Islamic Perspectives

Ashaab As-Sabt - the people of Saturday

By Muhammad Al-Shareef

Ashaab As-Sabt - The People of Saturday - were a townsfolk from Bani Israel who were tested with the Sabbath, the day when they were ordered to leave their worldly affairs and be totally devoted to Allah. All week-long they would go fishing with scant return. But on Saturdays, when they were required to put aside their activities, the fish would come in abundance. A test from Allah.

A group of the townsfolk transgressed, not satisfied with Allah’s commandments devising a scheme to by-pass the commandment. They would put out their fishing nets on Friday, and then on Sunday they would come and pick the nets up. Now all the Saturday fish would be caught.

The townsfolk divided into two groups when they saw the grave evil and sin that was befalling. The first group tried to advise the transgressors and warn them of the horrific consequences of their action - commanding the good and forbidding the evil. Thinking they had no responsibility for what was taking place, the other group just went about minding their own business, holding that Allah would eventually destroy the sinners.

So the first group spoke out against the disobedience that was taking place for two reasons: One, so that they would be pardoned by Allah because they tried to hold back the transgressors. And two, so that perhaps the transgressors may listen to the reminder and turn back to Allah. It was only this group that survived: “So when they forgot the remindings that had been given to them, We rescued those who forbade evil, but We seized those who did wrong with a severe torment because they used to rebel (disobey Allah).” (Qur’an, 7:165)

It is the nature of a human being to feel the need to do good or feel the drive to indulge in evil. But as for our Ummah, it should be our characteristic to do only good. And we should not only do good ourselves, but we must encourage others to do good - we must be the driving force. And we should not only distance ourselves from vice, but we must forbid others from doing it also - we must be the obstacle.

If we all had Muslim identification badges, and the badge was valid, the description that would go on the badge would read: This man/woman commands good and forbids evil, for this is how Allah described us: “You (true believers in Islam) are the best of peoples ever raised up for mankind; you enjoin good and forbid evil, and you believe in Allah.” (Qur’an, 3:110)

When it comes to encouraging one or the other, there are two groups of people. The first are those who encourage others to do good and advise them to stop the evil they may be committing. These are the believing men and women, the ones that shall be favoured by Allah’s Mercy: “The believers, men and women, are helpers of one another. They enjoin (on the people) good, and forbid (people) from evil. They perform Salat (establish prayers), and give the Zakah, and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah will have His Mercy on them. Surely, Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise.” (Qur’an, 9:71)

The second group of people are those who encourage others towards evil and stop them whenever they see them doing acts of virtue. These are the hypocrite men and women who Allah shall shun:

“The hypocrites, men and women, are from one another; they enjoin (on the people) evil and forbid (people) from good and they close their hands (from giving alms in Allah’s cause). They have forgotten Allah, so He has forgotten them. Verily, the hypocrites are the Fasiqun (rebellious, disobedient to Allah).” (Qur’an, 9:67)

When a people fail in their duty to command the good and forbid the evil, their invocations will cease to be accepted. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “(I swear) by Him who holds my soul in His Hands, you shall indeed command the good, and you shall indeed forbid the evil, otherwise Allah shall rain down upon you a punishment. Then you shall attempt to invoke Him and your (invocations) shall not be answered.” (Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Al-Tirmidhi).

Our Prophet (pbuh) lived his entire life commanding the good and forbidding evil. Abdullah ibn Salam narrates the scene when he (pbuh) first arrived in Madina:

“When Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) came to Madina, the people raced to greet him. I joined the crowd to see him and when I saw his face I knew that that face was not the face of a liar. The first thing he said when he spoke was, ‘O people, spread salaam, feed the hungry, and pray at night when others are sleeping - you’ll enter Paradise in peace.’” (Ibn Majah)

We should never forget the parable Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) gave us regarding this issue: “The similitude of the one who is steadfast observing the limits laid down by Allah and the one who has crossed those limits is that of a people that come upon a boat. Some of them go to the top and the others go to the bottom. Those on the bottom - in order for them to drink - have to disturb those on top. So they say to themselves, ‘Let us make a hole in the bottom of the boat in this portion of ours, so as not to disturb those above.’” The Prophet (pbuh) continued, “If those above leave those below to what they want to do, they will all perish. But if they hold their hands, they will save the people on the bottom, and all of them will be saved.” (Al-Bukhari)
Characteristics of one who encourages good and forbids evil:
1. Knowledge (worldly and religious),
2. Patience,
3. Hikmah - having wisdom,
4. Kindness,
5. Observing justice (not forgetting the good that that person still has).
The point of commanding good and forbidding evil is not to release some anger in our hearts or to revenge an insult to us. In the end, we want the person to receive guidance, something which may require us to swallow our personal pride at times. At other times, when the situation calls for it, we may have to hurt someone’s feelings if that is the only way they can be guided. But it is only the person of knowledge and wisdom who can properly measure the situation. Hurting the feelings of lay Muslims is not a first resort, nor is public humiliation of someone who came to the Masjid for the first time. These are methods of those who have not schooled themselves well in the characteristics of those who call to Allah. Let’s begin practicing the encouragement of good and the forbidding of evil today. Let’s begin with that Muslim in the mirror.

The author is director if Al-Maghrib Institute

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 October 2011 on page no. 29

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