RESPONDING EVIL WITH GOODNESS

A mature believer should have big and rich heart like a sea. He should always reflect the peaceful face and tranquility of Islam by his courtesy, elegance and goodness.

Restricting forgiveness and reconciliation to religious festivals (eids) do not befit to mature believers; because forgiving others is an essential characteristic for mature believers in order to become worthy to be forgiven by Allah the Almighty.

Every single principle of Islam is a composition of good manners, which is the manifestation of faith in life. The Prophet (pbuh) says:

“I was sent to perfect good character.”(Muwaṭṭā, Ḥusn al-Khuluq, 8)

In order to be a mature Muslim we need to adopt the ethical measures of Islam and apply them in every step of our lives. Otherwise we tarnish our human dignity and destroy our eternal salvation.

Our Prophet (pbuh) has given humanity a civilization of merits by means of his high ethical qualities. Friends of Allah, who are heirs to the prophets, carry on the tradition and good qualities of the prophets. One of the most significant merits of the prophets and the friends of Allah is that they forgive the torments and oppressions of the people for the sake of Allah and respond them with goodness. Thus they embrace the servants of Allah with mercy and compassion and revive their ruined souls. This meritorious quality is also joyful tidings of a good last breath.

It is stated in the Holy Qur’ān:

“And those who are constant, seeking the pleasure of their Lord, and keep up prayer and spend (benevolently) out of what We have given them secretly and openly and repel evil with good; as for those, they shall have the (happy) issue of the abode” (13; 22)

Those who wish to attain Allah’s mercy and forgiveness should forgive people’s faults and adopt the quality of responding evil with goodness as a moral characteristic. Since all the prophets, sufis, Gnostics, and scholars, who have been sent to humanity for guidance by our Lord, have manifested this quality in their lives.

THERE SHALL BE NO REPROOF AGAINST YOU THIS DAY…

One of the best examples regarding the significance of forgiveness mentioned in the Qur’ān is presented in the story of Yusuf (a.s) and his brothers.

Since Yaqub (a.s) observed his own spiritual states in Yusuf (a.s), he loved Yusuf most among his twelve children. This caused Yusuf’s brothers to be jealous of him. Finally they decided to kill Yusuf and threw him into a well.

Yusuf was saved from the well by a passing caravan; however he was sold as a slave when the caravan reached Egypt. After many hard years, spiritual tests and suffering, Yusuf was eventually appointed as the treasurer of Egypt. He was responsible for the distribution of food during the years of famine in Egypt. His brothers, too, came to ask for food from him. Yusuf hid his identity from his brothers. Although it was really easy for him to take revenge from his brothers, Yusuf (a.s) neither punished nor reproached them. On the contrary, he gave upon them numerous gifts.

Upon his generosity and forgiveness, his brothers had to admit their mistake by saying:

“You are Yusuf and verily Allah has made you more superior than us.” Yusuf’s (a.s) response to his brothers and his forgiveness is stated in the Qur’ān as follows:

“He said: (There shall be) no reproof against you this day; Allah may forgive you, and He is the most Merciful of the merciful.”(12; 92)

Then, in order to relieve his brothers’ embarrassment, he said that:

“At that time, Devil had come between you and me.”

Therefore, the real merit is to be able to forgive the servants of Allah just to attain rewards of the Hereafter, when you have the power to punish him.

Getting angry and taking revenge, just because of personal reasons, is a way of satisfying selfish desires and showing off one’s power. A believer’s control of his anger and showing forgiveness towards his oppressor under such circumstances is an exceptional result of his faith; because, at the times of anger, it is very hard to control will-power and to back off from taking revenge.

Anger is a disaster in our lives. In a way, it is a kind of madness, which stops reasonable thinking. The best method to control anger is to be adorned with good manners, such as forgiveness and peacefulness. Our Lord Almighty informs the good tidings awaiting the believers who manage to control their will-power:

“Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Garden whose width is that (of the whole) of the heavens and of earth, prepared for the righteous- Those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity, or in adversity; who restrain anger, and pardon (all) men; for Allah loves those who do good.”(3; 133-34)

In other words, a believer should repel evil done towards his personality with the principles of Islamic ethics. First he should control his anger. Next comes forgiving the oppressor, and finally responding evil with goodness and generosity.

I HAVE NOT BEEN SENT AS THE INVOKER OF CURSE …

The life of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is full of manifestations of repelling evil with goodness. Since he was sent as mercy for the universe, his mercy, compassion and love have embraced all of humanity.

One day he (pbuh) was asked to curse the non-believers, who were torturing him. Upon this request, he said:

“I have not been sent as the invoker of curse, but I have been sent as mercy.” (Muslim, Kitāb al-Birr, 87)

Because his soul was a surpassing treasure of mercy and compassion, his greatest aim was the salvation of the entire humanity. When he (pbuh) went to Taif in order to convey the message of Islam, the ignorant and polytheist residents of Taif threw stones at him. When the Prophet (pbuh) returned back to Mecca in a very sad state, Allah the Almighty sent Archangel Gabriel and The Angel of the Mountains in order to console him. The Angel of the Mountains called and greeted him, and then said, “O Muhammad! Order what you wish. If you like, I will let Al-Akh-Shabain (i.e. two mountains) fall on them.” The Prophet (pbuh) said,

“No but I hope that Allah will let them beget children who will worship Allah Alone, and will worship none besides Him.” (Bukharī, Bad’ul Khalq, 7; Muslim, Jihād, 111)

The residents of Taif strongly resisted against their conversion to Islam, until the ninth year of Hijrah and caused heavy losses to the Muslim forces. Finally, the Muslims could not stand it anymore and told the Prophet (pbuh):

“O Messenger of Allah! Spears and arrows of Banū Thaqīf (i.e. the main tribe in Taif) are destroying us. Please pray for their damnation and curse them.” But the Prophet (pbuh) prayed as follows:

“Dear Lord! Please bestow upon them your guidance and let them find the straight path of Islam. O Lord! Let them join us.” After a short while residents of Taif came to Medina and accepted the message of Islam. (Ibn Hishām, a-Sīrah al-Nabawiyah, IV, 134; Tirmidhī, Manāqib, 73/3942)

Another example of his mercy was displayed on the day of the conquest of Mecca. On that day, Meccan polytheist, who had tortured Muslims for many years, was in the hands of Muslims. A single word from the Prophet (pbuh) would have been enough for their punishment. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) asked the gathered Meccans:

“O members of Quraish! What do you think I am going to do about you?” Quraishites replied:

“Hoping your goodness and fair treatment, we will say that you will treat us with goodness. You are a generous and a good brother and son of a generous and a good brother.”

Upon this response, the Prophet (pbuh) said:

“I am telling you what prophet Yusuf told his brothers “There shall be no reproof against you this day; Allah may forgive you, and He is the most Merciful of the merciful.”[1]Now you may go, you are free.”[2]

Prophet’s endless mercy deeply affected Meccans and their hate and enmity converted into love, friendship and sincerity. Many of them submitted themselves to Islam. That day maybe the following verse’s reality was manifesting itself on Meccan polytheists:

“And not alike are the good and the evil. Repel (evil) with what is best, when lo! He between whom and you was enmity would be as if he were a warm friend.”(41; 34)

In fact human being has always been defeated by gifts and benefaction. Goodness and benefaction has always been enough to rehabilitate the worst enemy.

THE REMEDY FOR THE REMOVAL OF AFFLICTIONS

It is not a merit to respond goodness with goodness and evil with evil. The real virtue is to counter not just goodness with goodness but also evil with goodness. Because of our benefaction, if the person treated with goodness is an enemy, he becomes a friend; if he is neither friend nor an enemy, he comes closer; and if he is a friend, his friendship and love increases. And repelling evil with goodness becomes a fence between evil and the evil doer.

Jalal al-Dīn Rumī explains this prophetic manner as follows:

“His (God’s) mercy overcomes His vengeance: hence every prophet prevailed over his adversary; For he (the prophet) is the result of (Divine) mercy and is the opposite of him (the adversary): that ill favored one was the result of (Divine) wrath.”[3]

“Violence is not the means of averting calamity: the means is beneficence and pardon and kindness. Let the following prophetic warning wake you up: He (the Prophet) said, ‘Alms is a means of averting calamity: cure your diseased ones by (giving) alms.’ Now comprehend well the method of curing diseases and afflictions.”[4]

In many cases, when the Prophet (pbuh) had the chance to punish sinners, he manifested the merit of forgiveness to rehabilitate them and achieve their eternal salvation. Because the real merit and greatness is to control the self and forgive when there is a chance and power to take revenge. In fact, this is stated in the following prophetic saying:

“The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger.”(Bukhārī, Adab, 76)

As regards to this virtue, joyful tidings are given in the following verse:

“And the recompense of evil is punishment like it, but whoever forgives and amends, he shall have his reward from Allah; surely He does not love the unjust.”(42; 40)

Forgiving the faults and responding evil with goodness in order to establish peace and friendship was a distinctive characteristic of the Prophet (pbuh). As his followers, we should also adorn ourselves with same qualities. Confining forgiveness just for the holidays and forgetting it on the other days of the year is not an appropriate characteristic for a mature Muslim. To make these manners as our natural qualities is an important sign of the maturity of our faith.

The following sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) should be exemplary measures for every believer:

“None of you be one of those low people who say “I am with people, if they do good to me, I will do good to them; and if they treat me badly, I will treat them badly.” On the contrary, you should discipline your inner selves to respond goodness with goodness and not to do wrong to people who treat you badly.”(Tirmidhī, Kitāb al-Birr, 63)

“Do not cut your relationship with those who cut their relationship with you. Give charity to those who do not give to you. Forgive those who do wrong to you.”(Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal, Musnad, IV, 148, 158)

“Fear Allah wherever you are. Respond evil with goodness so that you may eradicate evil. Treat people with good manners.”(Ibrahim Canan, Kütüb-i Sitte, V, p. 304)

“I saw mansions looking over gardens of the Paradise and asked Gabriel (a.s):

“For whom are these mansions?” He said:

“They are for the believers who controls their anger, bury their hatred in their heart and forgive peoples faults.”(‘Ali’ al-Muttaqī, 7016; Awārif, p. 253)

FORGIVENESS WHEN IT IS APPROPRIATE

We should remember that forgiving all kinds of faults should not be considered as a merit. Forgiveness is a subject only in faults committed in personal matters. There are some crimes committed against society, religion and sacred things, which cannot be tolerated. In such cases, punishment is required in order to rehabilitate the criminals, establish justice and distinguish what is right and what is wrong. Otherwise forgiving these crimes will be a greater oppression to the society.

Aisha (r.ha), the wife of Allah’s Apostle (pbuh), told about Prophet’s approach towards forgiveness the following:

“Whenever he had to choose between two things he adopted the easier one, provided it was not sin, but if it was any sin he was the one who was the farthest from it of the people; and Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) never took revenge from anyone because of his personal grievance, unless what Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, had made inviolable had been violated.(Muslim, Faāil, 79; Abū Dawūd, Kitāb al-Adab, 4)

Just like inappropriate anger causes mischief and disorder among people, not getting angry when it is necessary is moral weakness which bears similar results. To be able to get angry for the sake of Allah, when it is necessary, is a requirement of faith. For instance anger against the enemy in the battlefield is manifestation of the excitement of faith in the heart and a sign of piety and patriotism. Showing anger against the crimes committed about the matters of the rights of the society, religious and public values is an indicator of the quality of one’s faith.

The Messenger of Allah’s (pbuh) life is full of manifestations of such merits. He (pbuh) not only forgave the sinners in personal matters but also he treated them with goodness.

WOULDN’T YOU LIKE TO BE FORGIVEN BY ALLAH?

Abū Bakr (r.a), who annihilated himself in the love for the Prophet (pbuh), is also manifested the unique examples of forgiveness. For instance, there was a poor man named Mistah, to who Abū Bakr was regularly helping. When Abū Bakr learned that Mistah was among those who slander Aisha (r.ha), he swore that he would not help Mistah and his family anymore. Without Abū Bakr’s financial aid, Mistah and his family became miserable. Upon this the following verses were revealed:

“And let not those of you who possess grace and abundance swear against giving to the near of kin and the poor and those who have fled in Allah’s way, and they should pardon and turn away. Do you not love that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.”(24; 22)

“And make not Allah because of your swearing (by Him) an obstacle to your doing good and guarding (against evil) and making peace between men, and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.”(2; 224)

Abu Bakr As-Siddiq said, “Yes, by Allah, I would like that Allah forgive me.” expiated for his broken oath and went on giving Mistah the money he used to give him before. He also added, “By Allah, I will never deprive him of it at all.” (Bukharī, Maghazī, 34; Muslim, Tawbah, 56; Tabarī, Tafsīr, II, 546)

Because continuously forgiving the servants of Allah and becoming worthy of Allah’s forgiveness is an indispensable characteristic of the friends of Allah.

HOW MUCH GOODNESS SHOULD BE SHOWN IN RESPONSE TO EVIL?

Once the Companions of the Prophet (pbuh) asked Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) why he loved ‘Alī (r.a) so much. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) ordered ‘Alī (r.a) to be called. One of the Companions went to bring him. Before his arrival, the Prophet (pbuh) asked his Companions:

“My dear friends! What would you do, if you treat someone kindly, but he responses with evil?”

Companions replied that they would respond to him with goodness. Then the Prophet asked: “What would you do, if he keeps mistreating you?” Again Companions gave the same response. When the Prophet asked the same question third time, they lowered their heads and did not reply his question.

Later ‘Alī (r.a) arrived. Even though Allah’s Apostle (pbuh) asked the same question to him seven times, ‘Alī (r.a) every time said:

“I would treat him nicely.” And then he added:

“Even if he keeps responding my favors with evil, I would still treat him nicely.”

In fact ‘Alī (r.a) said:

“The worst of mankind is the one who responses goodness with evil and the best of them is the one who does goodness in response to an evil.”

“Do people good without thinking that you will see evil in response to your favors.”

HUMANS ARE SLAVES OF BENEFACTION

According to a narration, someone called bad names about the Alī’s grandson Alī. In return for the man’s offensive language, ‘Alī (r.a) gave him his coat and ordered his assistants to give the man one thousand dirham. It is said that thus he manifested five character traits at the same time:

First is mildness since he did not get angry;

Second is that he removed an evil;

Third is that he protected the man from going away from Allah the Almighty;

Fourth is that he directed the man towards repentance and regret;

And the fifth one is that he stopped the man’s foul language and caused the man to praise him instead.

Again on one occasion someone used offensive language to Ibn ‘Abbas (r.a). Ibn ‘Abbas (r.a) did not say anything. Then he turned Ikrimah and said:

“Let’s check if this man needs anything and take care of it.” Upon this the man ashamed and lowered his head down.

EYES WHICH CAN CRY FOR THEIR ENEMY

Fuḍayl b. ‘Iyaḍ’s  following manner is a good example for us. He was seen crying and asked why he was crying. He said:

“I am crying because I feel sorry for the Muslim who oppressed me. All my sadness is for his dreadful state in the Hereafter.”

In another occasion, when Fuḍayl b. Iyaḍ was told that:

“So and so is talking against you,” he said:

“By Allah, I am not angry at the person who defames me, but I am angry at the Devil who deceived him.” Then he prayed:

“Dear Lord! Please forgive me if he is telling the truth, and forgive him if he is telling lies.”

In fact, Ḥasan al-Baṣrī  sent a gift to a person who was talking behind his back instead of getting angry at him. Because he knew very well that a backbiting person was either giving from his rewards to the person whom he talked behind or taking the sins of that person.

While he was stoned, Hallaj Manṣūr was praying that:

“Dear Lord! Please forgive the people who are stoning me before forgiving me.”

One day when Rab’ī b. Haytham was praying, his twenty-thousand-dirham-worth horse got stolen in front of him. However, he kept peacefully praying instead of catching the thief. When his friends heard what had happened, they came to console him. He told them:

“I saw the thief taking my horse, but at the time I was busy with something that is more important and dearer to me. This is why I didn’t run behind the thief.”

Upon his response, his friends started to curse the thief. Rab’ī b. Haytham  stopped them and said:

“Be calm, nobody is oppressing me. That man oppressed his own self. We should not oppress him on top of what he had done to himself.”[5]

How nicely Rumī states this:

EVERYBODY SELLS WHAT THEY OWN

One day Jesus (a.s) went to some Jewish people to convey his message. Even though they started to reproach him, he (a.s) talked to them nicely. When people told him that:

“They are telling you such horrible things, and you are still talking them nicely.” He said that:

“Everybody sells what they have.”

In other words, a person’s manners, behavior and speech are all mirrors of his inner world. Just like we cannot draw a straight line with a bent ruler, we should not expect nice deeds from a heedless person who lives in a cloudy spiritual world. Those who have dark intentions cannot have bright paths in front of them. Every jar leaks whatever it has inside.

Therefore responding evil with evil is the manner of immature people. To be able to do good no matter what the circumstances are, on the other hand, shows the high level of that person’s spiritual state.

There are three levels of treating others with goodness:

First is responding goodness with goodness. It is a natural duty for a person to feel gratefulness for the goodness done for him. It would be nicer if goodness is responded with greater goodness.

Second is to do goodness without expecting goodness in return for it. Such people are superior to the first group.

And the final type is responding evil with goodness. This is the most superior group because the value of an act depends upon its hardness. It is an extremely hard thing to expect goodness in response to an evil. This is why it is said in a Turkish proverb that: “Everybody can do goodness in return for goodness, but only a mature man can do good in response to evil.”

How nicely Rumī states this in his following lines:

“Hidden in water are myriads of blessings and salves; it accepts the sordid and cleans up their dirt.”[6]

A mature believer should have big and rich heart like a sea. He should always reflect the peaceful face and tranquility of Islam by his courtesy, elegance and goodness.

Again Rumī says that be like earth. Earth generously gives its produce to people who stamp on it. It also cleanses sediments of Creation and gives them back nice, clean and healthy products.

Allah the Most High presents us wonderful examples like water and earth to take lessons from them. For a human being, whose essence is earth and water, it should be his spiritual object to think about their wisdom and achieve similar characteristics.

May our Lord give us such spiritual state! May He bless us with being among the righteous believers who reach the Divine forgiveness by forgiving others! May He make the pleasure of getting lessons from His friends’ lives as the inexhaustible treasure of our spiritual lives!

Amin…

[1].      Qur’ān 12; 92

[2].      See Ibn Hishām, a-Sīrah al-Nabawiyah, IV, 32; Waqidī, II, 835; Ibn Ṣa’d, II, 142-.

[3].      Mathnawī, V. 515-516

[4].      Mathnawī, VI, 2590-2591

[5].      See Babanzade Ahmed Naim, İslâm Ahlâkının Esasları, 85-86.

[6].      Mathnawī, V, 200-236