كُنْتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ
Kunntum khayra ummatin ukhrijat linnāsi ta’murūna bilma‘rūfi wa tanhawna ‘anil-munkari wa tu’minūn
You are the best nation (ever) brought up for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah
(Sūrat Āl-‘Imrān, No. 3, Āyat 110)
In the verse mentioned above, Allah ‘azza wajall describes the Muslim nation as the best nation ever to be produced for the benefit of mankind. What gives Muslims this honor is the fact that they ‘enjoin what is right’ and ‘forbid what is wrong’, and when coupled with their faith in Allah subhānahu wata‘ālā, it makes them the best of nations ever to be produced.
Amr bil-Ma‘rūf – enjoining what is right and Nahī ‘anil-Munkar – forbidding what is wrong, are two of the most important obligations that have been prescribed to us by Allah. Unlike our other obligations such as prayers, fasting, pilgrimage and the alms that one must give, all of which are personal and private, these two obligations are for the benefit of society and display a concern that Allah (swt) expects believers to have for others.
According to Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shīrāzī in Tafsīr al-Amthal, the fact that these two obligations have been mentioned in this verse before faith in Allah shows their importance in securing and solidifying not only one’s own faith, but also the faith of the Muslim Ummah. It is as though Allah is describing these two obligations as the base from which all other obligations can be fulfilled. This point is echoed in the following tradition reported by Imam al-Bāqir ‘alayhis-salām: Verily the enjoinment of good and the prohibition of wrong is the path of the prophets, the way of the righteous, a great obligation on which all other obligations are founded and on which ideologies are secured, by which earnings are made lawful, by which iniquities are redressed, through which the earth flourishes, justice is sought from enemies and [Allah’s] command is kept upright. [al-Kāfī, v 5, p 56, h 1]
Āyatullāh Sayyid Ali al-Husaynī al-Sistānī (may Allah protect him) gives the following conditions that must be fulfilled in order for these two obligations to be carried out:
- One must have knowledge of what is good and what is evil, albeit in a general sense.
- One must deem it probable that it will have an effect on the wrongdoer.
- The wrongdoer must intend to continue doing the improper and wrong actions.
- The wrongdoer must not be legally excused in his improper and wrong actions, i.e., he must not believe that what he did was correct Islamically.
- The person enjoining good and forbidding evil must not be in danger of significant harm being inflicted to his person, reputation, or wealth.
The Muslim Ummah is only the best nation if it continues carrying out these two obligations. If it stops enjoining what is right or forbidding what is wrong, it loses this honor. It is from this lens that we understand the stance of Imam al-Husayn ‘alayhis-salām in Karbala. The Ummah was indifferent to the evil that was being carried out by those who had usurped authority. Imam realized his duty to stand in defense of Islam so that these two obligations could be carried out. He said in a letter to his brother Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya: I do not rise due to stubbornness or rebelliousness, nor to cause mischief or oppression; indeed, I rise to seek the salvation and reformation of the nation of my grandfather, Muhammad (s). I wish to enjoin goodness, and forbid evil, and in this, I follow the tradition of my grandfather, Muhammad (s), and the tradition of my father, Ali ibn Abū Ṭālib ‘alayhis-salām (al-Futūh, v. 5, p. 21).
As believers, we have a responsibility to ensure that we fulfill these two commands. We will thus keep the message of Imam al-Husayn (a) alive and ensure that we remain the best of nations brought forth by Allah (swt).
Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shīrāzī, Al-Amthal fī Tafsīr Kitāb Allah al- Munzal, https://www.sistani.org/english/book/48/2278/