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)
Abu Saeed al-Khudri was a young man when he embraced Islam. At the age of thirteen he volunteered for the Battle of Uhud, but was rejected on account of his age. He went on to become one of the most knowledgable Companions of the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. He passed his knowledge on to the following generation and as a result became one of the most important teachers and narrators of hadith. A total of 1,170 hadith have been narrated on his authority.
“Whoever of you sees an evil…”
In this hadith, the Prophet, peace be upon him, has made it clear that removing, or wanting to remove evil is an essential characteristic of the Muslim faith. He specifically mentions the case of when a person sees the evil that is being committed. If there is an open and clear evil that Muslims are witnessing, then it is obligatory upon them to change it if they have the ability to do so. However many of the scholars cite other evidence that supports the notion that even if a person doesn’t see the evil, but knows it to be occurring, they should strive to remove it.
The Definition of Munkar (Evil) and It’s Opposite Maroof (Acts of Obedience)
Munkar, in a general sense is everything that is rejected or objectionable from ashareehah point of view. It is not the same as sin or disobedience to Allah (maasiyah), rather it is more general than that and applies to an evil act, even if it is performed by one who is ignorant. An act may be considered ‘sinful’ or munkar, whilst the person performing it may be not be sinful.
Maroof is the opposite of munkar, and implies every act of obedience to Allah and every act that takes one closer to Allah, whether it is obligatory or recommended. Its meaning also includes the sense that the act is something that everyone is pleased with and that people have no objection to.
To Whom is This Command Addressed?
The Prophet, peace be upon him, said “Whoever of you…”, this means that the command is directed to each and every Muslim. Everyone has the obligation to forbid evil if they have the means to do so.
There are however some people that have special responsibilities to forbid evil because they have more power to remove it. This includes people in positions of authority over others. This address is therefore first and foremost addressed towards the rulers and scholars as they are the people of the most authority. They can enact laws and force punishments that keep people from committing evil. If the rulers do not meet this responsibility then they have betrayed the trust placed in them by Allah and the people.
The scholars also have a special responsibility to strive to eradicate evil. In many cases they even have authority over the rulers and it is therefore obligatory on them to at least remove an evil with their tongues, and advise others against committing these acts.
But this address of the Prophet, peace be upon him, also extends to everyone who is in a position of authority over others, including the Principal of a school or the head of a company and so forth. It also includes fathers and mothers as they have a special responsibility to make sure their families refrain from committing these acts.
“… must then change it with his hand.”
The Prophet, peace be upon him, advised us that if we see an evil, we must change it with our hands. ‘Change it’ here means to ‘remove it’, and it is a communal obligation for Muslims to act to stop those committing evil deeds. If they do not strive to stop these type of actions, even though it is within their capacity to do so, they are failing to meet this obligation and are therefore sinful. This is agreed upon by all of the scholars. The means of ‘removing it’ however, depends on one’s ability to do so. It should be done by the hand, if at all possible, and if not, then by the tongue or speech. If neither of these is possible, then last option is to hate the action with one’s heart.
Note that this hadith is particularly talking about ‘the changing of evil’ and not the‘forbidding of evil‘, which was discussed in a previous hadith. This hadith is referring to when one actually sees an evil deed that is currently happening. Forbidding the evil is a more general concept that includes preventative measures to keep an evil from occurring. In the case of forbidding evil, one starts with speech and kindness, but in the case of changing evil, one starts with one’s hands and actions. Only if that is not possible does one move to change it through speech.
We can see examples of such actions in the stories of various prophets, peace be upon them all. In the case of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and the idol worship of his people, we read the following example in the Qur’an where Ibrahim says:
“And, by Allah, I shall plot a plan to destroy your idols after you have gone away and turned your backs.” So he broke them into pieces, (all) except the biggest of them, so that they may turn to it” (Surah al-Anbiyaa: 57-58)
Ibrahim, peace be upon him, used his hands to break the idols. He did this to stop the evil of idol worship and to show the people how foolish they were to worship idols which could not defend themselves from harm. He, peace be upon him, left the largest idol standing so that he could tell the people to ask it what had happened, in order for them to reflect on the fact that these idols could not speak because they had no power at all. Similarly, the Prophet Musa (Moses), peace be upon him, is quoted in the Qur’an as saying,
“And look at your god [idol] to which you have been devoted. We will certainly burn it and scatter its particles into the sea.” (Surah Taha:97)
The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is also recorded as destroying the idols when he entered the Kabbah. A hadith in Sahih Muslim tells us that the Prophet sent out Ali, may Allah be pleased with him, on an expedition and ordered him not to leave any statue but to destroy it, nor any picture but to erase it, nor any raised grave but to level it. So we can see that this is an approach approved of by the Prophets.
The reason why using one’s hands is to remove evil should be the first approach, is because it is the most effective means and has the most lasting effect. We should be sure that when we act in this way, we are doing so purely for the sake of Allah, and not in retaliation or with the intention of harming or ridiculing someone else. We should not act based on suspicion, and we should be sure that we do not remove an evil and in the process bring about a greater evil or harm as this goes against the principles of theshareeah. And Allah knows best.
“… 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.
“… then [he must change it ] with his tongue.”
As we saw in the last post, if one has the ability and right to change an evil with their hands, they should do so. However, if one does not have the capability, they should move to the next step, which is to change it with their tongue.
This category first and foremost includes acts such as screaming for help, informing authorities and other types of emergency acts of the tongue that may lead to the end of an evil. For example, if a person saw someone being robbed, but did not feel strong enough to intervene, they could call out and draw a crowd to help. This is an example of using your tongue to ward off an evil act.
If this direct method is not available, then one resorts to other methods of changing evil with one’s tongue. First, one should make the person realize that they are committing an evil act. Depending on the situation, this may be done directly or indirectly. We should speak in a way that does not harm the person or make them feel ignorant or foolish. Many times people may not be aware of the gravity of the action they are performing.
If the Prophet, peace be upon him, knew that someone was committing an act that was unbecoming, he would first speak publicly about the matter in general, in an indirect way. Many times, the Prophet, peace be upon him, would say, “Why do people do such and such…?”
If this doesn’t work, the person should be reminded to fear Allah due to the act that they are committing. We should do this out of love for one another and in a way that speaks to the heart, wanting what is best for the other person. This approach is of course most suitable for the person who is well aware of the shareeah ruling concerning the act that they are performing. This is based on the Qur’anic ayah:
“Invite unto the way of your Lord with hikmah [the arguments of the Qur’an and sunnah] and beautiful admonition” (Surah al-Nahl:125)
If the person is committing the sin in private, then the advising should be done in private. Exposure in public will hurt a person and their reputation.
If none of the above methods work, then harsh speech should be employed, if one is certain that this harsh speech will not lead to more harm. One should also be sure that they are not taking the harsher approach for their own benefit. For example, a person may feel that the person they advised did not listen properly, and may therefore feel frustrated and angry. If they turn to harsh speech for this reason, then the person is acting for their own sake and not the sake of Allah, all praises and glory be to Him.
We should remember that the general rule when advising others is one of kindness and polite speech. When Allah directed Musa (Moses) to go to the great tyrant Pharaoh, He said:
“Go both of you to Pharaoh, verily he has transgressed. And speak to him mildly, perhaps he may accept admonition or fear [Allah]“ (Surah Taha: 43-44)
“… And if he is not able to do so, then [he must change it] with his heart…”
Evil actions are never to be accepted and we are obligated to try and change the evil around us. The notion of ‘being capable’ of removing an evil is the same with respect to the tongue as it is with respect to the hand. If a person does not meet the conditions for being able to remove an evil with their hand or their tongue, that is, having the spiritual and physical ability and not fearing a greater evil or harm, then they must do it with their heart.
Everyone has different capabilities when it comes to changing evil. Some have the ability to change it with their hands, whilst other do not have that ability. If we do not have the ability, we are not sinful due to this shortcoming. However, there is one level concerning which everyone has the ability, and that is changing an evil with your heart. ‘Changing it with the heart’ means that you hate the evil in your heart, and if you had the ability to change it with your hand or tongue, you would.
We should remember from the previous postings that evil or, in Arabic munkar, in a general sense is everything that is rejected or objectionable from a shareehah point of view. It is not the same as sin or disobedience to Allah (maasiyah), but it is more general and applies to an evil act, even if it is performed by one who is ignorant. An act may be considered ‘sinful’ or munkar, whilst the person performing it may be not be sinful.
There are two requirements upon a Muslim with respect to their heart and changing evil. The first is that they should change or hate it with their heart, as mentioned in this hadith. The second is that they should struggle against it with their heart, as the following hadith illustrates:
“There is no prophet that was sent to a nation before me except that he had from his nation helpers. They would follow his way and implement his orders. Then came afterwards generations that would say what they did not do and do what they did not say. Whoever struggles against them with his hand is a believer. Whoever struggles against them with his tongue is a believer. And whoever struggled against them with his heart is a believer. Beyond that there is no faith, even equivalent to the amount of a mustard seed.” (Recorded in Muslim)
Allah knows best what is in the hearts of human beings. He, all praises and glory be to Him, knows who would change an evil if they were able to, and He knows who does and does not hate an evil in their hearts.
In this respect, we should remember that the heart is definitely affected and influenced by what it witnesses and what it becomes willing to accept. One of the worst effects of modern media is that Muslims are constantly witnessing things that are clearly forbidden. But when we continue to watch these things over and over again, we start to become desensitized, and are no longer shocked by them. We may even begin to accept such evils as normal. The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said:
“Temptations and trials will be presented to men’s hearts like the way a reed mat is woven, stick by stick. And any heart which is filled by them will have a black mark put into it. But any heart which rejects them will have a white mark put into it. The result will be that there are two types of hearts: one white like a white stone that will not be harmed by any turmoil and temptation so long as the heavens and earth endure; and the heart black and dust-colored like a vessel which is overturned, not recognizing what is good or rejecting what is evil but only being impregnated with passion.” (Recorded in Muslim)
We should pause here to reflect on our own actions and the things that we participate in and witness of a daily basis. What kind of effect are these things having on our heart? If you see evil around you and do not feel hatred for it, then this is a sign that there is a disease in your heart. The heart that does not feel hatred for evil, has become dead to loving things for the sake of Allah. And we seek refuge in Allah from that.
“… And that is the slightest [effect of] faith.”
In this hadith, the Prophet, peace and blessing of Allah be upon him, has linked faith with eradicating evil. There is a clear and definite relationship between the two things. If we love Allah and know His rights upon us, we are upset when His laws and limits are transgressed.
Some scholars have interpreted the fact that changing evil with the heart is referred to here as ‘the slightest effect of faith’, to mean that a hierarchy of actions exist, changing the evil with the hand being at the top and changing it with the heart being at the bottom. But it seems the stronger opinion, and Allah knows best, is that what is meant by this part of the hadith is that the desire to change evil with one’s heart, tongue or hand are actually ‘the manifestation of faith’. This is because the strength of one’s faith cannot be measured by what actions one is capable of doing.
The ordering of good and eradicating of evil is not something we should seek to do as a way proving that we are better than others or more knowledgable in Islam. Rather it is something that should be done for Allah’s sake and His pleasure alone. Our desire to eradicate evil should come from our distress at seeing Allah’s laws transgressed. A believer should love for their fellow Muslim what they love for themselves, and no believer would want to fall into acts that are displeasing to Allah, so we should strive to protect others from doing this also. Allah describes true believers in the Qur’an as follows:
“The believers, men and women, are helpers and supporters of one another. They order what is good and forbid what is evil. They also establish the prayer, pay the zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger. These are those to whom Allah will show mercy to. Verily Allah is the Al-Mighty, All-Wise” (Surah al-Taubah: 71)
When Muslims stop enjoining the good and eradicating the evil, even though they have the ability to do so, they have lost the true brotherhood of Islam. Allah, all praises and glory be to Him, says in the Qur’an:
“Let there arise out of you a party of people inviting to all that is good, enforcing what is right and eradicating what is evil. And it is they who are the successful. And be not as those who divided and differed amongst themselves after clear proofs had come to them. It is they for whom there is an awful torment.” (Surah ali-Imraan:104-105)
Two things should be noted about this verse. The first is that the Arabic structure of “it is they who are the successful” implies that they are the only ones who are successful. The second, as ibn Uthaimeen points out, is that mentioning the division and factionalism after mentioning enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, indicates that it is abandoning this practice that leads to divisions. In other words, if Muslims do not stop the evil of heresies and people spreading false ideas about others, it will lead to division and hatred amongst them all. More worryingly, we find this hadith that speaks about the same matter:
“There is no people among which evil is committed and they have the ability to change that but they do not change it, except that Allah will soon afflict them with a punishment that will affect them all.” (Recorded in Sunan Abu Dawood)
“By the One in whose hand is my soul, you must order the good and forbid evil or Allah will soon send upon you a punishment from Himself and then you supplicate to Him and He will not respond to you.” (Recorded in Ahmad)
We can see from all these points that there are many factors that should drive us to eradicate evil including: hoping for reward from Allah, fearing punishment for not doing it, love for Allah and love for obedience to Him, hating something for the sake of Allah when His laws are violated, and having mercy and compassion for one’s fellow Muslims in trying to guide them to what is best. With these points in mind, it should be easy for us to bear any hardships that we may face in striving to order the good and eradicate evil when we see it.
Extracted from Commentary on the Forty Hadith of Al-Nawawi (Vol 3) [Previously published in 3 Volumes] by Jamaal al-Din M. Zarabozo Pages 1195-1246