By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam
Amr bil Ma'ruf wa Nahi an al Munkar (Enjoining good and forbidding evil) is an Islamic doctrine mentioned in the Qur'an. It can be derived from the following Qur'anic verses:
Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah. If only the People of the Book had faith, it were best for them: among them are some who have faith, but most of them are perverted transgressors.
Let there be people among you, who invite to the best [in religion]; and command that which is just, and forbid that which is evil; and they shall be happy.
"Those who follow the apostle, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find mentioned in their own (scriptures), - in the law and the Gospel; - for he commands them what is just and forbids them what is evil; he allows them as lawful what is good (and pure) and prohibits them from what is bad (and impure); He releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them. So it is those who believe in him, honour him, help him, and follow the light which is sent down with him, - it is they who will prosper."
And the faithful men, and the faithful women are friends one to another: They command that which is just, and they forbid that which is evil; and they are constant at prayer, and pay their appointed alms; and they obey God, and his apostle: Unto these will God be Merciful; for He [is] Mighty [and] Wise.
The implications of the Quranic verse “Enjoining good (al-Maurf) and forbidding evil (al-Munkar)”
وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ ۚ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful. (3:104)
The Arabic word يَدْعُونَ in the above verse has been driven from the root word Da’aa (دعا) meaning to invite, to call, to bid, to summon, to recall, to purport, to plead, to beckon, to fetch etc. None of these words denotes the meaning of force or coercion. Therefore, it is clearly and categorically unlawful to resort to force, coercion, violence, aggression, conversion or any violation of human rights while calling people to do good deeds. Moreover, the Quran has made it explicitly evident many a time that the method of Islamic Call and preaching (Da’wah) should be fair, peaceful, balanced, moderate, mild and non-violent. It is amply clear in the following Quranic verse:
“Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance.” (An-Nahl 16:125)
Besides obligating wise methods and beautiful preaching while calling people to good, the above verse also clarifies that it is God who knows who have strayed from His Path, and who have received guidance. Therefore, no human being has right to declare others deviant from the path of God and thus try to forcefully convert them to his own belief believing himself to be on the path of guidance.
Since the best way of understanding and explaining the Quranic verses is “Tafseer al-Quran bil Quran” (explaining the Quran by the Quran), we produce here some of the related Quranic verses that explain the above verse and prove that the divine command to invite people to God obligates Wisdom, fair (not forceful) preaching, the best manner, kindness, gentleness and good speech.
Allah commands His Messenger Muhammad to invite the people to Allah with Hikmah (wisdom). Ibn Jarir said: "That is what was revealed to him from the Book and the Sunnah.''
﴿فَقُولاَ لَهُ قَوْلاً لَّيِّناً لَّعَلَّهُ يَتَذَكَّرُ أَوْ يَخْشَى ﴾
(And speak to him mildly, perhaps he may accept admonition or fear (Allah))(20: 44).
﴿إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَن ضَلَّ عَن سَبِيلِهِ﴾
(Truly, your Lord best knows who has strayed from His path,) meaning, Allah already knows who is doomed (destined for Hell) and who is blessed (destined for Paradise). This has already been written with Him and the matter is finished, so call them to Allah, but do not use force or coercion, for it is not your task to guide them. You are just a warner, and all you have to do is convey the Message, and it is He Who will bring them to account.
﴿إِنَّكَ لاَ تَهْدِى مَنْ أَحْبَبْتَ﴾
(You cannot guide whom you love) (28:56)
﴿لَّيْسَ عَلَيْكَ هُدَاهُمْ وَلَـكِنَّ اللَّهَ يَهْدِى مَن يَشَآءُ﴾
(It is not up to you to guide them, but Allah guides whom He wills.) (2:72)
﴿وَلاَ تُجَـدِلُواْ أَهْلَ الْكِتَـبِ إِلاَّ بِالَّتِىهِىَ أَحْسَنُ إِلاَّ الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُواْ مِنْهُمْ﴾
(And do not argue with the People of the Book, unless it be with that which is best, except for those who purposefully do wrong.) ﴿29:46﴾ Allah commanded him to speak gently, as He commanded Musa and Harun to do when he sent them to Pharaoh, as He said:
Linguistic implications of the Quranic verse “Amr bil Ma'ruf wa Nahy an al Munkar”
First, let us ponder over the Arabic word Amr (أمر). Generally, people are in misconception that this word only refers to the enforcement of a commandment. But the matter is that the word Amr has a variety of meanings including: to instruct, to call, to enjoin, to command, to exhort, to consult etc.
The most suitable meanings of Amr in this context are: to instruct, to call, to enjoin, etc, as these words do not involve the slightest meaning of force. The reason why it suits the verse most can be outlined in the following Quranic verse and the Prophetic saying which can be used as exegesis for the above Quranic verse:
“Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship” (2:185)
The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) strongly condemned extremism, aggressiveness, violence and force in preaching religion. He laid great emphasis on easiness, balance and moderation in matters of religion.
Narrating about the general policy of the Prophet of Islam, his wife Hazrat Aisha (r.a) says: “Whenever the Prophet had to choose between the two, he always opted for the easier course of action rather than the harder course of action.” (Bukhari)
It is reported by Abu Hurairah, radiya Allahu 'anhu, that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "Religion is easy..." [Bukhari]
The Prophet pbuh said; "The best of your religion, is the easiest." [Ahmad]
He said, "… Allah did not send me to be harsh, or cause harm, but He sent me to teach and make things easy" [Muslim].
He said, "Allah likes for this nation ease and hates for it hardship and adversity." [Tabaraani].
To better understand the Islamic commandment for easiness in matters of religion, I produce here an inspiring incident from the Prophet’s life:
“Once a Bedouin stood up and started urinating in the mosque, the people caught him; but the Prophet pbuh ordered them to leave him and to pour a bucket or a tumbler of water over the place where he had urinated. The Prophet pbuh then said, "You have been sent to make things easy and not to make them difficult" [Bukhari].
Since forcibly ordering or commanding others to do good acts or abstain from evil is neither an easy course of action nor peaceful and polite, it would be better if we take the Quranic word Amr to mean suggestion, instruction or advice (because all these methods of preaching are absolutely easy going) rather than enforcement of a commandment using force or hand.
But, challenging all the above Quranic verses and the authentic prophetic sayings, the adherents of political Islam, Wahhabis/Salafis/jihadists resort to violence, extremism, force and radicalization when it comes to “enjoining right and forbidding wrong”. This is because their ideological cells are deeply imbedded in the poisonous writings of their Wahhabi ideologues. Take a glimpse of such writings that provides religious legality for every group or individual who uses hand and force (violently) in the name of “enjoining good and forbidding evil”:
The pioneer of Wahhabism, Allama Ibn-e-Tamiya writes in his book titled “Enjoining Right & Forbidding Wrong” (p. 6):
“Since jihad is part of the perfection of enjoining right and forbidding wrong, it, too, is a collective obligation. As with any collective obligation, this means that if those sufficient for the task do not come forward, everyone capable of it to any extent is in sin to the extent of his capability in that area. This is because its obligation, when it is needed, is upon every Muslim to the extent of his/her ability.”
The Quranic word Ma'ruf (معروف) is an Arabic word which etymologically encompasses identical shades of meanings such as “known”, “understood”, “recognized”, “acknowledged” and “accepted”. In Islamic terminology, the Al-Ma’ruf is a noun that includes everything that is looked upon as good and virtuous by Islam like worshipping Allah, love for the Prophet pbuh, good moral behaviour, helping the needy, charity work, lightening the burdens of others, fulfilling the rights of people etc.
As for in the Qur'anic exhortation, "Amr bil Ma'ruf wa Nahy an al Munkar (امر بالمعروف و نهى عن المنكر)”, the word Ma'ruf is often translated as the good or the right, but this translation fails to reflect the subtleties of the Arabic.
There is a Hadith in which the prophet pbuh is quoted as saying, "My Ummah will never agree upon an error." This has been interpreted to mean that the consensus of the community is a source of moral and legal authority. Going by this Hadith, no individual or Islamist group is allowed to enforce an order or commandment on the entire community without their consensus; neither are they entitled to forcefully impose their own interpretation of religion on them all. But the Jihadists/Wahhabis/Salafis not only forcefully impose their own interpretation of religion on all non-Wahhabi Muslims, but also carry out severe punishment on them if they do not surrender to them. And this is also endorsed by Wahabi literature as it is clearly seen in the following excerpt:
“Carrying out the punishments prescribed by Allah on whoever transgresses the bounds of the Shari’a is a part of prohibiting wrong (Nahi an al Munkar).”
Al-Munkar is a noun that includes everything that is looked upon as bad by Islam like disobeying Allah and turning one's back to Him and being bad with people. Some Quranic exegetes mistake when they translate the word Al-Munkar confining its meaning to only idol-worship, polytheism or heresy. The fact is that Al-Munkar encompasses all that Islam has forbidden.
Extremists use the word “Al-Munkar” to their vested interest. Although this is a comprehensive word including all that Islam has forbidden, they fix their eyes on only one of its inclusions; idol-worship with an aim to pull down all religious places, synagogues, churches and temples of other religious minorities living in their states. Not only that, they use the word “Al-Munkar” to vandalise the holy shrines and mausoleums of the Auliya-e-Kiram (Sufi saints of God). They insist that being respectful towards Sufiya-e-Keram (people who Sufis believe attained a close interpersonal connection with god) and building shrines and tombs for them undermines their ‘Tawhid’ and is tantamount to equating saints with god (‘shirk’). Therefore, it is a grave form of “Al-Munkar” in their eyes.
In fact, the grave-destroying Wahhabi doctrine also stems from the theology propounded by Ibn-e-Taimiya and later by his ardent follower Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab in the name of “Al-Munkar”. Dwelling on the implications of this word, Ibn-e-Taimiya writes:
“As for the bad (Munkar) which Allah and His prophet have forbidden, its ultimate and worst form is the association of partners with Allah. Association means to pray to someone or something else along with Allah. This partner could be the sun, the moon, stars or planets, an angel, one of the prophets, a righteous man or saint, one of the jinn, images or graves of any of these, or anything else which is called to other than Allah the Exalted. Association is also to seek aid or succour from any of the above, or to prostrate to them. All of this and anything like it is the association (shirk) forbidden by Allah through the tongues of all of His prophets.”
(Ibn-e-Tamiya, Enjoining Right & Forbidding Wrong)
The term Enjoining good and forbidding evil also forms the base for the Islamic institution of Hisbah (verification or introspection) which constitutes a central part of the Islamic doctrine for all Muslims.
Hisbah is an Islamic doctrine of taking an account of oneself and keeping everything in order within the laws of God. It also refers to the practice of supervision of commercial, guild, and other secular affairs. Traditionally, an al-Muhtasib (inspector) was appointed by the Caliph to oversee the order in marketplaces, in businesses, in medical occupations, etc. But the position of al-Muhtasib was not open to one and all unlike the present-day Talibani and Salafi groups who appoint themselves as inspectors wherever they find a chance. Today, there are some particular bands of people under the supervision of the Islamic states who work as "inspectors". For example, in Saudi Arabia, the state establishment responsible for Hisbah is the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. The commission employs an estimated 4,000 so called religious police (also known as Mutaween) on the ground who is assigned to cracking down on aspects and behaviors that deem to be contradictory with the Islamic Shariah.
But what the Mutaween are doing in the name of “enjoining right and forbidding evil” can be seen in the recent obnoxious incident that was widely criticized by the mainstream media as well as some Saudi newspapers. The incident took place in Mecca, on March 11, 2002, when the Mutaween prevented schoolgirls from escaping a burning school, because the girls were not wearing headscarves and Abayas (black robes), and they were not accompanied by a male guardian. 15 girls died and 50 were injured as a result of this “Enjoining right and forbidding evil”. Besides, the commission has also come under criticism for alleged financial and administrative corruption. According to the Saudi daily newspaper ‘‘عکاظ’’ (Okaz), a Saudi anti-corruption commission "Nazaha" said that the commission has received a complaint with alleged violations and that an investigation must be launched.
Today’s extremist Islamists and jihadists kill non-militant civilians, slaughter innocent people, commit violence, cause sectarian strife and go to the extent of declaring all other (non-Wahhabi) Muslims kafir and deserving to be murdered. This is how this group, in theirown assumption, enjoins right and forbids evil believing that they are in complete obedience to Allah, the Almighty. While the fact is that they are extreme transgressors of His boundaries.
Throughout the Islamic history, many of the deviant and misguided Muslim groups considered themselves to be enjoiners of right and forbidders of wrong. The Most notable among them, the Khwarjis (seeders from Islam) whose modern version is Wahhabism and Salafism, have proven to be the most pernicious, fanatic, patriarchal and misogynist group with an ideology detrimental to all human society and antithetical to core Islamic values. Erring in the understanding of what Allah commanded in terms of enjoining right and forbidding wrong, they took it as fighting a global jihad until they seize the earth (not just a portion, but the entire planet as outlined in Maulana Maududi’s writings) and establish their state in the name of Islam. The corruption and chaos caused by this kind of enjoining good and forbidding evil is much greater than any good that might result in the process.
A regular contributor for New Age Islam, Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is an Alim and Fazil (classical Islamic scholar) with a Sufi background. He has graduated from a leading Sufi Islamic seminary of India, Jamia Amjadia Rizvia (Mau, U.P.), acquired Diploma in Qur'anic Arabic from Al-Jamiat ul Islamia, Faizabad, U.P., and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies, Badaun, U.P. He has also graduated in Arabic (Hons) and is pursuing his M. A. in Comparative Religion from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.