Reflection No. 228 on Q 13:22 – Turning away evil with good

وَيَدْرَءُونَ بِالْحَسَنَةِ السَّيِّئَةَ
Wayadra’ūna bilHasnatis-sayyi’ah
And those who repel evil [conduct] with good.
 Sūratul Ra‘d, No.13, Āyat 22

The Ulul Albāb have been mentioned in the Quran as a people of intellect and insight. Many verses describe their qualities, and the above verse is part of a passage (Q 13:20 -23) that describes nine different qualities of this special group.

The ninth and last quality in this passage talks about people who overcome evil with good. This has been interpreted in two ways:
1) Turning away the harmful effects of the wrong you have done by doing good deed. Human being commit sins, make mistakes, and are often at fault. A good deed must follow to compensate for the wrong that is done. It could be an action that intends to repair the damage done by the wrong, or it could be another good deed that outweighs the sin. Tafsīr Namūne quotes a Hadith of the Holy Prophet (s) to Ma‘adh bin Jabal; If you commit an evil deed, do a good deed alongside it to erase it. The effect of the good is so much that it washes away the harmful effects of the wrong. Doing good act could also refer to a sincere repentance that erases the effect of the sin.

2) The other meaning of turning away evil with good is to behave well with one who wrongs you. It means to counter the wrong done by others (not the self as in the first meaning) with good. This is a magnanimous quality that is hard to attain. Imam Ali (a) says in Nahjul Balāgha: Admonish your brother (comrade) by good behaviour towards him, and ward off his evil by favouring him. (Nahj, Short Saying No. 158). This quality includes pardoning one who offends you, keeping relations with one who distances from you, being kind to one who has oppressed you, being just to one who has been unjust to you, etc.  It is among the most noble qualities described by Imam Ali Zaynul ‘Ābidīn (a) in Du‘ā Makārimul Akhlāq:
O God, bless Muhammad and his Household and guide me to counter him who is dishonest toward me with good counsel, repay him who separates from me with gentle devotion, reward him who deprives me with free giving, recompense him who cuts me off with joining (Sahīfa Sajjādiyya, 20:9).

The concept of turning away evil through good includes both meanings above and can be applied to the wrong that you commit yourself, as well as the wrong that is done to you. Of course it does not apply to all wrong that is done. Some types of evil, especially those that have a harmful effect on society, must be countered with just treatment. A blanket rebuttal of all evil with good can allow various types of evil to flourish in society. But believers are told to repel the mistakes that people might make in their everyday relationships with good so as to prevent bitterness and hatred.

Recite this verse to help you counter wrong in society done by yourself as well as by others to you. Do your part in promoting and spreading virtue so that the contamination of the sin both on the sinner and on society is countered with good, and the gloominess of the wrong is replaced with light. Such is a quality of those praised by Allah in the Quran as the Ulul Albāb. May we be amongst them – Āmin.

Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed.), Tafsire Namune; ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān.