<< From the AltMuslimah Archives >>
Muslims face many a challenge when forbidding evil, and often lack the wisdom and sincerity to do so effectively. We might be quick to judge the new sister in our community who does not wear hijab, but fail to admonish the veteran sister who attends the study circle and backbites. Or we might stand against the brother who sells liquor, but will not speak up against the religious leader who commits wrongdoings.
The majority of Muslims are familiar with the alleged Biblical story of Jesus asking those free of sin “to cast the first stone” in their condemnation of an adulteress. Pericope Adulterae, as the story is typically referred to, is claimed by Biblical scholars to be attributed to the Bible even though its origins are not divine and is missing from the earlier scrolls of the sacred text. Based on the significance of the story and the fact that it does not contradict the noble character and teachings of Jesus, most Biblical scholars have agreed upon its inclusion in the later versions of the Bible.
In Pericope Adulterae, Jesus is approached by a group of hypocrites, with stones in hand, to judge in the case of an adulteress. The woman, commonly referred to as “the prostitute”, was caught in the act and brought to Jesus for judgment. Knowing their deceiving nature, Jesus addresses the hypocrites by saying: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Haunted by their conscience, the group of men retreat from the scene, leaving Jesus and the woman alone. He then asks of her if there were any accusers who condemned her, and in their absence, he then tells her to “go on and sin no more.”
This story presents us with the human dilemma of judging others for their evil actions when we ourselves are guilty of sin. As Muslims, we are constantly deliberating between enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, as God commanded us in the Qur’an, and keeping our sins in front of us when judging others. All too often we encounter fellow Muslim brothers and sisters publicly transgressing God’s boundaries in our communities: the brother with the convenience store who sells liquor, the sister who is always backbiting other sisters, the brother who abuses his wife. In these situations, we ask ourselves: “Who am I to say anything? Isn’t it hypocritical to admonish them when I am not without sin?”
In Islam, we can approach this moral predicament through the hadith reported by Abu Said Al-Khudri, where the Prophet Muhammad said, “Whoever amongst you sees an evil, he must change it with his hand; if he is unable to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is unable to do so, then with his heart; and that is the weakest form of Faith.” Muslims have an obligation to forbid evil in all cases or they run the risk of being cursed by Allah for not condemning it, as stated by Prophet Muhammad in his saying: “Nay, by Allah, you either enjoin good and forbid evil and catch hold of the hand of the oppressor and persuade him to act justly and stick to the truth, or Allah will involve the hearts of some of you with the hearts of others and will curse you as He had cursed them.”
Looking back at Pericope Adulterae, we find critics of the story questioning Jesus’ wisdom in not punishing the adulteress. It is often argued that Jesus understood the hypocrites’ approach to be a test of his knowledge and adherence to the Mosaic Law. Then there is the issue of double standards, in that only the adulteress was brought forth, leaving the unanswered questions of “Who was the adulterer?” and “Why was he not brought along with her?” Some critics are of the opinion that the adulterer may have been someone in the crowd, holding a position of authority from amongst the hypocrites, hence been left “off the hook.”
Muslims face many a challenge when forbidding evil, and often lack the wisdom and sincerity to do so effectively. For instance, we might be quick to judge the new sister in our community who does not wear hijab, but fail to admonish the veteran sister who attends the study circle and backbites. Or we might firmly stand against the brother who sells liquor in his convenience store, but will not dare speak up against the religious leader who commits wrongdoings.
In situations as such, we are reminded of the hadith reported by ‘Abdullah bin Mas’ud, in which the Prophet stated: “The first defect (in religion) which affected the Children of Israel in the way that man would meet another and say to him: ‘Fear Allah and abstain from what you are doing, for this is not lawful for you’. Then he would meet him the next day and find no change in him, but this would not prevent him from eating with him, drinking with him and sitting in his assembles. When it came to this, Allah led their hearts into evil ways on account of their association with others.”
Forbidding evil is a duty that we all need to assume responsibly for our own sake and the benefit of our communities. No one amongst us is free of sin: we must forbid evil nonetheless.
Enith Morillo is a scientist by profession and a writer by passion. Her writing is featured in the newly published “Many Poetic Voices, One Faith” and “Many Voices, One Faith II: Islamic Fiction Stories.” She is also the media liaison for the grass-root movement Healthy Families Initiative, a program dealing with domestic abuse in the Rhode Island Muslim community. You can visit her Umrah blog or contact her via email at enithcm [at] gmail.com. This article was first published on AltMuslimah on December 2, 2009.