Commanding and Prohibiting


KNOW that commanding right and prohibiting wrong has certain pillars or requirements:

First Pillar

That the one doing it be Muslim, mukallaf (responsible) and capable.  These four are the condition for the obligation of the act.  A grown child (mumayyiz – usually about the age of 7) may command and prohibit and may be rewarded for his act, but it is not obligatory upon him.


Upright character.  Some scholars considered this a condition and they said, “One of correct character cannot perform hisba.  They cited as evidence Allah’s statement {Do you command the people with righteousness but neglect yourselves?} Al-Baqarah:44.  But, there is no proof for them in that verse.


Permission from the Imam.  Others included a requirement that anyone who engages in al-hisba have an authorization from the Imam or his governor.  They did not allow the general public to engage in it.  This is an incorrect opinion because the verses and the hadith are general and clearly indicate that anyone who saw evil and kept quiet is in disobedience to Allah.  So, limiting this to permission from the Imam is arbitrary and unfounded.  Perhaps what was intended was only stopping evil “with the hand” (by force) which indeed is not something which should be engaged in by the general public.  This would surely lead to chaos as each one has their interpretation of what is munkar.

Most astounding is the statement of the Rawaafidh (the Shi’a or one branch thereof) who went further and said, “It is not lawful to command right and prohibit wrong until the infallible imam is brought forth.”  These people are too lowly even to merit discussion.  Nonetheless, the answer to what they have said is to say to them: when you go to the qadhi seeking your rights coming to your aid is commanding what is right and extracting your rights from the one who oppressed you is prohibiting wrong but according to you, it’s time has not yet come – and you must wait for the infallible imam!


If it is said:  commanding right and prohibiting wrong denotes authority and power of the one commanding over the one being commanded.  That is why it is not established for the kafir over the Muslim even though it is truth.  Thus, it should likewise not exist for the general public of the Muslims except by authorization from the imam.


To this we say:  As for the kafir indeed this is not for him because of what it involves in terms of authority.  As for the Muslim public, they deserve this authority and this position because of their deen and their knowledge of what is  right and wrong.


Five Levels of Action


  1. Informing the transgressor of the sinfulness of their action.
  2. Reprimanding them with good words and evidences and those which soften the heart or instill fear of Allah.
  3. Scolding.  Not cursing and insulting but statements such as , “O foolish one, O incompetent one shouldn’t you fear Allah Most High?”.
  4. Preventing the deed by physical intervention such as smashing musical instruments or spilling intoxicants.
  5. Scaring them by threats of violence or actually inflicting violence upon them until they desist from what they were doing.  This level requires the authorization of the imam.  Otherwise, it would surely result in fitnah (chaos).


The continuous practice of the salaf of directing commanding and prohibiting toward the rulers is a clear proof of their concensus on the fact that permission from the ruler was not required.


What about al-hisba in the case of a child toward his parent, a wife toward her husband or a citizen toward his ruler?


Authority is established and defined in Islam for all of these cases and we have defined five distinct levels of al-hisba.


As for the child and the wife, they must start with 1) informing and 2) reminding with good words and may reach the level of 4) by breaking the instruments or destroying the means of disobedience.


As for the citizens with their ruler, their situation is more restricted than the child.  What is available to them is only 1) informing and 2) reminding.


Another condition for al-hisba is that the individual be CAPABLE.  As for the incapable, no hisba is upon him except for the rejection by the heart.  This applies not only to actual physical inability but also to in a case of fear of a harm coming back upon him – this is the same in meaning as being incapable.


Similarly, the case where he knows that is action will be of no benefit.  In this sense, there are four possible conditions:


  1. His conviction that the evil will be removed by his action and no harm will come back upon him.  In this case, action is obligatory without doubt.
  2. His conviction that the evil will not be removed and he will be harmed by physical abuse or other means.  In this case, the obligation is entirely lifted.
  3. His conviction that the evil will not be removed, but he fears no harm from his action.  In this case, it is not obligatory because of the lack of benefit but is preferred (mustahabb) in order to manifest the signs of this religion, as an act of worship from him and in case he might be wrong and the benefit manifests to his surprise.
  4. His conviction that he will be harmed but that the evil will also be removed.  For example, a wife who destroys her husband’s intoxicants knowing that he will inflict harm on her for doing so.  In this case also, the obligation is removed but it is still a desired good deed based on the statement of the Prophet (sas), “The best jihad is a word of truth in the face of an oppressive authority.”


There is no difference of opinion that it is lawful for a single Muslim to rush the lines of the enemy and fight even if he is certain that he will be killed.  However, if he also knows that his action will have no effect on the strength of the kufaar, such as a blind man throwing himself at them, then it becomes forbidden.  Similarly, if he were to see a corrupt man alone with a glass of alcohol and a weapon in his hand and he knows that if he were to attempt to stop the wrongdoing that he would be killed, it would not be allowed.  That is because it will have no effect in the deen which merits the sacrificing of his life.  Rather, prohibiting evil is preferred for him when he is capable of removing the evil and his action will have benefit like the lone soldier who rushes the lines of the enemy and inflicts harm before his own demise.


If the one commanding or prohibiting knows that harm will result not only to himself but to others among this family or friends, then al-hisba is NOT lawful to him in this case.  This is because he is unable to prevent the evil without bringing about another evil.  What is meant by harm here is blows or killing.  Likewise the taking of property, or the spoiling of one’s reputation in the land.  NOT intended here is shouting, rebuke and insult.  These are no excuse for silence because anyone who commands right and prohibits wrong will USUALLY encounter such responses and should expect them.


Second Pillar

The subject of commanding and prohibiting must be present, in real-time and visible. 


The meaning of it being munkar is that its occurrence is forbidden in the shari’a.  Munkar is more general than ma’siya (disobedience).  Thus, if one sees an underage child drinking wine, it is upon him to spill the wine and prevent him from drinking it.  In this case, there is munkar (the drinking of wine) but no ma’siya (disobedience) since the child has not reached the age of accountability.


The restriction “present and in real-time” is to rule out one who committed a sin in the past and is not currently engaged in it.  There is no context for commanding and prohibiting here.


The restriction “visible” is to rule out one who disobeyed Allah behind closed doors in his home.  It is not lawful to spy on him or pry into his affairs.  Commanding and prohibiting is only in that which becomes apparent outside the home such as sounds or smells which make the disobedience known.


Another condition in prohibiting wrong is that it be known to be wrong without ijtihad or differing opinions on the matter.


Third Pillar


Regarding the one being commanded or prohibited, it is sufficient that they be human and is not necessary that they by mukallaf (responsible) as was previously mentioned regarding preventing the child or the insane from committing munkar.  With regard to non-Muslims, they are not emburdened with the details of the shari’a, and so there is no cause to command and prohibit them except in that which causes harm to the Muslims or to society generally.


Fourth Pillar


Regarding the act itself of commanding and prohibiting, it has levels and etiquettes which must be understood.


First Level:

Knowledge correctly obtained.  It is not allowed to eavesdrop, snoop, gossip or uncover that which is covered in order to know the misdeeds of another.


Second Level:

Informing the individual.  One who is ignorant of something may do it without believing that it is munkar, but upon gaining the knowledge may quit.  It is important to impart this knowledge with kindness and gentleness in case that is the situation of the person in question.  For example, to say to them, “Every human is born without knowledge.  We were all ignorant of the rulings of the shari’a before our scholars taught us.  Perhaps your locality is lacking in people of knowledge and so you were unaware of this…”  By approaching with kindness in this way, you can accomplish the informing of the individual without hurting them.  Whoever seeks to avoid the haraam of silence by replacing it with the haraam of hurting another is like one who sought to cleanse blood with urine.


Third Level:

Prohibiting via advice, preaching and reminding one to fear Allah.  He should use the texts from Qur’an and Sunnah which both impart the knowledge of the wrongdoing and inspire the fear of Allah’s punishment as well as the ways of the salaf.  That must be done with compassion and kindness and without anger or severity.  And here lies a sickness of which we must be extremely careful and that is that the one who knows finds in his informing the other pride in himself and his knowledge and disdain for the other and his ignorance.  This is like one who saves another from the fire but burns himself up.  This is the height of ignorance, a great humiliation and deception by Shaitaan.


There is an easy test here for one to apply to himself.  If for that person to stop committing the sin in question by themselves or on the urging of someone other than yourself, then you should go ahead.  Put another way, if commanding right and forbidding wrong is difficult for you and weighs heavily on your soul and you wish that someone else would do it before you then you should do it because your motivation is for Allah Most High and for His deen.  If it is the opposite – i.e., it is something you DESIRE to do yourself and before someone else does – then it is nothing but following the desires (hawaa) of the self seeking to increase your reputation by commanding and prohibiting others.  In such a case, you should stay FAR away from it and command and prohibit yourself first.


It was said to Daud At-Taa’iy: “What do you say about one who went to these rulers and commanded them with what is right and prohibited them what is wrong?”  He said, “I fear for him from the whip.”  They said, “He is prepared for that.”  He said, “Then I fear for him from the sword.”  They said, “He prepared for that.”  He said, “I fear for him from the hidden disease: pride.”


Fourth Level:

Rebuke and harsh words.  This is only resorted two when there is not result from the previous levels and they are only met with clear signs of determination to continue in sin and mocking the advice given.


Fifth Level:

Physical intervention.  This includes smashing the instruments of disobedience, disposing of intoxicants, expelling one from stolen property, etc.  The damage must never exceed that necessary to prevent the disobedience.


Sixth Level:

Threats of violence.  Here it is not allowed to threaten something which it is not allowed to commit such as saying, “I will steal your house” or “I will capture your wife”, because if he says this with intention he intends haraam and if he says it without intention, he has lied.


Seventh Level:

Actual violence.  Such as striking with hand or foot without showing or using weapons.  This is lawful for individuals ONLY in cases of necessity and only to the degree absolutely necessary.  When the munkar is stopped or prevented, he must also stop and withhold his hand.  Anything beyond that is the realm of the ruler or his appointees, not individuals.


Eighth Level:

If he is unable to accomplish it himself and needs companions to show weapons because the sinner will also seek aid from his companions with weapons, then the only correct course is to do this with the permission of the imam or ruler.  Other than this would lead to chaos and much bloodshed.