In the well known Hadeeth recorded by Imaam Muslim narrated by Abu Sa'eed al-Khudri (radiyallaahu anhu) who said, 'I heard the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) saying, "Whosoever of you sees an evil let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart - and that is the weakest of faith."
Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (rahimahullaah ta'aala) commented on this hadeeth in his monumental book Jami' Al-'Ulum Wal-Hikam and wrote the following:
The Significance of this Hadeeth
This hadeeth indicates that the obligation of forbidding evil actions is according to one’s ability. However, all are required to condemn such actions in the heart. If the heart of the believer does not condemn such evil actions, this indicates that faith has left his heart. Abu Juhayfah narrated that Alee bin Abee Talib said, “The first kind of Jihaad over which you will be victorious is to change evil actions with your hands, then with your tongues, then with your hearts, for the one whose heart does not approve of good actions, and disapproves of evil action, will be turned upside down from top to bottom.”
Ibn Mas’ood heard a man saying, “He who does not order that which is good, and does not forbid what is evil, is doomed.” Ibn Mas’ood replied, “He whose heart that does not know the difference between good and evil is doomed.” Ibn Mas’ood pointed out that the heart’s knowledge of good and bad actions is an obligation from which no one is excused. Thus, he who does not know the difference will be destroyed.
Forbidding Evil by The Hands and The Tongue
Condemning with the heart is an obligation upon every Muslim in every situation. Ibn Mas'ood said, "Those who are living are about to witness evil which they cannot change, except that Allaah knows that which their hearts hate." Forbidding evil by the hand and tongue is obligatory according to the person's ability. This was stated in the hadeeth narrated by Abu Bakr (radiyallaahu anhu) that the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said, "There are no people among whom evil is committed that have the ability to change it, and don't, without Allaah soon afflicting them with a punishment that will affect all of them." Abu Dawood narrated this hadeeth in the following words, "Sh'abah said, 'There is no people among whom evil is committed without their being [the rest of them] worse than those who commit [the sins]" And it was narrated on the authority of Abu Sa'eed that the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said in a speech, "The fear of people in positions of power should not cause anyone to abstain from saying what he knows is right." Abu Sa'eed cried and said, "Verily, by Allaah we have seen unlawful things yet we were afraid [abstained from saying what is rightful]." Similarly it was recorded by Imaam Ahmad that the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said, "Speaking the truth or reminding others of Allaah's greatness, neither brings death nearer, nor does it make one's provisions more distant." This Hadeeth indicates that one should not be prevented from speaking the truth because of the position of the other, rather than from fear which excuses one from forbidding evil.
Sa'eed ibn Jubayr said, "I asked Ibn 'Abbas whether or not I should order the sultan to perform good actions and forbid him from committing evil actions. He [Ibn Abbas] answered, 'If you are afraid that he will kill you then do not.' Then, I returned and asked him again. Ibn Abbas gave the same answer. Then, I returned and asked him [once more]. Again he gave the same answer and added, 'If you have no choice but to do so, then it should be done between him and you [secretly]"
Tawoos said, "A man came to ask Ibn Abbas, 'should I not go to this sultan and order him [to perform good actions] and forbid him [from committing evil actions]? Ibn Abbas answered, 'Do not tempt him.' The man asked, 'What if the sultan orders me to disobey Allaah?' Ibn Abbas answered, 'If that is what you mean, then in that case, be a man."
From what follows, it can be understood that fighting is not a condition for changing evil by the hand. This was recorded by Imaam Ahmad based on the narration by Salah, who said, "Changing evil takes place by the hand, not by the sword or any other weapon." This is the Jihaad of the hand that takes place against rulers when an individual removes the evil they commit with his hands. Examples of such are spilling their wine, destroying their musical instruments etc. If he has the ability, he may also nullify, with his hand, the oppression which those rulers wrongfully ordained. All these cases are allowed and are not considered fighting and rebelling against the ruler, which is Haraam. The most which can be feared from ordering good and forbidding evil is that the rulers will kill the one who advises them. However, as for revolting against them with the sword, it is feared that it will lead to divisions which may cause shedding of Muslim blood. If the individual is afraid to speak out against [the rulers'] evil actions because it may cause harm to his relatives or neighbors, then he should not forbid them from committing evil. This is because harm would reach others. This opinion was also adopted by Al-Fudayl ibn Iyaad and others. Also, if the individual fears for his life from punishment by the sword, whip, imprisonment, restriction, exile, or taking his property, etc., then he is not obliged to order good and forbid evil. All the scholars such as the two Imaams, Maalik and Ahmad, as well as Ishaaq and others, adopted this opinion."
The Weakest of Faith
“…And that is the weakest of faith."
This indicates that ordering people to do good and forbidding them from committing evil is one of the branches of faith. It also indicates that he who is able to perform a branch of faith is better than another who left it because he was unable to perform it. This proven by the Prophet’s statement referring to women, “…as for the decrease in her religion it is because she goes days and nights without performing Salah…” This refers to the days of menstruation, which is still considered a decrease in their religion, even though women are not allowed to perform prayer during this time. This demonstrates that one who has the ability to perform an obligation and does it, is better than another who forgoes it due to his inability, even if he is excused and Allaah knows best.
"Whosoever of you sees an evil”
This indicates that one must see evil, before forbidding it. Thus, if an evil action is concealed even though the individual knows of it, according to most of the narrations of Imaam Ahmad, the individual should not oppose the evil action, and neither should he pursue his suspicions. In another narration attributed to him, Imaam Ahmad said that one should disclose that which is veiled if he is certain of it. For example, if he heard the sound of singing and musical instruments and knew the location, he should prohibit it because the evil action has already take place. In this case it would be as if he actually had seen the evil action. Imaam Ahmad adopted this opinion. He added that if the place where the evil action was committed is not known, then the individual is not obliged to do anything.
As for peeking through cracks in the walls of those who are known to have gathered to commit evil, scholars such as Sufyaan ath-Thawree and others, did not allow this. Such a case is considered spying which has been forbidden. When Ibn Mas’ood was told that there were drops of wine on the beard of a man he said, “Allaah has forbidden us from spying.” The Judge Abu Ya’ala said in the book Al-Akham al-Sultanyiyyah, “If an individual has been informed by someone who can be trusted of the possible committing of an evil of great consequence (such as adultery or murder), then he is allowed to spy and search in order to prevent this evil which otherwise would be committed and remain unknown. However, if the case is of less consequence, then spying and disclosing what is veiled is forbidden. The kind of evil which must be forbidden is that which all scholars have agreed is evil. However, some of our colleagues have stated that one should not forbid an action which is disputed [among the scholars] if committed by one who did it on the basis of his ijtihaad or following the opinion of a scholar who has permitted it.
Why Should One Order Good and Forbid Evil?
It should be known that ordering what is good and forbidding what is evil is sometimes done hoping for reward, or out of fear of ignoring it, or sometimes due to anger for the sake of Allaah because of the violation of His prohibitions. It may also act as an admonition to the Believers, mercy upon them, and hoping to save them from Allaah’s punishment to which they expose themselves in this life and in the Hereafter. It also takes place for the sake of glorification and love of Allaah, and that he is the One who deserves to be obeyed, remembered and not forgotten, and thanked and not be unthanked. The Muslim pays with his life and wealth to avoid violating His forbidden orders. Just as some of the pious predecessors said, “I wish that all the people obeyed Allaah even if it [necessitated] my flesh being torn from my body with scissors.” Abdul Maalik bin Umar bin Abd Al-‘Aziz used to tell his father, “I wish that our flesh was boiled in pots for the sake of Allaah.”
Thus, whatever harm is faced by whoever has reached the lat two stages [that he is ready to give his life and wealth to avoid violating what He has made unlawful, and realizing that He is the One who deserves to be obeyed, remembered and thanked] will be easy for him to bear. He might even make supplication for the one who harmed him, just as the Prophet (sallallaahu alayhi wa sallam) did when his people beat him. As he wiped the blood from his face he said, “O My Lord, forgive them, for they don’t know.” And in all situations one must be gentle in forbidding evil.
Conditions for Forbidding Evil
Sufyaan ath-Thawree said, “No one should order what is good or forbid what is evil except the one in whom exists three characteristics; He must be gentle in what he orders and in what he forbids, fair in what he orders and what he forbids, and knowledgeable in what he orders and what he forbids. Similarly it was said by Imaam Ahmad, “People need to be addressed indirectly with gentleness when being ordered to perform what is good. One should not address them with harshness, except the man who is cursed due to his immorality, in which case he is not exempt from such harshness. He continued, “When the followers of Ibn Mas’ood passed by some people who were committing what they hated to see [evil deeds], they used to say, “Slow down! May Allaah bestow His Mercy upon you, Slow down! May Allaah bestow His Mercy upon you.” Ahmad said, “He should order the people with kindness and humility. If they let him hear what he hates, he should not be angered and should not desires revenge for his own sake. Allaah is the Best Knowledgeable.”