The New Neocon Subversion of Islam: Undermining the Islamic Obligation of Amr and Nahy

The concept of ‘amr bil ma’roof wa ’nahy ‘an ‘l-munkar– commanding the good and forbidding evil – which has its roots in the Qur’an as well as the Sunnah and has been expounded in some detail by pious scholars of the past – is one of the most critical aspects of Islam which ensures the spiritual maintenance of the Muslim nation.

The following verse of the Qur’an establishes the obligation,

“You are the best nation produced for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah.” (3:110)

The following hadith is staple in this regard,

Abu Said (radiyAllah ‘anhu) said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) say: Whoever sees in an evil let him change it with his hand, and if he is unable to then let him change it with his tongue, and if he is unable to then let him reject it with his heart, which is the weakest level of faith” (Imam Nawawi, Sharh Sahih Muslim)

Well over 1400 years of traditional scholarship in Islam has elucidated upon the meanings contained within the above hadith and the various ahadith and verses of the Qur’an pertaining to concept of amr (enjoining) and nahy (forbidding). From these sources the Ulama have extrapolated a framework for discharging this obligation.

The Henry Jackson Society and “ Coercive Enforcement of Sharia”

The Henry Jackson Society recently held a seminar entitled Coercive Enforcement of Sharia in the UK and in Europe: An Assessment, with Dr Lorenzo Vidino, to discuss “Hisba”. He is a former researcher at the American neoconservative think-tank, RAND Corporation, which pedalled the proposal authored by Cheryl Bernard to reform Islam and which formed the basis for many of the policies (including PREVENT) implemented by the UK government (see here). He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Center for Security Studies, ETH Zurich and a policy adviser at the European Foundation for Democracy (EFD).  Interestingly, the “experts” which serve at the EFD include the following:

  • Irshad Manji – belonging to the Ismaili religion, she authored a book called The Trouble with Islam, claiming herself to be a Mujtahida reformist of Islam. She believes herself to be a “Refusenik”; she refuses “to join an army of automatons in the name of Allah,” which incidentally refers to most Muslims who do not agree with her reformist outlook.   She also believes most Muslims regard women as inferior. For a lesbian Mujtahida, the bigoted claims are grand indeed.
  • Tehmina Kazi – is the director of British Muslims for Secular Democracy, an organisation which previously had anti-Muslim, Ismaili Taj Hargey, Hijab-hater Yasmin Alibhai-Brown who was the director and who is now currently vice chair, and Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, another reformist who believes Islamic laws are outdated.
  • Ahmad Mansour – another born-again, “I used to be an Islamist therefore believe me” anti-Islamist, who attributes most of normative Islam to a “Salafist” understanding, believes that those Imams who pay “lip service” to democracy should in essence, not be trusted. Normative Islamic beliefs, according to Mansour, lead to violence:

“This is where the delusion begins. Violence doesn’t only occur when people are ready to kill in the name of religion. Problems in education and marriage also lead to violence, as does propaganda about gender-discrimination, the claim of exclusivity of one’s religion, the declining state of democracy, or the belief of having to save others from a godless life – all represent facets that can incite violence.”

Vidino occupies a position amongst a milieu of anti-Islam “reformers” and opportunists and belongs to an organisation which is not exactly the most Muslim-friendly. Then again, to receive an invitation from the Henry Jackson Society requires some degree of affiliation with the anti-Muslim celebrities. The connection between EDF and HJS is deeper routed, as can be seen from the referencing of the paper on Jihadism authored by neocon spin-doctor Rashad Ali and HJS researcher Hannah Stuart on the EDF site.


The entry into the discourse of “Hisba” is quite intriguing.  Vidino equates it to “commanding good and forbidding evil or forbidding wrong”. In the media, the al-Muhajiroun cronies who were harassing non-Muslims in East London was spotlighted.  The right-wing/neocon clique picked this up as evidence of “Sharia creep”.  The irony is that the scholars of normative Islam by and large rejected this behaviour as anything but Islam. Shaykh Shams ad-Duha delivered an entire Friday sermon on the issue.  Shaykh Haytham al-Haddad, according to Vidino, articulated the theological unsoundness of such behaviour.

In highlighting the East London incident, Vidino states,

“Despite their leaders’ claims, there are no indications that members of these groups actually coerced citizens to abide by their rules. City council and police officials, together with local citizens and members of local Muslim communities, took down the posters and the issue was quickly forgotten.”

He believes however, that the events of East London “should not be dismissed”. In setting the context with an unrepresentative example, Vidino asserts that, “Most Islamic jurists agree that only the ruler has the right to coercively “command right and forbid wrong.” Yet some, particularly within the Salafist movement, argue that performance of hisba is a duty incumbent on all Muslims.”

This theological hatchet-claim is not entirely true. Indeed when an Islamic authority is established, then the rules espoused by the likes of Imam Ghazali (rahimahulla), who is referenced in Vidino’s paper in the first chapter, apply. Imam Ghazali states,

“The ordinary people also are unfit for it unless they get orders from the rulers.” (al-Ghazali, Ihya Ulum al-Din, “The Book of Worldly Usages”, 2:186)

Imam Abu’l Hasan al-Mawardi (rahimahulla) was a great Shafi’i Qadhi of the fifth century (AH). His fiqh text al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyya w’al-Wilayat al-Diniyya details the functions of the various organs of an Islamic government. Since the context of the book is governance, much of the discussion pertaining to hisba relates to the functions of the muhtasib in an official, government-sanctioned capacity. However, he clearly states that the obligation of hisba “applies, in effect, to every Muslim” (al-Mawardi , al-Ahkam al-Sultaniyya w’al-Wilayat al-Diniyya, p.227). However he highlights nine differences between the one who is charged by the Islamic authority and one who undertakes the tasks “voluntarily”.   Amongst the mainly administrative difference, Imam Mawardi highlights that the punishment can only be meted out by the one who operates in an official role. In general the Imam stipulates the person must be,

“Just, of sound judgement, firm and severe in the deen [religion], and clearly aware of what evil behaviour is.” (Ibid, p.338)

Amongst the Malikiyya, Ibn Arabi (rahimahulla) in his commentary of verse 104 of Surah Aal Imran establishes that forbidding evil is obligatory on anyone who can maintain it, given that he does so in accordance with the preconditions of doing it nicely, and does not cause harm to himself or fellow believers. (al-Akam al-Qur’an)

Imam al-Harmayn al-Juwayni (rahimahulla) in his work, al-Irshad ila qawaati’ al-adilla fi usul al-i’tqad, concurs with Imam Mawardi and confirms that the duty of amr and nahy applies to all Muslims, and excepting war (which lies with the authority of leader), can conduct themselves in the market place.

Ironically for Vidino, the great Hanbali faqih Hafidh Ibn Taymiyya (rahimahulla), who is often associated with “Salafists”, in his work, Commanding the Good and Forbidding Evil, clearly states that,

“Carrying out the punishments prescribed by Allah on whoever transgresses the bounds of the shari’a is a part of prohibiting wrong. It is obligatory upon those in authority (Uluu-ul-amr), the scholars from each group or nation, and their amirs, and their elders, to stand over the general population enjoining good and prohibiting wrong.”

Regarding Shaykh Haytham al-Haddad, (who Vedino baselessly claims, to the joy of the HJS,  “introduced Salafism in the UK and a really militant interpretation of Salafism to the UK”), he explains that the Shaykh had given reasons explicating the Islamic position as to why the actions of the few in East London were un-Islamic. Vidino castes doubt over the Shaykh’s explanation, stating,

“whether of course that was for my own consumption or that’s what he actually believes and says to his own followers, that’s a different matter.”

Given his nonchalant brushing aside of the Shaykh’s explanation (a possible influence of Ahmad Mansour’s understanding outlined above), in light of the theological understanding briefly elucidated above, the academic integrity of Vidino is somewhat wanting.

The Implication of the Discussion on Hisba

As ever, so much research is not done without implication and Vidino does not hide the fact that European governments will need to gear up to deal with this “fringe” issue. The questions from the audience speaks volumes about where this discussion will inevitably lead to:

“My question is who is pushing sharia law? In Saudi Arabia, the extremists, the Wahabis, spend hundreds of millions of dollars in the UK on madrassa and Muslim schools.”

To which Vidino replies,

“You’re absolutely right, let me say first of all, just as clarification, that I’m talking about a relatively different – it’s very much linked with what you’re saying – but here I’m talking about a different phenomenon, which is the forceful interpretation, the coercive enforcement of sharia. Obviously, this is really a fringe phenomenon with certain extremist Salafist quarters.”

Thus the discussion of hisba swiftly shifts to and encapsulates “Wahabis”, madrassas and Muslim schools, contextualising them into the discourse of extremism. A further question is asked by Caroline Cox. Before looking at her question it is worth understanding her position on Islam, which despite claiming that the faith differs with “Islamism”, is tantamount to en EDL-eque hatred of the faith. According to her, some “fundamentalists”,

“May be sincere. But they may also be disingenuous or even deliberately deceptive as justified by the Islamic doctrine of taqiyya which justifies conscious deception about faith for self-protection in a hostile environment.”

In addition to believing Muslims are compulsive liars, she believes that Islam is a warring faith, intolerant of other religions, and Jihad is the conquest of the world in the name of Islam. Though Vidino highlights the “Hisba” of the Tablighi Jama’at “simply advise[s] them to change them without putting any pressure on them”, Cox believes( that the Tablighi mega-Mosque in London would be,

“the very centre of the all encompassing political, social, military and religious activities of Mohammed and his followers as they set out-and continue to set out-to conquer the world for Allah and Islam.”

An extremist female Douglas Murray then.

In her question to Vidino, Cox links Hisba with Sharia courts and gender discrimination. In subsequent following up pertaining to “Sharia courts”, Cox remarks that,

“But the reality is [that] in these communities there is [the] enormous pressure to which you referred to stay within the confines of the community norms and enormous intimidation if anyone wants to go out of those communities and seek the law of the land, particularly for those very vulnerable women. So the pressures are enormous and the situation really is one of gross, shall I say, tolerance of gender discrimination which should not be allowed in this country, so it’s a huge disruption and something we do need to address.”

Cox’s inherited bias comes to the fore through her reference to “these” communities being under her unsubstantiated claims of “enormous pressure”. Of course, the “gender discrimination” which leaves women hanging in marriage limbo within the Orthodox Jewish community completely escapes her.

The notorious Muslim-hater and extremist, Douglas Murray, who wants to make it difficult for Muslims (no Islamist distinction here) to live in Europe, also posed a question and linked the concept of hisba with broader associations. Giving the example of Maajid Nawaz and the backlash against the offensive image he tweeted, Murray ties the concept of hisba with “Sharia compliance” of the Western media, as it refused to portray the image of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon).  Vidino in agreeing with him states, “I agree with you on a personnel (sic) level that I think it’s silly and embarrassing from a Western perspective”.

The discourse of hisba will thus impact a wide variety of neocon-driven issues.

Setting the Framework and the Impact on Da’wah

It is interesting to note that in Vidino’s paper on this topic, in the section on theology, cites an Orientalist book which goes through the various positions on hisba from the perspective of varying schools of thought and theology.  However, the author of that book frames the discussion from a different point of view.  His opening Preface gives an example of a woman being raped in public to the inactivity of the bystanders. Through the discussion he notes that the intervention in such a case and the “rescue” of the individual was a concept he had not come across until his research into Islam. Referring to amr and nahy, he writes,

“Islam, by contrast, provides both a name and a doctrine for a broad moral duty of this kind.” (M. A. Cook, Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Throught, xi)

The presentation by Vidino and the audience’s comments sets the framework for present-day neocon discourse: extremism and Islamism. Though Vidino repeatedly clarifies that forceful hisba is an anecdotal phenomenon in Europe at best, that the London incident was widely condemned by the Muslim community of Britain, and that the theology behind it is linked (according to Vidino) to “Islamist” and “fringe Salafist” interpretation, it can be seen that the HJS has other ideas in linking it to issues more “sinister” in an effort to further curtail the religious freedoms of the Muslim minority.  Vidino in his conclusion advises policy-makers that,

“…it would be wise for authorities throughout Europe to pay close attention to signs of its existence. Local police forces, social workers and teacher could be aware of the problem without even knowing it. Outreach to Muslim communities is vitally important. Building trust-based relationships with community leaders and regular citizens would increase the likelihood they would report cases of hisba.”

In short, if Vidino’s former employer, Rand Corporation is anything to go by, this community engagement will be to the detriment and vilification of the normative Islamic community as it will seek out and project as “mainstream”, “liberal” voices as part of the “outreach”.  If we examine how the PREVENT policy has over the years descended from tacking “radicalism” targeting al-Mahajiroun-types, through to “Islamism” of the Hizb ut Tahrir, and now to the current implementation which is targeting any Muslim on the basis of their political dissent and increased religiosity, provided the neocons are at the helm of policy formation, the concept of “Hisba” too will be subjected to the same level government intervention.

Amr and nahy is intrinsically linked with the obligation of da’wah. The concept though, will be dealt with as the end-point of the beginning of the terrorism discourse and its roots will lie in, what Vidino called “Hisba through advice”, which he regards as perfectly legal and non-coercive.  In other words, the call will be to “prevent” the likes of al-Muhajiroun, but the impact will be felt by da’wah organisations throughout the UK, possibly Europe and normative Islam itself.

Indeed it is early times, however it is for the Ulama of Islam to take this discussion by the reins and develop guidance for the Muslim minority before a policy developed by pseudo-intellectuals and anti-Muslim neocons regarding this issue is imposed, da’wah curtailed and groups like the Tablighi Jama’at, Dawate-Islami and others, are restricted or even banned.

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