The Humble I

Knowing, Doing, Becoming

Golden Rule for Muslim Activists

activistsThis is a companion-piece to the post, Basic Rules for Religious Activism which may be read here.

In Islam, change isn’t sought for itself, but rather to improve an existing situation. If change does not lead to a greater good, or if it brings about a greater harm, then to bring about such change would be forbidden by Islam. The rule concerning changing the evil is that: la yu’addi ila munkar akbara minhu – ‘It must not give rise to a worse evil.’ If social or political activism is likely to result in a greater evil, or to the loss of a greater good, then what is the point of seeking change?

The hadith master, Hanbali jurist and master of the inward life, Imam Ibn al-Qayyim (d.751/1350CE), penned these words on the subject:

‘Forbidding munkar (“wrong”, “evil”, “sin”) has four levels: Firstly, it will be eliminated to be replaced by good. Secondly, it will be reduced, but not fully eradicated. Thirdly, it will be [removed but] replaced by an equivalent evil. Fourthly, it will be [removed but] replaced by a worse evil.

The first two levels are [areas where forbidding evil is] legislated; the third is an area for juristic reasoning (ijtihad); the fourth, however, is prohibitted.

Thus, if you see sinful and immoral people playing chess, for instance, then rebuking them would be a case of poor understanding and insight – unless you can turn them to pastimes that are pleasing to God and His Messenger, such as archery or horseback riding, or the like. If you see immoral people gathered for [sinful] amusements, or for listening to music – if you can coax them away from such acts to acts of obedience to God, then do so: otherwise it is best to let them be than to push them into acts which could be worse. Likewise, if you see a person preoccupied with indecent literature, or its like, and you fear deterring him from it will cause him to turn to books of religious innovation, deviation or magic, you should leave him – for the first types of books are less harmful. This is indeed a vast subject.

I heard Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah say: “During the time of the Mongols, I and a companion of mine passed by some Mongols who were drinking wine. He censured them, so I rebuked him, explaining: God has indeed forbidden wine, as it diverts from God’s remembrance and prayer. As for these people, wine diverts them from murder, enslaving people and pillaging. So let them be!”‘1

1. I‘lam al-Muwaqqi‘in (Saudi Arabia: Dar Ibn al-Jawzi, 2002), 4:339-40.

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7 thoughts on “Golden Rule for Muslim Activists

  1. Salam alaikum Abu Aliyah, you refer to Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya alot, how does his works compare or differ to imam al ghazali in his body of works.

    Does he have a collection like the Ihya for example.

    I am a curious student…

  2. Comparisons between the body of work of these two scholars is beyond the scope of this reply. The internet may offer some idea, as will reading brief biographies of these two scholars; may Allah have mercy upon them both.

    Islamic Texts Society (ITS) have produced an outstanding translation of Ibn al-Qayyim’s al-Wabil al-Sayyib, under the title: The Invocation of God. A useful biography of him is given there. They have also translated parts of the Ihya, each of which includes a good biography of Imam al-Ghazali.

    Suffice it to say, even though many of Ibn al-Qayyim’s works are very popular and superb; none reaches the popularity (or perhaps even the usefulness) of al-Ghazali’s Ihya – from the point of view of practicality, structure and arrangement; and from the perspective of an educated lay reader. If one compares Ibn al-Qayyim’s magisterial work on spirituality, Madarij al-Salikin, with the Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din, the point should be evident. And God knows best.

    One final point. Our way should be to respect, honour and benefit for all scholars, and to avoid undue bigotry to any single one of them; remembering that infallibility lies with the Prophet, peace be upon him. One should also keep in mind that being familiar with the works of one scholar, more than that of another scholar, is not necessarily bigotry. Wa’Llahu’l-hadi ila sawa al-sabil.

  3. Mashallah thankyou for your beautiful reply, you are indeed right when it comes to the Ihya it is indeed very popular and useful. However as someone who hasnt been exposed to Ibn al Qayyims works. I was curious as to how other scholars works on spirituality compares to the Ihya..

    I’ve been told that the Ihya is unquivical in nature and very appropriate for our age we live in. Al Ghazali explains spirituality that is good for the modern person its very logical. Kashf al-Mahjoob by Imam Hujweri as an example of something which is written for another time.

    Thankyou for your references I will inshallah read them

  4. Assalamalaikum,
    mufti Taqi Usmani once said: Naseehah will never cause fitnah if three conditions are met- The intention should be correct, the circumstances should be proper and the method of correcting should be proper.

    • Mashallah, a beautiful summary. May Allah reward our ‘ulema abundantly, and increase them in nobility, for their conciseness, clarity and wisdom. And many Allah bless you for sharing this wisdom.

  5. “Activism will only succeed when it remembers that history is in good hands”. (Contention – Abdul Hakim Murad)

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