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Passing Moral Judgment – An Islamic Paradigm


moral judgment

It is no secret that many of us Muslims are sickened by the inflamed polemics between Muslim preachers and activists, a problem that has become compounded by the here-to-stay phenomenon of social media. We must remember, though, that this is not limited to Muslims, or to religious people in general, for that matter. Any survey of social media will prove that. However, this antipathy to poorly propounded polemics may push us toward the opposite extreme that for decades has been promoted by many intellectual elites and has become the ethos of certain cultural spaces, most notably, academia: to completely refrain from passing judgment. This is an idea based on the contemporary concept of moral relativism, which has been energized by the prevalent post-modernist philosophy.

When we talk about moral relativism and post-modernism, we must remind ourselves to stay fair and not be unthoughtfully reactionary. This philosophical school does have a negative reputation among religious people for obvious reasons. However, it is also to be remembered that there is usually a reason why a particular intellectual argument or trend may gain popularity and widespread acceptance. The main protagonists of post-modernism may have been influenced by the destruction the “enlightened” man brought onto the world in the 19th and the first half of the 20th centuries, which culminated in World War II. Their moral relativism and deconstructionism may have been a scream in the face of human ignorance, arrogance, and conceit. Of course, we recognize how far it has gone, and how radical it has become. Yet, we must not rush to wholly oppose it without understanding its motives and goals.

An entire book could be written on the subject of passing moral judgment, so a comprehensive treatment is beyond the scope of this book. However, it is still related to the subject of al-walâ’ wal-barâ, and very relevant in our age. Therefore, I will try in the following pages to find the golden mean as I address the importance of passing moral judgment and the Islamic etiquettes to guard against excess in this regard, so as to mitigate the untoward side effects, which could be catastrophic.

It Is Inescapable

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At the outset of this defense of passing moral judgment, it is important to point out that whereas, as believers, we are driven by transcendent motives and ends that shape our worldview and entire existence, we must avoid takalluf (exaggerated piety). We must recognize that many issues have no moral imports, and many problems can be solved without moralistic solutions, but with technical or pragmatic ones. Having said that, I focus here on the issues of moral value and those that call for moral stances.

I would dare to say that there is no way to avoid moral judgment. The notion of avoidance being the “right” thing is in itself a moral judgment. There is no way to function in life without passing judgment in general and moral judgment in particular. We do this all the time. We need it to protect ourselves from evil. We look for reviews of products and services, to guide our purchase decisions. That is judging. We warn about pedophiles and other types of criminals. That is moral judgment. We are repulsed by incest and indecent exposure. If a woman hears that a man frequents a brothel, she will likely be reluctant to marry him. Judges and jurors pass judgment all the time. If those laws being enforced are not based on any moral foundation, they are then simply a manifestation of tyranny, whether majoritarian or otherwise.

Passing moral judgment is usually spontaneous, and is not only a result of societal influence, but it is hard-wired in our consciousness. We develop that as children. Jean Piaget astutely observed the morality involved in children respecting the rules of the game of marbles and how it evolves from submission to authority (morality of duty) to the consecration of reciprocity (morality of goodness).1Jean Piaget, The Moral Judgment of the Child, trans. Marjorie Gabain, 5th impr. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968), 103. He remarked,

“The little boys who are beginning to play are gradually trained by the older ones in respect for the law; and in any case they aspire from their hearts to the virtue, supremely characteristic of human dignity, which consists in making a correct use of the customary practices of a game. As to the older ones, it is in their power to alter the rules. If this is not morality, then where does morality begin?”2Piaget, Moral Judgment of the Child, 2

He pointed out how the rules of the game are transmitted through generations of children, and that in play institutions, “adult intervention is at any rate reduced to the minimum.”3Piaget, Moral Judgment of the Child, 2. This prompted him to declare, “We are therefore in the presence here of realities which, if not amongst the most elementary, should be classed nevertheless amongst the most spontaneous and the most instructive.” 4Piaget, Moral Judgment of the Child, 2.

On the spontaneity feature, psychologists of different schools concur. Greene and Haidt write, “This emphasis on quick, automatic affective reactions is supported by recent findings in social psychology, such as: (1) that people evaluate others and apply morally laden stereotypes automatically…”5Joshua Greene and Jonathan Haidt, “How (and Where) Does Moral Judgment Work?,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 6, no. 12 (2002): 517,

Such development of morality happened to follow a certain sequence among humans, and while the specific content of moral judgment may vary among cultures, the universality of their basic structures is what the scientific data have been pointing to for over 50 years.6Mordecai Nisan and Lawrence Kohlberg, “Universality and Variation in Moral Judgment: A Longitudinal and Cross-Sectional Study in Turkey,” Child Development 53, no. 4 (1982): 865,, 865. Studies have also shown that the stages of moral development in humans proceed in an invariant order. Nisan and Kohlberg cite evidence for this claim in a wide range of studies conducted in the field and in the laboratory over decades in the United States. With regard to the universality of this phenomenon, Nisan and Kohlberg reported findings from research conducted across the globe, including in the Bahamas, Honduras, Kenya, India, and New Zealand.7Nisan and Kohlberg, “Universality and Variation in Moral Judgment,” 865.

While I am mainly quoting cognitive moral theorists here, the point I am trying to make is not dependent on that proposition versus the affective moral theory proposition. The affective component goes further to support the proposition that moral judgment is built into our original disposition (fiṭrah). Addressing recent trends in moral psychology, Greene and Haidt note,

Historically, psychologists have disagreed about whether moral judgments are primarily products of emotional and non-rational processes (such as Freudian internalization or behaviorist reinforcement) or of reasoning and ‘higher’ cognition (as in Piaget’s and Kohlberg’s post-conventional reasoning). Recently, however, findings from several areas of cognitive neuroscience have begun to converge on an answer: emotions and reasoning both matter, but automatic emotional processes tend to dominate.8Greene and Haidt, “How (and Where) Does Moral Judgment Work?,” 517.

The point here is that we are programmed to possess and issue moral judgment. Of course, atheist psychologists will explain this as an evolutionary development. To us as theists, this universal moral objectivity points to the oneness of its source, exalted is He. Moreover, the fact that our fiṭrah could be altered by external influences, such as the surrounding environment, does not negate its initial existence and the prospect of its rehabilitation.

In addition to the human intuition and scientific data congruent with the above propositions, we believers, recognize that there is no faith without moral judgment. To believe in God is to reject unbelief, and to believe in one God is to disbelieve in polytheism. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,



“There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course has become clear from the wrong. So whoever disbelieves in Taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.” [Surah Al-Baqarah 2:256]

Notice how He (exalted is He) started by mentioning disbelief in âghoot (false deities). Islam is a monotheistic religion, not pantheistic, nor is it a monistic one except in the sense of the oneness of the source of existence, the necessary being, and ultimate Reality (exalted is He). The scriptural emphasis on God’s oneness and His eternity (and necessity) in contrast with our transience (and contingency) is balanced with the insistence on the reality of creation, the multiplicity of this existence, and the existence of evil (a natural outcome of our freedom of choice). There exist, no doubt, good and evil; truth and falsehood; light and darkness; and there is human agency, which is sufficient to render human accountability just. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,


“And say, ‘The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills – let him believe; and whoever wills – let him disbelieve.’ Indeed, We have prepared for the wrongdoers a fire whose walls will surround them. And if they call for relief, they will be relieved with water like murky oil, which scalds [their] faces. Wretched is the drink, and evil is the resting place.” [Surah Al-Kahf 18:29]

A society will not prosper if it does not ordain good and forbid evil. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,


“And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful.” [Surah Âl ‘Imrân 3:104]

How do you do that if you were not equipped with the faculties that enable you to tell them apart?

And if a society decides to shun this obligation, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) told us that it will be doomed. He said,

وَالَّذِي نَفْسِي بِيَدِهِ لَتَأْمُرُنَّ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَلَتَنْهَوُنَّ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ أَوْ لَيُوشِكَنَّ اللَّهُ أَنْ يَبْعَثَ عَلَيْكُمْ عِقَابًا مِنْهُ ثُمَّ تَدْعُونَهُ فَلاَ يُسْتَجَابُ لَكُمْ.‏”‏”

“By the One in Whose Hand is my soul! Either you command good and forbid evil, or Allah will soon send upon you a punishment from Him, then you will call upon Him, but He will not respond to you.”9al-Tirmidhi from Hudhayfah ibn al-Yamân; al-Tirmidhi classed it sound (ḥasan).

The emphasis on this concept in our religion is simply because it is true and vital. It is in conformity with common sense, so it is recognized by the most intelligent of all nations. For example, Leonardo da Vinci wrote, “He who does not punish evil, commands it to be done.”10Leonardo da Vinci, “Philosophical Maxims, Morals, Polemics and Speculations,” in The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci, ed. Jean Paul Richter, trans. R. C. Bell and Edward John Poynter (London: n.p., 1883), Chapter XIX, 1191, Project Gutenberg,

What Is Evil?

While humanity will forever be in need of the Ever-Living God, our consciousness of Him seems to have greatly suffered as a consequence of our conceit and childish excitement about our scientific achievements and Newtonian explanations of “natural” phenomena. Whatever Nietzsche meant by his most ugly statement, “God is dead,” the reality of our world today is that humans have largely removed Him from the center of their thought; and the human’s worldview is no longer theocentric, but anthropocentric, or let us be honest and say, egocentric. Because of that, intellectuals have been trying to find another anchorage for morality away from the Divine Lawgiver. Whether it is categorical or utilitarian, neither invokes Him. But if you remove God and the Hereafter from the equation, as Elizabeth Anscombe cleverly pointed out, any “oughtness” ethics become incoherent.11Barbara Herman, “The Practice of Moral Judgment,” The Journal of Philosophy 82, no. 8 (1985): 414-436,, 414-415. And while it is suggested that she was trying to lead us away from the dichotomy of deontological and consequentialist ethics to virtue ethics instead, that is doubtful. If it is about virtue alone, who defines it, and what would motivate people to pursue it?

There are countless critiques of the categorical imperatives of Kant. Despite his genius, his ethical theory is too stiff. According to its critics, it ignores the enormous granularity of the different moral dilemmas and the “texture and detail which give actions their moral significance to agents.”12Herman, “The Practice of Moral Judgment,” 414-415. Even when Barbara Herman tried to revitalize Kantian ethics and answer the objections of its critics, she had to rely on structures extraneous to the categorical imperative procedure, such as conscience and prior moral education, and she admitted that “the CI [Categorical Imperative] cannot be an effective practical principle of judgment unless agents have some moral understanding of their actions before they use the CI procedure.”13Herman, “The Practice of Moral Judgment,” 418.

If pain and pleasure, as we are told by utilitarian ethics, are the only basis for morality, we still have not solved the problem. How do we practically and accurately balance between intensity and extent, or intensity and probability? How do you ensure you are not being blindsided or short-sighted? Hasn’t this so often been the case for human beings? What are the long-term consequences of extramarital relations? Has any community, past or present, been able to tame the beast of alcohol and mitigate its harms? What dollar value will you put on one human life in your calculations of competing interests? More importantly, what would make someone favor the greatest good for the greatest number over their own personal good?

While I sympathize with Mill’s utilitarianism and consider it more coherent than Kant’s imperatives, I am certain that it needs to be mindful of its limitations, respectful of human intuition (the basis for deontological morality), and most importantly, it must work as an instrument within a guiding and teleologically transcendent framework; one that can only come to humanity from without and that has the authority to deter our indiscretion and the power to energize our resolution. Of course, no religion is a substitute for human intellect or wisdom. But the latter alone is bound, without any anchorage, to drift away and transgress – if history is any indication of the future.14Also, the data have consistently shown the superior moral edge of people of faith. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt, an atheist himself, remarks, “religious believers in the United States and in Europe are happier, healthier, longer lived, and more generous to charity and to each other than are secular people.” See Michael D. Magee, “Jonathan Haidt and the New Atheists: Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion,”, July 5, 2015,, 16.

In Islam, morality combines the deontological and teleological components with virtue ethics, but all of this is rooted in the Divine grace and authority and in human accountability before the All-Good, God.15You may find these discussions scattered throughout the books of spirituality, ethics, and law, mainly under the disciplines of maqâṣid (higher objectives), qawâ‘id (legal maxims), and fiqh, such as the topic of compulsion. Evil was said to be a privation of good, according to the Platonic (or neo-Platonic) tradition, and some of our scholars may have sympathized with this. Whatever it may be ontologically, it is real. Actions, according to Atharis and Maturidis, have intrinsic qualities deeming them good (ḥasan: beautiful) or evil (qabeeḥ: ugly). However, counter to the Mu‘tazilah, Ahl al-Sunnah agree that accountability is dependent on receiving a Divine communication. The Revelation simply informs us of the reality and the genuine moral value of those actions, although the mere prohibition of anything via Revelation also renders it evil, whether or not that which is prohibited has inherent moral value.16Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmoo‘ al-fatâwâ, 8:432-436.17 والنوع الثالث: أن يأمر الشارع بشيء ليمتحن العبد هل يطيعه أم يعصيه ولا يكون المراد فعل المأمور به كما أمر إبراهيم بذبح ابنه فلما أسلما وتله للجبين حصل المقصود ففداه بالذبح وكذلك {حديث أبرص وأقرع وأعمى لما بعث الله إليهم من سألهم الصدقة فلما أجاب الأعمى قال الملك: أمسك عليك مالك فإنما ابتليتم؛ فرضي عنك وسخط على صاحبيك} . فالحكمة منشؤها من نفس الأمر لا من نفس المأمور به وهذا النوع والذي قبله لم يفهمه المعتزلة؛ وزعمت أن الحسن والقبح لا يكون إلا لما هو متصف بذلك بدون أمر الشارع والأشعرية ادعوا: أن جميع الشريعة من قسم الامتحان وأن الأفعال ليست لها صفة لا قبل الشرع ولا بالشرع؛ وأما الحكماء والجمهور فأثبتوا الأقسام الثلاثة وهو الصواب The Sharia also ranked for us the degrees of good and evil, to allow us to resolve conflicts of competing interests, although human wisdom will always be needed in order to do that successfully.

In Islam, evil is not only that which causes immediate or easily foreseen pain. There are many evils whose harm may not be seen in the short term. Additionally, the rights of God are not trivialized, and their violation is the greatest evil and a precursor of all other evils.18Even when we prioritize the rights of people, we do that to observe His right to legislate for us, for it is He who told us that He is Self-Sufficient and Most Generous. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

“‏”‏أَكْبَرُ الْكَبَائِرِ الإِشْرَاكُ بِاللَّهِ وَقَتْلُ النَّفْسِ، وَعُقُوقُ الْوَالِدَيْنِ، وَقَوْلُ الزُّور

“The biggest of al-kabâ’ir (the great sins) are to join others as partners in worship with Allah, to murder a human being, to be undutiful to one’s parents, and to make a false statement [or to bear false witness].”19Agreed upon. Reported by Anas ibn Mâlik.

Notice the seamless harmony between the moral evils. The tolerance we are commanded to exhibit toward people of other faiths never means that polytheism does not exist or that we should not condemn it. Also, no amount of acrobatic hermeneutics can remove the negative meanings of the word zinâ (fornication or adultery) or explain these verses in any way other than the obvious:

“And [We had sent] Lot when he said to his people, “Do you commit such immorality as no one has preceded you with from among the worlds? Indeed, you approach men with desire, instead of women. Rather, you are a transgressing people.” [Surat Al-‘A`rāf 7:80]

Your good treatment of your coworker who happened to be involved in these sins or others should never mean your acceptance of them, nor should that be a requirement of civility. If I am confident that God declared something a sin, then it is, whether or not I comprehend all of its negative consequences on the person or society. Thankfully, all His non-ritual ordainments are comprehensible.

What Are We Judging?

It is important before we talk about the etiquettes of judgment to understand the limitations of our judgment, particularly when we judge human behavior. What we are judging is the action and the actor in so far as they embody this act. We do not know their full story. After all, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) told us of a worshipper who went to hell for locking up a cat and starving it to death, and of a prostitute who was forgiven for all her sins because she gave water to a thirsty dog. The ultimate judgment belongs to God alone. There are two major limitations in our judgments that we must be thoroughly aware of. The first is that we judge the exterior behavior only. The second is that our judgment is extremely temporal. We are unable to speculate, not only about our and others’ final abode, but about our state and theirs at the end of the day. Imam al-Ṭaḥâwi says, in his widely accepted creed,

We do not declare any of them to be in Paradise or Hellfire. We do not allege their unbelief, idolatry, or hypocrisy, as long as they have not openly demonstrated anything of that. We leave their inner realities to Allah Almighty.20Aḥmad ibn Muḥammad al-Ṭaḥâwi, Matn al-Ṭaḥâwiyyah, ed. Muhammad ibn Nâṣir al-Albâni (Beirut: al-Maktab al-Islami, 1414 AH), 67.21 وَلَا نُنْزِلُ أَحَدًا مِنْهُمْ جَنَّةً وَلَا نَارًا ‌ولا ‌نشهد ‌عليهم ‌بكفر ولا بشرك وَلَا بِنِفَاقٍ مَا لَمْ يَظْهَرْ مِنْهُمْ شَيْءٌ مِنْ ذَلِكَ وَنَذَرُ سَرَائِرَهُمْ إِلَى اللَّهِ تَعَالَى

Imam Ibn Ḥajar reported the consensus of the scholars that judgment in this life is based on the exterior, and to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) alone belongs knowledge of the interior.22Aḥmad ibn Ḥajar al-‘Asqalâni. Fatḥ al-Bâri fi Sharḥ Ṣaḥeeḥ al-Bukhâri (Beirut: Dâr al-Ma‘rifah, 1959), 12:273.23 ‌ابن حجر في فتح الباري: وَكُلُّهُمْ ‌أَجْمَعُوا عَلَى أَنَّ ‌أَحْكَامَ ‌الدُّنْيَا عَلَى ‌الظَّاهِرِ وَاللَّهُ يَتَوَلَّى السَّرَائِرَ. It is not only we who have that limitation. In order to end any hope that someone may have Divine powers to know or foretell the ultimate realities, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

“إِنَّمَا أَنَا بَشَرٌ، وَإِنَّكُمْ تَخْتَصِمُونَ، وَلَعَلَّ بَعْضَكُمْ أَنْ يَكُونَ أَلْحَنَ بِحُجَّتِهِ مِنْ بَعْضٍ، وَأَقْضِيَ لَهُ عَلَى نَحْوِ مَا أَسْمَعُ، فَمَنْ قَضَيْتُ لَهُ مِنْ حَقِّ أَخِيهِ شَيْئًا، فَلاَ يَأْخُذْ، فَإِنَّمَا أَقْطَعُ لَهُ قِطْعَةً مِنَ النَّارِ‏‏.‏”

“Verily, I am only a human, and the claimants bring to me (their disputes); perhaps some of them are more eloquent than others. I judge according to what I hear (from them). So, he whom I, by my judgment, (might give the undue share) out of the right of a Muslim, I in fact would be giving him a portion of (Hell) Fire.”24Agreed upon, from Umm Salamah.

In the following report the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught his beloved Companion Usâmah ibn Zayd the gravity of judging the interior of people. When Usâmah killed a man in battle after the man had said, “There is no god but Allah,” and told the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) of that, he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) asked, “Who will save you from ‘There is no god but Allah’ on the Day of Judgment?” Usâmah said, “Messenger of Allah, he uttered it out of fear of my weapon.” The Prophet replied,

‏”أَفَلاَ شَقَقْتَ عَنْ قَلْبِهِ حَتَّى تَعْلَمَ مِنْ أَجْلِ ذَلِكَ قَالَهَا أَمْ لاَ مَنْ لَكَ بِلاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ اللَّهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ‏”‏

“Did you tear his heart apart so that you learned whether he actually uttered it for this or not? Who will save you from ‘There is no god but Allah?’”

Usâmah said, “He [the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him))] kept on repeating this till I wished I had not embraced Islam until that day.”25Abu Dâwood.

Among the worst usurpations of Allah’s subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) prerogatives is to adjudicate on His behalf without permission, thereby condemning people eternally. Jundub reported that Allah’s Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

‏أَنَّ رَجُلاً قَالَ وَاللَّهِ لاَ يَغْفِرُ اللَّهُ لِفُلاَنٍ وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ تَعَالَى قَالَ مَنْ ذَا الَّذِي يَتَأَلَّى عَلَىَّ أَنْ لاَ أَغْفِرَ لِفُلاَنٍ” فَإِنِّي قَدْ غَفَرْتُ لِفُلاَنٍ وَأَحْبَطْتُ عَمَلَكَ.‏”‏

“A person once said [to another], ‘Allah would not forgive such and such (person).’ Thereupon Allah the Exalted and Glorious, said [to him]: ‘Who is he who adjures about Me that I would not grant pardon to so-and-so; I have granted pardon to so-and-so and blotted out your deeds’.”26Muslim.

‘Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) reminds us of the limitations of our judgment and at the same time of the necessity and legitimacy of passing judgment. He said,

“In the lifetime of Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) some people were called to account based on Revelation. Now Revelation has discontinued, and we shall judge you by your apparent acts. Whoever displays to us good, we shall grant him peace and security, and treat him as a near one. We have nothing to do with his interior. Allah will call him to account for that. But whosoever shows evil to us, we shall not grant him security, nor shall we believe him, even if he professed that his intention was good.”27al-Bukhâri, from ‘Abdullâh ibn ‘Utbah ibn Mas‘ood. 28 قال عمر بن الخطاب – رضي الله عنه: ” إِنَّ أُنَاسًا ‌كَانُوا ‌يُؤْخَذُونَ ‌بِالْوَحْيِ فِي عَهْدِ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، وَإِنَّ الْوَحْيَ قَدِ انْقَطَعَ، وَإِنَّمَا نَأْخُذُكُمُ الْآنَ بِمَا ظَهَرَ لَنَا مِنْ أَعْمَالِكُمْ، فَمَنْ أَظْهَرَ لَنَا خَيْرًا أَمِنَّاهُ وَقَرَّبْنَاهُ، وَلَيْسَ إِلَيْنَا مِنْ سَرِيرَتِهِ شَيْءٌ، اللَّهُ يُحَاسِبُهُ فِي سَرِيرَتِهِ، وَمَنْ أَظْهَرَ لَنَا سُوءًا لَمْ نَأْمَنْهُ وَلَمْ نصدقه، وإن قال: إن سريرته حسنة.”

Which Place Are We Coming From?

Passing judgment is a precarious activity. As we have seen before, it can lead to destruction and damnation. There are two foundational questions to be asked every time we embark on any action: why, and how? The place we are coming from and the worldview we have can greatly affect our attitude toward this serious matter.

The more important question of the two is the “why” question. Our actions must all be sincere and devoted to God. When we pass judgment, avoid people, warn about them, or forbid them from evil, we must do that, when warranted, out of devotion to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and compliance with His command. For verily, deeds are by their intentions, and verily, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) accepts none except those that are sincere and through which His pleasure was sought. This does not mean that you do not care for your fellow human beings. An amazing part of the Quranic story of Ibrâheem 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) is where Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,

“And when the fright had left Abraham and the good tidings had reached him, he began to argue with Us concerning the people of Lot.” [Surah Hud 11:74]

Although arguing here means pleading with Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to spare the people of Lot, Ibrâheem 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) still presented a counterargument. What is surprising is how Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) describes the character of Ibrâheem 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) that motivated this:

“Indeed, Abraham was forbearing, grieving [i.e., hurt by human suffering] and [frequently] returning [to Allah].”  [Surah Hud 11:75]

Ibrâheem 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was advocating on behalf of his fellow men and pleading to God to spare them. That is not unexpected. Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

“خَابَ عَبدٌ وخَسِرَ لَم يَجعَل الله تَعالَى فِي قَلبِهِ رَحمَةً للبَشَر.”

“Man is doomed and a loser if Allah does not put compassion for humankind in his heart.”29Reported by al-Dulâbi in al-Kunâ wal-asmâ’; al-Albâni said in al-Silsilah al-ṣaḥeeḥah (456), “its chain is sound.”

It is also reported from ‘Â’ishah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) that the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) prayed for an entire night repeating a single verse of the Quran:

“If You should punish them – indeed they are Your servants; but if You forgive them – indeed it is You who are the Exalted in Might, the Wise.” [Al-Mâ’idah 5:118]

Having devotion to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and mercy for people are two important coordinates. However, the third one that you must observe as well is “you.” When we must pass judgment, we are doing that from the place of fellow sinners—those who are primarily worried about their survival, anxious about their sins, and fearful for themselves—not lords.

Abu Hurayrah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) narrated that the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

“يُبْصِرُ أَحَدُكُمُ الْقَذَاةَ فِي عَيْنِ أَخِيهِ، وَيَنْسَى الْجِذْعَ فِي عَيْنِ نَفْسِهِ‏.‏”

“One of you sees the mote in his brother’s eye while forgetting the stump in his own eye.”30Ibn Ḥibbân.

Abu Nu‘aym reported that Ibn Sirin heard a man cursing al-Ḥajjâj (a tyrannical bloodshedder), so he approached him and said, “Stop, man, for when you reach the hereafter, your smallest sin will be harder on you than the largest sin committed by al-Ḥajjâj. Know, also, that Allah is a fair judge; if he retaliates against al-Ḥajjâj for those wronged by him, he will retaliate for al-Ḥajjaj against those who wronged him, so do not waste your time cursing anyone.”31Abu Nu‘aym Aḥmad ibn ‘Abdullâh al-Așbahâni, Ḥilyat al-awliyâ’ wa țabaqât al-așfiyâ’ (Cairo: Mațba‘at al-Sa‘âdah, 1974; Beirut: Dâr al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 2008), 2:271.32 في حلية الأولياء وطبقات الأصفياء: سَمِعَ ابْنُ سِيرِينَ ‌رَجُلًا ‌يَسُبُّ ‌الْحَجَّاجَ فَأَقْبَلَ عَلَيْهِ فَقَالَ: «مَهْ أَيُّهَا الرَّجُلُ فَإِنَّكَ لَوْ قَدْ وَافَيْتَ الْآخِرَةَ كَانَ أَصْغَرُ ‌ذَنْبٍ عَمِلْتَهُ قَطُّ أَعْظَمَ عَلَيْكَ مِنْ أَعْظَمِ ‌ذَنْبٍ عَمَلَهُ الْحَجَّاجُ وَاعْلَمْ أَنَّ اللهَ تَعَالَى حَكَمٌ عَدْلٌ إِنْ أَخَذَ مِنَ الْحَجَّاجِ لِمَنْ ظَلَمَهُ فَسَوْفَ يَأْخُذُ لِلْحَجَّاجِ مِمَّنْ ظَلَمَهُ فَلَا تَشْغِلَنَّ نَفْسَكَ بِسَبِّ أَحَدٍ.

Etiquettes of Passing Judgement

After we have learned about the place we must come from, we should now address the etiquettes of passing judgment. We can classify them into three phases: before, during, and after we pass judgment.

Before Passing Judgment

Before we pass judgment, we must first ensure that we should:

 – Don’t seek the mistakes of others

At times, we need to judge evil and falsehood as such. However, we should not be looking for people’s shortcomings in order to expose them. Such is a malevolent attitude. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

“‏يَا مَعْشَرَ مَنْ قَدْ أَسْلَمَ بِلِسَانِهِ وَلَمْ يُفْضِ الإِيمَانُ إِلَى قَلْبِهِ لاَ تُؤْذُوا الْمُسْلِمِينَ وَلاَ تُعَيِّرُوهُمْ وَلاَ تَتَّبِعُوا عَوْرَاتِهِمْ فَإِنَّهُ مَنْ تَتَبَّعَ عَوْرَةَ أَخِيهِ الْمُسْلِمِ تَتَبَّعَ اللَّهُ عَوْرَتَهُ وَمَنْ تَتَبَّعَ اللَّهُ عَوْرَتَهُ يَفْضَحْهُ وَلَوْ فِي جَوْفِ رَحْلِهِ‏.‏”‏

“O you who accepted Islam with their tongue, while faith has not reached their heart! Do not harm the Muslims, nor revile them, nor seek their shortcomings. For indeed whoever tries to expose his Muslim brother’s secrets, Allah exposes his secrets wide open, even if he were in the depth of his own house.”33al-Tirmidhi, from Ibn ‘Umar.

 – Verify what is relayed to you

Many times, we are told things about people which may not be true. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,

“O you who have believed, if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful.” [Surah al-Ḥujurât 49:6]

There are many traditions to warn against gossipers and back-biters. It is also essential to realize that accepting other people’s accounts as true is not without its own perils. Those people may be mistaken, or even malevolent. Many times, we deem people to be above failures of intent and judgment, when we truly do not know them well.

It was reported that a man testified on behalf of another man’s credibility before ‘Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him). ‘Umar asked, “Are you his immediate neighbor who knows his comings and goings?” He [the man giving testimony] replied, “No.” He [‘Umar] asked, “Have you accompanied him in travel that reveals people’s good qualities?” He replied, “No.” He [‘Umar] asked, “Have you done any business with him to discover his pious scrupulosity?” He replied, “No.” Whereupon ‘Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).” He replied, “Yes.” ‘Umar responded, “Leave, you do not know him.”34Abu Ḥâmid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazâli, Iḥyâ’ ‘Uloom al-Deen (Beirut: Dâr al-Ma‘rifah, n.d.), 2:82-83. al-‘Irâqi considered it authentic. 35 وشهد عند عمر رضي الله عنه شاهد فقال ائتني بمن يعرفك فأتاه برجل فأثنى عليه خيراً فقال عمر أنت جاره الأدنى الذي يعرف مدخله ومخرجه قال لا فقال كنت رفيقه في السفر الذي يستدل به على مكارم الأخلاق فقال لا قال فعاملته بالدينار والدرهم الذي يستبين به ورع الرجل قال لا قال أظنك رأيته قائما في المسجد يهمهم بالقرآن يخفض رأسه طوراً ويرفعه أخرى قال نعم فقال اذهب فلست تعرفه.

 – Verify your own findings and overlook when overlooking is wise

Abu Hurayrah narrated that the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

“‏ رَأَى عِيسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ عَلَيْهِ السَّلاَمُ رَجُلاً يَسْرِقُ فَقَالَ لَهُ أَسَرَقْتَ قَالَ لاَ وَاللَّهِ الَّذِي لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ‏.‏ قَالَ عِيسَى عَلَيْهِ السَّلاَمُ آمَنْتُ بِاللَّهِ وَكَذَّبْتُ بَصَرِي ‏”‏ ‏

“Jesus, son of Mary, peace be upon him, saw a man stealing, and said to him: Are you stealing? He [the man] said: No, by Allah besides Whom there is no other God! Jesus, peace be upon him, said: I believe in Allah and I disbelieve my eyes.”36al-Nasâ’i.

The point being made here is twofold. The first is that your own senses may deceive you. The second is that overlooking people’s mistakes by complete erasure from our minds is superior when we are not meant (or justified) to act on our knowledge.

 – Have good thoughts and look for excuses

It was reported by Ibn Abi al-Dunyâ that ‘Umar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) said, “Don’t presume any malevolence in a statement by a Muslim, as long as you find any way to interpret it charitably.”37Ibn Abi al-Dunyâ.38 في مداراة الناس لابن أبي الدنيا: قَالَ عُمَرُ بْنُ الْخَطَّابِ: لَا تَظُنُّ بِكَلِمَةٍ خَرَجَتْ مِنْ فِيِّ مُسْلِمٍ شَرًّا وَأَنْتَ ‌تَجِدُ ‌لَهَا ‌فِي ‌الْخَيْرِ ‌مَحْمَلًا. After verifying what you saw or heard, look for ways to interpret it charitably. Let your heart stay pure and safe from resentment and contempt for your brothers and sisters.

In Passing Judgment

Now, without seeking any shortcomings, you came to know about a person’s supposed transgression. You verified it. There is no doubt. There are no excuses. What is next?

Your judgment must be based on adl, ilm, and ḥilm (justice, knowledge, and deliberateness)

First is justice. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,

“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So do not follow [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted.” [Surah al-Nisâ’ 4:135]

You notice that the verse addresses two types of bias. The first one is recognized by most people. We may favor ourselves and those close to us, and we must avoid that. The other type of bias is less obvious. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) teaches us that we should say the truth whether it is in favor of the rich or the poor, the strong or the weak. We should not let our empathy for the poor and weak make us swerve from the truth and from justice.

There are many personal and social biases that we must watch for.

It was reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim that a man passed by Allah’s Messenger and he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) asked [his Companions] “What do you say about this (man)?” They replied, “If he asks for a lady’s hand, he ought to be given her in marriage; and if he intercedes (for someone) his intercession would be accepted; and if he speaks, he would be listened to.” Allah’s Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) kept silent, and then a man from among the poor Muslims passed by, and Allah’s Messenger asked (them) “What do you say about this man?” They replied, “If he asks for a lady’s hand in marriage he would be rejected, and if he intercedes (for someone), his intercession would not be accepted; and if he speaks, he would not be listened to.” Allah’s Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said, “This man is better than so many of the first [kind] as could fill the earth.”39Agreed upon.40 عَنْ سَهْلٍ، قَالَ مَرَّ رَجُلٌ عَلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم فَقَالَ ‏”‏ مَا تَقُولُونَ فِي هَذَا ‏”‏‏؟‏ قَالُوا حَرِيٌّ إِنْ خَطَبَ أَنْ يُنْكَحَ، وَإِنْ شَفَعَ أَنْ يُشَفَّعَ، وَإِنْ قَالَ أَنْ يُسْتَمَعَ‏.‏ قَالَ ثُمَّ سَكَتَ فَمَرَّ رَجُلٌ مِنَ فُقَرَاءِ الْمُسْلِمِينَ فَقَالَ ‏”‏ مَا تَقُولُونَ فِي هَذَا “؟‏ قَالُوا حَرِيٌّ إِنْ خَطَبَ أَنْ لاَ يُنْكَحَ وَإِنْ شَفَعَ أَنْ لاَ يُشَفَّعَ، وَإِنْ قَالَ أَنْ لاَ يُسْتَمَعَ‏.‏ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏”‏هَذَا خَيْرٌ مِنْ مِلْءِ الأَرْضِ مِثْلَ هَذَا‏”‏‏.‏

What the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is teaching us here is the need to break away from the ossified ungodly social molds that shape our thinking. There are many accounts in the tradition to this effect.

We should also not allow ourselves to be deceived by external appearances or emotional influences. It was reported that al-Sha‘bi said,

I was present when a woman came to Shurayḥ to complain about a man and she started to weep, so I said, “O Aba Umayyah, I am sure this poor lady has been wronged.” So, he responded, “O Sha‘bi, the brothers of Yoosuf {came to their father at night, weeping} [Yoosuf 12:16].”41Abu Bakr Muḥammad ibn Khalaf al-Ḍabbi. Akhbâr al-Quḍah (Cairo: al-Maktabah al-Tijariyyah al-Kubrâ, 1947), 2:221.42 عَن مجالد، عَن الشعبي قال: شهدت شريحاً وجاءته امرأة تخاصم رجلاً فأرسلت عينيها فبكت فقلت: ‌يا ‌أبا ‌أمية ‌ما ‌أظن ‌هذه ‌البائسة ‌إِلَّا ‌مظلومة؛ فقال: يا شعبي: إن إخوة يوسف “جَاؤُواْ أَبَاهُمْ عِشَاء يَبْكُونَ”.

As for judging with knowledge, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,

“And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight and the heart – about all those [one] will be questioned.” [Surah al-‘Isrâ’ 17:36]

And He subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,

“And do not say about what your tongues assert of untruth, “This is lawful and this is unlawful,” to invent falsehood about Allah. Indeed, those who invent falsehood about Allah will not succeed.” [Surah al-Naḥl 16:116]

There is much to be said about this point. Before we judge others, we must have clear and comprehensive knowledge of the matter at hand. There are certain things all Muslims who were raised in a Muslim environment must be aware of, but even this is subject to the change of times and conditions. However, it is fair to say that a Muslim knows by necessity that stealing, adultery, the consumption of pork, and mistreatment of parents are haram (ḥarâm: forbidden); there are five mandatory prayers daily, and fasting the month of Ramadan is required. The rulings of many religious teachings do not possess the same level of clarity. Those who have comprehensive knowledge about these rulings may advise others regarding them. As for the clear rulings, religious advice concerning them may be extended in the proper way and at the proper time, by anyone, to anyone.

As for ḥilm (deliberateness), I mean by it thoughtfulness, wisdom, and introspection, which all could be communicated through this beautiful word. You need a great pause. You need to verify that your judgment is not simply affective or based on your hawâ (biases and prejudices). Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,

“Have you seen him who has taken his own prejudice to be his god? Will you then be a constant trustee over him?” [Surah al-Furqân 25:43]43This translation is adapted from that of Dr. Muhammad Maḥmood Ghâli, Towards Understanding the Ever-Glorious Qur’an (Dâr al-Nashr Ligamiat, 2014).

The word that is translated into prejudice in this verse is hawâ which means bias, prejudice, desire, and/or passion. Many people, or dare I say, most people, follow their hawâ most of the time.

I find the following statement attributed to the American psychologist, William James, very insightful and eloquent. “A great many people think they are thinking, when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”44Gordon Pennycook, Jonathan A. Fugelsang, and Derek J. Koehler, “Everyday Consequences of Analytic Thinking,” Current Directions in Psychological Science 24, no. 6 (2015), 425. Many things may corrupt our fiṭrah, and consequently our judgment. Imam Ibn Taymiyyah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) mentioned, in different areas of his writings, seven: hawa (bias), ẓann (conjecture), shubhah (misgiving), gharad (ulterior motive), âdah (habit), taqleed (blind following), and mawrooth (inherited beliefs).45Carl Sherif El-Tobgui, Reason, “Revelation & the Reconstitution of Rationality: Taqī al-Dīn Ibn Taymiyya’s (d. 728/1328) Dar’ Ta ‘ārud al-‘Aql wa-l-Naql or ‘The refutation of the contradiction of reason and revelation’” (PhD Thesis, McGill University, 2013), 284. It is important that you stay vigilant and aware of those obstacles to the truth that exist within you. A great spiritual and intellectual labor or investment is needed to guard against them on a regular basis.

After Passing Judgment

When you observe some sin or wrongdoing, and you are able to make a fair, informed judgment about it, you should observe the following etiquette.

 – Let it not cause you arrogance, despair, or carelessness  

Do not allow the frequent encounters with sin to normalize it. Hate it with the same strength every time you encounter it. Let it not give you a false sense of security by comparing your “obedience” to their disobedience. Also, do not let it cause you despair. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

“إِذَا قَالَ الرَّجُلُ هَلَكَ النَّاسُ فَهُوَ أَهْلَكُهُمْ‏”

 “When a person says: ‘People have been ruined,’ he is the most ruined of them all.”46Muslim, from Abu Hurayrah.

Of course, this is when he says it out of arrogance or despair, not out of pain and grief.

 – Conceal

If the sin is done in private or within a small group, there is usually no benefit in publicizing it. In fact, when sins are publicized frequently, it could lead to detrimental effects on the community. Becoming desensitized to sin is one of those effects. Losing trust in the community is another. Losing hope in the prospect of righteousness or the tenability of high moral standards is another. There are many more. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,

“Indeed, those who like that immorality should be spread [or publicized] among those who have believed will have a painful punishment in this world and the Hereafter. And Allah knows and you do not know.” [Surah an-Noor 24:19]

Nu‘aym narrated that Mâ‘iz came to the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and admitted four times in his presence to having committed adultery, so he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) ordered that Mâ‘iz be stoned to death, but said to Hazzâl (the man who had advised Mâ‘iz to tell the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) about his sin),

“لَوْ سَتَرْتَهُ بِثَوْبِكَ كَانَ خَيْرًا لَكَ‏‏”

“If you had covered him with your garment, it would have been better for you.”47Abu Dâwood.

Concealment is a virtue: a virtue Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) chose for Himself. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

“إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ حَلِيمٌ حَيِيٌّ سِتِّيرٌ يُحِبُّ الْحَيَاءَ وَالسَّتْرَ”

“Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, is forbearing, modest and concealing, and He loves modesty and concealment.”48al-Nasâ’i.

Related to concealment, approaching the individual privately should be the preferred way and it is more conducive to acceptance. That is why Imam al-Shâfi‘i famously said,

تَعَهَّدْني ‌بِنُصْحِكَ ‌في ‌انْفِرَادِي  وَجَنِّبْني النَّصِيحَةَ في الجَمَاعَة

فَإِنَّ النُّصْحَ بَينَ النَّاسِ نَوْعٌ  مِنَ التَّوْبِيخِ لَا أَرْضَى اسْتِمَاعَه

Advise me often in private / and avoid public advice

For public advice is a form / of rebuke, and I dislike that.

The exception to this is someone who commits an indiscretion publicly, and cannot be advised in private or refuses the advice, so the purpose of public reproach would be to alert the public to the evil of that action.

 – Forgive

If the sin was committed against you and you can forgive, use the opportunity to forgive while you are still in pain. Conquer your lowest tendencies at that time, and show magnanimity and grace. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,

And let not those of virtue among you and wealth swear not to give [aid] to their relatives and the needy and the emigrants for the cause of Allah, and let them [instead] pardon and overlook. Would you not like that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. [Surah an-Noor 24:22]

The one ordered to forgive here is Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him). He was ordered to forgive the man who falsely accused his daughter of unchastity, causing enormous pain to him and his entire family. However, forgiveness here did not simply mean to refrain from punishing the man. It meant that Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) should not stop sustaining him.

 – Tolerate

Not everything should be forgiven. Yet, most of that which would not be forgiven could be ignored. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,

“Take what is given freely, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the ignorant.” [Surah al-A‘râf 7:199]

And he subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,

“And it has already come down to you in the Book that when you hear the verses of Allah [recited], they are denied [by them] and ridiculed; so do not sit with them until they take up another subject. Indeed, you would then be like them. Indeed, Allah will gather the hypocrites and disbelievers in Hell altogether.” [Surah al-Nisâ’ 4:140]

When to Speak Up

Finally, when there is clear evil, and it is public, so cannot be concealed, then here is the advice of a most courageous scholar, who never feared the blame of a critic in his striving for Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He):

… if commanding a particular act of obedience entails committing a sin that is greater in magnitude. Here, one should refrain from enjoining that good [thing] in order to avoid falling into that sin, such as reporting a sinner to a man of authority who is an oppressor and who may transgress in punishment, causing greater harm than the original sin. Similar is the case when forbidding certain evils may lead to an abandonment of good that is more significant [in its effect] than the desertion of those evils. Here, the person should refrain from forbidding the evil out of fear that it will lead to deserting that which Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and His Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) have commanded, which is more significant than quitting that evil. The scholar, therefore, commands, forbids, or stays silent, at different times, such as commanding the pure or preponderant good, or forbidding the pure or preponderant evil. If there is a conflict, he will act, to his best capacity, on the favorable benefit/harm ratio.

As for the addressee of the command and prohibition, if he will not abide by that [command or prohibition] as far as he is able to, either because of his ignorance or transgression, and counteracting his ignorance or transgression is not possible, then it may be better to refrain from commanding or forbidding him, as it has been said, “there are issues that should be answered by silence. [… ]

In the same vein, one who embraces Islam cannot be instructed in all its rulings at once and commanded to adhere to them. Also, the one who has repented, the learner, and the one seeking guidance, they cannot be instructed in all knowledge and ordered to comply, for they cannot tolerate it, and since they cannot, it is not required of them in this case, and if it is not [required of them], then it is not required of the scholar or the ruler to obligate them [to do so] at once, rather they should overlook the commands and prohibitions that are not immediately doable until the time of their feasibility. This is like the Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) overlooking things until the time that is suitable for their clarification. This is not the same as deserting the commanding of good and forbidding of evil, because as we said, the obligation and prohibition are contingent on the knowability and feasibility, and we have posited their absence. So, reflect on this principle, for it is beneficial.”49Ibn Taymiyyah, Majmoo‘ al-Fatâwa, 20:58-61.50 في مجموع الفتاوى لابن تيمية: فينبغي للعالم أن يتدبر أنواع هذه المسائل وقد يكون الواجب في بعضها – كما بينته فيما تقدم -: العفو عند الأمر والنهي في بعض الأشياء؛ لا التحليل والإسقاط. مثل أن يكون في أمره بطاعة فعلا لمعصية أكبر منها فيترك الأمر بها دفعا لوقوع تلك المعصية مثل أن ترفع مذنبا إلى ذي سلطان ظالم فيعتدي عليه في العقوبة ما يكون أعظم ضررا من ذنبه ومثل أن يكون في نهيه عن بعض المنكرات تركا لمعروف هو أعظم منفعة من ترك المنكرات فيسكت عن النهي خوفا أن يستلزم ترك ما أمر الله به ورسوله مما هو عنده أعظم من مجرد ترك ذلك المنكر. فالعالم تارة يأمر وتارة ينهى وتارة يبيح وتارة يسكت عن الأمر أو النهي أو الإباحة كالأمر بالصلاح الخالص أو الراجح أو النهي عن الفساد الخالص أو الراجح وعند التعارض يرجح الراجح – كما تقدم – بحسب الإمكان فأما إذا كان المأمور والمنهي لا يتقيد بالممكن: إما لجهله وإما لظلمه ولا يمكن إزالة جهله وظلمه فربما كان الأصلح الكف والإمساك عن أمره ونهيه كما قيل: إن من المسائل مسائل جوابها السكوت كما سكت الشارع في أول الأمر عن الأمر بأشياء والنهي عن أشياء حتى علا الإسلام وظهر. فالعالم في البيان والبلاغ كذلك؛ قد يؤخر البيان والبلاغ لأشياء إلى وقت التمكن كما أخر الله سبحانه إنزال آيات وبيان أحكام إلى وقت تمكن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم تسليما إلى بيانها. يبين حقيقة الحال في هذا أن الله يقول: {وما كنا معذبين حتى نبعث رسولا} والحجة على العباد إنما تقوم بشيئين: بشرط التمكن من العلم بما أنزل الله والقدرة على العمل به. فأما العاجز عن العلم كالمجنون أو العاجز عن العمل فلا أمر عليه ولا نهي وإذا انقطع العلم ببعض الدين أو حصل العجز عن بعضه: كان ذلك في حق العاجز عن العلم أو العمل بقوله كمن انقطع عن العلم بجميع الدين أو عجز عن جميعه كالجنون مثلا وهذه أوقات الفترات فإذا حصل من يقوم بالدين من العلماء أو الأمراء أو مجموعهما كان بيانه لما جاء به الرسول شيئا فشيئا بمنزلة بيان الرسول لما بعث به شيئا فشيئا ومعلوم أن الرسول لا يبلغ إلا ما أمكن علمه والعمل به ولم تأت الشريعة جملة كما يقال: إذا أردت أن تطاع فأمر بما يستطاع. فكذلك المجدد لدينه والمحيي لسنته لا يبلغ إلا ما أمكن علمه والعمل به كما أن الداخل في الإسلام لا يمكن حين دخوله أن يلقن جميع شرائعه ويؤمر بها كلها. وكذلك التائب من الذنوب؛ والمتعلم والمسترشد لا يمكن في أول الأمر أن يؤمر بجميع الدين ويذكر له جميع العلم فإنه لا يطيق ذلك وإذا لم يطقه لم يكن واجبا عليه في هذه الحال وإذا لم يكن واجبا لم يكن للعالم والأمير أن يوجبه جميعه ابتداء بل يعفو عن الأمر والنهي بما لا يمكن علمه وعمله إلى وقت الإمكان كما عفا الرسول عما عفا عنه إلى وقت بيانه ولا يكون ذلك من باب إقرار المحرمات وترك الأمر بالواجبات لأن الوجوب والتحريم مشروط بإمكان العلم والعمل وقد فرضنا انتفاء هذا الشرط. فتدبر هذا الأصل فإنه نافع. ومن هنا يتبين سقوط كثير من هذه الأشياء وإن كانت واجبة أو محرمة في الأصل لعدم إمكان البلاغ الذي تقوم به حجة الله في الوجوب أو التحريم فإن العجز مسقط للأمر والنهي وإن كان واجبا في الأصل والله أعلم. ومما يدخل في هذه الأمور الاجتهادية علما وعملا أن ما قاله العالم أو الأمير أو فعله باجتهاد أو تقليد فإذا لم ير العالم الآخر والأمير الآخر مثل رأي الأول فإنه لا يأمر به أو لا يأمر إلا بما يراه مصلحة ولا ينهى عنه إذ ليس له أن ينهى غيره عن اتباع اجتهاده ولا أن يوجب عليه اتباعه فهذه الأمور في حقه من الأعمال المعفوة لا يأمر بها ولا ينهى عنها بل هي بين الإباحة والعفو. وهذا باب واسع جدا فتدبره.

This teleological approach is thoroughly informed by the balance and moderation of Islam. Islam is also keen on civility and civil coexistence. It values discipline and recognizes unoppressive sociopolitical hierarchy as a necessity and a prerequisite of civilization. That is why it preaches order. That is why it recognizes that people have different capacities, and they have to observe their limitations. They must not take the law into their own hands. They should also show patient perseverance (ṣabr) when the laws (or their execution) are unfavorable to them. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

“‏ “‏مَنْ رَأَى مِنْ أَمِيرِهِ شَيْئًا يَكْرَهُهُ فَلْيَصْبِرْ عَلَيْهِ، فَإِنَّهُ مَنْ فَارَقَ الْجَمَاعَةَ شِبْرًا فَمَاتَ، إِلاَّ مَاتَ مِيتَةً جَاهِلِيَّةً‏‏.‏

“Whoever notices something which he dislikes about his ruler, then he should patiently persevere, for whoever separates from the community, and then dies, he will die as those who died in the pre-Islamic period of Ignorance (as rebellious sinners).51Agreed upon.

Of course, this is not encouragement of tyranny or of pacifism in its face, but a reminder that coexisting in a civil society comes at a price, which is giving up some of our freedom and tolerating some encroachment on our space by the collective. How often do people go to court and walk away dismayed? If that could constitute grounds for rebellion and unruliness, no civilization would survive.

Finally, when you embark on forbidding evil, here are some etiquettes to observe:

 – Avoid confrontation as much as possible and naming the offenders

While the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) did command and forbid people directly, he would usually say, “Why are some people doing this or saying that?” ‘Â’ishah raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) said: When the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) was informed of anything regarding a certain man, he would not say: What is the matter with so-and-so that he says such-and-such? But he would say:

“مَا بَالُ أَقْوَامٍ يَقُولُونَ كَذَا وَكَذَا‏”

“What is the matter with people that they say such-and-such?”52Abu Dâwood.

 – Avoid mockery and obscenity

There is just no room for these in religious advice. They are categorically forbidden, and they are also counterproductive. Mockery is a satanic quality, and both are worse than beastly and predatory qualities. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says,

“O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them, nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one’s] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.” [Surah al-Ḥujurât 49:11]

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said,

“لَيْسَ اَلْمُؤْمِنُ بِالطَّعَّانِ، وَلَا اَللَّعَّانُ، وَلَا اَلْفَاحِشَ، وَلَا اَلْبَذِيءَ.‏”

“A true believer is not a slanderer, nor is he one who often curses, or one who is abusive or vulgar.”53al-Tirmidhi.

The Outcome of Passing Judgment: Passing Judgment, Tolerance and Coexistence in Civil Society

I hope it is clear from the discussion above that the Islamic guidance with respect to passing moral judgment does not neglect the potentially catastrophic consequences of indiscretion and excessiveness in this regard. Islam aims to mitigate those undesirable consequences, not only through procedural tactics, but via foundational values and a coherent worldview to be transfused through the Muslim consciousness by enlightened scholars.

[This article is an excerpt from the author’s book: Love and Hate in Islam: Revisiting the Doctrine of al-Walâ’ wal-Barâ’]


Related reading:

 – Thinking About Thinking: Can Islamic Nurture Be Critical And Reflective?

 – Islamic Pedagogy and Critical Thinking: Does Islamic Pedagogy Want Critical Thinkers?

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Dr. Hatem Al-Haj has a PhD in Comparative Fiqh from al-Jinan University. He is a pediatrician, former Dean of the College of Islamic Studies at Mishkah University, and a member of the permanent Fatwa Committee of the Assembly of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA).

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