Converting Foes to Friends – Quranic Principles and Prophetic Examples


Are you being overwhelmed by the staunchness of the enmity of your enemies, the rivalry of your rivals and the opposition of your opponents? Do you wish to learn how to convert an enemy to a friend, a negative force to a positive one? You’ve got some invaluable lessons to learn from the following Quranic verses if you care to enroll in their school!

Allah says:

“And good and evil are not alike. Repel evil with that which is best. And lo, he between whom and thyself was enmity will become as though he were a warm friend.   None is given (this virtue) except those who are patient, and none is given it except a possessor of great virtues.” (Qur’an, 41:35-36)

Converting Foes to Friends – Dissecting the Quranic Principles

First Principle: Realizing Good and Evil are not Alike

The Quranic statement, ‘Good and evil are not alike,’ infuses a powerful stimulus to our moral conscience, sense and consciousness to objectively engage in comparative valuation and evaluation of the intrinsic aesthetic quality, value and utility latent in every reality, particularly, good or evil. We are here implicitly enjoined to evaluate, appreciate and imbibe the goodness of every good, on the one hand; and to assess, recognize and jettison the badness of every evil, on the other hand.

Similar expressions for comparison are often met with in the Quran. Allah says: ‘the blind and the seeing, the light and darkness, the heat and the shade, and the living and the dead, respectively, are neither alike nor equal.’ [Quran, 35: 20-23] Particularly, regarding comparison between good and evil, it is interesting to note that, in all its ramifications, good represents the Will of God, Who is the Absolute Good and Ultimate Goodness; while evil, on the other hand, is the will and manifestation of the devil. Good represents light and positivity; evil symbolizes darkness and negativity. Thus, to be good is to be godly, positive and creative; while to be bad is to be devilish, negative and destructive. Hence, what is perhaps intended by this Qur’anic axiological appeal is that the understanding gained from such a comparative study of good and evil should inspire and fascinate our human logic, reason and rationality to begin to imbibe, practice and represent goodness in all ramifications and, when encountered with evil, to repel the latter with the former.

Second Principle: Repelling Evil with that which is Best

If you’ve been searching for a viable approach to quench the fire of hostilities and establish peaceful and amiable relationship, then, you’ve, finally, arrived at your destination here.

The Qur’anic instruction: ‘repel evil with that which is best,’ proffers the most viable principle of human relationship and world order for eradicating all forms of hostilities, rivalries and conflicts and establishing in their stead peaceful and amiable relations at all inter-personal, inter-communal, inter-tribal and international levels.  Indeed, as Hadrat Mirza Bashirud-deen Mahmud Ahmad [ra] succinctly maintained, this Qur’anic moral imperative ‘points to a very noble principle inculcated by Islam for the moral progress of a Muslim and also for the establishment and preservation of peace and harmony among individuals and nations.’ [1]

More so, analyzing the various significations the expression: repel evil with that which is best, could have, he writes: 1] … repel evil with good, which means that …. do good deeds so that men may imitate their example and forsake evil…

2] The words repel evil with good also mean that men of understanding do “good” deeds with the object of removing “evil” i.e. they neither insist on retaliation regardless of the nature of the offence or the suitability of the punishment nor do they persist in unqualified forgiveness but follow the course best suited for the eradication evil. They resort to retaliation if it serves the purpose and to forgiveness if forgiveness is calculated to bring about the desired result…

3] The words repel evil with good, may also mean that they do not meet “evil” with “evil”, but always observe justice and never forsake the path of equity and justice in dealing with evil.” [2]

Furthermore, while pin-pointing the three courses of reaction to evil as prescribed by the Quran, namely, to react to evil with equivalent evil i.e. equitable retaliation, or to forgive evil and or to pay evil with kind return, he rationalizes that “He may return evil to the extent and measure of the injury he has received or he may punish the evil-doer if he is in a position to do so but the punishment should, under no circumstances, exceed legitimate bounds. Moreover, the punishment is to be resorted to only if this course is calculated to produce wholesome effect upon the aggressor party. This is the significance of the words, the recompense of evil is evil like it (Quran, 42:41). The Qur’an, however, prefers and recommends that forgiveness should be shown to the evil-doer. This is the meaning of the words, but whoever forgives and amends, his reward is with Allah (Quran, 42:41). But a Muslim who has attained to a very high moral standard is enjoined not only to forgive the person who has done him some wrong but also to do him a good turn in addition. This is the significance of the verse under comment and this is the high moral standard of conduct expected of a Muslim by Islam. Islam enjoins the repelling of evil with evil or with forgiveness or with a kind return, which of the three courses is calculated to conduce to the moral good of the wrong-doer, or the good of the injured person or to the good of human society at large.”  [3]

Converting Enemies to Warm Friends: The Prophetic Examples

At this juncture, it would be fascinating to take a flight to the wonderments of the Prophetic examples of converting foes to friends through the powerful act of repaying evil with good.

Prophet Yusuf (as) Forgives Enemies and Reaches Plateau of Self-realization

Our first depot of soul-inspiring narratives revolves around that famous Biblical and Qurnanic protagonist-prophet – Yusuf [Joseph] (as). Reading the Qur’anic narration of the Prophet Yusuf’s [as] deeply soul-inspiring life account, one is always fascinated by the climatic episode in which, in spite of the iniquities perpetrated against him by his step brothers, Prophet Yusuf [as] repelled their evil with good, with the most surprising act of forgiveness through his declaration: No blame on you today, may Allah forgive you, He is the Most Merciful of the merciful. [Quran, 12: 93]  It was by this very noble gesture that he eventually converted his childhood hostile forces to his friends once and for all, as they became deeply remorseful and repentant, falling down before him. It was at that point that his childhood dream found cosmic fulfillment, as they practically prostrated before him and he became the ruler of their minds. It was this climatic event which further defined the noble characters that characterized Yusuf’s [saw] prophetic personality, revealed to humanity his moral and spiritual essence and station and conferred everlasting blessings upon his dynamic life and destiny. Prophet Yusuf’s act of paying evil with good became the catalyst that skyrocketed him to the plateau of self-realization and accomplishment.

Muhammadan Examples

Similarly, the blessed life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad [saw] also proffers us with extremely interesting examples of the act of repelling evil with good to turn enemies to friends and negative to positive.

How Prophet Muhammad (saw) Converts a Criminal-Enemy to an Ardent Admirer

Among such a number of  delicious examples, we find it quite irresistible to begin with the following soul-inspiring narrative. It’s about the thrilling story of the effect of the kind treatment meted out by the Holy Prophet to Thumamah bin Uthal, a  high profile criminal and an avowed enemy of Muhammad and Islam. He had killed a number of Muslims and perpetrated many evils. The following is the interesting encounter between him and the Holy Prophet [saw] when he was eventually captured, brought and fastened to one of the pillars of the Prophet’s mosque at Medina.

“What have you got, O Thumamah?” said the Holy Prophet (saw) to him.

“I have got a good thought, O Muhammad,” he replied. Speaking further, he submitted, “If you should kill me, you would kill a person who has already killed somebody; and if you should set me free, you would do a favour to one who is grateful, and if you want property, then ask me whatever wealth you want.”

He was left till the next day when the Prophet [saw] said to him, “what have you got, O Thumamah?” He said, “what I told you, i.e. if you set me free, you would do a favour to one who is grateful.” The Prophet [saw] left him till the day after, when he [saw] said, “What have you got, O Thumamah? He said, “I have got what I told you.” On that the Prophet [saw] said, “Release Thumamah.” So he [i.e. Thumamah] went to a garden of date-palm trees near to the mosque, took a bath and then entered the mosque and said, “I testify that none has the right to be worship except Allah and also testify that Muhammad is His Messenger! By Allah, O Muhammad! There was no face on the surface of the earth most disliked by me than yours, but now your face has become the most beloved face to me. By Allah, there was no religion most disliked by me than yours, but now it is the most beloved religion to me. By Allah there was no town most disliked by me than your town, but now it is the most beloved town to me. Your calvary arrested me [at the time] I was intending to perform the Umra. And now what do you think? Allah’s Messenger [saw] gave him good tidings [congratulated him] and ordered him to perform the Umra. So when he came to Makka someone said to him, “you have become a Sabi? [Have you changed your religion?] Thumamah replied, “No, by Allah! I have embraced Islam with Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah. No, by Allah! Not a single grain of wheat will come to you from Yamamah unless the Prophet [saw] gives his permission.” [4]

Thousands of Persecuting Infidels Convert to Faithful Followers

More so, another good and historic example can be seen in the event of the conquest of Mecca. This is how Hadhrat Mirza Bashirudīn Mahmūd Ahmad (ra) summarized the story in his Life of Muhammad (saw):

“The Prophet (sa) addressed the Meccans and said: “You have seen how true the promises of God have proved. Now tell me what punishment you should have for the cruelties and enormities you committed against those whose only fault was that they invited you to the worship of the One and Only God.”

To this the Meccans replied, “We expect you to treat us as Joseph (as) treated his erring brothers.”

By significant coincidence, the Meccans used in their plea for forgiveness the very words which God had used in the Surah Yusuf, revealed ten years before the conquest of Mecca. In this the Prophet (sa) was told that he would treat his Meccan persecutors as Joseph (as) had treated his brothers. By asking for the treatment which Joseph (as) had meted out to his brothers, the Meccans admitted that the Prophet (sa) of Islam was the like of Joseph (as) and as Joseph (as) was granted victory over his brothers the Prophet (sa) had been granted victory over the Meccans. Hearing the Meccans’ plea, the Prophet (sa) declared at once: “By God, you will have no punishment today and no reproof.” (5)

Notably, though the Holy Prophet [saw] had marched against the disbelievers of Mecca with ten thousand companions, the Muslims’ apparent overpowering of the military strength of the Meccan disbelievers was not what merely gave the narrative of the conquest its remarkable history, but the noblest act of goodness through the declaration of general amnesty and promise of forgiveness which the Holy Prophet extended to his erstwhile Meccan persecutors. It was this that brought about the subsequent total conversion of the converts who were hitherto avowed disbelievers. The Prophet (saw) announced to them: ‘today is not a day of slaughter. Today is a day of forgiveness. No blame on you today. Go, you are free’. As history relates, hearing such a declaration of amnesty, erstwhile enemies and persecutors who had hitherto decided on self-exile, were encouraged to return to Muhammad (saw), crawling before him with remorse and declaring faith in the religion of Islam. By repelling their evil with good, Muhammad (saw) forever converted hundreds of foes to friends and of disbelievers to believers in a twinkling of an eye!

The Thrilling Story of ’Ikrima’s Conversion

Furthermore, one thrilling example is worth mentioning here. Of those who had been excepted from the general amnesty, some were forgiven on the recommendation of the Companions. Among those who were thus forgiven was ‘Ikrima (ra), a son of Abu Jahl. ‘Ikrima’s (ra) wife was a Muslim at heart. She requested the Prophet (saw) to forgive him. The Prophet (sa) forgave. At the time ‘Ikrima (ra) was trying to escape to Abyssinia. His wife pursued him and found that he was about to embark. She reproved him.

“Are you running away from a man as gentle and soft as the Prophet (saw)?” she said.

‘Ikrima (ra) was astonished and asked whether she really thought the Prophet (sa) would forgive him. ‘Ikrima’s (ra) wife assured him that even he would be forgiven by the Prophet (sa). In fact she had had word from him already. ‘Ikrima (ra) gave up his plan of escaping to Abyssinia and returned to see the Prophet (sa).

“I understand from my wife that you have forgiven even one like me,” he said.

“Your wife is right. I have really forgiven you,” said the Prophet (saw).

‘Ikrima (ra) decided that a person capable of forgiving his deadliest enemies could not be false. He, therefore, declared his faith in Islam. “I bear witness that God is One and has no equal and I bear witness that you are His Servant and His Messenger (sa).” So saying, ‘Ikrima (ra) bent his head in shame. The Prophet (sa) consoled him.

“‘Ikrima (ra),” said he, “I have not only forgiven you, but as proof of my regard for you, I have decided to invite you to ask me for anything I can give.”

‘Ikrima (ra) replied, “There is nothing more or better I can ask you for than that you should pray for me to God and ask for His forgiveness and whatever excesses and enormities I have committed against you.”

Hearing this entreaty, the Prophet (sa) prayed to God at once and said: “My God, forgive the enmity which ‘Ikrima (ra) has born against me. Forgive him the abuse which has issued from his lips.”

The Prophet (saw) then stood up and put his mantle over ‘Ikrima (ra) and said, “Whoever comes to me, believing in God, is one with me. My house is as much his as mine.”

The conversion of ‘Ikrima (ra) fulfilled a prophecy which the Holy Prophet (sa) had made many years before. The Prophet (sa), addressing his Companions, once had said: “I have had a vision in which I saw that I was in Paradise. I saw there a bunch of grapes. When I asked for whom the bunch was meant, someone replied saying, ‘For AbuJahl’.” Referring to this vision on this occasion of the conversion of ‘Ikrima (ra), the Prophet (sa) said he did not understand the vision at first. How could Abu Jahl, an enemy of believers, enter Paradise and how could he have a bunch of grapes provided for him. “But now,” said the Prophet (sa), “I understand my vision; the bunch of grapes was meant for ‘Ikrima (ra). Only, instead of the son I was shown the father, a substitution common in visions and dreams” (6)

Mandela Converts Foes to Friends

Although not of prophetic examples, yet, the following case offers quite relevant evidence of the efficacy of the principle of repelling evil with good to convert enemies to friends even at the political and diplomatic levels.

Interestingly, our modern history presents for us another impressive example demonstrated by Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician and former President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. At the heel of his victory in the long-year fight for freedom from the yoke of the Whites’ most inhuman imperialist policy of apartheid imposed on his African countrymen that culminated in his long years of incarceration, he repelled their uncivil and heinous policy with that which is best: forgiveness and reconciliation. The subsequent international popularity which he won, and the exponential national development and progress that have come to the lot of his country are facts which most of us are witnessing, hearing and reading about. Mandela was given over 250 awards, accolades, prizes, honorary degrees and citizenship among which were the Nobel Peace Prize, the US Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Soviet Union’s Lenin Peace Prize, and in November 2009, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed Mandela’s birthday, 18 July, as “Mandela Day”, marking his contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle. [7]

From the foregoing various examples, a fact that becomes obvious is that, in every case where the principle of repelling evil with good has been applied to every feudal or hostile relation (be it interpersonal friendship or religious or political or diplomatic relations between groups, states and nations), it has always effected the same positive result of converting enemies to friends and negative to positive.

Invariably, therefore, the principle of repelling evil with good represents a powerful approach to successful conversion of any and every negative force to positive, foe to friend and disbeliever to believer. It entails a viable world order and principle of human relations by which every opposition of an opponent or rivalry of a rival and enmity of an enemy can be irresistibly subverted and amicably converted to a warm friendship and peaceful relation. Similarly, “As the preaching of truth inevitably brings in its wake hardships for the preacher,” notes Hadhrat Mirza Bashirudīn Mahmūd Ahmad (ra), the verse of Quran 41:35 “enjoins upon him to bear them patiently and with fortitude, and even to return good for the evil he receives at the hands of his persecutors.” (8)

Patience and Greater Virtues: The Ultimate Principle

Today, to experience a seamless conversion of a foe to a friend, make an attempt to repel evil with good. Become a subject of positivity and goodness, a champion of friendly relations and a creator of a peaceful atmosphere in a social space bedeviled by characteristic mutual animosity and hostilities.

Importantly, however, as you determine to put the foregoing principles and values into practice, do remember the concluding principle enunciated by the Holy Verse: “None is given (this virtue) except those who are patient, and none is given it except a possessor of great virtues.” (Quran, 41:36)

If, from Prophet Yusuf (as), to Prophet Muhammad (saw) and Mandela etc., all had showed incredible examples of long years of patience and higher virtues in their ultimate historic odysseys, then you must be prepared to offer not less to get the desired result. The point to hold dearly is that our foes are only converted to friends by our determined practical engagement with them with greater, higher and superior virtues.


  1. The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary, 2002, Nazarat Nashro Ishaat Sadr Anjuman Ahmadiyya, Qadian, India, vol. 3, p. 1208
  2. Ibid, vol. 3, p.1208
  3. Ibid, vol. 4, p1824
  4. Zubaidi, Z.A.A., Summarised Sahih al-Bukhari, Arabic-English, 1994, Dar-us-Salam Publications, Saudi Arabia p.802-803
  5. Ahmad, Mirza Bashirudīn Mahmud, (2013), Life of Muhammad, Islam International Publications Ltd, UK, p. 165
  6. Ibid, pp. 167-168
  7. https;// Date accessed: 15/7/2017
  8. The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary, 2002, Nazarat Nashro Ishaat Sadr Anjuman Ahmadiyya, Qadian, India, vol. 4