Enjoining the right (Amr bi-l-maʿruf) and forbidding the wrong (Nahy ʿani-l-munkar) are among the practical principles of Islam which are literally defined as “encouraging and inviting people to virtuous acts and good deeds” and “preventing or discouraging them from committing what is wrong and evil”.
Technically, it is the act of guiding other believers to the right path on the one hand and dissuading them from involving in immoral and sinful acts, on the other. Performing these two vital practices will ultimately result in the persistence of the spirit of goodness and righteousness in the society and getting as far as possible from everything that is wrong and harmful.
You are allowed to do Amr bi-l-maʿruf and Nahy ʿani-l-munkar where the possibility of a positive effect and desired result exists. So, the performer of this deed should be almost certain of its outcome, since he is, in fact, investing his time, energy, money and other resources in order to perform this holy task.
This investment will be in vain if it does not result in the desired outcome or bring forth the opposite of what was intended, which is not accepted in the Islamic belief at all.
If this holy deed were to result in more danger or a greater sin, having more of a negative effect than positive, the whole idea behind Amr bi-l-maʿruf and Nahy ʿani-l-munkar would be undermined. Islam has made this deed obligatory for the benefit of society as well as individuals, so the possibility of bringing more harm than good will remove this responsibility.
Someone who has abandoned a good deed or has committed a sin but does not feel ashamed of his demeanor or regret it, is not a very suitable candidate for being subject to Amr bi-l-maʿruf and Nahy ʿani-l-munkar, for the effort will not be fruitful, and the energy will be wasted. So, you should put your effort into helping someone who is open to change and will listen to your advice.
Not everyone is allowed to perform this task; there are certain characteristics that the person who wants to enjoin the right and forbid the wrong should possess or modify in himself. Some of these include:
One is capable of enjoining people to the right and forbid them from wrong if he/she has sufficient and authentic insight and knowledge in the religion and whose judgments can be trusted. In this case, he is allowed to use his knowledge in order to guide people to the right path.
The person who is willing to invite people to observe a virtuous life and avoid deviating from God’s commands should first and foremost purify his intention. The reason behind the efforts that he makes in this regard should only be the improvement of the society, helping other people and above all the satisfaction of Allah.
Before starting to encourage people to observe their behaviors and try to act based on what Islam says, one should direct his attention to his own self, evaluate his behavior and try to work on his faults and improve himself. There are many hadiths through which the primacy of self-assessment overseeing other people’s flaws has been emphasized: “blessed is the man whose own shortcomings keep him away from (looking into) the shortcomings of others”  or “the one who wants to criticize other people, should start with himself”  or “the biggest flaw is to consider what you do yourself to be wrong for others” .
When people see that this person is concerned with his own actions as much as he is observant of others, they will be more open to accepting his words. Moreover, this person will automatically perform Amr bi-l-maʿruf and Nahy ʿani-l-munkar by his deeds and by becoming the perfect example of a true Muslim.
Can a coward person be the guide for other people on the right path and prevent them from going astray? The answer is obvious. One needs to have spirit and confidence so that other people would rely on him and listen to what he says.
Every responsible Muslim will feel the urge to change the society for the better and to help people step into the path of virtue and righteousness. This tendency to reform and to feel responsible for the society’s destiny should be one of the typical characteristics of a person who wants to commit himself to enjoin the right and forbid the wrong.
Having the sense of aversion and hatred to what is considered wrong in Islam at one extreme, and having faith in whatever is regarded right at the other, is the first step for the person who wants to enter the realm of amr bi-l-maʿruf and nahy ʿani-l-munkar. Of course, the words that come out of heart will be far more effective.
In this stage, the person should invite people to goodness through giving advice, bringing logic and reason patiently with a kind manner, and illustrating the advantages of the good deeds, the divine other-worldly rewards, as well as the severe punishments for their transgression from the right path. In other words, this form of amr bi-l-maʿruf and nahy ʿani-l-munkar is to bring the truth into the light, clarifying what is right and wrong, encouraging people to act upon or avoid it and finally to determine what is considered good and bad through using words and speech.
Inviting to virtue and renouncing immorality could be more effective if it is manifested in one’s actions. In other words, when one acts decently and morally, people will be impressed by his behavior and follow him automatically. Accompanied by kind and polite speech, amr bi-l-maʿruf and nahy ʿani-l-munkar through good manner will definitely have the desirable outcome. Moreover, the person should have the ability to know what kind of action would be more influential in enjoining a certain virtue or forbidding a wrong deed.
One way of performing amr bi-l-maʿruf and nahy ʿani-l-munkar in practice could be through exhibiting cold and unfriendly manner toward the person who is committing a sin, in order to show your disapproval of his wrong deed. Of course, this method is effective only if there is a friendly relationship between them; so the inattentiveness of one will be of significance for the other and will direct his attention to his fault.
In many cases, making someone aware of his wrong behavior or inviting him to righteousness indirectly will have a better impact. This frequently occurred in our Twelve Imams’ (AS) lives. The following account is a brief example of this manner:
“Imam Hassan and Hussein (AS) were both little children when they saw an old man performing Wudu incorrectly. These two eminent and insightful personalities, knowing that they should make the old man aware of his mistake and yet being careful not to hurt his pride which might even worsen the situation, decided to show his mistake indirectly. So they approached him and asked him to help them with their Wudu, deciding which one of them performed it correctly. They both performed their Wudu in its correct form in front of him, and he suddenly realized that his was faulty: ‘you were both correct, but my Wudu was not’” .
The principle of enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong guarantees the performance of other Islamic practices within the society and exhibits Islamic social attitude. This task involves Muslims in a continuous mental revolution, reformation and struggle against corruptions and evil acts. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) illustrated this fact beautifully in an analogy:
“A group of people were traveling by ship. Everyone took their own seat and was watching the ship sailing through the sea when they suddenly found out that one of the passengers was busy piercing the bottom of the ship below his seat claiming that it was his own and he had the right to do anything he wanted with it. So what would have happened if others had not reacted against this selfishness and kept him from causing the ship to sink? Clearly not only he would have ruined his own life, but also all the other passengers in the ship” .
To put it in another way, the principle of Amr bi-l-maʿruf and Nahy ʿani-l-munkar enables you to revolt against the immoralities and corruptions of the society, making people more sensitive to their society’s destiny and future. This way, people will become closer to each other since each person sees himself responsible for the life of the other and will strive for his happiness.
Abandoning this task will have no result other than dominating the cruel people over the good ones and preventing their worship to be accepted by God . As it is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an, the prerequisite of true belief for the people is to be on friendly terms with each other and caring about each other’s life.
This feeling necessitates performing Amr bi-l-maʿruf and Nahy ʿani-l-munkar in the society. On the other hand, this task requires people’s commitment to their duty of worshiping God- prayer (Salat), fasting (Sawm) – and helping the underprivileged- alms-tax (Zakat) - which ultimately results in the submission to Allah and His Prophet (PBUH&HP) and would bring God’s mercy and beneficence to them.
- Nahj al-Balagha, Sermon 17.
- Abdul Wahid Tamimi. 2012. Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim. Tahir Ridha Jaffer. Qum: Ansariyan Publications.
- Nahj al-Balagha, Sermon 353.
- Muhammad Baqir Majlisi. Bihar al-Anwar. Vol. I.p.89.
- Muhammad al-Bukhari. Sahih al-Bukhari.Vol III. p.111.
- Sheikh al-Saduq.al-Amali al-Saduq.p.493.