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Before the Boat Drowns

by Muhammad Alshareef

Ashaab As-Sabt - the people of Saturday. They were a townsfolk from Bani Israeel who were tested with the Sabbath, the day when they were to leave their worldly affairs and be devout to Allah. All week long they would go fishing with scant return. But on Saturdays, when they were required to put aside their activities, the fish would come in abundance. A test from Allah!

And ask them (O Muhammad) about the town that was by the sea; when they transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath (i.e. Saturday): when their fish came to them openly on the Sabbath day, and did not come to them on the day they had no Sabbath. Thus We made a trial of them for they used to rebel against Allah's command (disobey Allah) (Al-A’raf 7/163).

A group of the townsfolk transgressed, not satisfied with Allah’s commandments devising a scheme to by-pass the commandment. They would put out their fishing nets on Friday, and then on Sunday they would come and pick the nets up. Now all the Saturday fish would be caught.

The townsfolk divided into 2 groups when they saw the grave evil and sin that was befalling. The first group tried to advise the transgressors and warn them of the horrific consequences of their action – commanding the good and forbidding the evil.

Thinking they had no responsibility for what was taking place, the other group just went about minding their own business, holding that Allah would eventually destroy the sinners.

And when a community among them said, "Why do you preach to a people whom Allâh is about to destroy or to punish with a severe torment?"

Listen carefully to the reply of the first group.

(The preachers) said, "In order to be free from guilt before your Lord (Allâh), and perhaps they may fear Allah" (Al-A’raf 7/164).

So the first group spoke out against the disobedience that was taking place for two reasons: One, so that they would be pardoned before Allah because they tried to hold back the transgressors. And two, so that perhaps the transgressors may hear the reminder and turn back to Allah. It was only this group that survived.

So when they forgot the reminders that had been given to them, We rescued those who forbade evil, but We seized those who did wrong with a severe torment because they used to rebel against Allah's Command (disobey Allah). / So when they exceeded the limits of what they were prohibited, We said to them, "Be you monkeys, despised and rejected" (Al-A’raf 7/165-166).

In one sweeping night, the punishment rained down and they were transfigured into pigs and monkeys.

Dear brothers and sisters, it is the nature of a human being to feel the need to do good or feel the drive to indulge in evil. Even if we were to be alone, deserted and secluded, we would still feel a drive to do good or indulge in evil.

But as for our ummah, it should of our characteristic to only do good. And we should not only do good ourselves, but we must encourage others to do good; we must be the driving force. And we should not only distance ourselves from vice, but we must forbid others from doing it also, we must be the obstacle.

Dear brothers and sisters, if we all had Muslim identification badges, and the badge was valid, the description that would go on the badge would read: This man/woman commands the good and forbids evil, for this is how Allah described us.

You (true believers in Islam) are the best of people ever raised up for mankind. You enjoin al-ma'ruf (good) and forbid al-munkar (evil), and you believe in Allah (A’le-Imran 3/110) .

Good and evil. When it comes to encouraging one or the other, there are two groups of people. The first are those who encourage others to do good and advise them to stop the evil they may be committing. These are the mu’minoon and mu’minaat, the believing men and women, the ones that shall be favored by Allah’s Mercy:

The believers, men and women, are auliya' (helpers, friends, protectors) of one another. They enjoin (on the people) al-ma'ruf (good), and forbid (people) from al-munkar (evil). They perform as-salat (establish prayer), and give the zakah, and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah will have His Mercy on them. Surely Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise (At-Taubah 9/71).

The second group of people are those who encourage others towards evil and stop them whenever they see them doing acts of virtue. These are the munaafiqoon and munaafiqaat, the hypocrite men and women who Allah shall shun.

The hypocrites, men and women, are from one another; they enjoin (on the people) al-munkar (evil) and forbid (people) from al-ma'ruf (good) and they close their hands (from giving alms in Allah’s cause). They have forgotten Allah, so He has forgotten them. Verily, the hypocrites are the fasiqun (rebellious, disobedient to Allah) (At-Taubah 9/67).

The Qur’an tells us that the winners, those that attain success, are those Muslim men and women who command the good and forbid the evil. And Allah teaches us that He cursed nations before us because they lost this characteristic of encouraging good and forbidding evil:

Those among the Children of Israel who disbelieved were cursed by the tongue of Dawud (David) and Eesa (Jesus), son of Maryam (Mary). That was because they disobeyed (Allah and the Messengers) and were ever transgressing beyond bound. / They used not to forbid one another from al-munkar (evil), which they committed. Vile indeed was what they used to do (Al-Ma’idah 5/78 -79).

When a nation fails in their duty to command the good and forbid the evil, their invocations will cease to be accepted. Rasul Allah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said:

“(I swear) by He who holds my soul in His Hands, you shall indeed command the good, and you shall indeed forbid the evil, otherwise Allah shall rain down upon you a punishment. Then you shall attempt to invoke Him and your (invocations) shall be unanswered” (An authentic hadith narrated by Ahmad and At-Tirmidhi).

Our Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam, lived his entire life commanding the good and forbidding evil. Abdullah ibn Salam narrates the scene of when he, sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam, first arrived in Madinah and the very first words he said to the Ansar and Muhaajireen as they gathered to see his noble face sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam:

“When Rasul Allah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam came to Madinah, the people raced to greet him. I went in the crowd to see him and when I saw his face I knew that that face was not the face of a liar. The first thing he said when he spoke was, ‘O people, spread salam, feed the hungry, and pray at night when others are sleeping - you’ll enter Jannah in peace’” (An authentic hadith narrated by Ibn Majah).

Our Prophet sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam would command the good and forbid the evil in all categories of the community. We see him with the young Muslims advising them, as in the following hadith where Umar ibn Abu Salamah said, “I was a young boy under the care of Allah’s Messenger sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam when my hand was jumping here and there in the (food) plate. Allah’s Messenger sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said to me, ‘O young boy, say bismillah (first), eat with (your) right hand, and eat from what is in front of you.’”

Ibn Abu Salamah continued, “After that I always ate in that manner (which I was taught)” (Bukhari and Muslim).

And our Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam would encourage good amongst the Muslim women. As Zaynab, the wife of Abdullaah ibn Mas’ood said, “Allah’s Messenger addressed us, ‘O women! Give charity, if even with your jewelry’” (Bukhari and Muslim).

Even if it came to his own wives, our Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam would forbid. Aisha radi Allahu anha herself narrates that she once said to him, sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam, “Watch out for Safiyyah!” Meaning that she was short.

So Allah’s Messenger sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam said, “You said a word that if it were to be mixed with (all) the water of the sea it would overcome (the water)” (Narrated by Abu Dawood).

Aisha said that after that that she would never have loved to mention someone (in a manner that they would dislike) no matter what anyone would give her.

This is what the deen is all about – encouraging the good and forbidding the evil. This is what the early Muslims pledged allegiance to. Ubaadah ibn As-Saamit radi Allahu anhu said, “We pledged allegiance to Allah’s Messenger sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam to listen and obey in what we like or dislike, and that we would not fight the people of authority, and that we would stand for the truth wherever we may be, fearing not – for the sake of Allah – any criticism of those who would criticize” (Bukhari and Muslim).


The scholar Kirz Al-Haarithee rahimahullaah used to go out unto the doers of evil and warn them of the sin they were doing. They would rain down upon him with their fists until he would fall unconscious in a pool of blood, but he would never pass them without advising them (From Siyar Al ‘Alaam by Imam Adh-Dhahabee).

I remember once when I was teaching in Islamic school a young boy came up and told me what he was going to get for his birthday. I was kind of surprised since birthdays are not something we find in our complete way of life in Islam and they are something we should not participate in. The classmates knew the ruling on birthdays so they started chanting loudly, “No more birthdays! No more birthdays!”

I was very pleased at the class reaction and it brought back memories of myself growing up in a non-Muslim school. In that non-Muslim school there was no one to forbid the evil. Rather, it was the evil that everyone, including the teacher, was encouraging. If you didn’t have a birthday you were the dork in the class, and if you didn’t get invited to this classmate’s party or that one, you weren’t one of the ‘cool’ kids.

May Allah ta’aala show His mercy to those parents who are saving their young Muslim children from such an environment.

Allah’s Messenger sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam gave us a parable that we should never forget in this issue of commanding the good and forbidding the evil. As An-Nu’maan ibn Basheer radi Allahu anhu narrates, the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam said:

“The similitude of the one who is steadfast on the borders of Allah and the one who has fallen over it is that of a people that come upon a boat. Some of them go to the top and the others go to the bottom. Those on the bottom – in order for them to drink – have to disturb those on top. So they say to themselves, ‘Let us make a hole in the bottom of the boat in this portion of ours, so as not to disturb those above.’”

The Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam continued, “If those above leave those below to what they want to do, they will all perish. But if they hold their hands they’ll save the people on the bottom, and all of them will be saved” (Bukhari).

When someone encourages good and forbids evil he should have certain characteristics:

1. Knowledge

2. Patience, as Luqman taught his son.

3. Hikmah – having widom

4. Kindness to those whom they are advising.

5. They should be just, not forgetting the good that that person still has.

The point of commanding good and forbidding evil is not to release some anger in our hearts or to revenge an insult to us. In the end we want the person to receive guidance, something which may require us to swallow our personal pride sometimes. Other times – when the situation calls for it – we may have to hurt someone’s feelings if that is the only way they can be guided. But it is only the person of ‘ilm (knowledge) and hikmah (wisdom) who can properly measure the situation.

Hurting the feelings of the lay Muslim is not a first resort, nor is public humiliation of someone who came to the masjid for the first time. These are methods of those who have not schooled themselves well in the characteristics of those who call to Allah.

In conclusion, there are many ways that one can encourage good and forbid evil, try some of the following:

- With an encouraging speech or lecture

- With a booklet highlighting what needs to be encouraged or a general e-mail

- With an Islamic tape given as a gift

- With an Islamic Magazine or newspaper

- With an e-mail or letter addressed specifically to the person who needs to be encouraged or needs advice in abstaining from sin.

And the list goes on.

About those who encourage good and forbid evil. Allah says:

Let there arise out of you a group of people inviting to all that is good (Islam), enjoining al-ma'ruf (good) and forbidding al-munkar (evil). And it is they who are the successful (A’le-Imran 3/104).

Let’s begin practicing the encouraging of good and the forbidding of evil today. Let’s begin with that Muslim in the mirror.