Amr bil ma’roof and nahy anil munkar (commanding with good and forbidding from evil) is an obligation in deen. The Sahaabah (radhiyallahu ‘anhum), throughout their lives, upheld this obligation to the best of their ability wherever they went.
There are three levels of carrying out amr bil ma’roof and nahy anil munkar. The first level is to physically prevent the wrong, the second level is to verbally prevent the wrong, and the third level is to abhor and detest the evil from one’s heart. Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) said, “Whichever one of you sees an evil being perpetrated, then he should stop it with his hand (i.e. physically put a stop to the evil). If he is unable to stop it with his hand, then he should stop it with his tongue (i.e. through advising the person). If he is unable to stop it with his tongue, then he should regard it to be wrong and evil in his heart, and this is the weakest level of imaan (where a person will not be able to correct the wrong).” (Saheeh Muslim #49)
The Ulama explain that the first level of amr bil ma’roof and nahy anil munkar, where a person physically prevents the wrong, applies to the rulers. The Ulama also mention that it applies to the father in his household, as he has the authority to physically prevent his family from committing sins.
The second level (i.e. verbally correcting) applies to the Ulama and the general public when the issue is within the scope of their understanding and they are able to rectify the situation.
The third level applies to people who are unable to correct the situation in any way. If they are able to move away from the place where the wrong is taking place, then they should immediately do so, and this will be a way to express their disapproval. If they are unable to move away due to circumstances (e.g. a person is traveling in an aeroplane and music is playing), then in such a situation, one should disgust the sin from his heart and turn to Allah Ta‘ala.
Below are a few incidents of Hazrat Ali (radhiyallahu ‘anhu), demonstrating how he upheld this obligation in his life. These incidents transpired during the period of his khilaafah, and hence he had the ability to carry out amr bil ma’roof to the first level by physically preventing wrong and upholding righteousness.
Hazrat Ali (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) Carrying out Amr bil Ma’roof in the Marketplace
Warning the Butchers regarding Deceiving the Customers
It is reported that during the period of his khilaafah, Hazrat Ali (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) would go to the market, carrying a whip in his hand. He would walk among the traders, reminding them to adopt taqwa and deal with their customers in a good manner. He would address them saying, “Ensure that you give the customers the full measure and weight, and do not take out the marrow from the bones before selling the meat (thus deceiving the customers by making them think that the marrow is included, whereas it has been removed).” (Fadhaa’il-us-Sahaabah #938)
Commanding the Traders to Give the Full Measure and Weight to the Customers
Jurmooz (rahimahullah) similarly mentions that he saw Hazrat Ali (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) walking in the market place with a whip in his hand. He says, “Hazrat Ali (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) was commanding the people to adopt taqwa and conduct their business dealings in a good manner. He was saying to the traders, ‘Ensure that you give the full measure and weight (when giving goods to the customers)!’ He also said (to the butchers), ‘Do not blow into the meat (i.e. do not blow into the bodies of the slaughtered animals to inflate them and make them appear bigger, thus deceiving the customers).” (Tabaqaat Ibnu Sa’d 3/20)
Advising People regarding their Dressing and Appearance
Abu Matar (rahimahullah) reports the following incident: On one occasion, as I came out from the musjid, a person behind me called out to me saying, “Raise your lower garment, as this is more pleasing to your Rabb and will cause your garment to remain clean. Also, trim the hair of your head if you are a Muslim (i.e. adopt the appearance of Muslims and do not allow your hair to resemble the style of non-Muslims).”
After he said this to me, I began to walk behind him, and observed that he was dressed in a lungi and shawl. He was carrying a whip, and he had the appearance of a Bedouin in his simple dressing. I asked a certain person, “Who is this man?” He replied, “I see that you are a stranger in this city.” When I replied in the affirmative, he said, “This is Ameer-ul-Mu’mineen, Hazrat Ali bin Abi Taalib.”
Cautioning People Against Taking False Oaths
Hazrat Ali (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) continued walking, until he came to the camel market. Hazrat Ali (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) addressed the camel merchants and said, “Sell to the people, but do not take oaths when selling, for taking an oath may cause your goods to sell faster (as people will be impressed), but it will destroy the barakah.”
Hazrat Ali (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) had mentioned this on account of the Hadith of Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) wherein Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) mentioned, “Taking an oath causes goods to sell, (but) destroys the barakah.” (Sunan Abu Dawood #3335)
Encouraging People to Fulfill the Rights of People Completely
Thereafter, Hazrat Ali (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) came to the date merchants and found a female slave who was weeping. He asked her, “Why are you weeping?” She replied, “This merchant sold me dates for one dirham, but my master does not want to accept this quality of dates.”
Hazrat ‘Ali (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) turned to the date merchant and said, “Take back your dates and return her dirham to her, for she does not have a choice in her transactions (i.e. on account of her being a slave).” However, the merchant did not want to agree and cancel the transaction.
I then said to the merchant, “Do you know who this man is?” When he replied in the negative, I said, “This is Ameer-ul-Mu’mineen, Hazrat Ali bin Abi Taalib.” Hearing this, the man immediately agreed to cancel the transaction. Hence, he returned her dirham to her and took back his dates.
Now that the man realized who Hazrat Ali (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) was, he regretted the disrespect he had shown by not wishing to comply when he was initially instructed to cancel the sale. Hence, he addressed Hazrat Ali (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) and said, “O Ameer-ul-Mu’mineen! I want you to be pleased with me!” Hazrat Ali (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) responded, “What will make me most pleased with you is that you fulfill the rights of people completely (in your business dealings).”
Advising the Businessman to Give Sadaqah and Refrain from Selling Haraam Food
Hazrat Ali (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) then continued walking, and as he passed by the other date merchants, he addressed them saying, “O date merchants! Feed the poor, for if you do so, your earnings will increase.”
Then, accompanied by many people, Hazrat Ali (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) passed on to the fishmongers. He addressed them saying, “In our market, it is not permissible for such a fish to be sold which died a natural death and was found floating on top of the water.” (Al-Bidaayah wan Nihaayah 11/107 and Hayaat-us-Sahaabah 2/751-752)
Hazrat Ali (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) had mentioned this on account of the Hadith of Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam). Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wasallam) said, “Whatever (fish) the ocean throws out, or the water draws back from it (leaving it on the shore, due to which it dies), then you may eat it, and whatever (fish) dies a natural death in the water and thereafter floats on the surface, then do not eat it.” (Sunan Abu Dawood #3815)
From these incidents, we see the great concern that Hazrat Ali (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) had for carrying out amr bil ma’roof and nahy anil munkar.