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Loving your enemy and turning your cheek in Islam



Many people often ask if Islam contains teachings about loving your enemy, or turning your cheeks if someone shows aggression towards you.


Now when it comes to the teaching of loving your enemy, Islamic texts do not contain such a teaching that explicitly calls for Muslims to love their enemies. However so, Islam still contains a very powerful teaching that is related, for example, when it comes to the issue of justice, the Quran has to say the following:

“O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah as witnesses to fair dealings and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just, that is next to piety. Fear Allah, indeed Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.”(5:8)

So the Quran commands the Muslims, to show justice no matter what, even if it was towards somebody you hate. Now this indeed is a very powerful message, in fact I’d say it’s far more powerful than telling someone to love their enemy, as this teaching is telling you to show justice no matter what, even if you have to show justice for somebody you hate, and who can also be your enemy. 

Human nature tells how difficult this can be at many times, when we are clouded with emotions and anger towards somebody we hate, so often times this would cloud our judgment and cause us to act unjustly, but the Quran is explicitly telling the Muslims to not fall for that, and to show justice no matter what, even if it is towards somebody you hate.

As for the second teaching of turning one’s cheek, the Quran doesn’t use the exact phrase of turning your cheek, but the Quran, and the hadiths, have several teachings on forgiveness, to forgive those who do bad to you and so forth.

For example, on the topic of forgiveness, the Quran has the following to say:

And those who, when tyranny strikes them, they defend themselves, 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. And whoever avenges himself after having been wronged - those have not upon them any cause [for blame]. The way (of blame) is only against those who oppress mankind, and wrongfully rebel in the earth. For such there is a painful doom. (42:39-42)

So in this Quranic teaching, God tells the people that they have a right to defend themselves when they come under oppression and tyranny, but God also tells the people that if they forgive the wrong doer in such circumstances, then God will reward them. So the verse doesn’t literally use the phrase turning ones cheek, but the overall teaching is the same, if a person has been wronged, and that person forgives (turns his cheek) the wrong doer, he will get a reward.

The hadiths also speak on this issue, for example one hadith says the following:

'Whoever suffers an injury done to him and forgives (the person responsible), Allah will raise his status to a higher degree and remove one of his sins.'(Sunan At-Tirmidhî)

So this hadith is telling Muslims to turn their cheeks, though it doesn’t use that exact phrase, but the moral of the teaching is exactly the same. People will have one of their sins removed, and be raised to a higher status, if they forgive someone who’s done something wrong to them.

Last but not least, the Prophet Muhammad also taught the following:

Do not be people without minds of your own, saying that if others treat you well you will treat them well, and that if they do wrong you will do wrong. Instead, accustom yourselves to do good if people do good and not to do wrong if they do evil.'(Sunan At-Tirmidhî)

This teaching once again implores Muslim to turn their cheeks, as the Prophet said, do not be people without minds, responding to evil with more evil, as this is what many of us as humans do. When someone does something wrong to us, we are led by our human emotions to retaliate, our anger clouds our thoughts and judgment, and so we just react without really thinking. This is precisely why the Prophet even says, do not people without minds, because indeed, we often lose our minds in situations when we have been wronged and feel the need to retaliate.

So if someone does something wrong to you, per the Prophet’s teaching, you shouldn’t do something wrong and evil to him in kind, in essence, that’s what you call turning your cheek, though the exact phrase is not used.

In conclusion, Islam calls on people to show justice, even if it’s toward someone you hate. Islam calls on the people to show forgiveness, even if you have been wronged, that you will be rewarded for that act, and that you should respond to evil with evil.

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