever befalls you. Verily! These are some of the important commandments ordered by Allah with no exemption.” (Luqmān 17) This verse is just like the previous verse in Sūrah Al-Asr that a person is to enjoin what is good and forbid what is wrong, and he must remain patient if he receives harm in that path. That is because he is acting in the cause of Allah so whatever harm befalls him there is a reward for him with Allah, who is the Most Perfect, free from all imperfections, the Most High.
It is known that many people find those who enjoin the good and forbid evil to be burdensome, so they criticise them, backbite them, carry tales about them to cause dissension, accuse them and revile them yet the people of good remain patient in the face of all of that. That is because they are striving in the cause of Allah, in obedience to Allah seeking to save their brothers. It is surely not from sincere advice that you abandon your brothers whilst they fall short in worship and fall into what is forbidden. And you have the ability to advise them, to point out what is wrong, to admonish them and to guide them – so if you do not do so, you would have been deficient in fulfilling their right upon you. You should desire good for them and success. Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said: “None of you shall truly believe until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” (Bukhāri 13, Muslim 45, from Anas). So if you love good for yourself and you love to be successful, then you should feel the same for you brother. So you are to enjoin what is good for him and advise him. But it should be done in the manner that the Prophet (ﷺ) taught in his saying, “Whoever among you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand.” If a person is able to correct a wrong with his hands, such as the ruler of a nation or those appointed by the ruler such as the law enforcement agencies – then such people can correct a wrong with their hands and rectify evil with the rule of law behind them. Likewise the head of a household he can rectify wrongdoing in his home by preventing it taking place – this is considered as changing an evil with his hand. That is because he is the shepherd of his household and is responsible for his flock. Allah (the Most High) stated:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا قُوا أَنفُسَكُمْ وَأَهْلِيكُمْ نَارًا وَقُودُهَا النَّاسُ وَالْحِجَارَةُ عَلَيْهَا مَلَائِكَةٌ غِلَاظٌ شِدَادٌ لَّا يَعْصُونَ اللَّهَ مَا أَمَرَهُمْ وَيَفْعَلُونَ مَا يُؤْمَرُونَ – 66:6
“O you who believe, protect yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is people and stones, over which are [appointed] angels, harsh and severe; they do not disobey Allah in what He commands them but do what they are commanded.” (At-Tahreem 6) So you are in charge of your household and accountable.
However, if you cannot enjoin and prevent with the hand, and you have no authority, neither general (over a nation) nor specific (over a household), then you should forbid what is wrong with the tongue by clarifying that a certain action is forbidden and is sinful or impermissible. You can explain by admonition, or by a khutbah, in a class or with a private word of advice between you and your fellow brother – explain the matter to him.
If your advice to him bears no fruit, you may tell another person. You may convey what he does to one who is able to prevent his evil with the hand. So you may tell law-enforcement (police) or those in charge of enjoining good and forbidding wrong, you may tell the ruler – all of this comes under the banner of forbidding the evil with the tongue, i.e. with speech.
If one is not able to forbid evil with speech, such that you are prevented from that, then you forbid it with your heart, not accept it at any time and you abandon the gathering of evil and you distance yourself from the people of evil. Do not sit with them so that you protect yourself.
These are the levels of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, as in the saying of Allah:
فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ وَاسْمَعُوا وَأَطِيعُوا وَأَنفِقُوا خَيْرًا لِّأَنفُسِكُمْ ۗ وَمَن يُوقَ شُحَّ نَفْسِهِ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ – 64:16
“So keep your duty to Allah and fear Him as much as you can; listen and obey; and spend in charity, that is better for yourselves. And whosoever is saved from his own covetousness, then they are the successful ones.” (At-Taghābun 16) And the saying of Allah:
لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا ۚ – 2:286
“Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity.” (Al-Baqarah 286) If you follow these steps, then you have forbidden the evil and are secure and safe. However, if you do not forbid the evil with your hand, not with speech, nor with the heart then this indicates the absence of Imān (faith), as in the saying of the Prophet (ﷺ): “Whoever among you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand. If he is unable, then with his speech. If he is unable, then with his heart. And beyond that, there is not even a mustard seed of Imān.” The person who does not forbid evil [at all] with his heart has no Imān. So the forbidding of evil is a must, but it is done in the order prescribed by the Prophet (ﷺ). It is not permitted for anyone to use as an excuse the saying of Allah (the Most High):
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا عَلَيْكُمْ أَنفُسَكُمْ ۖ لَا يَضُرُّكُم مَّن ضَلَّ إِذَا اهْتَدَيْتُمْ ۚ إِلَى اللَّهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُم بِمَا كُنتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ – 5:105
“O you who have believed, upon you is [responsibility for] yourselves. Those who have gone astray will not harm you when you have been guided. To Allah is your return altogether; then He will inform you of what you used to do.” (Al-Mā’dah 105) Some people think that this verse proves that forbidding evil is not necessary and that so long as a person rectifies himself, other people are not his concern. So he does not need to forbid the evil, nor enjoin the good. This opposes the Book and the Sunnah, and this noble verse does not mean what he thinks as Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq (radiyallaahu ‘anhu) explained when he was asked about this verse. He said, “I asked the Messenger of Allah [about this verse]. So he said, ‘By Allah, you must enjoin the good and forbid the evil, and take hold of the hand of the fool, and bend him to conform to what is right and then restrict him to hold on to that.” (Abu Dawood 4336, Tirmidhi 3047 and Al-Albāni declared it weak). [Translator: In another narration, Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq said, “O people, you recite this verse and use it in the wrong place:
عَلَيْكُمْ أَنْفُسَكُمْ لاَ يَضُرُّكُمْ مَنْ ضَلَّ إِذَا اهْتَدَيْتُمْ
‘Upon you is to take care of your own selves, he who goes astray cannot harm you when you are rightly-guided’ (5:105) We heard the Messenger (ﷺ) say, ‘When the people see a wrongdoer and they do not prevent him then Allāh will soon punish them all.'” (Abu Dāwūd 4338 Sahīh by Al-Albāni) This is proof that falsehood and innovation are to be refuted by a group of the Ummah. In a wording there occurs: “There are not a people among whom acts of disobedience take place and they are able to change them but they do not change them except that Allah will soon include them all in a punishment from Himself.” (Abu Dāwūd 4338, Sahīh by Al-Albānī)]
So the meaning of the verse is: If you have enjoined the good and you have forbidden the evil yet your words are not heeded, then be concerned with yourself. Do not say: ‘I am like the people’ or ‘this is upon the people themselves.’ Rather you should enjoin the good and forbid the evil, and if your words are not accepted then do not concede anything from your Religion such that you flatter the people and just go along with them.
Al-Barbahāri also said: “…except when you fear a person’s sword or staff.” If you fear that when you forbid evil you shall be killed, or beaten then you are to move to the next stage and that is to explain with speech. And if you fear the same if you were to speak, then move to the third stage – and there is no one who can prevent you from that. No one can prevent from rejecting something with one’s heart because no one knows what is in the hearts except Allah, the Most Perfect, free from all imperfections, the Most High.