ALMIGHTY ALLAH CREATED mankind pure in form and in a state of fitra. He was endowed with intelligence and with the noble and natural purpose of acknowledging and worshipping Allah. Man thus enjoys a certain nobility and honor over other creations of Allah. This freedom however comes with the trappings of responsibility, as human beings have been endowed with the profound inbuilt ability of doing both good and evil.
To persevere in the pure and sinless state in which he is born, man has to strive to ward off sin and evil and endeavor to remain on the path of Islam as laid down by the Quran and Sunnah. He should inculcate a strong sense of taqwa in order to be always conscious of Allah, and to avoid overstepping the limits laid down by Allah Almighty. This is no mean task – as man often succumbs to temptation and sin. Concurrent with the capacity of being wise, intelligent and profoundly judicious, he is also oftentimes foolish, weak and narrow minded. When confronted by trials and tribulations he exhibits hatred, jealousy, selfishness, lying, disobedience, sexual aberrations and a myriad of other sins.
While exhibiting a mix of feelings and emotions, a mu’min has to confront and combat—as the biggest challenge to his taqwa—the emotion of anger. Allah says in the Quran that in the tenure of our life on this earth, mankind will be tested by many difficulties and how he overcomes these with his taqwa and iman will be a true test for him.
[But] do you think that you could enter paradise without having suffered like those [believers] who passed away before you? Misfortune and hardship befell them, and so shaken were they that the apostle, and the believers with him, would exclaim, “When will Allah’s succor come?” Oh, verily, Allah’s succor is [always] near! [Surat Al-Baqarah, 2:214]
But to be patient when faced by adversity, conflict, pain, and humiliation is perhaps the most difficult task for a virtuous Muslim. In such situations, it is always so easy to succumb to an all-enveloping rage and anger, till you can vent it in diverse forms, namely that of verbal, emotional and physical abuse. By the time the spell of anger has spent its course a lot of damage has been done – physically, psychologically, emotionally and socially. By surrendering to this anger, we are therefore, surrendering to Shaytan and assisting him and allowing him to use his mightiest weapon against us to destroy our lives.
Shaytan, after being banished from Paradise by Allah Almighty, proclaimed about the believers,
‘Because You have thrown me out of the way, I will lie in wait for them on Your straight way. Then will I assault them from before them and behind them, from their right and their left. You will find most of them to be ungrateful.’ [Surat Al-A`raf]
Shaytan has always used the instrument of anger to attack mankind and to keep him misguided through his anger. Anger has been the root cause of countless crimes from time immemorial to the present day. All forms of abuse and cruelty (whether physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual), as well as wars, torture, rape, and other ills that have plagued societies through history and in the modern world have been perpetuated by anger.
It is no wonder then, that there are countless phrases and idioms associated with anger that have oblique references to, or are synonymous with, Shaytan and hell or hellfire. Some of them are:
- Consumed with anger
- Raging fury
- Anger flared up
- An inferno of anger
- Fighting fire with fire
- Adding fuel to fire
- Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned
- Fiery temper
- Flushed with anger
- To see red
- Hot blooded
Writers and poets through time have coined some of these phrases and used them to express striations of anger in its myriad forms. Although anger is seemingly a natural emotion, the depth and degree of anger exhibited is of importance. Once expressed, anger has the capacity to eradicate and destroy relationships and friendships. It can have serious consequences because once a person becomes angry, he loses control over his better nature and says or does things, lashing out verbally and physically, resulting in ugly confrontations and doing things he may regret forever. Anger can also cause health problems, and in severe cases it may be a symptom of mental illness. Anger is like a poison which permeates everything, leading even to extreme actions like bloodshed.
However, it is unnatural to say we should not exhibit any sort of anger, as this would be outside the capacity of a human being’s nature. So the question arises: What is the permissible level of anger? How can we control that anger before it causes irreparable damage? A modicum of anger, annoyance and frustration is perhaps what will occur in almost all human beings. If it can wreak havoc in our lives, or if it is an anger that is uncontrollable or which consumes our better self, then it is the kind that should be controlled and rectified. For a good Muslim, controlling anger may be a momentous task and he must constantly be on the alert to curb it. Anger is the key to a host of evils and opening the door to anger will invite a multitude of devastating, volatile emotions.
Allah says in the Quran,
Those who spend (in Allah’s cause) in prosperity and adversity, who repress their anger, and who pardon men, verily, Allah loves the Al Muhsinun (the good-doers). [Surat Al ‘Imran, 3:134]
Hence the Quran places great importance not just on the curbing of anger but also in forgiveness, which can sometimes be extremely difficult in the face of immense animosity.
On the authority of Abu Hurarirah (a hadith states): ‘A man said to the Prophet, “Give me advice.” The Prophet Muhammad said, “Do not get angry.” The man asked repeatedly and the Prophet answered each time, “Do not get angry.” (Bukhari & Muslim)
As a person struggles to cope with anger at different stages in his life, this valuable, comprehensive and far reaching advice would apply to every Muslim. In fact, controlling one’s anger is tantamount to being emotionally stable. Controlling anger can also be indicative of the strength of one’s personality – after all, it is sometimes infants or toddlers who display unadulterated anger through their temper tantrums, so it is expected that by the time we reach adulthood, we have mastered the ability and the self-control to keep our tempers reined in.
As adults, and important especially to us as Muslims, to be able to curb our tempers may be a mammoth task, as even older people sometimes find it difficult to keep negative emotions in check. Indication of this fact can be found in the following hadith:
Our Prophet said,
The strong man is not the one who can overpower others in wrestling; rather the strong man is the one who controls himself when he gets angry. (Bukhari)
Closely related to the above are the words of another hadith,
The best of you are those who are slow to anger and swift to cool down … beware of anger for it is a live coal in the heart of the descendants of Adam… (Tirmidhi)
So, as Muslims, how do we handle and control anger? Handling anger successfully depends on the person, situation and how he recognizes and combats the occasions that trigger it, so that there is a minimum recurrence of similar situations. Each episode of an angry outburst teaches him how he should further avoid or control future outbursts. If a Muslim gets angry, he should hold himself accountable for it (muhasaba) so that he will be able to exercise self-control and discipline if the situation arises again. This will involve mentally reflecting and analyzing what led up to it, what were the mistakes made and how to successfully overcome it in the future.
In our daily lives, the best way to control our anger would be to depart from the situation which is giving rise to the anger. It is not safe to constantly tamp down the anger as this may result in an emotional outburst later; doing constructive work at such a time helps. Suggested activities to help calm down –
- listen to the Quran
- work out or exercise
- go for a walk
- or spend quality time with close friends or relatives.
Such activities could help in channelizing negative energy into more positive outlets.
Prophet Mohammad has mentioned several Sunnah measures a Muslim can practice to restrain and contain his anger. One hadith of his states that we can ask Allah’s assistance to counteract our anger,
I know a word the saying of which will cause him to relax, if he does say it. If he says, ‘I seek refuge with Allah from Satan,’ then all his anger will go away. (Bukhari, Abu Dawud)
Hence if these words were said by the Muslim with genuine faith and belief and he beseeches Allah to give him control over his anger, he will succeed in his endeavors, with Allah’s help.
The Prophet also said,
If one of you gets angry and he is standing, he should sit down until his anger subsides. If it does not, then he should lie down. (Abu Dawud)
In these sublime words the mu’min is being guided to change his posture and demeanor so that he could control his acrimonious behavior.
Another hadith of Prophet Muhammad states –
When you are angry, be silent. (Ahmad)
This is very simple and sound advice to follow as people often regret actions and words they have done and said when enraged and infuriated.
Furthermore, wudu is a purifying and cleansing procedure, obligatory not only before Salah but also recommended by Prophet Muhammad when a person is outraged.
When anyone of you gets angry let him perform ablution, because anger arises from fire. (Abu Dawud).
What better way can there be to cool and calm a person down, than through the extinguishing of the fire of anger—an attribute of Shaytan who himself was created from fire?
Fasting, too, is a shield and a protection which can shade us from the detrimental effects of rage.
So when one of you is fasting, he should neither indulge in obscene language, nor should he raise his voice in anger if someone attacks him or insults him. Let him say, “I am fasting.” (Muslim)
By avoiding a confrontation, a disgruntled person can very well curb his hostility and resentment. The person who wishes to confront him will be nonplussed and will receive no response to his bitterness. A definite end to a messy argument or fight!
Is anger always negative though? Are there any instances where a certain amount of subliminal anger is justified? Yes, there are a few occasions where this might be the case. If a person wishes to right a wrong—where he feels a definite injustice is being committed—a certain amount of anger may fuel him into setting the wrong aright. If lies and deceit are uttered in the name of religion, a Muslim may feel provoked to rectify the wrong that is taking place. However, anger should never be vented to further our own interests and ego. Even anger for the right cause does not give anyone the license to behave in a rude, insulting or cruel manner.
There should be some benefit in the rectification being expressed. If expressing annoyance leads to more harm than benefit, then it should be avoided. Advice can always be given in a courteous way, practicing good manners and preventing the matter from escalating into a full blown quarrel.
Eventually a Muslim must practice the best of behavior and the most moderate of manners in his dealings with his fellow Muslims, as we are ultimately answerable to Allah for our behavior and actions.
Be merciful to those on earth and the One above the heavens will have mercy upon you. (Tirmidhi)
A sobering thought for all Muslims would be constantly to remind themselves that an account has to be given to Allah about how we used the supreme faculties and abilities He granted us so benevolently. By controlling our anger here on earth in our interaction with our fellow creatures, we are showing mercy and patience in our characters – only then can we hope for eternal mercy and forgiveness from Allah Almighty in the hereafter.
For Abu Hurairah narrated that Allah’s Apostle said,
When Allah completed the creation, He wrote in His book which is with Him on His throne, “My Mercy outweighs My anger. (Bukhari)
These sublime words should be sufficient to make us endeavor to curb our negative emotions, especially that of anger. By restraining and restricting our anger, we are annihilating Shaytan’s weapon and giving a chance for our better selves to evolve and develop in a positive manner. Only then can we emerge as true Muslims emulating behavior that has been delineated in the texts of the Quran and Sunnah.