On the authority of Abu Saeed al-Khudri (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah say, “Whoever of you sees an evil must then change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then [he must change it ] with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then [he must change it] with his heart. And that is the slightest [effect of] faith.” (Recorded in Muslim)
“… If he is not able to do so…”
We can see that the command to change an evil with one’s hand is conditioned by one having the ability to do so. If one is not able to do so, then they are not obligated to change it with their hand, and move down to the next level of trying to change it with their tongue. It is therefore important that we understand what is meant by the inability to change an evil.
The capacity to change a wrong is of two types. The first is a ‘spiritual’ non-physical capability which is related to knowledge, and the second is ‘physical’ capability, meaning we must have the physical capability to carry out the act in a safe manner.
There are a number of different scenarios which could arise in relation to this obligation, which take into account both the physical and spiritual aspects,
and have a different rulings based on these different criteria. They are as follows:
1) The person believes they can remove the evil and fears no harm, but changing it will lead to a greater evil – This person is capable in both the physical and spiritual sense, but is not obliged to change the evil with their hand due the the feared negative consequences.
2) The person can remove the evil with no fear of harm but expects equal negative consequences – The person is considered capable, but the scholars differ as to whether the obligation still applies. The person should make the decision they consider best.
3) The person does not have the knowledge to recognize whether or not the act they are witnessing is evil – The person is not qualified or capable of stopping the act.
4) The person can remove the evil without any resultant evil, and they fear only verbal abuse – They are fully capable of removing the evil and they fall under the obligation of this hadith. Fear of verbal abuse is not an excuse for one to move to the next level of changing the evil with one’s tongue.
5) The person has the physical capability to act, but they believe that this action will not result in removing or lessening the evil, and they expect that they may be harmed in the process – This person is considered not capable to act and they move down to the next level of obligation.
6) The person can stop or lessen the evil and they fear no harm or resultant evil – They fall under the command of this hadith and they must act to stop the evil with their hand.
7) The person believes that they cannot stop the evil by acting but they also fear no harm or resultant evil if they do not act – This person is not completely capable. Some scholars say they must still act, whilst other say that it is simply recommended.
8. The person can remove the evil, but they know that harm will come to them if they act. This person is not fully capable of acting and may resort to removing the evil with their tongue, however, if they do act, they will be rewarded by Allah.