Let us begin with a brief discussion of emotions before highlighting the nature of anger and its cures. According to modern emotion theory, all emotions have both positive and negative manifestations. They also have fundamental needs that lie beneath the experience of anger. There are some perceptions that cause particular emotions to emerge, as thoughts are intimately linked to emotions. It is NOT the case that emotions are all bad, as many people may believe. You often hear people saying, “he is so emotional” as if to imply that emotions are a bad thing. Rather, Allah (swt) has given these very humanizing faculties to us and what we do with these tools will either cause us to draw nearer to Him or further away from Him.
After discussing the above, let us examine the nature of anger. Anger has the fundamental need for justice and having a sense of fairness. When people feel wronged by others, this will propel them to feel angry.
Anger & Perception
So when one PERCEIVES that they have been wronged, then it is likely for them to react negatively. The reason why perceived is mentioned, is because this may only be an interpretation of someone else’s behavior as opposed to a reality. For example, if you are to meet a friend for a meeting and he does not show, one may become upset assuming that he either forgot about you, which means that he does not think you are very important, or he undervalues your time and treats your time as insignificant. Certainly this kind of thinking can cause one to get upset. However, if you later found out that he had been in a car accident and his phone was broken in the process, your anger would quickly dissipate.
So now we arrive at cure number 1: husn al-dhan (assuming the best). In this case, rather then jumping to negative conclusions about others, even if the evidence seems overwhelming in favor of that negative, the Prophetic tradition is to give that individual the benefit of the doubt and create a more positive evaluation of the scenario.
Anger – Positive and negative manifestations
Based upon the fact that anger is driven by a need for fairness and justice, when this is applied to self, it can have both a positive and a negative manifestation. If the situation is indeed a violation of one’s basic rights or the rights of one’s family, they must take some recourse so to prevent this situation from recurring and for one to resist oppression. For example: If you are being falsely arrested while you are innocent or if someone attacks your family. In these instances it is very appropriate for you to feel angry about the situation and take some recourse to rectify the matter. There can be two ways of responding: Assertively vs aggressively. Responding aggressively can be counter-productive. In the example of being arrested, if you respond by yelling, shouting or abusing the arresting officer then you will indeed worsen the matter.
Cure # 2
Rather in the situation listed above assertiveness is needed. Assertiveness applied to this situation may be that you ask him to read you your rights, you question the reasoning for your arrest, you hire a lawyer and document every communication you have with the authorities. It is not praiseworthy in these situations to allow this to occur because you would be fueling oppression and violating the honor/rights that are God-given to the children of Adam. This example can be generalized to other similar scenarios.
Note: Another positive manifestation of anger is a selfless anger and protective jealousy for the sake of religion. For example, being angry at an injustice that is done unto Allah (swt). For the lover of Allah and His religion, when people have ridiculed Him or attempted to destroy His religion, it would only follow from him that he become angry. This is indeed healthy so long as it is channeled into effective assertive action as opposed to aggressive destruction.
Anger, Arrogance & Forgiveness
The above scenario was described as a case where you advocating for yourself and your rights is praiseworthy. However, there is a very detestable manifestation of applying anger to oneself. Here we turn to a sense of entitlement. When individuals feel entitled to particular needs from others and if those needs are violated then they are prone to becoming upset. This is where individuals feel that others owe them something or that they are deserving of respect. This flies in the face of the Islamic tradition. This is due to the fact that respect is to be earned and there shall be no demand for respect from anyone, except in the case of a hierarchical relationship where he/she does it for the rearing of their subject (ex their child) solely for their benefit and not out of a sense of personal honor being violated. For example, in child-rearing a parent must train a child to learn how to respect those in authority so that they can be successful in showing respect to others when they grow up. Here the parent shall be assertive but, they shall not become angry out of a sense of personal violation. If one is to reflect about their disobedience and ingratitude to Allah then he/she will deem himself/herself not worthy of respect and if respect is given to that individual then it is due to Allah’s mercy upon him/her. There may be an objection by some that some rights are Islamically due to me and within bounds for me to acquire them. This shall be addressed in the section for the cure.
One must consider their insignificance in relation to Allah and their sinful state. When you reflect upon this, it will decrease your desire for being honored by others and feel grateful for any honor given to you, because you do not feel violated anymore since you altered your belief that you are inherently deserving of respect. With regard to the objection of rights afforded to you by Islamic law, one must view this from a different light. If the right you are demanding is for survival and to meet basic human needs, then one should request this from the other individual. For example a wife requiring that a husband to spend on her basic needs for survival. However, if it is not an absolute survival need, then one should forgo this expectation. One of the highest forms of faith is to expect from Allah, forgoing expectations from others. Some people see this as a miserable resignation to Allah’s will, but rather one should see this as an opportunity to connect with Allah on a level which they had not been able to do so before.
The spirit of Islam is to be selfless and selfishness is a detestable quality. Hence, the spirit of Islam is to let go and forgive others for their shortcomings and not make demands. In fact, one should be very careful to observe and honor the rights of others and forgoing their rights from others. For if he/she does this, then Allah may lighten the burden of his sins on the day of Judgment. For he/she may have done numerous wrongs throughout his life and if he/she is very meticulous about counting and asking for those, then this may be the attitude that Allah takes with the individual. However, if he is forgiving, then he may hope for forgiveness from Allah on account of his good gestures to others. For the Prophet (saaw) said: whosoever is not merciful to others, he shall not be shown mercy”.
Anger & Interrupting the Process
At times people have become so accustomed to becoming angry that they don’t seem to be able to control this very rapid process. The cures listed above may be difficult to achieve initially. So coupled with the cures listed above, cures from the Prophetic tradition shall be listed. Psychologists say that the best way to stop a habit and angry communication is to be aware of your own internal process. The quicker you become aware the better. So if you find yourself becoming angry slowly then you can try to interrupt this process through the following that we shall list. However, after you have already lost control, the only recourse is to be able to try to regain a little bit of it and pull yourself away from the situation. The nature of anger is that it causes you to feel inclined to continue to remain in the situation, once you recognize that you don’t want to leave, then this is indication that you have become too physiologically aroused and you need to take a break away from the situation.
1. To say “Audhu billahi minashaytan nirajim.” [Bukhari, Muslim]
2. If he is standing, then he should sit. If the anger fails to subside, then he should lie down. [Abu Dawood]
3. A person should remain silent. [Imam Ahmad]
4. Make wudhu. [Abu Dawood]
5. Make ghusl [Abu Nuaim]