Enjoining Good and Forbidding Wrong

Advising a close relative can come with various challenges. The outcome can vary too. Some may be able to remain patient and continue to give good counsel, while others can fall into depression and experience broken relationships. How should a Muslim deal with such situations?
by Ustaz Dr Muhammad Haniff Hassan 2022-09-07 • 22 min read
Research Fellow, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
2022-09-07 • 22 min read

In a Hadith narrated by Tamim Ad-Dary r.a, the Prophet s.a.w said,

الدِّينُ النَّصِيحَةُ

Religion is sincere advice”.

(Sahih Muslim)

What the Hadith means is sincerely aspiring goodness for others by enjoining what is good and forbidding what is bad in an ethical manner. Advising a close relative, however, can come with various challenges, particularly with:

●      The self, in observing the teachings of Islam consistently and rising up to the challenges

●      Advising, without being judgemental and on the basis of self-righteousness

●      The possibility of hurting the person while in the process of advising

●      Being rejected, either due to our own incapabilities or by the other who does not easily accept good counsel.

The outcome of the situation can vary. Some may be able to remain patient while continuing to give good counsel and remain strong. However, many fall into depression and experience broken relationships, which harms their personal wellbeing and harmonious family life.

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How should a Muslim deal with such situations?

The first step for a Muslim is to do a reflection on the self and the problem; what is the reason or factor that could have caused the family member to live such a lifestyle or commit habits that are forbidden in the religion?

The objective is to identify the root of the problem that would help develop the solution. It is also an opportunity for the Muslim to identify his own weakness, flaw or negligence that might have caused his efforts to counsel the family member ineffective.

This can be seen in the Prophet’s trip to the city of Taif for the purpose of inviting its people to Islam. While on his way back to Makkah after being harshly rejected by the people of Taif, he prayed to Allah s.w.t. for guidance and strength and reflected that the rejection might be due to his untactful approach and lack of strategy, instead of blaming the people. His prayer, as reported in a Hadith, was;

اللَّهُمَّ إِلَيكَ أَشكُو ضَعْفَ قُوَّتِي، وَقِلَّةَ حِيلَتِي، وَهَوَانِي عَلَى النَّاسِ

يَا أَرحَمُ الرَّاحِمِين، إِلَى مَن تَكِلُنِي، إِلَى عَدُوٍّ يَتَجَهَّمُنِي، أَوْ إِلَى قَرِيبٍ مَلَكتَهُ أَمرِي

إِن لَم يَكُن بِكَ عَلَيَّ غَضَب فَلَا أُبَالِي، غَيرَ أَنَّ عَافِيَتَكَ أَوسَعُ لِي

أَعُوذُ بِنُورِ وَجْهِكَ الَّذِي أَشْرَقْتَ لَهُ الظُّلُمَات، وَصَلَحَ عَلَيهِ أَمْرُ الدُنيَا وَالآخِرَة

أَنْ تُنزِلَ بِي غَضَبَك، أَو يَحِلُّ عَلَيَّ سَخَطَك

لَكَ العُتْبَى حَتَى تَرْضَى، وَلَا حَولَ وَلَا قُوَّةَ إلَّا بِكَ

“O Allah! To you alone, I complain of my helplessness, the insufficiency of my resources and my insignificance before the people. You are the Most Merciful of the merciful. O Lord of mine! Into whose hands would you abandon me to? To an enemy who would show hostility against me? Or into the hands of an unsympathetic distant relative who has been given control over my affair? But if Your wrath does not fall on me, there is nothing for me to worry about. I would, however, be much happier with Your protection.

I seek protection in the light of Your Countenance, which dispels the darkness, and which controls all affairs in this world and in the Hereafter, against incurring Your anger or being the subject of Your displeasure.

To You I submit, until You are pleased. And there is no power nor resource, but Yours alone.”

(Narrated by Imam At-Tabrani)

 A Muslim must also maintain a positive attitude that the situation he is facing is a form of a test from Allah s.w.t and for a good reason as stipulated in the Quran;

وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُم بِشَىْءٍ مِّنَ ٱلْخَوْفِ وَٱلْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِّنَ ٱلْأَمْوَٰلِ وَٱلْأَنفُسِ وَٱلثَّمَرَٰتِ ۗ وَبَشِّرِ ٱلصَّـٰبِرِينَ

And most certainly shall We try you by means of danger, and hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of lives and of (labour’s) fruits. But give glad tidings unto those who are patient in adversity.”

(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:155)

 The Quran has clearly stated that test and tribulation is part and parcel of life,

ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ ٱلْمَوْتَ وَٱلْحَيَوٰةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا ۚ وَهُوَ ٱلْعَزِيزُ ٱلْغَفُورُ

He who has created death as well as life, so that He might put you to a test [and thus show] which of you is best in conduct, and [make you realize that] He alone is almighty, truly forgiving.”

(Surah Al-Mulk, 67:2)

 And some of life’s tests come from immediate family members,

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ إِنَّ مِنْ أَزْوَٰجِكُمْ وَأَوْلَـٰدِكُمْ عَدُوًّا لَّكُمْ فَٱحْذَرُوهُمْ ۚ وَإِن تَعْفُوا۟ وَتَصْفَحُوا۟ وَتَغْفِرُوا۟ فَإِنَّ ٱللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

O you who have attained to faith! Behold, some of your spouses and your children are enemies unto you: so beware of them! But if you pardon (their faults) and forbear, and forgive-then, behold, Allah will be much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace

(Surah At-Taghabun, 64:14)

Although life’s test comes with challenges and hardship, it also opens opportunities for gaining Allah’s pleasure if a Muslim maintains patience and strives to his best ability to overcome it. This positive attitude is consistent with the teaching of Islam that Muslims should strive to maintain good faith towards Allah s.w.t. as mentioned in a Hadith Qudsi,

يَقُولُ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى أَنَا عِنْدَ ظَنِّ عَبْدِي بِي

“Allah said: I am to my slave as he thinks of Me, (i.e. I am able to do for him what he thinks I can do for him).”

(Sahih Al-Bukhari)

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And not to lose hope when facing a difficult situation,

وَلَا تَا۟يْـَٔسُوا۟ مِن رَّوْحِ ٱللَّهِ ۖ إِنَّهُۥ لَا يَا۟يْـَٔسُ مِن رَّوْحِ ٱللَّهِ إِلَّا ٱلْقَوْمُ ٱلْكَـٰفِرُونَ

..and do not lose hope of Allah’s life-giving mercy: verily, none but people who deny the truth can ever lose hope of Allah’s life-giving mercy.”

(Surah Yusuf, 12:87)

Look into the lessons from the stories of the Prophets a.s.

The Quran is the primary reference book for Muslims in all life challenges. In the context of the problem being discussed, the Qur’an has narrated stories of Prophets as best examples and inspirations for Muslims.

 There are stories of Prophets dealing with their close family members who committed grave sins, and some others rejected the call to tawhid and chose to be on the side of disbelievers.

Prophet Adam a.s. – his son Qabil disobeyed Allah’s instruction on offering sacrifice and murdered his brother (Surah Al-Ma’idah, 5:27-30)

Prophet Nuh a.s. – his wife and son rejected his faith and perished with disbelievers (Surah Hud, 11:42 and Surah At-Tahrim 66:10)

Prophet Lut a.s. – his wife refused to accept the call to faith and perished with the disbelievers (Surah At-Tahrim, 66:10)

Prophet Ibrahim a.s. – his father chose to reject his call of faith  (Surah Al-An’am, 6:74)

Prophet Ya’kob a.s. – his children’s conspiracy caused tremendous hardship to his son Prophet Yusuf a.s (Chapter 12 of the Qur’an, Surah Yusuf)

Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. – his uncle Abu Talib refused to accept his prophetic message (Surah Al-Qasas, 28:56).

In addition, the Quran also mentions the story of Asiah, the wife of Pharaoh, who believed in Allah s.w.t. secretly while her husband was a staunch opponent of Prophet Musa a.s. (Surah At-Tahrim, 66:11).

 The above examples illustrate scenarios where a Muslim might face the following;

• Pious husband living with misguided wife (story of Prophet Lut and Prophet Nuh a.s. with their wives)

• Pious wife living with misguided husband (story of Asiah with Pharaoh)

• Pious child living with misguided parent (story of Prophet Ibrahim a.s. with his father)

• Pious parent living with misguided children (story of the Prophets Adam, Nuh and Ya’qub and their children)

• Pious individual living with misguided close relatives (story of Prophet Muhammad with his uncle and relatives).

Thus, whatever scenarios of misguided close family members a Muslim may have to face, there is an example in the Quran from the stories of the Prophets a.s. where one can learn from and seek guidance.

Family, relationship, spouses, children, elders, parents, good, bad, morality, advice, Islam

There are, however, common lessons from all the stories. The first and most glaring lesson is that the Prophets a.s. maintained their relationship with the misguided family members.

Prophet Nuh and Prophet Lut a.s did not divorce or chase away their wives, nor did they cut off relationships with their children. Both continued to be dutiful fathers and showed care and concern to them. The Quran recorded Prophet Nuh’s love for his son till the last minute of his life in

وَهِىَ تَجْرِى بِهِمْ فِى مَوْجٍ كَٱلْجِبَالِ وَنَادَىٰ نُوحٌ ٱبْنَهُۥ وَكَانَ فِى مَعْزِلٍ يَـٰبُنَىَّ ٱرْكَب مَّعَنَا وَلَا تَكُن مَّعَ ٱلْكَـٰفِرِينَ

And (so) the Ark sailed with them through waves like mountains. Nuh called out to his son, who stood apart, “O my dear son! Come aboard with us and do not be with the disbelievers.”

(Surah Hud, 11:42-45)

LikewiseProphet Ibrahim a.s did not show disrespect to his father. The Quran records Prophet Ibrahim’s respectful conversation with his father in the following verses:

وَٱذْكُرْ فِى ٱلْكِتَـٰبِ إِبْرَٰهِيمَ ۚ إِنَّهُۥ كَانَ صِدِّيقًا نَّبِيًّا. إِذْ قَالَ لِأَبِيهِ يَـٰٓأَبَتِ لِمَ تَعْبُدُ مَا لَا يَسْمَعُ وَلَا يُبْصِرُ وَلَا يُغْنِى عَنكَ شَيْـًٔا. يَـٰٓأَبَتِ إِنِّى قَدْ جَآءَنِى مِنَ ٱلْعِلْمِ مَا لَمْ يَأْتِكَ فَٱتَّبِعْنِىٓ أَهْدِكَ صِرَٰطًا سَوِيًّا. يَـٰٓأَبَتِ لَا تَعْبُدِ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنَ ۖ إِنَّ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنَ كَانَ لِلرَّحْمَـٰنِ عَصِيًّا. يَـٰٓأَبَتِ إِنِّىٓ أَخَافُ أَن يَمَسَّكَ عَذَابٌ مِّنَ ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ فَتَكُونَ لِلشَّيْطَـٰنِ وَلِيًّا. قَالَ أَرَاغِبٌ أَنتَ عَنْ ءَالِهَتِى يَـٰٓإِبْرَٰهِيمُ ۖ لَئِن لَّمْ تَنتَهِ لَأَرْجُمَنَّكَ ۖ وَٱهْجُرْنِى مَلِيًّا

Mention too, in the Quran, the story of Ibrahim. He was a man of truth, a prophet. He said to his father, “O dear father! Why do you worship what can neither hear nor see, nor benefit you at all? O dear father! I have certainly received some knowledge which you have not received, so follow me and I will guide you to the Straight Path. O dear father! Do not worship Satan. Surely Satan is ever rebellious against the Most Compassionate. O dear father! I truly fear that you will be touched by a torment from the Most Compassionate, and become Satan’s companion.” He threatened, “How dare you reject my idols, O  Abraham! If you do not desist, I will certainly stone you (to death). So be gone from me for a long time!”

(Surah Maryam, 19:41-46)

Both were constantly praying for their misguided family members until Allah s.w.t. commanded them to stop (Surah At-Tawbah, 9:113-4 and Surah Hud 11:46).

The examples contain important lessons for Muslims facing the same situation – maintaining the relationship and not ostracising the person, despite their misguided behaviour. The wisdom in this is that it would allow the door of communication to remain open, which, one day, may cause a change in their hearts and behaviour. In contrast to severing the relationship, which may not only close the door of communication but also hurt feelings and aggravates the problem.

Family, relationship, spouses, children, elders, parents, good, bad, morality, advice, Islam

Secondly, the Prophets a.s continued to show love, care and concern to the family members, although they did not disregard the misguided behaviour.

This, thus, brings to an important lesson that maintaining family relationships and fulfilling their rights are not forbidden, while boycotting and marginalising them is not the only way to deal with this issue or address the problem. They cannot also be regarded as approving and condoning the sins.

 The Prophets’ stories also teach Muslim parents that faith and piety cannot be inherited. They can only be instilled in children through consistent and continuous education and counsel i.e. from birth till adulthood. Parents, thus, must realise that occupying themselves with plentiful of 'ibadah to attain personal taqwa and closeness to Allah s.w.t. might not have a direct effect on their children’s piety if it is done at the expense of the children’s religious upbringing.

Reflect: From blaming to self-empowering

It is important to note that merely maintaining positive relationships and showing love and care may have unintended effects. Instead of realising the mistake and taking steps to change, the family member may regard it as acceptance and, thus, continue with the misguided behaviour.

Thus, such an approach must be complemented with active and constructive engagement to counsel the family member and change their behaviour or lifestyle.

This requires knowledge and skills from various disciplines, which should be acquired through methodological learning and training from experts. Most often, the misguided behaviour is a result of complex and multiple factors i.e not simply a lack of religious knowledge or guidance. Thus, continuous preaching about halal and haram in Islam, even in a non-confrontational manner, may not have the intended effect.

Instead of spending time blaming, condemning and lamenting about the challenge faced, it would be better and more productive for a Muslim who intends to see the change in his misguided family member to spend time and energy in empowering himself with necessary tools i.e. knowledge and skills that would help in dealing with the situation in an effective and constructive manner.

Not to forget, a Muslim must constantly seek guidance from Allah s.w.t. and maintain a close relationship with Him through continuous ibadah (worship) in hopes that He provides strength, patience and guidance towards a harmonious resolution.

Family, relationship, spouses, children, elders, parents, good, bad, morality, advice, Islam

It is also empowering to realise that a person’s door to repentance is not closed as long he is alive. Stories of sinners discovering or rediscovering the truth are not uncommon.

Two examples can be cited. First is the story of a companion by the name of Tulaihah bin Khuwailid r.a. He apostatized and claimed to be a prophet during the Prophet’s lifetime. However, he returned to Islam during the rule of Abu Bakr r.a, the First Caliph, after his army was defeated in a battle. He later died as a martyr in the Battle of Nahawand against the Persian empire during the Second Caliph Umar’s rule.

Another companion, Abdullah bin Abi Sarh r.a. left Islam and joined the hostile Meccans polytheists, who were the enemy of the Prophet s.a.w. However, he repented and returned to Islam and was appointed as a governor by Uthman r.a, the Third Caliph.

Don’t be quick to judge

The stories of the Prophets a.s teach that one should not be quick to judge or condemn Muslims who have to live with non-practising family members.

Such a situation is not a cause to be blamed for in Islam. Allah s.w.t. did not reprimand His Prophets for having sinful and disbelieving children, wives and parents. A Muslim is only blamed in such a situation if he condones with heart and deed the misguided behaviour and does not strive to counsel the family members.

Unless one has evidence that such Muslim is complicit with the misguided family members in sin, not judging him negatively is a virtue, based on the principle, “al-asl baraah al-zimmah” (one should be considered innocent and free from any obligation, duty or blame, until proven otherwise) and the Quranic verse that says,

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱجْتَنِبُوا۟ كَثِيرًا مِّنَ ٱلظَّنِّ إِنَّ بَعْضَ ٱلظَّنِّ إِثْمٌ

O you who have attained to faith! Avoid most assumptions (about one another) for, behold, some of (such) assumptions is (in itself) a sin…

(Surah Al-Hujurat, 49:12)

The Quran states that no person will be burdened by the sin of others and a person will only be accounted for the deed that he performed,

أَلَّا تَزِرُ وَازِرَةٌ وِزْرَ أُخْرَىٰ. وَأَن لَّيْسَ لِلْإِنسَـٰنِ إِلَّا مَا سَعَىٰ

That no bearer of burdens shall be made to bear another’s burden; and that nought shall be accounted unto man but what he is striving for.”

(Surah An-Najm, 53:38-39) 

Those who are tested by Allah s.w.t. with non-practising family members, they are required only to counsel them in the best manner, “Call thou (all mankind) unto thy Sustainer’s path with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the most kindly manner- for, behold, thy Sustainer knows best as to who strays from His path, and best knows as to who are the right-guided.” (Surah Al-Hujurat, 16:125) 

And in the best of their ability,

Remain, then, conscious of Allah as best you can…” (Surah At-Taghabun, 64:16).

The outcome (Hidayah to change) is in the hand of Allah s.w.t.,

إِنَّكَ لَا تَهْدِى مَنْ أَحْبَبْتَ وَلَـٰكِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَهْدِى مَن يَشَآءُ ۚ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِٱلْمُهْتَدِينَ

You surely cannot guide whoever you like, but it is Allah Who guides whoever He wills, and He knows best who are ˹fit to be˺ guided..”

(Surah Al-Qasas, 28:56)

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