Islamic Laws

Urging others to perform good deeds and restraining them from sins

By: Ayatullah Abdul Husayn Dastaghaib Shirazi
Amr bil Ma’rūf denotes urging others to perform good deeds and Nahy Anil Munkar implies restraining them from sins. Like the previous obligations these are also an article of faith and an important duty incumbent on Muslims. They are components of Jihad. Its practice is greatly emphasized in many ayats and traditions and its neglect is severely criticised. Some of the ayats are mentioned below.
“And from among you there should be a party who invite to good and enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong and these it is that shall be successful.” (Surah Āli- ‘Imran 3: 104)
In this ayat Allah (S.w.T.) has informed us the obligatory nature of Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar with emphasis.
At another place in the same chapter the Lord Almighty remarks, “You are the best of the nations raised up for (the benefit of) men; you enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong and believe in Allah;” (Surah Āli- ‘Imran 3:110)
Those who neglect Nahy Anil Munkar have been severely criticised in the following verse of Surah al-Mā’ida, “Why do not the learned men and the doctors of law prohibit them from their speaking of what is sinful and their eating of what is unlawfully acquired? Certainly evil is that which they work.” (Surah al-Mā’ida 5:63)
In the story of the People of Sabt, Allah the High and Mighty says, “And ask them about the town which stood by the sea; when they exceeded the limits of the Sabbath, when their fish came to them on the day of their Sabbath, appearing on the surface of the water, and on the day on which they did not keep the Sabbath they did not come to them; thus did We try them because they transgressed. And when a party of them said: Why do you admonish a people whom Allah would destroy or whom He would chastise with a severe chastisement? They said: To be free from blame before your Lord, and that haply they may guard (against evil). So when they neglected what they had been reminded of, We delivered those who forbade evil and We overtook those who were unjust with an evil chastisement because they transgressed. Therefore when they revoltingly persisted in what they had been forbidden, We said to them: Be (as) apes, despised and hated.” (Surah al-Ar’āf 7:163-166)
It is clear from these ayats that Amr Bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar are obligatory duties which if not fulfilled, invite divine chastisement. Those who neglect Nahy Anil Munkar are as guilty as those who commit sins and deserve equal punishment.
“Those who believed from among the children of Israel were cursed by the tongue of Dawūd and Isa, son of Marium, this was because they disobeyed and used to exceed the limit.
They used not to forbid each other the hateful things (which) they did; certainly evil was that which they did.” (Surah al-Mā’ida 5: 78-79)
This ayat has severely criticized those who neglect Nahy Anil Munkar. Imam Sadiq (a.s.) says that the people who earned the curse of Allah’s messengers because they did not forbid evil and who were subsequently transformed into apes were those who never befriended the wrong doers or attend their assemblies, but when met those people they were friendly and affectionate towards them. (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar in Traditions
Imam Riďa (a.s.) said, “You must practice Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar because if you do not, you will be ruled upon by evil people and after that if the righteous ones among you will supplicate, their supplications shall not be granted.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
The Late Ayatullah Kashiful Ghita has explained in his book the Shiah Origin and Faith: “Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar are a part of the most important and sublime commands of Islam about whose necessity reason as well as religion are unanimous.
These two great functions are considered to be the most fundamental bases of Islam. They range from the best prayers and worship to one of the different kinds of Jihad. If any nation ignores these two fundamentals, Almighty Allah certainly subjects them to degradation and misfortunes. Such communities readily fall a prey to the human looking rapacious animals and tyrants and unjust men.”
It is for this reason that the Prophet of Islam and our infallible Imams have been quoted to have spoken in moving words regarding the necessity of discharging these two great duties and the mischief and harm caused to human society by their abandonment, the very thought of which makes one shiver.
Unfortunately, today we see openly with our own eyes the mischief and harm which originate from laziness in the performance of these two functions.
However, we wish that this process should have ended here and we might have remained content with the abandonment of these two functions and things should not have come to such a pass that permissible should have become impermissible and vice versa so much so that those who invite others to truth and excellence should themselves recalcitrate against truth and those who prohibit others from doing bad deeds should themselves be involved in various kinds of unlawful matters.
This is an onerous and unbearable calamity. As a result of bad deeds of the people, mischief has become patent everywhere. And all this is in spite of the fact that we have been told: “Accursed are those who invite others to goodness and forsake it themselves and also those who prohibit others from committing sins but commit sins themselves!”
Truly, Islam deserves to be praised for its laws as well as for the extent and comprehensiveness of its commands, because it foresaw all that, which is necessary for the spiritual and material life of man as well as the source of his advancement and prosperity.
On the one hand, it has formulated comprehensive and potent laws for mankind and this in fact amounts to authority for legislation.
As is evident, authority for legislation cannot bring the desired results without the necessary power to enforce it. Hence in the first instance all Muslims have been made responsible to guarantee its enforcement and it has been declared that it is the duty of every individual to enjoin others to do good things and to forbid them from doing bad things so that everyone of them may become the enforcing authority for the relevant rules and regulations.
All should supervise the actions of one another and all should be answerable to one another. However, as it is possible that in certain circumstances this guarantee for enforcement may not suffice and some person may hold back from putting the laws in action, extensive powers have been given in the second stage to the Islamic State and its ruler and the person absolutely responsible for the affairs of Muslim society, viz. the Imam or person nominated by him for the purpose.
Islamic regime is responsible to enforce the penal laws of Islam, punish the offenders, campaign against corruption, injustice and mischief and make efforts to safeguard the independence of Muslims and strengthen the frontiers of the country.
In short the benefits and vital effects of these two great Islamic Commands (to enjoin others to do good and to refrain from evil) are too numerous to be narrated. Is it possible to find such sublime social policies in any other religion of the world? Is there any school of thought or philosophy more profound than this wherein all individuals supervise the conduct of others in Three things viz. (i) to learn and act upon it; (ii) to educate others and (iii) to persuade others to learn and act, should be compulsory for every one?
The Messenger of Allah (S) also says, “Indeed Allah is furious with the weak believer who has no religion.”
Some inquired who that weak believer was? He (S) replied, “The feeble one who sees evil but does not try to prevent it.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 11 page 393)
The Prophet of Allah (S) says, “When my Ummah neglects Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar it should expect divine chastisement to befall them.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
Imam Baqir (a.s.) said, “The Almighty Allah revealed on Shuaib (a.s.): ‘I shall destroy a hundred thousand people from your nation. Forty thousand of whom are sinners and sixty thousand righteous.’
‘O my Lord! The sinners are liable for punishment but why the righteous ones?’ asked Shuaib (a.s.). Allah replied, ‘Because they used to socialize with the sinners and in spite of My dislike they never disliked the sinners. They never restrained them from sins.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) says: “Wael (Hell/terrible punishment) is for the people who neglect Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 11, page 397)
Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) says, “Indeed the Almighty has cursed those who came before you for neglecting Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar. Thus there is curse upon the ignorant sinners and the intelligent people who neglect Nahy Anil Munkar.” (Nahjul Balagha)
Rules Regarding Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar
Under the following four conditions, Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar is obligatory.
(1) Knowledge of Good and Evil: One who is supposed to command others for a particular act must himself be certain that it is Wajib. That is, it should be an article of faith or a matter upon which there is unanimity among scholars.
It is not Wajib to order something regarding which there is difference of opinion, because it is possible that the Mujtahid whom the person is following may not have made it Wajib.
Similarly when it is possible that the person who is not observing a Wajib may have some valid (legal or rational) excuse, it is not Wajib to enjoin upon him. In the same way the thing that one intends to prohibit must be absolutely Harām. For example if one sees a Muslim back-biting but surmises that it was permissible in that particular circumstance, he is not obliged to prohibit it. Also if doing so could cause him disgrace he must not venture ahead.
In short, one must have certainty regarding the ‘goodness’ of something one intends to enjoin and the certainty regarding the ‘evil’ of something one intends to forbid. In both the cases he must also be aware of the special circumstances at the time of putting the commands into practice.
(2) There should be a strong possibility that if he acts on Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar it would prove beneficial.
If he feels it is not going to make any difference he is not obliged to act upon them. Musada says that I inquired from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) regarding the Prophetic saying which stated that the greatest Jihad is to speak up against the unjust ruler. Imam (a.s.) said, “This is possible when the ruler is aware of his ruling being wrong and is prepared to heed your advice, or else leave it”
(3) Hazrat Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (a.s.) says that Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar should be for a believer who is prepared to accept the advice and benefit from it. Or it should be for the uninformed person who is eager to learn about it.
It is not necessary to enjoin good or forbid evil to a person who is powerful and can hurt or harm you. It is not necessary to enjoin good and forbid evil to a person who has been sinful, continually neglecting Wajib acts and repeated performing Harām acts, but who has repented and given up his sinful ways.
Some scholars say that it is not necessary to enjoin good or forbid evil to a person who has shown regret for his sinful ways, even if one is unaware of his intentions to give up Harām acts and perform the Wajib acts.
Practicing Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar is not necessary if it can lead to any harm or loss. If there is risk to one’s life or the life, honour or property of a Muslim, the duty is no longer valid.
However, the tradition which says that,“The greatest martyr is one who speaks the truth before an unjust person and he kills him,” is about the circumstance when initially there was no danger or harm or mischief. But when a person says the truth he is slain.
One should not worry about minor discomfort and must not act on doubt
There are some traditions that criticize those who forgo Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar at the slightest possibility of harm.
In a detailed tradition from Imam Baqir (a.s.) Jabir mentions the characteristics of stupid and riyakar (those who show off) people who will not consider Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar Wajib except when they are absolutely safe from harm. They will present various excuses to exempt themselves from the duties of Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar. (al-Kāfi Vol. 5 page 55).
Imam (a.s.) further said, “They will practice Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar only for the deeds that do not cause them monetary or physical harm, like Prayer, and Fasting, and if there is a chance of harm from this also they will give it up.” Thus they neglect an important divine obligation if there is a possibility of harm to themselves.
Such traditions probably refer to those people who expect to be harmed without having any good reason for thinking so, or to situations where the disadvantage that may be caused is so insignificant that it can be ignored or to situations where some benefits are lost. In all such cases people who avoid Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar have neglected a divine obligation due to the weakness of their faith and are denounced in the traditions.
As mentioned earlier, one is exempted from this obligation only if it can result in serious harm.
Priorities in Practising Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar
If fulfilling these duties is beneficial to the other person and harmful to oneself, one should use ones discretion. We shall judge the degree of benefit against the harm caused to ourselves and act accordingly.
Grades of Nahy Anil Munkar
There are Three grades of Nahy Anil Munkar: Forbidding evil by heart, tongue and hands. These Three are further divided into different grades and it is Wajib to take them into consideration. When an easy method will suffice it is not permitted to use severe means.

1. Forbidding by ones heart (Dislike)
Faith (Imān) requires that we should despise every prohibited (Harām) thing. Whenever we witness a Harām act we should express our dislike. We should turn away our face and be angry with the one who has performed it. We should stop speaking to him. If we are compelled to speak, we must speak with our face turned away from him. Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) says, “The Messenger of Allah (S) ordered us to meet the sinful people frowning.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 11 page 413)
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) says, “The Almighty Allah sent some angels to destroy the people of a particular town. When the angels reached there, they found a worshiper engrossed in worship. The angels said, “O our Lord! Your particular slave is busy in worship, how can we send punishment on this town? The reply came, ‘Do not care about this man because he has never been angry for Our sake and never behaved curtly with the sinners.’ (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) reprimanded some of his followers for neglecting Nahy Anil Munkar. They said, “Though we try to restrain them, they do not pay heed.”
Imam (a.s.) told them that the Messenger of Allah (S) has said, “Avoid their company and do not participate in their assemblies.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 11 page 415)
Imam (a.s.) has also said, “Tell the evil doers and sinners: Either keep away from us or stop doing evil. If he does not obey, avoid him and keep away from him.”
If the first stage is effective we must not act on the next stage. Even in the first stage if a lenient method is effective we must not employ strict methods. For example we must prefer frowning over turning the face, and turning the face over social boycott. The method to be adopted may also differ from person to person. Some may respond better to soft criticism than to severe criticism. So the method most suitable for a particular case should be employed.

2. Refraining by Tongue
In this grade also it is advisable to employ kind words or mild criticism rather than resort to scathing denouncement. The Almighty Allah (S.w.T.) told Hazrat Mūsa (a.s.): “Then speak to him a gentle word haply he may mind or fear.” (Surah Tā Hā 20: 44)
The softness or severity of the tone must be considered too.

3. Refraining by Hand (Force)
When refraining by tongue is also not effective we must employ force, either by fighting or by punishment. If a little beating is not enough there is no harm in giving a severe beating. If one is sure that the person is committing a great sin (like adultery or sodomy) and by giving him a severe beating he will be injured and mend his ways, it is Wajib to mete out this punishment.
Finally when none of the methods prove effective we are exempted from the duty of Nahy Anil Munkar.
A Corpse among the Living
Amir ul-Mu’minīn ‘Ali (a.s.) says: Some believers perform Nahy Anil Munkar with heart, tongue and hands. These people possess good qualities from every aspect. While some do Nahy Anil Munkar with heart and tongue. They have two good qualities and lack the third one. Others perform Nahy Anil Munkar only with their hearts and have only one good quality. They are deprived of the two higher qualities. But the person who has none of these Three qualities is like a corpse amongst the living. In comparison to Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar other good deeds and Jihad in the way of Allah is like a drop of water in comparison to the sea. By performing Amr bil Ma’rūf and Nahy Anil Munkar someone’s death does not come near and neither is there any reduction in sustenance. (Wasa’il ul-Shia Vol. 11 page 404.)

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