Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought By Michael Cook (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000. 702 pages.)

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Amr G. Sabet



This book, an historical survey of the Islamic injunction to command right
and forbid wrong, a biographical exposé of Muslims who understood and
practiced this principle, and a bibliographical reference, is a welcome and
timely addition to the literature on Islamic thought. Detailed and extensive,
yet not particularly difficult to read, it is equally accessible to all readers. Its
main theme is the basic Islamic individual and communal duty to stop other
people from doing wrong. Cook contends that few cultures have paid such
meticulous concern to this matter, despite the issue’s intelligibility in just
about any culture.
As a central Islamic tenet, this principle could not be ignored, and yet its
sociopolitical implications and consequences made it the focus of rigorous
attention by Muslim scholars. The doctrine inexorably brings up the balancing
and equally sacrosanct value of privacy, together with issues of knowledge,
specialization, competence, and stability – the “how” of the whole matter.
After all, the act of forbidding wrong was not supposed to undermine the
principle by becoming an intrusive breach of privacy, an excursus into social
prying, or a potential justification for unmitigated rebellion against the state.
The book consists of five parts comprising 20 chapters. Part I sets the
descriptive framework by elaborating the normative material found in the
Qur’an, Qur’anic exegesis, tradition, and biographical literature about early
Muslims. Part II is dedicated to the Hanbali school ince its foundation by
Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d. 241/855) in Baghdad. The author traces its shifting
influences in Damascus and Najd, where the school continues to have a hold
in the Saudi state to this day. Part III deals with the Mu‘tazilis and their Zaydi
and Imami heirs, all of which, Cook contends, provide the richest documentation
for the intellectual history of forbidding wrong. The remaining Sunni
schools of thought, the Khariji Ibadis, together with a chapter on al-Ghazali’s
tackling of the duty and another chapter pulling together the discussion of
classical Islam, comprise Part IV. Finally, Part V surveys the duty’s salience
in modern Islamic thought and developments in both the Sunni and Imami
schools and engages in a comparative exercise with this duty’s pre-Islamic
antecedents and with non-Islamic cultures, including the modern West ...

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