If I Do Good, Help Me; and If I Do Wrong, Correct Me

After he was given the treaty to become the caliph following the Prophet ? (peace be upon him), Abu Bakr radi Allahu `anhu gave a short inaugural speech:

“Oh people, as I have now been placed in a position of authority over you and I am not the best of you, if I do good, then help me, and if I do wrong then correct me. Truth is a trust and lying is betrayal. The weak amongst you is strong with me until I get his rights returned to him, God willing; and the strong amongst you is weak until I [justly] take the right from him, God willing… Obey me as long as I obeyed Allah and His messenger, so if I disobey Allah and His messenger then you owe me no obedience.” [Al-Bidayah Wan-Nihayah by Ibn Kathir. Vol 6, p. 320]

Abu Bakr (ra) reminded the Muslims that they should not blindly follow him or accept his actions just because of his authority and personal credentials. Instead, he made it clear that the standard to which they should hold him is the obedience of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) and His messenger. If he veered off that path, he should be corrected and, if need be, disobeyed.

Our community today needs to listen to the words of Abu Bakr (ra), may Allah (swt) be pleased with him. With many social ills and immorality prevailing in our communities it has become increasingly difficult to condemn inappropriate behavior – for who doesn’t have a loved one or friend who has committed some mistake or sin? Who among us is without faults?

We often belittle sins because we know of kind and generous people – “good people” – who committed them, and who often have better manners than those who abstain from those sins. In discussions like these, we fall into the dangerous abyss of judging actions by a malleable yardstick. We begin measuring ourselves relative to each other instead of relative to a set of fixed principles.

Allah (swt) says,

O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted. (Quran, 4:135)

Just because someone we know or love has made a mistake does not mean it is permissible for us to do it as well. Sometimes, in our attempt to avoid judging others or causing them discomfort, we succumb to the opposite. We begin dismissing all mistakes and refusing to hold people accountable. The speech of Abu Bakr (ra) guides us to a balanced approach:

1) Judge actions based on a clear set of principles, the Quran and Sunnah: “as long as I obeyed Allah and His messenger.”

2) Hold people, including ourselves, accountable for actions done in public or that affect others: “if I do good, then help me; and if I do wrong, then correct me.”