Islam offers a communal model to address societies many challenges. A core part of the model is an obligation on all Muslims to enjoin in good and discourage ill behavior from fellow Muslims. The underlying logic rests on the idea that if each Muslim conforms to a minimum standard of ethical behavior, and encourages their Muslim peers to do so as well, then there will be a general and consensual positive level of goodwill in society.
Enjoining what is right is the first half of implementing this model of an ethical society. Here a Muslim is obligated to encourage other Muslims to do good, be it in worship or conduct. Discouraging ill behavior is the second half of this command, which is often more difficult. Disapproving of negative and harmful acts usually involves telling someone not to do something, or to stop doing it, if it violates a law or if it is damaging to the person or the community. This could be, for example, if someone openly breaks his or her fast without excuse in the month of Ramadhan.
Several conditions are attached when attempting to implement the above, including knowing the religious laws and understanding the context of what someone is or isn’t doing before encouraging or discouraging their behavior. In addition, the person being told what is good and what is not should be capable of understanding, listening and obeying. If the person is not capable of these things then words and actions will have no effect. If the person insists on his/her harmful behavior, then they should be left alone and not instructed otherwise.
Finally, if promoting good or discouraging harmful behavior may provoke a dangerous reaction, then it is not obligatory to do so. There are three levels which one can employ in ascending order when trying to persuade people to do good or advise them against negative behavior.
- The first is the silent method, displaying approval for someone doing good or showing disapproval when someone does something bad. This is mostly successful when dealing with children or family members, and is the easiest method.
- The second is the spoken method, telling someone what he or she should and should not be doing. This method requires more care and sensitivity when dealing with someone, and at no time should insulting or distasteful words be used.
- The third, which is only for the most extreme and damaging cases, when there could be disturbance in the community as a result of non-action, is physical intervention. This could be achieved through denying someone access to a place or an item that they could use to do evil.