Some people say that ordering of good and forbidding of evil is not an obligation upon us, and that we should only be concerned with accounting ourselves, supporting this view with the verse in the Qur’an where Allah (swt) mentioned that the misguidance of others will not harm us:
“O you who believe, you are accountable only for yourselves. It will not harm you if someone chooses to deviate – as long as you are rightly guided. To Allah is your return, and He will inform you of what you used to do.”[5:105]
We will discuss this claim from two angles: The Ayah itself, and the other texts mentioned in the Qur’an and the Sunnah related to this subject.
Looking carefully at the Ayah itself, we see that Allah (swt) stated that no harm will come from the misguidance of others, on the condition that we are guided: “It will not harm you if someone chooses to deviate – as long as you are rightly guided”; and we know that a person will not be rightly guided unless he fulfills whatever Allah (swt) mandated upon him. Allah (swt) has mandated upon the believers to order what is good and forbid what is evil, so whoever abandons this obligation cannot be rightly guided since he has not fulfilled a condition of such guidance. This has been explained by some of the Companions of the Prophet (saw), their followers, and many of the Mufassireen (scholars of interpretation).
Imam Ibn Jareer Al-Tabari narrated from Sa’eed ibn Al Musayyab that he said:
“When you command the good and forbid the evil, only then the one who is misguided will not harm you when you are guided.” [Tafseer Al-Tabari]
And Imam Al-Nawawi said:
“Then there is no disagreement in what we have mentioned, because the correct opinion of the scholars about the meaning of the verse is: When you do what you have been made responsible for, then the deficiency of others will not harm you, similar to His (swt) saying: ‘And no bearer of burden shall bear the burden of another.” When it is like that, then the responsibility of ordering good and forbidding evil is upon him, and when he does it and the one addressed does not comply, then there is no censure upon the doer after that because he has fulfilled what was obliged upon him. Therefore he is only obliged to command and forbid, and is not responsible for the outcome. And Allah knows best.” [Sharh Al-Nawawi of Saheeh Muslim]
And Imam Ibn Taymiyyah said in this regard:
“To be guided is achieved only by fulfilling the Islamic obligations, so when a Muslim establishes what is obligatory upon him by ordering the good and forbidding the evil the same as he establishes other obligations, then he will not be harmed by the misguidance of the misguided.”
There are many texts found in the Quran and the Sunnah that make it an obligation upon the believers to speak out against the evil actions of others by ordering them to do good and forbidding them from doing evil. Failure to fulfil this obligation may even cause Allah (swt) to be displeased with us – and can even lead to our du’a no longer being answered, as the Prophet (saw) warned:
“By the One whose Hand my soul is in, you must order the good and you must forbid the evil, or Allah will send upon you a punishment from Him, and then the best of you will make du’a to Him and He will not answer it.” [Al-Tirmithi]
Allah (swt) said in the Qur’an, regarding the obligation of ordering the good and forbidding the evil:
“And when you come across those who ridicule Our revelations, do not sit with them unless they engage in a different topic. Should Satan cause you to forget, then once you remember, do not continue to sit with the wrongdoers. And those who fear Allah are not held accountable for the actions (of those who ridicule the message) whatsoever – their duty is to advise and remind so that perhaps they might gain Taqwa.” [6:68-69]
Allah (swt) has explained that there is no obligation on the God-fearing towards those engaged in evil conversations regarding the verses of Allah (swt) except to remind them only.
Al-Qadi Al-Baydhaawee said:
“There is no responsibility upon those who have Taqwa who sit with those who are accountable for their evil deeds and action except to remind them with a reminder, and prevent them from attacking (the verses) or other types evil, and that they openly state their dislike of it.” [Tafseer Al-Baydhaawee]
If speaking out against the evil actions of evil people is a duty upon the believers, then how can someone consider himself to be rightly guided by abandoning this duty?
Abu Bakr (ra) explained the mistake of those who deduced from this verse the abandonment of the duty of ordering the good and forbidding the evil:
“O people! You recite this verse: ‘O you who believe, you are accountable only for yourselves. It will not harm you if someone chooses to deviate – as long as you are rightly guided.’ but I have heard the Messenger of Allah (saw) say: ‘When people see an oppressor but do not prevent him from doing evil, it is likely that Allah will punish them all.” [Abu Dawud and At-Tirmidhi]
And Ibn Umar (ra) reported that the Prophet (saw) said, “You must order the good and you must forbid the evil or Allah will place over you in authority the most evil of you, and they will plan against you the most terrible pain and suffering, then the best of you will make du’a and it will not be answered – you must order the good and forbid the evil or Allah will send upon you those who have no mercy upon your young nor honor your elderly.“ [Al-Tabarani]
All of this confirms that the idea that “we should only focus on ourselves because the misguidance of others will not harm us” contradicts the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
Some may argue that the the verse “You are accountable only for yourselves” is explained by the Hadith of Abu Tha’labah (ra).
Abu Umayyah Ash-Sha’bani said: “I asked Abu Tha’labah Al-Khushani: What is your opinion about the verse ‘You are accountable only for yourselves.’ He said: I swear by Allah, I asked the one who was well informed about it; I asked the Messenger of Allah (saw) about it. He said: ‘No, constantly order one another to do what is good and constantly forbid one another from doing what is evil. But when you see stinginess obeyed, desires followed, worldly interests preferred over all else, and everyone who has an opinion impressed with their own opinion, then worry about yourself and leave what the masses are doing, for ahead of you are days which will require patience – patience that will be like grasping live coals; the one who acts rightly during that period will have the reward of fifty men who do as he does.’ I asked ‘Fifty of them?’ He said ‘No, fifty of you (the Sahaba).”
This Hadith does not imply abandoning the obligation of ordering the good and forbidding the evil, since ordering the good and forbidding the evil has different levels, including with one’s hand, or one’s tongue, or one’s heart. When it is impossible for the believer to remove the evil with one’s hand or words, then it is a duty upon him or her to hate the evil in one’s heart – and the obligation of hating it in one’s heart is not dropped in any situation. In other words, this Hadith is referring to a time when it will be impossible to change the evil with one’s hand or one’s words, and all one can do is hate it in one’s heart.
In summary, there is nothing in the verse “You are accountable only for yourselves” nor in the Hadith of Abu Tha’laba (ra) that teaches us to abandon ordering the good and forbidding the evil. Rather, it is a duty upon every Muslim to do these things within the extent of his or her capabilities. Therefore, there is no excuse for any Muslim today to leave the corruption of societies, the rulers, and those who do evil under the excuse of ‘perfecting oneself’; rather it is an obligation to order the good and forbid the evil, which includes being politically active in Islamic work, because the essence of Islamic politics is ‘ordering the good and forbidding the evil.’