“Watch out for the Haram Police!”
It’s only half a joke – where even just recently the term “haram policing” applied to over-zealous masjid uncles and aunties, and obnoxious wallah bros, it is now the first thing hurled at anyone who dares remind anyone else that Islam does, in fact, consist of certain rules to follow and that there are indeed such things as ‘sins.’ Whether one is talking about LGBTQ issues, hijab, music, or mixed-gender relationships, it is no longer considered acceptable to bring up the fact that Islam itself is a faith that is very much structured based on what is and is not permissible according to our Creator.
The call to enjoin the good and forbid the evil is repeated throughout the Qur’an, yet the second half of that prescription has been almost completely neglected today.
The consequences of not forbidding evil are clear today, most obviously amongst youth, and especially on social media. Islam itself is seen as a cultural identity marker, with even outward symbols such as hijab seen as almost entirely divorced from the concept of obedience to Allah and instead viewed as a form of identity politics, faux-rebellion, and interpreted “personally” in such a way as to make it spiritually meaningless. Salah itself has become the butt of TikTok jokes; calling out foul language, vulgar music, sexualized behaviour, and more is seen as laughable, because who cares anymore? None of that’s a big deal anymore, after all.
An extremely concerning aspect of all of this is not that those who are engaging in these spiritually damaging behaviour are merely ignorant laypeople; rather, is it that those who exhibit signs of some religious literacy, who have the outward signs of some religiosity, who do, in fact, engage in some level of religious learning or dialogue, are actively participating in these behaviours. It’s a matter of people who should know better – who do know better – and yet have chosen not to do better. For some, it may not be a deliberate choice to disobey Allah, but that the understanding of the limits of Allah’s boundaries has been so downplayed and undermined that it barely registers at all in one’s conscious decision-making. So many sinful actions have been normalized, to the extent that even those who would identify themselves as “religious” and “practising” find it difficult to be cognizant of just how seriously wrong those actions are, and what the deeper spiritual implications of those behaviours are.
Bad Track Record of Haram Policing
To be fair, haram policing has not had the best of track records. At its height in the late 90s and early 2000s, there was an overwhelming culture of hyper-criticism, of attacking even the most sincere and well-meaning individuals of deliberately sinning, and a complete and utter lack of empathy and compassion for fellow Muslims. There was no wisdom or tact, even in justified cases, and the result was more than one generation of spiritually crippled Muslims on one side, and burnt out, shamefaced former accusers on the other. Men were not the only perpetrators of haram policing either; women were just as harsh, and downright vicious, between themselves, being lightning-quick to judge, gossip, and slander one another in the name of “forbidding the evil.” The consequences were devastating, and resulted in a sense of betrayal and distrust towards “religious people,” who never had a kind word to say and were swift to criticize others’ perceived lack of faith.
The mid-2000s became a time of resentment and kneejerk reactions against anyone who spoke about prohibited actions in Islam, with more emphasis placed on removing all judgement; those who did speak up in a critical manner about concerning behaviours and trends were automatically dismissed as “haraam police.” While the masjid uncles and aunties and wallah bros continued to embody the worst of the haraam police stereotype, the label came to be applied even to those who sincerely and kindly sought to uphold the rulings and regulations of Islam. As a result, more and more public figures in the da’wah scene fell silent over issues deemed to be unpopular or controversial, and which they feared would push people away from the overall da’wah. Those who did try to talk about those topics were accused of “pushing away the youth” and “turning people away from the Deen.” All too often, we see sheer arrogance in response to warning against any sins.
And when it is said to him, “Fear Allah,” pride in the sin takes hold of him…. (2:206)
The Messenger of Allah said, “Verily among the greatest of sins in the sight of Allah is for a person to be told, ‘Fear Allah,’ to which he responds, ‘Mind your own business!’” (Sunan Nasa’i)
Today, we find ourselves in a place where it is seen as dangerous and damaging to the collective faith of the Ummah if one ever dares to speak about those issues from the perspective of Qur’an and Sunnah, rather than the perspective of the (latest version of) secular leftist values. These topics include, but are not limited to, the Islamic rulings on LGBTQ, sexuality, gender, hijab, makeup, music, and mixed-gender relationships. Additionally, issues specifically related to Muslim women’s spirituality are considered completely out-of-bounds for male scholars to discuss. Certainly, there has been too much emotional and cultural baggage taught as “Islam,” but the subsequent problem is that there has been a dearth of female scholarship to address those topics as necessary. There is an echoing silence on these issues, and the lack of strong female leadership has been just as damaging as the previous decades’ harm.
In the Qur’an, Allah commands us repeatedly to enjoin the good and forbid the evil – not one without the other, but always in tandem. As Ummatul Wasat, we are meant to follow the middle way, to be just and balanced, and never to veer too strongly towards one extreme or the other. Obviously, as we have seen above, the consequences of falling into either extreme are incredibly detrimental to the spiritual wellbeing of the entire Ummah.
You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah. If only the People of the Scripture had believed, it would have been better for them. Among them are believers, but most of them are defiantly disobedient. (3:110)
The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. (9:71)
O my son, establish prayer, enjoin what is right, forbid what is wrong, and be patient over what befalls you. Indeed, [all] that is of the matters [requiring] determination. (31:17)
Clearly, it is not enough to simply “enjoin the good” and leave it at that – indeed, the Qur’an also warns us of what happens to those who blatantly disregard the Divine prohibitions, and to those who passively allowed these sins to take place without making any attempt to warn against them.
Say, “O People of the Scripture, do not exceed limits in your religion beyond the truth and do not follow the inclinations of a people who had gone astray before and misled many and have strayed from the soundness of the way.” Cursed were those who disbelieved among the Children of Israel by the tongue of David and of Jesus, the son of Mary. That was because they disobeyed and [habitually] transgressed. They used not to prevent one another from wrongdoing that they did. How wretched was that which they were doing. (5:77-79)
The emphasis on forbidding the evil is so great that it is mentioned in the famous story of the Sabbath-breakers:
And ask them about the town that was by the sea – when they transgressed in [the matter of] the sabbath – when their fish came to them openly on their sabbath day, and the day they had no sabbath they did not come to them. Thus did We give them trial because they were defiantly disobedient. And when a community among them said, “Why do you advise [or warn] a people whom Allah is [about] to destroy or to punish with a severe punishment?” they [the advisors] said, “To be absolved before your Lord and perhaps they may fear Him.”
And when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We saved those who had forbidden evil and seized those who wronged, with a wretched punishment, because they were defiantly disobeying. (7:163-165)
“By the One in Whose hand is my soul, you must certainly command the good and forbid evil, or else a punishment from Him would soon be sent upon you, after which you would call upon Him yet your supplication (dua) would not be answered.” (Tirmidhi)
Without actively maintaining the forbidding of evil in our communities, we may very well end up accountable for the sins of our people, even if we ourselves are not committing those sins directly. Without forbidding evil, we are allowing evil to spread in our communities; without enforcing any religious boundaries, we are in fact passively encouraging the transgression of Allah’s boundaries.
Neither parents nor du’aat are ready to – or even equipped to – discuss many of the common issues today found on social media and in real life, let alone the even more serious matter of the attitudes driving all of these behaviours. The lack of forbidding evil hasn’t just normalized outward sins, but has allowed the normalization of attitudes and mentalities which poison our fitrah and shred apart our spiritual well-being. This is even worse than just normalizing outward sins – at least if it was just outward sins, while recognizing that they are sinful, there would still be a starting point of understanding Allah’s Laws and acknowledging that one is transgressing them. Instead, we are now in a place where there is complete refusal to accept that Allah’s Prohibitions and Commands have any meaning at all; everything is up to individual interpretation, and anything in the Qur’an can be interpreted away into irrelevance. Sins are, apparently, just another social construct, rather than Divinely punishable actions that have devastating, far-reaching personal and social consequences.
It is definitely time to make haram policing great again. (Okay, yes, I said that just to rile you up, dear reader. You have to admit, it’s why you clicked on this article in the first place.) In all seriousness, what we need is to bring back nahy ‘an il-munkar – not in the tactless, harsh, and damaging manner of the 90s, but in the compassionate and firm way that our entire Ummah desperately needs today.
Invite (mankind, O Muhammad) to the way of your Lord (i.e. Islam) with wisdom (i.e. with the Divine Revelation and the Qur’an) and fair preaching, and argue with them in a way that is better. Truly, your Lord knows best who has gone astray from His path, and He is the Best Aware of those who are guided. (al-Nahl 16:125)
The Messenger of Allah said: “Religion is sincerity.” We said, “To whom?” He said, “To Allah and His Book, and His Messenger, and to the leaders of the Muslims and their common folk.” (Narrated by Muslim, 95)
Hold On To The Compassion While Forbidding Evil
The last decade or so has been spent building up compassion and empathy, which is absolutely necessary in da’wah, at every level. There must be an understanding of where people are coming from, what their history and their backgrounds are, and what personal traumas they are struggling with. There should never be a sense of glee in attacking someone personally, or making claims or accusations about someone’s private spiritual state. At the same time, however, the role of those in da’wah is to engage in both general da’wah as well as personal, individualized da’wah – meaning that there is still a requirement to inform and educate the masses about the seriousness of sins, to emphasize the Divine wisdoms behind the prohibitions made clear in Islam, and to push back against the normalization of those sins in the Ummah. It is not enough to have a “feel good” da’wah that turns a blind eye to entire sections of our Deen, nor is it appropriate to have a culture of religious condemnation to the exclusion of all else. Watering down the Deen so that people can feel good about themselves doesn’t help anyone, except Iblis. One can, in fact, be compassionate towards others without encouraging or enabling the transgression of Allah’s limits.
A new era of haram policing is required, and it must begin in the home. As parents, we are all shepherds of our flocks; we will be accountable on the Day of Judgment and questioned about what we allowed our children to be exposed to, what we passively and actively permitted, and the ignorance we allowed ourselves instead of putting in the effort to prioritize our childrens’ Akhirah over worldly entertainment and pursuits. Certainly, this doesn’t mean shutting everything down with one’s children and being unduly harsh on them – we parents need to have open communication with our kids, especially to help them understand why rules and regulations are in place. It does, however, mean that we cannot allow ourselves to be guilt-tripped by our kids (which is a very common tactic these days), and to remember that we are meant to be our kids’ parents – not their friends. Sometimes we do have to be the bad guy, in order to ultimately be the good guy on the Day of Judgment.
Our Ummah is in a state of global crisis on every level, not just geopolitically, but within our own homes and in our privileged Western Muslim communities. We are in a state of poisoned spirituality, where Muslims who publicly sin for entertainment is not only acceptable, but shared and encouraged; where even mentioning the concept of sins and punishment of the Hereafter turns someone in the target of vicious attacks; where there is little acknowledgement or respect of Allah’s limits and boundaries. “Feel good” faith has severe consequences in the Akhirah, yet too many parents and du’aat have shied away from forbidding the evil alongside with enjoining the good. As a result, we have ended up with generations of adults and youth alike who do not understand the seriousness of the spiritual implications of these normalized sins.
Allah repeatedly commands us in the Qur’an to enjoin the good and forbid the evil; one cannot be utilized to the exclusion of the other. As individuals, as parents, as religious educators and as leaders in our communities, we must all uphold the obligation of amr bi’l ma’roof and nahy ‘an il-munkar, for the spiritual well-being of our community as a whole.
Make haram policing great again – to make this Ummah great again.
And [recall] when We took the covenant from the Children of Israel, [enjoining upon them], “Do not worship except Allah ; and to parents do good and to relatives, orphans, and the needy. And speak to people good [words] and establish prayer and give zakah.” Then you turned away, except a few of you, and you were refusing. (2:83)
Never a Prophet had been sent before me by Allah towards his nation who had not among his people (his) disciples and companions who followed his ways and obeyed his command. Then there came after them their successors who said whatever they did not practise, and practised whatever they were not commanded to do. He who strove against them with his hand was a believer: he who strove against them with his tongue was a believer, and he who strove against them with his heart was a believer and beyond that there is no faith even to the extent of a mustard seed. (Muslim)
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