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5:63 Are religious leaders responsible for the deeds of common people?

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Why do not the rabbis and the doctors of Law forbid them from their (habit of) uttering sinful words and eating things forbidden? Evil indeed are their works.

Are religious leaders responsible for the
deeds of common people?

In the second verse (63), the Shaykhs and ‘Alims among the Jews
have been sternly warned as to why would they not stop such people
from evil deeds. At this place in the Qur’an, two words have been
used. The first word is: Rabbaniuunn’, which means Men of Allah,
that is, those who are intensely devoted to acts of worship and abstain
from worldly temptations – commonly known as Derwish, Pir or
Shaykh. The second word used is ‘Ahbar.’ Religious scholars among
Jews are called ‘Ahbar.’ This tells us that the real responsibility of the
Qur’anic injunction of Al-Amr bil-Ma’rif (bidding the Fair) and Nahy
Anil-Munkar (forbidding the Unfair) falls on these two groups, that is,
on the Shaykhs and ‘Alims. However, some commentators have said
that ‘Rabbaniuun’ refers to ‘Ulama who have been appointed by Government and are fully authorized, while means the ‘Ulama in general. Taken in that sense, the responsibility of stopping people
from committing crimes comes to fall on government officials and
‘Ulama both. Incidentally, this has been further clarified in some other
verses as well.

For ‘Ulama and Mashayikh – a Note of Warning
Towards the end of the verse (63), it was said: : “Evil
is what they have been doing” – which means that it is bad habit on
the part of such religious leaders known as Mashayikh and ‘Ulama
that they have abandoned their cardinal duty of bidding the Fair and
forbidding the Unfair. They see people ruining themselves and they
do not stand up and stop them.
Commentators with knowledge and insight have pointed out that at the end of the first verse (62) which mentioned the errors made by common people, what was said is: (Evil is what they
have been doing). But, in the second verse (63), where the Mashayikh
and ‘Ulama have been admonished for their failing, the concluding
sentence used is: evil is what they have been doing [by
design].” The reason is that, according to the Arabic usage, the word,
(that which is done) includes everything done, whether with intention, or without. But, the word, (that which is acted upon) is applied to what is done particularly with intention and volition. As
for the words: Sana’a and San’ at (that which is done by design) are concerned, they are applied when something is done with intention, and volition or choice, and that it is done repeatedly as a matter of habit and considered purpose both. Therefore, as a result of the evil done by common people, the word chosen was ‘Amal, that is: (Evil is what they have been doing). But, as a result of the wrong done by Mashayikh and ‘Ulama particularly, the word selected
was: Sana’a, as in: “Evil is what they have been
doing [by design].” In this arrangement here, there may be a hint that
the attitude of such religious leaders was false because they knew that
if they were to stop their people, they would listen to them and, it was
likely, that they would abstain from evil deeds. Yet, such is their
greed for whatever offerings they may get from them, or such is their
fear of losing the faith of their clients, that their hearts are not moved
enough to stand up to defend and uphold the truth. This failing of
theirs is far too grave than the evil doings of those evil doers.

The outcome is : If the people of a country get involved in sins and
crimes, and their religious leaders know that they will listen and abstain if asked to stop, then, under such a condition, if they do not try to stop the flood of sins and crimes because of temptation, fear or apathy,
their crime is more grave than the crime of real criminals and sinners.
Therefore, Sayyidna ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas (RA) had said that a
stronger warning for Mashayikh and ‘Ulama does not appear anywhere in the entire Qur’an other than the one in this verse. The recognized authority in Tafsir Dahhak has said: In my view, this is the most
frightening Ayah for Mashayikh and ‘Ulama. (Ibn Jarir & Ibn Kathir)

The reason is that in the light of this verse, the failing of religious leaders gets to be rated as far more serious than the actual crime committed by thiefs and robbers and sinners (Refuge with Allah). However, it should be borne in mind that this stern warning stands operative in the situation when the Mashayikh and ‘Ulama are reasonably certain that their appeal will be heard and accepted. But, under other
when prevailing trends or corresponding experience create
a stronger likelihood that nobody is going to listen to them, rather,
they may even have to face harm or hurt in doing so, the command is
that their responsibility, no doubt, stands dropped, but, the conduct
which still remains better and higher is that they should – whether
heard or negated – go on doing their duty without bothering about any
blame thrown or pain caused. This approach was identified earlier as
well in verse 54 which highlighted one of the qualities of the Mujahidin
in the way of Allah by saying: that is, they are not afraid
of any blame thrown at them by those who would blame anyone who
speaks the truth.

It is useful to sum up the main elements of our discussion before
we part with it by saying that Mashayikh and ‘Ulama, rather, all Muslims, once they know something to be sinful or against law, are dutybound to check, stop or prohibit sin and crime, to the best of their ability – with their own hands or word of mouth or, at the least, with distaste of the heart or dislike of the attitude – of course, subject to the
condition that the occasion lends to the possibility and stronger probability that they will be heard and their call will be entertained. But, should there be an occasion where stronger probability exists that they
will not be heard or they will be subjected to hostility against them,
then, that will be a different condition in which it will no more be
obligatory on them that they must prohibit and stop people – but, it
shall still remain the better and the higher form of conduct. All these
details about the well known Qur’anic maxim of Bidding the Fair and
Forbidding the Unfair have been deduced from Sahih Ahadith. We car
say that, by placing the responsibility – of personally doing what is
right and good, avoiding what is not, and inviting others too to do good
and shun evil, – on Muslims at large, and on Mashsyikh and ‘Ulama in
particular, Islam has given to the world a priceless principle of peace
which, if practiced, could help nations after nations become easily
cleansed of all sorts of evils which afflict them.


Shafi, Muhammad (2008). Maariful Quran. (Vol .3 surah 5 verse 63). English-MaarifulQuran-MuftiShafiUsmaniRA-Vol-3.pdf (

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