Allah ascribed to the nation (Ummah) of Muhammad the same characteristic which He ascribed to the Prophet himself in the previous verse when He said:
[You are the best nation brought forth for the people of the world: you enjoin right and you forbid wrong, and you believe in Allah.] Quran 3/110.
And He said:
[Believing men and believing women are the protecting friends of each other: they enjoin right and they forbid wrong.] Quran 9/71.
In the same vein, Abu Hurairah, a companion of the Prophet and narrator of many hadith used to say:
"You are the best people for the people, you tie them in chains and shackles and drag them off to paradise."
Allah explains in the above verse that this nation is the best nation for the people i.e. the most beneficial to them, the one doing them the greatest favour. This is because they constitute the total good and benefit for the people via their enjoining right and forbidding wrong both in quality and in quantity, since they enjoin all that is right and forbid all that is wrong, and their message is addressed to all people of the world. Furthermore, they uphold this institution with jihad (struggle) in the path of Allah with their lives and their property, and this constitutes the complete benefit for the world.
As for the previous nations, none of them enjoined all people with all that is right, nor did they prohibit all that is wrong to all people. Furthermore, they did not make jihad (struggle) in this cause. Some of them did not take up armed struggle at all, and those who did, such as the Jews, their struggle was generally for the purpose of driving their enemy from their land, or as any oppressed people struggles against their oppressor, and not for sake of calling the people of the world to guidance and right, nor to enjoin on them right and to prohibit to them wrong. Allah narrates the following discussion between Musa (Moses) and his followers:
[O people, enter the sacred land which Allah has written for you, and do not turn back on your heels to subsequently find yourselves in abject loss. They said: "O Musa, therein is a belligerent people, and we will not enter it until they come out - if they come out, then we will enter it." ... They said: "O Musa, we will never enter it as long as they are in it, so you go, you and your Lord, and fight. We are going to sit right here.] Quran 5/21-24
Allah says in another verse:
[Did you not see the assembly of the sons of Israel after the time of Musa when they said to a Prophet of theirs: "Raise up for us a king, that we may fight in the path of Allah." He said: "Would you perhaps not fight then, if fighting were prescribed for you?" They said: "Why would we not fight in the path of Allah, and we have been exiled from our homes and our children?" Then, when fighting was prescribed for them, they turned their backs, all except a few, and Allah is in full knowledge of the wrong-doers.] Quran 2/246
Here we see that those speaking with this prophet cited the reason for their fighting that they had been exiled from their homes and their children. In spite of this, most of them failed to live up to their word, when in fact they were ordered to fight. For this reason, they were not allowed to keep any spoils of war, and were not allowed to take female captives as right-hand possessions.
It is well known that the greatest nation of believers before us was the children of Israel. This has been narrated in the agreed-upon hadith narrated by Ibn Abbas, that the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said:
"The previous nations and their prophets were shown to me last night. A prophet would pass with one man, another with two men, another with a small group, and another with no one with him. Then, I saw a great crowd, small mountains filled with people, and I said: "This is my Ummah!" It was said to me: "These are the sons of Israel, but look over there." Then I saw a huge crowd which blocked the horizons. It was said to me: "This is your Ummah, and among them are seventy thousand who will enter paradise with no account-taking." The Prophet's listeners dispersed with no further explanation being given. Then, the companions discussed this issue, saying: "As for us, we were born in associationism, but have believed in Allah and His Prophet ... but these are our sons. When this speculation of theirs about who the seventy thousand were reached the Prophet, he said: "They are those who do not practice cauterization, or use incantations (i.e. believing in some mystical ability to cure or prevent illness), do not believe in omens, and who depend fully on their Lord." Ukasha ibn Mihsan stood up and said: "Am I one of them, O Messenger of Allah?" The Prophet said: "Yes". When someone else stood up and said the same thing, the prophet said "Ukasha has come before you."
From this we understand why the consensus of this ummah is a proof, i.e. because Allah has informed us that they enjoin all that is right, and prohibit all that is wrong. If they (i.e. the Muslim Ummah) were to all agree to allow something forbidden, to drop an obligation, to forbid something allowed, or to perpetrate any falsehood about Allah or about His creation, they would be enjoiners of what is wrong, prohibitors of what is good, and that is surely not of pure speech and good works. What's more, the verse implies that whatever the ummah has not enjoined is not right, and whatever it has not prohibited is not wrong. Since this is the Ummah which enjoins all right, and prohibits all wrong, it is not possible for the entire Ummah to enjoin something which is wrong nor to prohibit something which is good.
Just as Allah has informed us that this ummah will fulfil this function, He has also made it a collective obligation (fardh kifaya) upon the Muslim Ummah saying:
[Let there be from among you a group which calls to what is good, enjoins right, and forbids wrong. These are the successful ones.]
It is not the duty of the practitioner of enjoining right and prohibiting wrong to deliver the message to everyone in the world. Such was not even required of the Prophets (Peace be upon them), and this is an auxiliary to the prophetic messages. Rather, what is required is to make it available to those who seek it. If they, in turn are negligent in seeking it, though it has been made accessible, then the responsibility is upon them, not him. Since enjoining right is a collective obligation, as the Quran clearly indicates, it is not an obligation upon every single individual Muslim, rather upon them as a group.
Since jihad is part of the perfection if enjoining right and prohibiting wrong, it, too, is a collective obligation. As with any collective obligation, this means that if those sufficient for the task do not come forward, everyone capable of it to any extent is in sin to the extent of his capability in that area. This is because its obligation when it is needed is upon every Muslim to the extent of his/her ability, as the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wa sallam) said in the hadith found in Muslim:
"Whoever of you sees wrong being committed, let him change it with his hand (i.e. by force). If he is unable to do that, then with his tongue, and if he is unable to do that, then with his heart."
This being the case, it is clear that enjoining right and prohibiting wrong is one of the greatest good works that we have been ordered to do.
Enjoining Right: Our Prophet And Those Before Him
This Nation Is The Best Nation For The People
What Is Maruf (right) And Munkar (wrong)?
Let Your Enjoining Of Good Be Itself Good
Benefits Must Outweigh Negative Consequences
Methodology Of Enjoining Right And Forbidding Wrong
Pitfalls Of Enjoining Right And Forbidding Wrong
Rebellion Against The Imam Of The Muslims
The General Principle Of Enjoining And Forbidding
It Is Obligatory To Measure All Things By The Criterion Of The Shariah
The Love Of Good Should Be In Harmony With What Allah Loves
The Love And Hate Of The Heart
What Exactly Is Hawaa
The Following Of Hawaa In The Previous Religions
What A Person Loves And Hates Must Be In Accordance With The Order Of Allah And His Prophet
What Are "good Works"?
Action Is Not Possible Except With Knowledge And Understanding
Compassion, Patience & Forbearance Are Required In Enjoining Right
The Difficulty Of These Requirements
Disobedience To Allah Causes Difficulty, Obedience Causes Ease
Allah's Punishment Of The Previous Nations For Their Disobedience
Punishment Of The Evil-doers In This World And The Next
Promises And Threats Of Punishment Were The First Part Of Revelation
Differences About Enjoining & Forbidding Are The Cause Of Division
Sins Are Desired By Human Nature
Greed Is The Cause Of Slipping Into Deviation
Types Of Sins
Success In Worldly Affairs Is By Justice
Human Nature: Tyranny, Envy & Oppression
Good Must Support Good As Bad Supports Bad
The Severity Of The Test Causes Elevation Of Rank
The Need For Certainty Of Belief
Human Affairs Will Not Go Straight Except With Courage And Generosity
A Return To Patience And Its Types
The Forbiddance Of Transgressing The Bounds
Fervour And Courage Which Is Praiseworthy
Fear Of Falling Into Temptation As An Excuse For Neglecting Enjoining Right
The Sons Of Adam Do Not Live Except In Societies
Pure Intention To Please Allah Is Required In All Righteous Deeds
The Meanings Of Islam
The Meaning Of Submitting One's Face To Allah
Definition Of Righteous Action
The Meaning Of The "sunnah" In The Discourses Of The Salaf