How to Call to Good and Warn from Evil

بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم

I recently skimmed through the relied-upon study text in Hanbali theology ‘Qala’id Ul-Iqyan’ by Imam ibn Balban al-Hanbali. Although the text itself is quite basic and at a beginner level, I was very impressed by the inclusion of an entire chapter on ‘calling to good and warning from evil’ in a theology study text. This is something that I think many who speak about theological matters should take heed of and contemplate carefully.

I believed the section to be important enough to translate here. I have included my own commentary on some points in the text. These are indicated by the numbers in superscript. May Allah accept.

Rulings of ‘Calling to Good and Warning from Evil’

Calling to good and warning from evil is a communal obligation (fardh kifāyah) on the people.

It is an individual obligation (fardh a’yn) for a Muslim if the following conditions are fulfilled:

1) The person knows about the occurrence, is familiar with the situation and has witnessed it.1

2) That they do not fear the whip or cane (i.e. the ruler), and that they do not fear any harm to their self, wealth or family.2

3) That the act of warning does not cause evil and strife to increase instead.3

4) That a positive outcome is hoped for as a result of the act.

5) That no one else is fulfilling the obligation instead of them.4

If these conditions are not fulfilled, then calling to good and warning from evil are not obligatory, although it is still permissible for the Muslim to do so even if they fear harm.

These obligations and conditions apply regardless of whether we are speaking about the ruler, the scholar, the non-scholar, the upright person or the sinner.5

Then the highest level of calling to good and warning from evil is using physical action or words. And the weakest level is to dislike the evil with one’s heart. This is the minimum required level that every Muslim must have.6

The people should help those who seek to forbid evil if they are able, and no one should try to use force except with the permission of the ruler.

Whoever follows one of the four madhhabs, he is to be warned from going against it unless he does it due to specific textual evidence (if he is a scholar), or because he is doing taqlīd of another view given to him by a mufti, or if he has a clear excuse (due to difficulty).7

In calling to good and warning from evil, the ‘good’ are all statements, actions and intents that are praised in the Shariah. The ‘evil’ are all statements , actions and intents that are abhorred in the Shariah.

Rights to be Called to Enjoining or Warned from Violating are of Three Types

Everything that is called to or warned from is either a right of the Creator, such as prayer, fasting, obedience and avoiding sins.

Or they could be a right of other human beings such as not paying what someone is owed, oppression etc.

Or they could be both the rights of the Creator and of other human beings, such as zakāt, expiation, legal punishment for slander etc.

And the father and other than him are the same in their responsibility to warn from evil.

The Characteristics of the Caller to Good and Warner of Evil

The person who calls to good and warns from evil should be humble and gentle when calling to others, tender and merciful, not coarse,  harsh-hearted or fishing for faults.

He should be a person who is free & upright, of deep understanding (i.e. a faqīh) and knowledgeable in the commands and prohibitions of the Shariah.8 He should be religious, pure and of good character, a person worthy of their opinion, observance and intensity in faith.

He should intend with it to please Allah, to establish His religion and Shariah, the observance of His command and revival of His Prophet’s Sunnah صلى الله عليه وسلم.

This should be done without showing off, hypocrisy and deception and not with competitiveness and boasting,9 and without being someone whose actions betray their words.

But he must still warn from evil even if he is partaking in it, so that he does not commit two sins instead of one. What was mentioned before was a condition for excellence, not for obligation.

It is recommended for the person to perform their nawāfil, be gentle, have a cheerful disposition and excellent character while engaging in forbidding evil,   and to be sure of their accusations and give excuses before rushing to judgment.

Escalation in Calling to Good and Forbidding from Evil

The caller should start at the most gentle and simplest level, and only escalate if the evil does not wind down. If he is not able to remove it, then he should escalate it to just and upright authorities, as long as he is sure they will not go beyond what is required for the act of evil, and that the act of evil warrants such an escalation (i.e. it is a violation of an agreed upon obligation).10

He should not seize any wealth (of the person doing evil), and should not do anything other than what is obligatory for him to do (i.e. to warn from evil). And he should warn the ruler (i.e the authorities) from evil and remind them to fear Allah (when applicable and with the wisdom necessary to be constructive and avoid harm etc).

It is recommended to abandon the company of those who openly flaunt their sins. It is obligatory to look away from those who try to conceal their sins and don’t call to them, but they should be advised in private.11

It is impermissible to pursue warning from an evil when it has been done in a distant land (i.e. it is likely because the evil is not something the caller has knowledge or familiarity of and thus they can be mistaken in identifying or rectifying it). It is impermissible to expose what is hidden and to spread rumours about it and to pursue seeking it out with witnesses etc.

It is obligatory to abandon the company of innovators who call to their misguidance for the one who is unable to rectify them and warn then from their evil, or is not able to prevent themselves from being misguided by them.12

  1. This is an important note, especially in our time of reactionary social media criticism. Many people rush to judge and condemn people, actions and issues that they have little knowledge about, little familiarity or experience with, and in the internet age sometimes it occurs on a completely different continent in a completely different culture. A Muslim should be more careful with their words than this. The words we write online are part of our deeds.
  2. Note how this is a valid excuse preventing someone from warning against an evil in their society, and is more applicable in countries with dictators and oppressive governments. If all the good people end up in jail or in the gallows then who will be left in society except the worst of people?
  3. This is what many refer to today as ‘wisdom’ when calling to good and warning from evil. One must ensure that their actions do not result in an overall negative effect despite their good intentions. This is often difficult and requires experience in calling to good and warning from evil and making painful mistakes in the process.
  4. Not everyone needs to be ‘warning from evil’. This is especially dangerous when we talking about people. If there are a sufficient number of people warning against a personality who is corrupting society or openly preaching evil, then others should keep silent and support them instead of joining in the conversation and risking unnecessary speech about another Muslim, which is ghibah i.e. backbiting and a major sin.
  5. Some think that scholars should be more willing than others to risk their necks or well-being to call to good and forbid evil. This is not the case. We need many of our scholars to be safe and unburdened with political activism especially those in seminaries and universities who are teaching students and writing books so that learning and da’wah can continue unabated.
  6. Unfortunately as many people have come to acknowledge the importance of wisdom in warning from evil, many have also slid into being undisturbed by or sometimes even pleased with evil and sin. In some cases, being pleased with someone commiting a major sin such as kufr can be an act of disbelief in itself. So take heed.
  7. The fiqh maxim ‘One should not be warned from doing something which is differed upon in its impermissibility’ applies here. As long as valid ikhtilaf exists on an issue, Muslims should be free to follow whichever view they please as long as they are doing it due to conviction in their madhhab, necessity or avoiding difficulties. If they are doing it due to their desires or following a view that is not endorsed by high level Muslim scholarship then they should be warned from doing so. But making this distinction can be very difficult except for the scholar.
  8. This ties into the previous point. Calling to good and forbidding from evil without sufficient knowledge can be a great fitnah. One may not be fully aware of differences of opinion in the Shariah or among scholars that may result in their call resulting in great harm and intolerance in the ummah for valid ikhtilaf.
  9. Unfortunately this is not something new. It is very easy when calling to good and forbidding from evil to become lost in one’s ego, become blind to one’s own shortcomings and get lost in a tit-fot-tat and personal vendettas that can result in great harm to the community as it falls into partisanship, thinking that they are supporting good against evil when they might be supporting ignorance against knowledge, ego against wisdom or wrong against right.
  10. This is especially true today when one considers how police, governments and courts abuse their authority. One should avoid turning to the authorities if they fear that the result will lead to oppression. May Allah rectify our affairs and return mercy & justice to the Muslim world.
  11. If someone seems to be making an effort to conceal their sins, don’t expose them. If you expose others, it will only be a matter of time before you are exposed too. An exception though may be made for evil that is not localized to the person doing it, rather it is affecting others and causing harm in the community, such as in cases of spiritual or sexual abuse. However even in these cases one must heed the advice in this tract and ensure they are absolutely positive of the allegations and investigate delicately before jumping to conclusions.
  12. This is a principle that has been abused a lot in the past decades. As many a hadith scholar has mentioned, how many a person believes themselves to be ‘on the right path’ and other one ‘bid’ah’. Unless you have a high level of knowledge and understand theology to an intermediate to advanced level, I advise you not to (even in your head) be thinking about who is Ahlus-Sunnah and who is Ahlul-Bid’ah. This is specifically for the case of inter-Sunni theology. As for outside of that then my words here do not apply.

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