Question: According to the teachings of Islam, changing evil is an Islamic duty that can be done on three levels — changing something, speaking out against it, or detesting it. Nowadays there is much talk about political evil. Are today's common evils (munkarat ) in the political scene included in the types of evils that should be changed? Or is changing evil confined to what is referred to in Shari`ah as unlawful, such as adultery and alcohol? If the duty of changing evil extends also to politics, what is the stance of Islam towards the one who keeps silent regarding political corruption?
Answer: Thanks for your question, and we earnestly implore Allah to guide us all to the best ways by which we can lead our lives according to the teachings of Islam.
Indeed, the evil (Arabic fasad) that Muslims should change, according to their capability as stated in a Prophetic hadith, includes all kinds of vile acts and abominable things that take place in society. Islam urges Muslims to try their best to change evil within the limits clarified by the Shari`ah. In addition, the Qur'an and the Sunnah contain clear texts that severely criticize the one who remains silent to the evil and vile acts committed.
Responding to the question, the eminent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi states the following:
The texts in the Qur'an and the Sunnah that severely condemn remaining silent to evil acts committed in the society deeply affect anyone who has an atom's weigh of faith in his or her heart. This condemnation holds whether the one committing evil is a ruler or one of the ruled. Allah Almighty says: [Those of the children of Israel who went astray were cursed by the tongue of David, and of Jesus, son of Mary. That was because they rebelled and used to transgress. They restrained not one another from the wickedness they did. Verily evil was that they used to do!] (Al-Ma'idah 5:78-79).
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is also reported to have said, "He who amongst you sees an evil should change it with the help of his hand; and if he has no strength enough to do it, then he should do it with his tongue, and if he has not strength enough to do it, (even) then he should do it with his heart, and that is the least (sign) of faith" (Muslim).
In this regard it is a mistake to think that evil is confined to the unlawful acts such as adultery and drinking alcohol.
A ruler's humiliating his subjects is an evil; forging elections is another evil; and refraining from voting is also an evil because it passively leads to giving authority to people unworthy of bearing public responsibility. Evil also encompasses misappropriating public funds; monopolizing goods that people need; detaining people without legal evidence; torturing detainees in prisons; giving or taking bribes, and mediating between givers and takers of bribes; adulating rulers; taking Allah's enemies and the enemies of the Muslim Ummah as friends, etc. Hence, we find that the meaning of evil includes many things that people regard as sheer political affairs.
It does not befit true Muslims who sincerely seek to please Almighty Allah to stand inactive before such vile acts on the pretext that they fear to take serious steps towards reform, or that they want to be on the safe side anyway.
Should this negative spirit spread in the Muslim Ummah, it would no longer be able to undertake the responsibility towards guiding the world, and it would then become a nation other than the one Almighty Allah describes by saying [Ye are the best community that hath been raised up for mankind. Ye enjoin right conduct and forbid indecency; and ye believe in Allah] (Aal `Imran 3:110).
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also warned the Muslims against adopting negative (apathetic) attitudes of this kind as he (peace and blessing be upon him) is reported to have said, "Should it occur that the people of my Ummah have such extreme fear that they become unable to say to the unjust people 'You are wrong,' they would no longer be worthy of life" (Ahmad).
Dictates of faith require Muslims not to stand helpless in the face of evil, whatever be its kind — political, economic, intellectual, social, etc. Rather Muslims should exert their utmost efforts (while making use of all possible legal channels) to change evil. If they cannot do actual things to change it, they are to try this by expressing their refusal openly; and if still they cannot do this, they are to resort to the least attempt of reform, that is, to abhor it in their hearts, which is considered as "the least (sign) of faith" according to the Prophet's hadith referred to above.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) considered abhorring evil from one's heart as a kind of changing it, as it is a psychological and intellectual mobilization on the way of refusing it. Therefore, it is not a total submission to and acceptance of the evil as some people may think. Had it been so, it would not have been referred to in the hadith as a kind of changing evil.
Constant abhorrence of evil will certainly result someday in something positive in the way of resistance; it may be then in the form of revolution and utter change of affairs.
There is another hadith of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that referred to changing the evil with one's heart as a kind of jihad, though also considered here as the lowest rank of jihad. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said, "There was no prophet sent by Almighty Allah to a community before me but he would find supporters and companions who would follow in his footsteps and abide by his teachings. Then there came (after them) generations that would say (that is, preach) what they would not act upon and do what they had not been given instructions to do. He who can perform jihad against (resist) those people with the help of his hands is a believer; he who can do this with his tongue is also a believer; and he who can do this (even) with his heart is a believer too. There is no atom of faith beyond this (that is, seeking resistance with any of these means)" (Muslim).
However, individual efforts may fail to resist evil, especially if it has prevailed in such a monstrous way that it is practiced by the very people who are supposed to fight against it. I mean here the rulers and people in authority. If the case is so, combining efforts to resist evil by all possible and lawful means becomes a religious duty upon the political parties and organizations that seek reform. It is a kind of seeking cooperation on that which is good and righteous for the good of people.
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