When an innovator is refuted, should his good deeds and contributions be mentioned? Al-Muwāzanah: balancing criticism with praise.

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Shaikh Sālih al-Fawzān was asked, “Is it binding upon us to mention the good points of the one we are warning against?” So the Shaikh responded:

No. Do not mention their good points. Mention only the error that they have fallen into. It has not been entrusted to you to give them tazkiyah (commendation). That which is entrusted to you is to explain the error they are upon so that they may repent from it, and so that others may take caution against it.”

See Kitābul-Ajwibah al-Mufīdah Fī As’ilatil-Manāhij al-Jadīdah (p.13-14).

A further question was posed to Shaikh Al-Fawzān:

“It has become widespread among the youth in our times to counter-balance with praise when criticising someone. They say: ‘If you criticise someone due to his innovation and clarify his errors, it is necessary for you to also mention the good he has done. This is from justice and balancing between his good and bad deeds.’ Is adopting this methodology correct when criticising? Am I compelled to mention the good contributions of a person when criticising him?”

Answer: The answer to this question has already preceded―nevertheless, if the one being criticised is from Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah and his errors do not encroach upon the creed (ʿaqeedah), then yes, his distinctions and good deeds are mentioned―his mistakes are overtaken by his support of the Sunnah.

However, if the one being criticised is from the people of misguidance and deviation having destructive ideologies, he from those over whom hangs doubts and suspicion, then for such a person, it is not allowed to mention his good deeds if indeed he has any good. That is because if we mention his good deeds, the general people will be deceived by that, and they’ll hold good thoughts about him, about this misguided one, or for this innovator, or for this person of superstitious beliefs, or for this hizbee (partisan). Then they will go on to accept the thoughts and beliefs of this astray, innovator or hizbee.

Allah refuted the unbelievers, criminals and hypocrites―and He (the Most High) did not mention any of their good deeds. Likewise, the scholars of the Salaf refuted the Jahmiyyah, Muʿtazilah and the people of misguidance yet they did not mention their good deeds because their good deeds were overtaken by their misguidance, unbelief, heresy, or hypocrisy.

So, it is not correct that when you refute a person who is misguided, an innovator, and a deviant that you mention his good deeds by saying: ‘He is a good person, he has good deeds, etc., but was mistaken.’

We say to you: Your praise of him is worse than his misguidance because the people trust your praise of him―and when your praise of this astray innovator circulates, you are responsible for deceiving the people. And this will open the door for the acceptance of the ideas of the misguided.

If, however, the one being refuted is from Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah, then the refutation should be with good manners. He is shown his mistakes that are related to fiqh issues, issues that are open to juristic deduction, extrapolation and ijtihād. So, we would say, ‘So-and-so erred in this matter, and what is correct is such-and-such, and here is the proof, so may Allah forgive him.’ This is the way, just as the rebuttals that would take place between the jurists of the Four Madh-habs, and other scholars.

So, such a person is not defamed in his station of knowledge if he is from Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah―and Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah are not infallible―they can err. The proof can pass them by, or they can miss the mark in deduction. So, we do not remain silent concerning the mistake―rather, we clarify it, alongside making excuses for him due to the saying of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him): “When a judge passes a judgement and makes ijtihād―and he is correct, he receives two rewards. And if he passes a judgement, and is wrong, then he receives a single reward.” (Bukhāri, no. 6919, Muslim, no. 1716) This is in matters of fiqh.

However, if the affair is in matters of creed (ʿaqeedah), then it is not allowed for us to praise the misguided ones, the opposers of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah from among the Muʿtazilah, the Jahmiyyah, the Zanādiqah (Heretics), the atheists, or the people accused of spreading doubts and suspicions in this age―and how numerous they are!

So the origin of this misconception and doubt of counter-balancing between a person’s good and evil deeds when criticising him came from a youth who asserted it in a treatise that he wrote―and this writing made some of the youth happy. I came across this treatise wherein the author claims that al-muwāzanah (praising the one being refuted) is a must. Then I came across the book of Shaikh Rabeeʿ Ibn Hādee al-Madkhalee [entitled, The Methodology of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamāʿah in Criticising Books, Men and Groups]. In this book, he refuted the claims of the author who asserted that Muwāzanah is a must―it was a comprehensive refutation. Shaikh Rabeeʿ clarified the errors and falsehood that had been circulated and spread―and he explained the Madh-hab of the Salaf in refutation―that they would refute the astray misguided ones and they would not praise them because, if they praised them, it would be a form of contradiction. (See Al-Ajwibah al-Mufīdah pp. 29-38.)

Further Notes

There is not a person who is devoid of all good, even the Jews and Christians have good. So based upon this false principle of al-Muwāzanah, even the goodness of the unbelievers should be highlighted [when refuting their falsehood]. No intelligent person would say that, let alone a student of knowledge―so, the Manhaj of the Salaf in criticising people of desires and bidʿah was to not mention their good deeds―and if they did mention any of their good deeds, it was only to warn the people not to be deceived by them, and it was not from the aspect of those who claim, ‘It is a must so that we don’t forget his efforts and deeds.’ So here we bring an example that is from the strongest of examples, and in it, there is guidance and light for the one who reflects: The Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “There will appear from the offspring of this man a people who will recite the Qur’ān but it will not pass their throats. They will pass through the Religion just as an arrow passes through its target. They will kill the people of Islam, and they will leave alone the people of idolatry. By Allah, if I was to reach them when they appear, I would slaughter them with the slaughtering of the people of ʿAad.” (Bukhāri, no. 3166) In another wording, he said: “One of you will consider his prayer insignificant compared to their prayer, and his fasting insignificant compared to their fasts.” (Bukhāri, no. 3414) In a wording, he (peace and blessings be upon) said: “Wherever you come across them, kill them.” (Bukhāri, no. 3415)

By Allah! The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) did not mention their worship so as to praise them or so that one is impressed by them―rather, he mentioned it so that people are not deceived by their outward acts of piety―and the Salaf of the Ummah understood that, and they acted accordingly, and they took this as their methodology that they believed in.

Husayn Al-Karabeesi was dropped by Imām Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (Allah’s mercy be upon him) when al-Karābeesi spoke with the saying of al-Lafẓ, i.e., ‘My recitation of the Qur’ān is created.’

Abdullāh Ibn Imām Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (Allah’s mercy be upon him) stated in his book ‘As-Sunnah’ (1/165): I heard my father saying: “Whoever said: ‘My recitation of the Qur’an is created’ has spoken with evil and vile speech―it is the saying of the Jahmiyyah.” I said: “It is al-Karabeesi who said that!” So, he said: “He’s a liar, may Allah destroy him, the khabeeth (filthy one).”

Concerning Al-Hārith Al-Muhāsibi, Imām Ahmad Ibn Hanbal spoke even more severely. ʿAli Ibn Abi Khālid said:

I said to Imām Ahmad: “This old man―who is present with us―is my neighbour. I warned him from this man, but he wants to hear your speech concerning him, i.e., concerning Hārith al-Muhāsibi, because you used to see me with him for many years, and you said to me: ‘Don’t sit with him and don’t talk to him’, so since then, I have not talked to him till now―but this elderly man sits with him, so what do you say about that?” I saw that Ahmad’s face became red, and his eyes and veins swelled―and I had not seen him like this before. Then he calmed himself and said: “This man?! Allah has dealt with him. None knows him except one who is truly acquainted with him, so stay away from him (and he said it three times). None knows his reality except one who is truly acquainted with him. Al-Maghāzili sat with him, as did Yaʿqoob and so did so-and-so, and he convinced them with the belief of Jahm―and they were destroyed because of him!” So the old man said: “But Abu Abdillāh! He narrates hadeeth, he is pious and God-fearing, and he narrates heart-softening stories.” Imām Ahmad became angry and replied: “Do not be deceived by his humility and gentleness―nor the manner in which he lowers his head for indeed, he is a wicked person. None knows him except one who is truly acquainted with him. No! Do not converse with him―he deserves no respect. Any person who narrates to you a hadeeth of Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him), you will sit with him? Even if he’s an innovator? No, he deserves no respect, and we are not blind to him.” (See Ṭabaqāt al-Hanābilah 1/233)

Imām Ahmad (rahimahullāh) would not praise Husayn al-Karābīsī after his affair became clear, and he said about him, “He’s an innovator.” He warned against him and from sitting with him. Likewise, he warned severely from the gatherings of Al-Hārith Al-Muhāsibī.

Abu Zurʿah al-Rāzī (rahimahullāh) was asked about al-Hārith al-Muhāsabī and his books, so he replied, “Stay away from these books, these are books of innovation and misguidance ― rather cling to the narrations (āthār).” This is even though al-Karābīsī and al-Muhāsibī were known for possessing much knowledge, and they had written refutations against Ahlul-bidʿah. However, al-Karabīsī fell when he started saying that the recitation of the Qur’ān is created―and al-Muhāsibī fell due to entering into something from theological speculation (al-kalām) ― he refuted Ahlul-Kalām with kalām, and not using the Sunnah, and this was the main issue due to which Imām Ahmad refuted him and warned against him.

So where is this so-called ‘justice’ they speak of in the speech of Imām Ahmad (Allah’s mercy be upon him)?! He did not mention any good deed or contribution of Al-Karābeesi or Al-Muhāsibi, not a single good act―even though Al-Karābeesi was considered an ocean of knowledge as is stated in his biography collected in Tareekh Baghdād (8/64) and Siyar (12/79). It should be noted that in the books of history and biographies, the compilers will mention all they have gathered regarding the life of the person they are discussing (even if he is an innovator or a heretic): his birth, upbringing, education, intellect, status among the people, piety, generosity, etc. These writings should not confused with the works (and sayings) of the scholars who intend to refute the mistakes and deviations of the people of misguidance. So, biographical works should not be conflated with books of clarification, rebuttal and refutation of Ahlul-Bidʿah. The latter authorships and sayings serve the purpose of warning, and they do not mention any apparent good of the innovator except as a warning to the people so that they are not deceived just as the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said regarding the prayers and fasting of the Khawārij.

Rāfiʿ Ibn Ashras (may Allah’s mercy be upon him) said: “From the punishment upon the wicked innovator is that his good qualities are not to be mentioned.” (Sharh ʿIlal al-Tirmidhī, 1/353)

Ref: See al-Ajwibah al-Mufīdah ʿan As’ilat al-Manāhij al-Jadīdah (Questions to Al-ʿAllāmah Sālih al-Fawzān, with notes from Shaikh Jamāl Al-Harithi), pp. 29-38.

Al-Imām Ibn Bāz (rahimahullāh) on Al-Muwāzanah:

The proponents of al-Muwāzanah argue, “When you criticise an innovator to warn people from him, then it is also obligatory upon you to mention his good points so that you do not treat him unjustly.”

Shaikhul-Islām Ibn Bāz (died 1420AH, rahimahullāh) responded to this doubt by saying:

No, it is not necessary – it is not necessary. And this is why when you read the books of Ahlus-Sunnah you will find the purpose behind them is to to warn. Read in the book of al-Bukhārī, Khalq Afʿālil-‘Ibād and  Kitābul-Adab (the Book of Manners) in his as-Sahīh, and Kitābus-Sunnah of Abdullāh bin Ahmad and Kitābut-Tawhīd of Ibn Khuzaimah and the refutation of ʿUthmān bin Saʿeed ad-Dārimī against Ahlul-Bid‘ah, and other such books. They mention this for the purpose of warning from their falsehood and the intent is not to enumerate their good points. The intent is to warn from their falsehood. And their good points have no value in relation to one who disbelieves if his innovation makes him a disbeliever, his good deeds are nullified. And when it does not make him a disbeliever then he is in a precarious situation. The intent is to expose the errors and deviations, which it is necessary to warn against.”

See Manhaj Ahlis-Sunnah wal-Jamā’ah Fee Naqdir-Rijāl wal-Kutub wat-Tawā’if of Shaikh Rabī’ bin Hādī.

Other Important Articles

  1. Read this important article: The praise of Imām al-Dāruqutnī (d. 385H) for Abu Bakr al-Bāqillānī the Ashʿarī (d. 403H) deceived Abu Dharr al-Harawī (d. 434H) which led to the creed of the Ashāʿirah entering Maghrib (North West Africa) and Spain. ― Look at how Imām al-Dāruqutnī’s conduct with al-Bāqillānī (the Ashʿarī) in his praise of him was enough to deceive those watching him. He extolled him and called him an imām of the Muslims, such that Abu Dharr al-Harawī adopted the madh-hab of the Ashāʿirah, and then it reached the Maghrib and Spain!
  2. Read this: The Salaf would not remain silent in the face of the opposers, rather they would rebuke and refute them, and make that clear to the people. Study of Imām Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s stance towards al-Karabīsī and al-Muhāsibī. Clarifying truth from falsehood, and criticising those who deserve criticism is from the religion and constitutes sincere advice to the ummah ― and this responsibility is carried by the Scholars and their steadfast students. 

And all praise is due to Allah, Lord of all creation, and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon our Prophet Muhammad, his family and all his Companions.

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