How should we act in our communication with the people who do not know the religion but who are very prejudiced regarding the issue? What should we do in our communication with them? Should we discuss with them or should we keep silent?

The Details of the Question

The place where I work is unfortunately the general directorate of a bank; there are a lot of people who express their ideas without having knowledge here. I have to be in the same place with them and they always speak against the religion. I have discussed with them harshly a few times but it is not easy to cope with them. What should I do in my communication with them? Should I discuss with them or should I keep silent and let them as they are? Is it a sin to keep silent?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

"He who amongst you sees something abominable should modify it with the help of his hand; and if he has not strength enough to do it, then he should do it with his tongue, and if he has not strength enough to do it, (even) then he should (abhor it) from his heart." (Muslim, Iman, 78; Tirmidhi, Fitan, 11; Nasai, Iman, 17; Ibn Majah, Fitan, 20)

In such situations, you can warn them without treating them harshly and without using offending expressions. What matters is to eliminate their enmity and to ensure that they do not view Islam in an unfriendly way. As the Prophet states in the hadith above, we should try to correct something with our tongue if we cannot correct it with our hands; if we cannot do it with the tongue, we should hate it in the heart. That is, you can find it enough to keep silent, not to support them with your heart and to hate their acts in your heart.

It is not a sin to keep silent. However, those who have knowledge (ilm) and are very competent about the issue should correct their mistakes with his tongue. Nevertheless, it is not appropriate for those who do not have enough knowledge to try to answer them because those people may think they are right when they cannot answer them. 

Amr bil-ma'ruf nahy anil-munkar: Enjoining what is good, forbidding what is evil

Maruf is what the shari’ah orders and munkar is what the shari’ah forbids. In other words, what is in compliance with the Quran and Sunnah is called maruf and what Allah is not pleased with, what is denied and what is haram and sin are called munkar. (Raghib al-Isfahani, al-Mufradat, p.505; M. Hamdi Yazır, Hak Dini Kur'an Dili, IV, 2357-2358; V, 3118)

That is, to enjoin maruf means to call to belief and obedience; to forbid munkar means to oppose unbelief and rebellion against Allah. (Qadi Baydawi, Anwarut-Tanzil, 2/232)

The following is stated in the Quran:

"Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity." (Aal-i Imran, 3/104)

In the verse above, the task of enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil is rendered fard for the whole ummah of Islam. Islamic scholars say that when a group from the ummah fulfils this duty, the others will not be held responsible but that if nobody does it, all Muslims will be held responsible and they will be sinners. (Yazır, ibid, II / 1155)

In another verse, Allah states the following:

" Ye are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah...'' (Aal-i Imran, 3/110)

Believers are the best community in the world; they are a community that enjoins what is good, forbids what is evil and is equipped with highest ethics. For the preservation of this community, those verses order calling people to good deeds, honesty and kindness, which are the most important principles of the religion of Islam. The Prophet states the following:

"He who amongst you sees something abominable should modify it with the help of his hand; and if he has not strength enough to do it, then he should do it with his tongue, and if he has not strength enough to do it, (even) then he should (abhor it) from his heart." (Muslim, Iman, 78; Tirmidhi, Fitan, 11; Nasai, Iman, 17; Ibn Majah, Fitan, 20)

The following statement of the Prophet (pbuh) shows that the responsibility of enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil is a heavy burden:

"By Allah, who has given me life! Either you command good and forbid evil, or Allah will soon send upon you a punishment from Him; then you will call upon Him, but He will not respond to you." (Abu Dawud, Malahim, 16; Tirmidhi, Fitan, 9; Ibn Hanbal, V, 388).

We should meditate on and take lessons from the following verse:

"... Nor did Children of Israel (usually) forbid one another the iniquities which they committed: evil indeed were the deeds which they did..." (al-Maida, 5/79)

Along with polytheists, munafiqs (hypocrites) who enjoin what is evil and forbid what is good against Muslims and who do the opposite of what Allah orders by opposing His orders and prohibitions are mentioned in other verses. (see at-Tawba, 9/67, 81)

It is stated in various orders of the Prophet (pbuh) that each Muslim is a shepherd, that they are responsible for those who are under their command, that an active and constant social unity is necessary among Muslims and to support the weak so that they will received their rights from the strong and that the most virtuous jihad is to tell the truth in the presence of a cruel president.

If there are no people who enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil, the evil deeds will become rules and a lifestyle. Satans confuse the truth and the wrong and make people forget Allah. In such a community, the attitude of a Muslim should be as it is stated in the following order of the Prophet (pbuh), who was sent as mercy for the realms: 

"You will continue living in accordance with the true religion unless two kinds of drunkenness emerge among you: The drunkenness of ignorance and extreme love of the world. When love of the world forms in you while enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil, you will stop enjoining what is good, forbidding what is evil and making jihad in the way of Allah. Those who try to spread the orders of the Quran and the Sunnah are like the first people who became Muslims among Ansar and Muhajirs.'' (Bazzar, Majmauz Zawaid, VII / 271);

"Your good people will help the cruel ones among you; fiqh will be obtained by the bad ones and sultanate will be obtained by the low ones among you. Then, you will be attacked by mischief and you will fall out with one another." (ibid, 286)

''In that case, sins that are committed openly will harm everybody; the bad ones will attack the good ones; the hearts of the good ones will be sealed and they will be cursed. On the days of mischief, being patient is like holding cinder with your naked hand." (Kanzul-Ummal, II / 68-78)

It is stated in almost all chapters of the Quran how the communities in which what is good was not enjoined and what is evil was not forbidden and how Allah's penalty encompassed them. (al-A'raf, 7/163, etc)

Islamic scholars say that not to prevent a bad deed by fearing from it virtually means to accept and to agree with it, that the real fear is fear of Allah, that the duty of enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil does not make death come earlier and that it does not prevents one’s sustenance but that it is not permissible to resist deliberately a trouble that is beyond one’s power. (Kanzul Ummal, II, 141 ff)

The Islamic ummah, which is the best community for humanity, consists of the individuals that are interested in all of the problems of one another. However, in the other religions, good deeds and bad deeds are the problem of each individual. For instance, the following exists in the Torah: "Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (The Torah, Genesis, 4/9)

The duty of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil is undertaken by scholars in the ummah of Islam; it is not left to ignorant people. For, ignorant people turn everything upside down and cause confusion in concepts and values. The main principle in fulfilling this duty is the consciousness that every Muslim will be called to account in the hereafter. Communities are generally divided into two: good communities and bad communities. When bad communities formed or are being formed, it is fard for Muslims to avoid obeying evil deeds, bad deeds and transgressors. (Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad, II, 144). That is, it is fard for Muslims to transform every bad (munkar) community in to a good (maruf) community, where Islamic decrees are practiced.

Contemporary, democratic communities regard religion as an issue between Allah and man; they regard Islam’s principle of maruf and munkar as an ethical issue. However, this state of Muslims who are in charge of living in accordance with the orders of Allah and His Messenger is opposite and contrary to democratic principles. Therefore, it is not always possible for Muslims to enjoin what is good and to forbid what is evil; they are confronted with the orders and prohibitions of the munkar community. At this point, the following order is valid for Muslims:

"O ye who believe! Guard your own souls: If ye follow (right) guidance, no hurt can come to you from those who stray." (al-Maida, 5/105).

The contradiction of the contemporary community with Muslims makes it obligatory for Muslims to establish an Islamic state because they can obey only Allah and His Messenger. While a Muslim tries to realize this, he does not stop struggling against munkar and ordering maruf. This point is important for this: Maruf does not mean mere ethicism or Islam’s main principles being replaced by human rights. Maruf is Islam itself. Munkar is not only bad things essentially or ethically but everything that Islam prohibits. This is the never changing criterion for the Muslims living in various places of the world and under various regimes and conditions. The only method for it is the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah.

"So take what the Messenger assigns to you,..." (al-Hashr, 59/7)

The real duty of maruf-munkar is fulfilled by starting with man himself. (see al-Baqara, 2/44) Some people living in every era mention obeying the Messenger of Allah but they themselves do not obey; they order people to give sadaqah but they themselves do not give. They are warned in the following verse:

"Do ye enjoin right conduct on the people, and forget (To practise it) yourselves, and yet ye study the Scripture? Will ye not understand? " (al-Baqara, 2/44)

It is stated that the lips of those who order what is good but who themselves do not do will be cut by scissors made of fire on the Day of Judgment. (Ibn Kathir, 1, 8)

The second one is to call to the way of Lord with wisdom, nice advice, discussing with people in the best way and speaking to even fiercest people using soft words. (an-Nahl, 1 6/ 1 25; Taha, 20/43)

After all, the issue of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil is not a matter of fatwa only; it means to advocate and practice it in the family, law, politics and economy in an interrelated form and in accordance with the requirements of shari’ah. This necessitates a systematic work of calling and inviting people. The first spread of Islam was like that. The only valid way of conveying the message of Islam to the People of the Book, polytheists and other non-Muslims in the regimes where Islam is not dominant is the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah. We can explain it only with the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah, not by acting like a simple ethicist, preacher and even an official. A person who wants to remain as "the dead one among the living", that is, who does not prevent the evil with his hand, tongue and heart, is very bad. The following is stated in the Torah: "If a person enjoins what is good and forbids what is evil, his prestige in his community is defamed." Thus, Islamic movement and ethics were distorted and the essence of the religion was changed. Therefore, only Islam is valid as the religion in the eye of Allah.

On the other hand, people are not warned related to issues of ijtihad while enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil. For instance, Hanafis cannot warn a Shafii person who is eating the flesh of an animal that was slaughtered without uttering bismillah because of forgetting and say, "What you eat is haram." For, it is halal according to Shafiis. That is what is meant by amr bil-maruf and nah anil-munkar not being done by everybody. However, everybody can fulfill this duty related to the minor-major sins and definite harams of the religion that everybody knows. (Imam Ghazali, Ihyau Ulumid-Din, Amri Bil-Ma'ruf wa Nahyi Anil-Munkar) However, Shafiis can warn a Hanafi person who is eating the flesh of an animal that was slaughtered without uttering bismillah. It is necessary to use the tongue first before using the hand in all maruf and munkar deeds related to the rights of both Allah and slaves.   Mutazila holds the view that people can be warned with the tongue and the hand related to the issues of personal rights but that it can only be done by the imam; they say individuals cannot do it.

The following decree exists in a hadith reported from Anas b. Malik:

"We asked the Messenger of Allah: 'O Messenger of Allah! Can we not enjoin the good unless we ourselves do it fully? Can we not forbid evil unless we avoid it fully?' The Messenger of Allah answered as follows:

"Enjoin the good even if you do not do it fully. Forbid evil even if you do not avoid it fully." (Tabarani).

Hz. Luqman's advice to his son expresses the state of the person who warns anytime and anywhere:

"O my son! Establish regular prayer, enjoin what is just, and forbid what is wrong: and bear with patient constancy whatever betide thee; for this is firmness (of purpose) in (the conduct of) affairs." (Luqman, 31/17)

Then, a person who enjoins the good should act in accordance with his knowledge. The following is stated in a hadith:

"I saw people whose lips were cut by scissors made of fire on the night of Isra. I asked them who they were. They said, ‘We enjoined the good but we ourselves did not do it. We forbad the evil but we ourselves did not avoid it.’" (Ibn Hibban)

"Amr bil-maruf and nahy anil-munkar are done by fiqh scholars who are mild and lenient." (I. Ghazali)

Amr bil-maruf is very important; therefore, a person should fulfill the duty of amr bil-maruf if he can even if he cannot do all good deeds and even if he cannot avoid all bad deeds.

When Hz. Anas asked, "O Messenger of Allah! Shall we not enjoin something unless we ourselves do it fully? Shall we not forbid something unless we avoid it fully?" the Prophet said,

"Enjoin the good and forbid evil even if you do not do good deeds fully and even if you do not avoid bad deeds fully." (I. Ghazali)

Abdulghani Nablusi states the following:

"Amr bil-maruf with words and writing is the duty of scholars. To try to prevent a person who is committing a sin by praying with the heart is the duty of every believer. Intervention with the hand is the duty of the state." (Hadiqa)

It is not appropriate to do amr bil-maruf to every sinner though it is known that it will be of no use and that it will be harmful. The following is stated in a hadith:  

“Allah will ask a slave why he did not prevent a person when he saw him committing a sin, he will say, 'I feared his harm and enmity; I trusted your forgiveness and pardoning.' His excuse will be accepted.” (Ibn Majah)

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