Related on the authority of Abu Saeed al-Khudri that the Prophet (sa) said: “When any one of you sees anything that is disapproved (of by Allah (swt)), let him change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then let him change it with his tongue; still if he is not able to do so, then let him change it with his heart, though that is the weakest (kind of) faith.” (Muslim)
The foremost thing we take from the Hadeeth above is that all of us have intrinsic radar to abhor what is bad. If we do not acknowledge this sensitivity of distinguishing between good/bad, beautiful/ugly, Haram/Halal as believers, we cannot follow Allah’s (swt) commands as we are not able to distinguish the acceptable from the unacceptable. It is something that we naturally reject. Regardless of our different cultures or languages, our inner self does not accept it. This is a return to our Fitrah (instinct); there are things that we are naturally disgusted by and vice versa. Unless you identify evil, you cannot stop it – in other words you cannot act on this Hadeeth. Normally we think of these two features as distinct, but they are actually concurrent and occur at the same time. Our aim in accomplishing this obligation is to maximize benefit and minimize harm.
Secondly, the Prophet (sa) talked about ‘changing’ the evil. Usually we do not act to change; we only act to make ourselves feel better. We need to approach it with this thought in mind: “What can I do to bring about a helpful, positive and constructive change?” A believer must work towards making the situation better and permanent. If the change is not possible due to your action, then you are not following the Hadeeth. However you must still dislike it in your heart; remain steadfast on your principles. For example, when you see someone drinking alcohol, you must not accept it as a good act even if you see it all around you. If you say it is normal as those drinking are non-Muslims – it is accepting and agreeing that drinking is not against our innate nature. We must still know and accept in our hearts that it is wrong and unacceptable to Allah (swt). Sinning is arrogance but Allah (swt) is the Most Merciful. When you recognize the sin in your heart, you need to move away from the situation.This is an action of the heart, saying: “O Allah (swt), there is nothing that I can do to change this bad situation that You dislike and disapprove, except that I hate it to take place. I do not agree to it. O Allah (swt) forgive me, guide me and save my heart from being influenced by it.”
For something to be considered Munkar (denied), there are three conditions. It is not up to you to say something is Haram.
Principles of Forbidding the Evil
1. Prioritize the evil
Begin with the higher priority before the lower.
2. Be gradual
Note the gradual method by which Allah (swt) made the drinking of wine forbidden: Firstly, He said that there were benefits and harms in it, but the harm outweighed the benefits; secondly, He forbade people to approach prayer in a drunken state; finally, it was prohibited by Him. This step-by-step method does not imply that wine was not forbidden in the early stages, but it is a methodology from which we can benefit.
3. Treat the act only
For example, when you see evil, you should not humiliate or insult the person. Hate or forbid only the sin; don’t hate or mock the person. This way you separate the person from the sin – this is good for you and good for the other person. Don’t make people feel uncomfortable; focus only on the evil. Tell him or her to consider that since Allah (swt) will not accept it, you won’t accept it either. This way you tend to free the person from the sin without rejecting him or her. Only then you will be able to communicate successfully with the person using the best of words.
4. Ascertain first
Establish that the evil is indeed taking place.
5. Choose a suitable time to forbid the evil
a. The caller should not delay until the evil has finished.
b. The caller should exploit situations in which people are more likely to respond to his call, for example, Prophet Yusuf (as) spoke to his companions in the prison about Tawheed when they had been troubled by their dreams.
6. Speak in private
If you speak in a crowd it might be considered as a scolding and thus, might serve the opposite purpose.
7. No instigation
Do not provoke the people; use a good argument.
8. Stay compassionate
Show forgiveness and kindness towards the people.
9. Weighing the principles of benefit and harm
Ibn Taymiyah wrote: “If enjoining the good and forbidding the evil would result in a greater evil, then it is Haram to do it. Enjoining good should not lead to a better deed being left out and forbidding evil should not lead to a greater evil taking place.”
The action of the heart must be practiced; the heart of a Muslim who witnesses evil is influenced by that evil. A dark spot is placed in the heart. “Familiarity breeds contempt” and so is with our hearts. With repeated exposure to evil, the heart will acquire more dark spots until it no longer appreciates good and dislikes evil. So a believer, who does not forbid evil in his heart, might turn into an evil doer himself or herself.
May Allah (swt) protect us from ourselves. Ameen.