The Good Word is
Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair admonition, and argue with them in the kindest way. Your Lord knows best who is misguided from His way. And He knows best who are guided.
In the previous section, we stated that the true good word is the one which calls to Allah's religion, and is a reminder of the Hereafter. This call is a very important responsibility, which Allah has imparted on all people of conscience. With the verse, "Let there be a community among you who call to the good, and enjoin the right, and forbid the wrong. They are the ones who have success." (Surah Al `Imran, 104), Allah makes believers aware of this responsibility. However, the majority of people fail to recognize that summoning others to faith in Allah is an important responsibility and a form of worship. Essentially, they are unaware of this responsibility.
The most evident sign of this ignorance is people's failure to adopt moral excellence, and encouraging it among others. Those who have moral failings, who earn their living through illicit means, who strive to spread immorality and see compassion, mercy, charity and respect as weakness, are in the majority. Even though there are those among them who are aware of what is good, they avoid the responsibility of enjoining it. Instead, they turn a blind eye to the facts, preferring to abstain from involvement.
Yet, it should be noted here that what we have said above holds true for those who do not "believe with certainty," and fail to heed the word of Allah, for true believers are conscious of the importance of this important responsibility described in the following verse, "They believe in Allah and the Last Day, and enjoin the right and forbid the wrong, and compete in doing good. They are among the righteous." (Surah Al `Imran, 114). For this reason, believers summon all around them to nurture consciousness of Allah, and to become of those of moral excellence. The Qur'an draws our attention to the need to enjoin the good, as an attribute of believers as follows:
The men and women of the believers are friends of one another. They command what is right and forbid what is wrong, and establish prayer and pay alms, and obey Allah and His Messenger. They are the people on whom Allah will have mercy. Allah is Almighty, All-Wise. (Surat at-Tawba, 71)
As this verse also makes clear, every person of faith is responsible for communicating moral excellence, throughout his life, to live by it, to enjoin the right and forbid the wrong. If one wants to lead a good life, then he must encourage others to good. Similarly, anyone who wants good to happen to him has to expend the effort to spread such good; the one who wants to encounter conscientiousness has to encourage conscientiousness; or, the one who dislikes cruelty must admonish the cruel. As well, he needs to keep in mind that it is Allah alone Who guides a person and renders the good word effective.
Believers may not always encounter a favorable response or amiable compliance when they call others around them to the good. The caller may at times be met with indifference, or become the target of derisiveness or even belligerence. For responses to such a call vary often, since they depend on the other's sincerity and consciousness of Allah.
On hearing the call, for instance, a person may immediately come to have faith in Allah, while another may react with hostility. Another still may exercise his conscience and decide to devote his life to Allah. However, some may disbelieve, and choose to respond to the good word with evil. Yet this denial of theirs by no means daunts or deflects a believer. No matter what the reaction, what is important for him is to retain the morality which is pleasing to Allah, to not swerve from moral excellence under any circumstance, and to put his trust in Allah. For, whether important or minor, each incident that takes place in this world is preordained by Allah, and it is Allah alone Who can guide a person to the truth.
For this reason, the reactions and responses of disbelievers never demoralize the believers. In the Qur'an, Allah provides many examples of this. In the verse, "But would you, perhaps, torment yourself to death with grief over them if they are not willing to believe in this message?" (Surat al-Kahf, 6), Allah addressed our Prophet (saas), informing him that he should not grieve over the disbelief of people. In another verse Allah says, "You cannot guide those you would like to but Allah guides those He wills. He has best knowledge of the guided." (Surat al-Qasas, 56) Consequently, a person's effort to admonish, the good words he speaks, will have an effect on the people only if Allah so wills.
The believers' only responsibility is to summon others to the Qur'an. They are not responsible for the disbelievers' insistence on denial, and their deserving the fire of Hell. Our Lord also stated this fact to our Prophet (saas) as follows:
We have sent you with the Truth, bringing good news and giving warning. You shall not be called upon to answer for the companions of the Blazing Fire. (Surat al-Baqara, 119)
In every age, messengers of Allah communicated His message to as many people as they could reach. When calling people through the good word, all messengers were modest, compassionate and merciful, as was our Prophet (saas):
It is a mercy from Allah that you were gentle with them. If you had been rough or hard of heart, they would have scattered from around you. (Surah Al `Imran, 159)
For years, these messengers patiently answered their people's queries, instructed them on various issues, and explained to them the meaning of Allah's verses.
During those times when there was no prophet, Allah's faithful servants undertook the task and, took as an examples for themselves the moral excellence particular to the prophets. However, despite the moral perfection of the believers, the disbelievers were persistently averse; instead of complying with what they were called to, the disbelievers reacted with disrespect, derision, even belligerence. In return, the believers never altered their approach or composure; as is commanded by Allah, they continued to choose the best words in speaking, and assumed a disposition that was moderate. For, responding to evil with good words and conduct is a command from Allah upon His servants. In the Qur'an, Allah commands His faithful servants to behave in this way, and explains its divine purpose as follows:
Say to My servants that they should only say that which is best. Satan wants to stir up trouble between them. Satan is an outright enemy to man. (Surat al-Isra´, 53)
A good action and a bad action are not the same. Repel the bad with something better and, if there is enmity between you and someone else, he will be like a bosom friend. (Surah Fussilat, 34)
The conversation between the messengers and their people, as quoted in the Qur'an, also reveals many examples of what is explained above. The manner in which the Prophet Nuh (as) warned his people, who had been antagonistic towards him, is only one such example. The Qur'an recounts one of his lectures, through which he summoned his people to the way of Allah, as follows:
We sent Nuh to his people, [saying]: "I am a clear warner to you. Worship none but Allah. I fear for you the punishment of a painful day. (Surah Hud, 25-26)
He said:"My people! What do you think? If I were to have clear evidence from my Lord and He had given me a mercy direct from Him, but you were blind to it, could we force it on you if you were unwilling?
My people! I do not ask you for any wealth for it. My wage is the responsibility of Allah alone. I will not chase away those who believe. They are surely going to meet their Lord. However, I see you as ignorant people.
My people! Who would help me against Allah if I did drive them away? So will you not pay heed?
I do not say to you that I possess the treasuries of Allah; nor do I know the Unseen; nor do I say that I am an angel; nor do I say to those who are vile in your eyes that Allah will not give them any good. Allah knows best what is in their hearts. If I did, I would certainly be one of the wrongdoers." (Surah Hud, 28-31)
The resolve of the Prophets in summoning to Allah's religion, despite the insolence and ignorance they faced from their people, was founded in specific reasons. The Prophets and their followers are those who are very well aware of the punishment of Hell, as described in the Qur'an, possessing a sure faith in it. For this reason, as the verse quoted above about the Prophet Nuh (as) exemplifies, believers expend much effort to warn the heedless and to save them from severe punishment. However, they turn away from those who ignore their warnings, who persist in denial, despite all efforts, for this is what is commanded by our Lord:
Make allowances for people, command what is right, and turn away from the ignorant. (Surat al-A`raf, 199)
Though recognizing there is little possibility that the disbelievers will heed their advice, still they persist, offering them the good word, in hope that maybe this last attempt will be the opportunity for the disbelievers to accept faith:
[The man who believed said,] "My people! How is it that I call you to salvation while you call me to the Fire?
You call me to reject Allah and to associate something with Him about which I have no knowledge, while I call you to the Almighty, the Endlessly Forgiving.
There is no question that what you call me to has no foundation either in this world or the Hereafter, that our return is to Allah, and that the profligate will be Companions of the Fire.
You will remember what I say to you. I consign my affair completely to Allah. Truly Allah sees His servants." (Surah Ghafir, 41-44)
The primary reason for which the believers responded in each instance in a forgiving, kind and positive manner towards disbelievers, despite their being averse, is our Lord's demand of such moral excellence. Expecting no other reward in return, believers perform this act of worship only to earn Allah's good pleasure.
As we also stated earlier, throughout history, prophets sent by Allah, and the believers who followed in their footsteps, have called people through the good word, to warn them of the Day of Judgment, to give the good news of the sublime beauty of Paradise, to urge them to prepare themselves for the Hereafter, and to adopt the moral excellence commanded by the religion. As in all things, they fully exercised their conscience when calling people to Allah, regardless of the situation. Nothing would daunt them from communicating Allah's message to those who were heedless, far removed from the just religion, and headed on a path that was leading to Hell. Despite the resistance and arrogance of the people, they sought ways to lead them to the path of righteousness, making a concerted effort to this end.
However, when fulfilling this command of Allah, believers expect no reward. While enjoining the good, and forbidding the wrong, thus carrying out a command of Allah, they aim only for Allah's good pleasure, definitely not the approval of people. For this reason, those who are conscientious, who call to Allah's path, speaking the good word, never expect a material benefit. Their purpose is to fulfill an act of worship that is commanded by Allah, and be one of His true servants. They act in the knowledge that, in the words of our Prophet (saas), "a good word is a charity" (Muslim and Bukhari). Allah refers to this sincere effort, made by the believers, in calling others to the Qur'an and His religion, as follows:
But most people, for all your eagerness, do not believe. You do not ask them for any wage for it. It is only a reminder to all beings. (Surah Yusuf, 103-104)
Several times, Allah's messengers reminded their people that they were not asking for a reward in return, but that their efforts were sincere. The Qur'an gives the following examples:
… Say, "I do not ask you for any wage for it. It is simply a reminder to all beings." (Surat al-An`am, 90)
[Hud said,] "My people! I do not ask you for any wage for it. My wage is the responsibility of Him Who brought me into being. So will you not use your intellect?" (Surah Hud, 51)
[Salih said,] "I am a faithful Messenger to you. So heed Allah and obey me. I do not ask you for any wage for it. My wage is the responsibility of no one but the Lord of all the worlds." (Surat ash-Shu`ara´, 143-145)
Thus far, we have emphasized that the believers call others through the good word, no matter what the circumstance, and that they expect no reward in return. But, here we should note that the Muslims' sole responsibility is to admonish people. As verse 256 of the Surat al-Baqara informs, "There is no compulsion where the religion is concerned.…" Responding to these admonitions can benefit only those who conform to them; yet, if these people insist on persisting in denial, and reject this sincere advice, then they are doomed to loss. This fact is related in the Qur'an as follows:
So remind them! You are only a reminder. You are not in control of them. But as for anyone who turns away and disbelieves, Allah will punish him with the Greatest Punishment. Certainly it is to Us they will return. Then their Reckoning is Our concern. (Surat al-Ghashiyya, 21-26)
When calling the people to Allah's way, through the good word, believers recognize this action as a form of worship. For this reason, they confidently pronounce whatever they know will bring them good in Allah's sight, and are enthused in performing such an act of worship. In return for such sincere and noble efforts, Allah gives them the good news of salvation:
Those who repent, those who worship, those who praise, those who fast, those who bow, those who prostrate, those who command the right, those who forbid the wrong, those who preserve the limits of Allah: give good news to the believers. (Surat at-Tawba, 112)