Friday Sermon: Hisbah And The Islamic Ways Of Stopping Evils In Society By Imam Murtadha Gusau

In the Name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful


All praise is due to Allah, the Lord of all creation, may Allah extol the mention of our noble Prophet Muhammad in the highest company of Angels, bless him and give him peace and security―and his family, his Companions and all those who follow him correctly and sincerely until the establishment of the Hour.


Dear brothers and sisters! The Shari’ah-oriented political scientists define Hisbah as the duty of enjoining good when it is neglected and forbidding evil when it is prevalent in society. Ibn Khaldun considers Hisbah as a religious post. That is why jurists (Fuqaha) differentiate between the Muhtasib (one who practices Hisbah), who is appointed by the head of state or the governor to look after the state’s subjects, and the Mutatawi’i (volunteer), who practices Hisbah without being assigned by the political authority. Historically, Hisbah as a system was founded in the political life of Muslims during the era of Caliph Umar Ibn Al-Khattab. However, the term itself was known only in the era of the Abbasid Caliph Al-Mahdi.


According to some Islamic scholars, Hisbah started in a simple form in the early days of Islam, but acquired various features and ramifications over time. In fact, some contemporary government ministries and departments — such as those of health, social affairs, municipalities, transport, and police — are now assuming duties that used to be entrusted to the Muhtasib.


The Muhtasib must be a capable, discerning Muslim adult. This person serves as the eye of the law on both state and society.


Hisbah, as defined earlier, is the duty of promoting what is good and preventing what is evil. And it is a collective duty or obligation of the Muslim society. Hence, a considerable number of individuals should assume this responsibility, take an affirmative stand toward it, and put it into practice whenever there is a need for it.


Hisbah is a broad Qur’anic principle that encompasses both the government’s responsibilities as well as any effort exerted by the individual to resolve a conflict or misunderstanding between two individuals, groups, friends, families, or strangers.


Hisbah thus encourages the individual to participate and get involved in society as an active agent who is mindful of the problems and concerns of the society where he or she lives. There are several verses in the Qur’an on Hisbah, which is also one of the major themes of the Prophetic Sunnah.


Muslim jurists (Fuqaha) have also spoken at length on the conditions and valid application of Hisbah, which need not be reviewed here. However, one deems it mandatory to mention that Imam Ibn Taimiyyah specified certain conditions for one to be eligible to be a Muhtasib such as knowledge, leniency, and patience.


So the main Pillars of Hisbah are:


1. The Muhtasib: who must be a capable, discerning Muslim adult. This person serves as the eye of the law on both state and society. In other words, this person supervises the application of the law in society, especially in the marketplace, to protect it against treachery, mishandling, monopoly, usury, exaggerated profits, and the like.


2. A flagrant evil that exists: It should be so clear to the Muhtasib, in such a way that requires no effort exerted for noticing it.


3. The process of Hisbah itself, which refers to the regulation or censorship of public morals as described above.


Dear brothers and sisters! Know that enjoining good and forbidding evil in society is one of the essential teachings of Islam. It is the pillar of a justly-ordered society and the guardian of true faith. Everyone is obligated to acknowledge good and reject evil in their hearts, at the very least.


Abu Sa’id al-Khudri reported that: The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:


“Whoever among you sees evil, let him change it with his hand. If he is unable to do so, then with his tongue. If he is unable to do so, then with his heart, and that is the weakest level of faith.” [Muslim]


The lowest level of faith is to reject evil in one’s heart and it is an obligation at all times. As for changing evil with one’s tongue, or words, and with one’s hand, or by direct action, it is only an obligation for those who are able to carry out its duties according to proper methods, principles, and objectives.


Imam Ibn Rajab commented on the many Hadith of this nature, saying:


“All of these Hadiths indicate that it is an obligation to condemn evil by the measure of one’s ability. As for condemnation in the heart, it is always required. Whoever does not condemn evil in his heart, it is a sign that faith (Iman) has vanished from his heart… As for condemnation of the tongue and hand, it is only obligatory within one’s capacity.” [See Jami’ul Ulum wal-Hikam]


The scholars have said that enjoining good and forbidding evil is based upon three principles, or prerequisite and necessary conditions:


1. Knowledge


2. Gentleness


3. Patience


It is not appropriate for someone to enjoin good or forbid evil unless they have knowledge of Islamic rulings and their relevancy to real-life situations, they are able to be patient and forbearing with the harm this duty entails, and they are gentle with people as much as possible.


Imam Sufyan al-Thawri, may Allah have mercy on him, said:


“No one may enjoin good or forbid evil except for one who has three qualities: gentleness in what he enjoins and forbids, justice in what he enjoins and forbids, and knowledge of what he enjoins and forbids.” [See al-Amr bil-Maʻruf lil-Khallal]


And Imam Al-Qadi Abu Ya’la said:


“No one may enjoin good and forbid evil unless he understands what he enjoins and forbids, he is gentle in what he enjoins and forbids, and he shows forbearance in what he enjoins and forbids.” [See al-Amr bil Ma’ruf li-Ibn Taimiyyah]


And Imam Ibn Taimiyyah said:


“One who enjoins good must have three qualities: knowledge, gentleness, and patience. Knowledge comes before it, gentleness comes during it, and patience comes after it.” [See al-Amr bil Ma’ruf li-Ibn Taimiiyyah]


Respected servants of Allah! The scholars set these three conditions because, in addition to being mentioned many times in the Qur’an and Sunnah, they further facilitate the ultimate objective in Islam of reforming and purifying souls on their journey to Allah into the Hereafter. If someone tries to enjoin good while lacking one of these qualities, they will likely end up making the situation worse for themselves and others.


Imam Ibn Taimiyyah said:


“Based on this, it is said to let not your enjoining good and forbidding evil be evil itself. As it is among the greatest of obligatory and recommended deeds, thus the benefit of obligatory and recommended deeds must outweigh their harm.” [See al-Amr bil-Ma’ruf li-Ibn Taimiyyah]


Being able to balance all considerations of time and place in sound knowledge, graceful patience, and compassionate gentleness is the essence of wisdom, as put by Imam Ibn al-Qayyim:


“Wisdom is to act as one should, in the manner that one should, in the time that one should.” [See Madarijus Salikin]


One who enjoins good should have a sound understanding of Islamic teachings on the issues at hand, in addition to the specific circumstances regarding people, their customs, their perceptions, and so on. Enjoining good is an act of worship done for the sake of Allah, so the good of it will be diminished or entirely nullified if it is done in ignorance.


Umar Ibn AbdulAziz, may Allah have mercy on him, said:


“Whoever worships without knowledge will cause more harm than good.” [Sunan al-Darimi]


One who enjoins good should be gentle to those whom he enjoins, meaning to only use such sternness or force as is necessary to achieve the desired outcome of reformation. The quality of gentleness makes the difference between a beautiful and graceful deed done for the sake of Allah, or an ugly and disgraceful deed done for the sake of one’s ego.


Aisha (RA) reported that: The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:


“Verily, kindness and gentleness is not found in anything but that it beautifies it, and it is not removed from anything but that it disgraces it.” [Muslim]


The Prophet (Peace be upon him) was very gentle and charitable whenever he needed to criticise or correct someone’s behaviour. His habit was to make a general point of correction, without specifying or naming the person, in hopes of salvaging that person’s reputation. The reputations of the believers, like their lives and property, are sacred.


Aisha (RA) reported that: If the Prophet (Peace be upon him) heard something bad about a man, he would not name them by saying:


“What is the matter with this person that he says this?” Rather, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) would say: “What is the matter with some people who say this?” [Sunan Abi Dawud]


When further criticism was warranted to achieve the intended result, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) would use mild and measured language to correct a person’s behaviour. He would neither outright condemn Muslims or believers for their moral shortcomings, nor would he use foul, vulgar, offensive, or ugly language.


Anas Ibn Malik reported that: The Prophet (Peace be upon him) would not revile others, he would not use profanity, and he would not curse others. If he wanted to criticise one of us, he would say:


“What is the matter with him? His forehead be dusted!” [Bukhari]


The companions likewise followed the Prophet’s (Peace be upon him) example in correcting people as gently as they could, only being harsh with those who committed brazen sins and violations of other’s rights in public.


Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal reported that:


“The companions of Ibn Mas’ud, may Allah be pleased with him, if they passed by people from whom they saw something they disapproved, they would say: Take it easy, may Allah have mercy on you.” [See al-Amr bil-Maʻruf lil-Khallal]


And Imam Ahmad said:


“One should enjoin good with gentleness and humility. If they make him hear what he dislikes, he should not get angry such that he wants to avenge himself.” [See al-Amr bil-Maʻruf lil-Khallal]


And he also said:


“People are in need of courtesy and gentleness in enjoining good, without harshness, except for a man who brazenly sins in public, for he has no sanctity.” [Jami’ul-Ulum wal-Hikam]


Dear brothers and sisters! As for patience and forbearance, it was the quality of the Prophets of Allah (Peace be upon them) to endure the harms of their people to whom they delivered the message of Allah Almighty.


Allah Almighty said:


“Verily, Ibrahim was forbearing, compassionate, and repentant.” [Qur’an, 11:75]


And Allah the Most High said:


“They said: We will surely be patient with the harm you cause us, and let them rely upon Allah those who would rely.” [Qur’an, 14:12]


My beloved people! One who enjoins good must be gentle to avoid provoking the harmful reactions of those whom he enjoins, but it is to be expected that such harm is inevitable in some cases. This means that the believer should advise others and neither reciprocate their harm and insults, nor retaliate against them for the sake of his or her own ego.


Amr Ibn al-As, may Allah be pleased with him, said:


“The truly forbearing one is not one who is forbearing to those who tolerate him but insults whoever insults him. Rather, the truly forbearing one is forbearing to both those who tolerate him and to those who insult him.” [See al-Mudarah al-Nas, 6]


Artah Ibn al-Mundhir, may Allah have mercy on him, said:


The believer does not take vengeance for himself. He is prevented from doing so by the Qur’an and Sunnah. He has been restrained.” [See al-Amr bil-Maʻruf lil-Khallal]


Enjoining good should always been done with a sincere intention for the sake of Allah, not as a pretext to vent personal grudges or any other egotistically driven motive. Sometimes one who enjoins good is motivated by hope of reward or fear of punishment, but an even better motive is good will and mercy towards the believers and the pure love of Allah and love for the sake of Allah.


Imam Ibn Rajab said:


“Know that enjoining good and forbidding evil is at times done out of motivation to seek reward from Allah, at times done for the fear of His punishment for leaving it, at times done for anger for the sake of Allah in violating His sacred limits, at times done with good will for the believers, mercy for them, and hope in their salvation from what might afflict them of the wrath of Allah and His punishment in the world and in the Hereafter, and at times it is done out of motivation to glorify Allah, to honour Him, and to love Him… Whoever considers these last two positions, it will be easy for him every time he endures harm for the sake of Allah Almighty, and perhaps he will even supplicate for the benefit of those who harm him.” [See Jami’ul-Ulum wal-Hikam]


Dear servants of Allah! Islam is based upon sincere good will (Nasihah) towards the believers and human beings in general, which is to desire and intend good for them. Enjoining good always involves giving advice and therefore must be based on this type of sincerity. Believers should love for others what they love for themselves.


Jarir Ibn Abdullah reported that:


“I pledged allegiance to the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) to establish prayer, to give charity, and to be sincere to every Muslim.” [Bukhari]


Ali Ibn Abi Talib, may Allah be pleased with him, said:


“Verily, the believers are people with good will and love for each other, even if their lands and countries are far apart. And the hypocrites are people with malevolence for each other.” [See Tarikh Dimashq]


Even when it comes to non-Muslims and unbelievers, Muslims should be merciful to them and present Islam to them in the best possible manner, as mercy and concern for all beings is at the heart of Allah’s message.


Abdullah Ibn Amr reported that: The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:


“The merciful (people) will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful (Allah). Be merciful to those on the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhi]


In this regard, it should be appreciated that changing evil “with one’s hand” refers to direct action and not brute force or violence, unless defending oneself and others from aggression becomes legal and is necessary as a last resort.


Imam Ahmad, may Allah have mercy on him, said:


“Changing evil with one’s hand does not necessarily mean with a sword or weapons.” [See Jami’ul-Ulum wal-Hikam]


At the same time, Muslims should not be reckless in enjoining good if it might bring excessive harm to oneself and others. This principle is most clearly understood in relation to unjust and tyrannical leaders. If one can safely correct their behaviours and condemn their evil, without inciting a civil war or greater persecution, it is an obligation to do so. But if confronting the leader would likely result in bodily harm to oneself and the society, it is no longer an obligation and may even be prohibited.


Sa’id Ibn Jubair reported that: I asked Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him:


“Shall I enjoin good and forbid evil upon the leader?” Ibn Abbas said: “If you fear he will kill you, then no.” Then, I asked him again and he said: “If you must do so, then do it between you and him privately.” [See al-Amr bil-Maʻruf li-Ibn Abid Dunya]


Imam Ibn Rajab commented on this narration, saying:


“As for rebellion against the leaders with the sword (weapon), then it should be feared that they will cause trials leading to the shedding of blood. Yes, if it is feared that boldness in condemning the leaders will harm his people and his neighbours, it is not appropriate for him to confront them if it involves causing harm to others. Such was said by Al-Fudail Ibn Iyad and others. Along with this, if he fears they will put him to the sword, or whip, or prison, or shackle, or banishment, or seizure of property, and other types of harm like that, then the obligation to enjoin good and forbid evil upon them is dropped. The Imams were explicit about that, among them Malik, Ahmad, Ishaq, and others.” [See Jami’ul-Ulum wal-Hikam]


The issue of confronting tyrannical, unjust and merciless leaders best illustrates the need to wisely consider the harms and benefits of direct action or speech. There are plenty of examples in Islamic history, and human history in general, when zealous revolutionaries incited a civil war in their countries or states and made a very bad situation even worse than it had been before.


Imam Hasan al-Basri, may Allah have mercy on him, said:


“If people had patience when they are afflicted with trials and injustices from their leader, it would not be long before Allah gives them a way out. Yet they rush to their swords (weapons), so they are left to their swords (weapons). By Allah, not even for a single day did they bring any good.” [See al-Tabaqat al-Kubrah]


This is not to say that confronting unjust authorities should never be done. On the contrary, it is among the best acts of jihad to speak truth to a tyrant and it is an obligation for those who can reasonably do so. That said, the position of most scholars is that political violence almost always leads to greater evil than the original tyrant. The priority should be the pragmatic safety and well-being of the society or nation, not an abstract commitment to a ruling ideology or Utopian society.


Respected brothers and sisters! Enjoining good and forbidding evil is a trial, so it should not be rushed into without the prerequisite faith (Iman), knowledge, and character. A believer ends up harming themselves or others when they confront a trial without being prepared to endure it or manage its fallout.


Hudhaifah reported that: The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:


“It is not befitting for a believer to humiliate himself.” They said, “How does he humiliate himself?” The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: “He confronts a trial he cannot endure.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhi]


Imam Ibn Rajab commented on this Hadith, saying:


“Indeed, it only indicates that if one knows he cannot endure the harm and be patient with it, then in that case one who would enjoin good should not confront it. This is the truth.” [See Jami’ul Ulum wal-Hikam]


Great servants of Allah! Lastly, it is a fact that we will sometimes be confronted with evil that we have no power to change at all, whether it is because we as individuals are in a weak position, or the society as a whole is failing in the collective obligation to forbid evil, or the supporters of evil are too numerous to counter. In such a case, the least we can do, and perhaps the only thing we can do, is to hate the evil we see in our hearts.


Ummu Salamah reported that: The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) said:


“There will be leaders from whom you will see both goodness and corruption. One who recognises their evil and hates it will maintain his innocence, but one who is pleased with it and follows them will be sinful.” It was said, “Shall we not fight them?” The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said: “No, as long as they pray.” [Muslim]


Ibn Mas’ud, may Allah be pleased with him, said:


“Soon one of you who lives long enough will see evil he cannot change, yet Allah knows that he hates it in his heart.” [See al-Amr bil-Maʻruf li-Ibn Abi Dunya]


In sum, enjoining good and forbidding evil should only be done by those who can do so with a sincere intention, knowledge, gentleness, patience, and forbearance. It is only an obligation upon Muslims in so far as they are able to properly effect change, although true believers must always hate evil in their heart. Enjoining good involves the careful consideration of priorities, benefits, and harms, with the objective being to protect the Muslim society’s physical, mental, and spiritual well-being in this life and in the Hereafter.


And all praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true followers.


Murtadha Muhammad Gusau is the Chief Imam of: Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah Mosque; and Late Alhaji Abdur-Rahman Okene Mosque, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: [email protected]; or +2348038289761.


This Friday sermon (Jumu’ah Khutbah) was prepared for delivery today Friday, 27 Sha’aban, 1445 AH (March 08, 2024).

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