The Vitality of "Enjoining the Good and Forbidding the Evil" in Political Thought of Imam Khomeini

  December 14, 2023   Read time 8 min
The Vitality of "Enjoining the Good and Forbidding the Evil" in Political Thought of Imam Khomeini
The political in Imam Khomeini's thought is always a function of the religious in the sense that the political action is informed by an Islamic vision that covers all dimensions of the human life. Here is an excerpt of Imam Khomeini's seminal work "Islamic Governance" on the vitality of the enjoining the good and forbidding the evil.

If the duty of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil is properly performed, all other duties will automatically fall into place. If the good is enjoined and the evil forbidden, the oppressors and their agents will be unable to usurp the people’s property and dispose of it according to their own whims; they will be unable to squander the taxes taken from the people. For he who enjoins the good and forbids the evil actively calls men to Islam by remedying injustice and opposing the oppressor. Enjoining the good and forbidding the evil has been made a duty primarily for the sake of accomplishing these high aims. We have restricted it, however, to a narrow category of affairs where harm is suffered chiefly by the individual who is guilty of a sin by deed or by omission. We have the idea firmly in our heads that the instances of evil we are called upon to combat (munkarāt) are only the things we encounter or hear about in everyday life. For example, if someone plays music while we are riding on the bus, or the owner of a coffee house does something wrong, or someone eats in the middle of the bazaar during Ramadān, we regard all these things as instances of evil we must denounce. Meanwhile, we remain totally oblivious to far greater evils. Those who are destroying the welfare of Islam and trampling on the rights of the weak---it is they whom we must force to desist from evil.

If a collective protest were made against the oppressors who commit an improper act or crime, if several thousand telegrams were sent to them from all the Islamic countries telling them to desist, to relinquish their errors, they certainly would desist. If every time a step were taken or a speech given against the interests of Islam and the welfare of the people, those responsible were condemned throughout the country, in every single village and hamlet, they would be obliged to retreat. Could they possibly do otherwise? Never! I know them; I know what kind of people they are. They are very cowardly and would retreat very quickly. But if they see that we are more gutless than they are, they will give themselves airs and do whatever they want.

When the ‘ulamā of Qum met and banded together on one occasion, and the provinces supported them by sending delegations and delivering speeches to show their solidarity, the regime retreated and canceled the measures we were objecting to. Afterwards, they were able to cool our enthusiasm and weaken us; they divided us up and invented a separate “religious duty” for each of us. As a result of the differing opinions that appeared among us, they grew bold again, and now they do whatever they want with the Muslims and this Islamic country of ours.

The Doyen of the Martyrs (‘a) speaks of “summoning men to Islam while at the same time remedying oppression and opposing the oppressors”; it is for the sake of these great aims that enjoining the good and forbidding the evil has been made a duty. If some poor grocer does something wrong, he has not harmed Islam, but only himself. In performing our duty of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, we must pay closest attention to those who harm Islam and those who, under various pretexts, plunder the people’s means of livelihood.

On occasion we read in the paper—sometimes it is stated humorously, sometimes seriously—that many of the items collected for the victims of floods or earthquakes are picked up by our rulers for their own use. One of the ‘ulamā of Malāyer told me that the people had wanted to send a truckload of shrouds for the victims of some disaster, but the police refused to let them through, and even tried to confiscate the load! “Enjoining the good and forbidding the evil” is more imperative in such cases. Now let me ask you, were the subjects mentioned by the Doyen of the Martyrs (‘a) in his sermon addressed only to his companions who were gathered around him listening to his words? Does not the phrase “O people, take heed” address us too? Are we not included in “people”? Should we not profit from this address of the Doyen of the Martyrs (‘a)?

As I stated at the beginning of this discussion, the subjects contained in the sermon of the Doyen of the Martyrs (‘a) were not intended for a single group or class. His address was more in the nature of a circular directed to all commanders, ministers, rulers, fuqahā—and in short, to the whole world, particularly those who are alive and fully conscious. The circulars he issued belong together with the Qur’an in the sense that they demand our obedience until the Day of Resurrection. The verse referred to in the address speaks only of the Jewish scholars and rabbis, but its purport is universal. The Jewish scholars and rabbis were condemned by God because fear or covetousness made them keep silent in the face of the misdeeds of the oppressors, whereas if they had spoken or cried out in protest, they could have prevented oppression from occurring. If the ‘ulamā of Islam likewise fail to rise up against the oppressors and remain silent instead, they too will be condemned.

After addressing the people in general, the Doyen of the Martyrs (‘a) then turns to a particular group, the ‘ulamā of Islam, and tells them: “You enjoy prestige and standing in society; the nation of Islam respects and venerates you. You are held in awe and have high standing in society because you are expected to rise up against the oppressors in defense of the truth and to compel the oppressor to enforce the rights of the oppressed. Men have placed their hopes in you for the establishment of justice and the prevention of transgression by the oppressors. “Thus you have reached a certain station and rank. But you have failed to perform the duties of your station. If some harm were to befall the father of one of you, or if—God forbid— someone were to insult him, you would be greatly distressed and would cry out in protest. But now that God’s covenants are being violated before your very eyes and Islam is being dishonored, you keep silent and are not distressed even in your hearts for if you were distressed, you would be bound to raise your voices in protest. The blind, the dumb, and the poverty-stricken cultivators of the land are being destroyed and nobody shows any concern; no one is concerned for the wretched, barefooted people.”

Do you imagine all that bombastic propaganda being broadcast on the radio is true? Go and see for yourselves at first-hand what state our people are living in. Not even one, out of two hundred villages has a clinic. No one is concerned about the poor and the hungry, and they do not allow the measures Islam has devised for the sake of the poor to be implemented. Islam has solved the problem of poverty and inscribed it at the very top of its program: “Sadaqāt is for the poor.”110 Islam is aware that first, the conditions of the poor must be remedied; the conditions of the deprived must be remedied. But they do not allow the plans of Islam to be implemented.

Our wretched people subsist in conditions of poverty and hunger, while the taxes that the ruling class extorts from them are squandered. They buy Phantom jets so that pilots from Israel and its agents can come and train in them in our country.111 So extensive is the influence of Israel in our country—Israel, which is in a state of war with the Muslims, so that those who support it are likewise in a state of war with the Muslims—and so great is the support the regime gives it, that Israeli soldiers come to our country for training! Our country has become a base for them! The markets of our country are also in their hands. If matters go on this way, and the Muslims continue to be apathetic, the Muslims will lose all say in the commercial life of the country.

To return to the address of the Doyen of the Martyrs (‘a): “You have not made proper use of your station. Not only you do nothing yourselves; you fail to support the person who does want to do his duty. The only source of concern and satisfaction for you is that you have the support and respect of the oppressor, that he addresses you as ‘Noble Shaykh’! What the nation suffers at the hands of the government is of no concern to you. The disaster that has befallen you is greater than what has befallen others for the true rank and degree of ‘ulamā has been taken away from you. The administration of affairs and the implementation of law ought to be undertaken by those who are knowledgeable concerning God and are trustees of God’s ordinances concerning what is permitted and what is forbidden. But that rank has been taken away from you.”

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