Reforming Oneself First is Most Important
Earlier we read about the ignorant people who were very rigid in their customs. They would not leave their ancestral customs even if they contradicted Islamic teachings. These grieved the Muslims. Therefore, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala revealed this ayah and encouraged them to focus on themselves.
يأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ عَلَيْكُمْ أَنْفُسَكُمْ لاَ يَضُرُّكُمْ مَّن ضَلَّ إِذَا اهْتَدَيْتُمْ إِلَى اللَّهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعاً فَيُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِمَا كُنْتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ
“O you who believe! Take care of yourselves. If you follow the right guidance, no hurt can come to you from those who are in error. The return of you all is to Allah, then He will inform you about (all) that you used to do.”
In this ayah, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is comforting the grieved Muslims who strove in the cause of Allah stopping people from evil and encouraging them to do good. These Muslims have done their best and honored their duty in calling people to Islam and leaving shirk, now if the people don’t listen to them then it is not their fault. They should not grieve about it. It is their choice if they are sticking to error and falsehood. Their going astray will not cause any harm to the Muslims.
It so happens that when we see someone practicing something wrong we take it upon ourselves to correct them. In doing so we become negligent of our own worship and self-improvement, and spend our days and nights in correcting others. There are some who do not look at their own children but are always finding faults with others’ children, how they are dressed up, how they talk, how they behave, etc. While their own house may be falling apart they are more concerned about what’s happening in other people’s home. They are quick to point out the faults of others while being completely oblivious to their own shortcomings.
In this ayah, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is correcting us that while it is encouraged to forbid evil and do good, one should also keep himself in check. It shouldn’t happen that we are running after other people, giving them sermons and lectures while we are completely ignorant about how we are falling behind in our deeds.
A believing servant should do as many righteous deeds as possible. Whoever reforms himself would not be affected by the wickedness of the wicked people, whether they are his relatives or strangers.
This however also doesn’t mean that one should correct others only when necessary because it is quite possible that the other person never heard of the hadeeth or lecture that you want them to hear. Now, how to strike a balance between checking oneself and amr-bil-maroof and nahi anil-munkir?
Someone came to Abdullah ibn Umar radhiAllahu anhu and narrated a serious dispute between certain people who were calling each other Mushriks. Ibn Umar said, “Do you think I am going to tell you to go and fight them? Never. Go, talk to them softly. If they listen, fine. If not, stop worrying about them. get busy taking care of your own selves.” After having said that, he recited this ayah of Surah al-Ma’idah.
Sensing the doubt generated by a surface view of this ayah, Abu Bakr radhiAllahu anhu said in a khutbah, “You people recite this ayah and use it out of context that al-amr-bil maroof [bidding the good] is not required. Understand it very clearly that I have myself heard the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam say that
إِنَّ النَّاسَ إِذَا رَأَوُا الْمُنْكَرَ وَلَا يُغَيِّرُونَهُ، يُوشِكُ اللهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ أَنْ يَعُمَّهُمْ بِعِقَابِه
‘If the people witness evil and do not change it, then Allah is about to send His punishment to encompass them.’”
– A person should be concerned about his reformation. He should take good care of himself by following the commands of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and staying away from prohibitions whether other people follow it or not. At the end of the day one is responsible for his own self.
– A person should worry about his islah first and then begin reforming others.
– A person should be concerned about his salvation in the hereafter. He should hold on to the law of Allah even when everybody around him is going astray. A person should be greedy for his righteous deeds.
– When a person learns about what to do and what not to do in religion then he should not neglect them because he will be questioned.
– Some people take extreme steps and say other people are responsible for themselves. When we find out the truth about something it is our duty to tell it to others. However, when they don’t accept then it is not our fault. We won’t be held responsible for the choice they make. As long as we are acting about the truth we are not to be blamed.
Some people don’t stop others when see them doing an evil because they say, “It is their choice.” The person doesn’t even know he is committing a sin. It is our duty to inform him politely and if after that he doesn’t listen then we can say it is their choice.