Those who call people to God’s way do not take revenge on their enemies
Friday Khutba by Dr Zahid Aziz, for Lahore Ahmadiyya UK, 17 November 2023
“Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the best manner. Surely your Lord knows best him who strays from His path, and He knows best those who go aright. And if you take your turn, then retaliate with the like of what you were afflicted with. But if you show patience, it is certainly best for the patient.” — ch. 16, An-Naḥl, v. 125–126
اُدۡعُ اِلٰی سَبِیۡلِ رَبِّکَ بِالۡحِکۡمَۃِ وَ الۡمَوۡعِظَۃِ الۡحَسَنَۃِ وَ جَادِلۡہُمۡ بِالَّتِیۡ ہِیَ اَحۡسَنُ ؕ اِنَّ رَبَّکَ ہُوَ اَعۡلَمُ بِمَنۡ ضَلَّ عَنۡ سَبِیۡلِہٖ وَ ہُوَ اَعۡلَمُ بِالۡمُہۡتَدِیۡنَ ﴿۱۲۵﴾ وَ اِنۡ عَاقَبۡتُمۡ فَعَاقِبُوۡا بِمِثۡلِ مَا عُوۡقِبۡتُمۡ بِہٖ ؕ وَ لَئِنۡ صَبَرۡتُمۡ لَہُوَ خَیۡرٌ لِّلصّٰبِرِیۡنَ ﴿۱۲۶﴾
At the end of the last Khutba, I referred briefly to some verses in connection with what Islam teaches about acting in retaliation when you have been attacked. These teachings are not only for Muslims, but any civilised nation can benefit from them. In the two verses I have just recited, the second verse deals with retaliation, while the first verse guides Muslims on how to preach and spread the message of Islam. That preaching is to be done in a manner that minimises a reaction of hostility from the other side. This means that, in case you are persecuted and attacked because of preaching that message, the fault does not lie with you.
“Calling to the way of your Lord” is what you are supposed to be doing, not calling to “my way” or “my religion”. We must be conscious and careful to ensure that what we are calling people to, what we are teaching and telling them, is in accordance with the message that has come from our Lord, and we must therefore examine our own beliefs and behaviour, and, if necessary, correct them, to bring them in line with the teachings of the Quran and the Holy Prophet Muhammad. A Muslim must not behave as if he is high and mighty, and possesses and owns the truth which he is preaching from above to misguided people who are inferior to him.
The next point taught here is that the message must be preached using wisdom. Through wisdom that way must be adopted which is most effective, and this depends on the circumstances and it is certainly not always the same. Different kinds of people need to be approached in different ways. Wisdom also means that we present the message as being supported by reason, evidence and knowledge. We should not be trying to attract people to our message by exploiting their prejudices or ignorance, and encouraging them to remain bound to them, and by appealing to their lower instincts. This, unfortunately, is what religious clerics, including those among Muslims, do in their preachings. Their aim is not people’s welfare or to increase their knowledge but just to attract more and more people to become their followers.
The verse says: “with wisdom and goodly exhortation”. Goodly exhortation is to give people good advice on what to do, and what not to do, how to behave, and how not to behave, for their own benefit in their lives. According to Islam, religion is not just about believing in some doctrines and carrying out some rituals. It should also give advice on leading our lives in other matters. That advice can benefit anyone, whether they agree with our religion or not. A Muslim should want others, Muslims or non-Muslims, to benefit from the guidance given by Islam. Here is just one example among many. The Quran says that a previous prophet taught his people:
“And do not give short measure and weight. … And, my people, give full measure and weight justly, and do not defraud people of their things, nor act corruptly in the land, making mischief” (11:84–85).
This good advice will benefit any human being. In countries where this advice is taken very seriously by people and their governments, there is greater prosperity, economic security and justice.
Next, this verse says: “and argue with them in the best manner”. When you call people to follow a path, in this case “the way of your Lord”, you naturally become involved in arguments and debates with those who disagree with you. Arguing in the “best manner” is to both present the best arguments and evidences and to do so in the best behaved and most polite manner, showing consideration for the feelings of others. Unfortunately, in arguments and debates we usually see the opposite of this. Their purpose becomes to score a personal victory over the other side, and not to establish the truth. All kinds of foul tactics are used to try winning debates. A common tactic is that if your opponent presents a truth but he can’t prove it, you reply by not accepting that fact even if you know that it is true. Or you present some made-up facts to support your case and hope that your opponent doesn’t realise that they are not true and does not question them.
In my youth I once had an argument with a renowned Maulvi. He made some accusation against the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement and I answered the accusation by quoting a verse of the Quran. He handed me a copy of the Quran and asked me to show him the verse. I couldn’t find it. Of course, he knew it was in the Quran, but he said to me: If you can’t show it to me, then I don’t need to answer your argument.
In pre-partition India, before the creation of Pakistan, Maulana Abdul Haq Vidyarthi, the famous scholar of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, used to take part in public debates on behalf of Muslims against an anti-Islamic Hindu sect known as the Arya Samaj. One of the last such debates was in Delhi in February 1944, when the Arya Samaj challenged other religions to debate with them at their annual conference. The Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha‘at Islam of Delhi accepted the challenge on behalf of the Muslims. The topic of the debate was: “The truth of the Holy Prophet Muhammad is established from the prophecies contained in the Vedas”. At the debate, Maulana Abdul Haq Vidyarthi answered all the objections of the Arya Samaj scholars about the existence and meaning of this prophecy and he rendered them speechless. Muslims in the audience were over-joyed and reciting the Darood. Before the audience dispersed at the end of the debate, the co-chairman of the proceedings from the side of the Lahore Ahmadis, Maulana Sayyid Akhtar Husain Gilani, made a strong appeal to Muslims. He urged them to refrain from raising any slogans declaring their happiness at this victory because this would hurt the feelings of the Hindus. He asked them to leave the hall in a calm and orderly manner. It is also stated in a newspaper report of this debate:
“Maulana Abdul Haq Vidyarthi’s rational style of argumentation, his virtuous behaviour, courtesy and polite manners, and the friendly attitude of the Ahmadiyya organisers, made a deep impression on the Hindus, while the hearts of the Muslims were filled with faith and knowledge.”
This exactly conforms to the command of the Quran to argue “in the best manner”. The Maulana used to say that his way of giving his answer in replying to accusations against Islam was that it should fully answer the accusation, but without hurting the feelings of the opponent. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad writes in His Will to his followers:
“That defeat which earns the pleasure of God is better than the victory which brings His displeasure.”
So it is no good winning a debate and scoring points over your opponents, even if your cause is right, if you achieved it by behaving in a way which displeases Allah.
The second verse in the passage which I recited is as follows:
“And if you take your turn, then retaliate with the like of what you were afflicted with. But if you show patience, it is certainly best for the patient.”
This refers to Muslims being persecuted for calling to the way of the Lord, and of course calling through wisdom, goodly exhortation and arguing in the best manner. These verses were revealed when the Muslims were still living at Makkah before the emigration to Madinah. They were under persecution by the unbelievers of the Quraish for propagating the message of Islam. At that time it was not known, and could not be foreseen, that Muslims would get their turn against their persecutors. The persecution continued at Makkah and after the Muslims emigrated to Madinah the persecution took the form of war against them by the residents of Makkah. In the end the Muslims did get their turn to hold their persecutors and enemies to account. And when that came, the Muslims exercised the least possible retaliation and the maximum possible patience and forgiveness.
Here the Quran tells Muslims that the most they are allowed to do against their fallen enemy is to punish them to the same scale and magnitude that their enemies had employed against them. However, that is the maximum they are allowed to do, and what is recommended by the Quran is that they show patience and restrain themselves. Patience is at its best if someone who has the choice, whether to be patient or to retaliate, chooses the path of patience. So if you are in a position, as an individual or a group or country, to strike back at your enemy, then it is up to you to decide whether to react by retaliation, to an equal extent, or take the higher path recommended by the Quran and restrain yourself.
The same guidance is given in another place in the Quran:
“And who is better in speech than one who calls to Allah and does good, and says: I am surely one of those who submit? And not alike are the good and the evil. Repel (evil) with what is best, when lo! he between whom and you is enmity would be as if he were a warm friend. And none is granted it but those who are patient, and none is granted it but the owner of a mighty good fortune” (ch. 41, Ḥā Mīm, v. 33–35).
Good and evil not being alike and equal is saying to us: you are on the path of good, so do not let the evil done to you by others drag you down to become like them. If people insist on repelling the evil of their enemies with evil, even by the same amount, the enemies may respond similarly or in a greater measure, and the cycle of retaliation will go on and on. To break this cycle, one side or the other has to respond with patience. Then the two will have the chance to become warm friends. As the verse says, those who respond with patience are owners “of a mighty good fortune”. May Allah grant to one party or to the other in a conflict, or even to both parties, that mighty fortune, Ameen.