Abu Hurayrah treported that the prophet r said: “A strong person is not the one who frequently defeats people in wrestling; it is the one who keeps himself under control when anger arises.” Reported by Bukhari and Muslim
The hadith, under discussion, simply teaches that one’s real power and strength depends on one’s ability to control the anger problems. In other words, uncontrolled anger is a sure way to lose your power and to ruin your life. That is why anger is sometimes connected with serious crimes such as assault and murder and frequently associated with helplessness, loss, frustration, violence and regret. The hadith comes to correct the fallacy that calmness or forgiveness is a sign of weakness. In a very clear statement, however, the prophet rconnects power with controlling emotions. Being informed of a person who is famous for his self-control, a wise man said: “This person will not be enslaved by lusts, conquered by whims or defeated by anger.”
What is anger? It can be defined as “A human emotion that varies in intensity from mild annoyance and irritation to strong fury and rage.” According to this definition, anger is a natural emotion experienced by all humans, like all other emotions; such as, joy and happiness. Anger in itself is not a destructive emotion. The problem lies in mismanaging it. In his Ihyaa, Imam al-Ghazali makes this issue very clear as he observes: “Some think that anger can be totally eliminated and well treated. Others think that anger cannot be treated at all. Actually, both opinions, continues the Imam, are faulty. The truth is as long as man loves things and hates other things, he will surely be apt to anger. As long as things go his way, he will love them; otherwise, he will hate them. Anger follows that [love and hate].”
Accordingly, it is how you handle your anger that makes it acceptable or not. Maymoun ibn Mahran said: “A man came to Sulayman and said: “O Abu Abdullah, give me a piece of advice. Upon this, Sulayman said: “Do not get angry!” the man replied: “You instructed me not to get angry; yet, sometimes it is uncontrollable.” Then Sulayman said: “If you got angry, control your tongue and your hand!” This conversation sets the big difference between controlled anger where no abuse is involved and uncontrolled anger that requires immediate treatment.
Here is an example that shows the prophet’s anger. Abu Mas’ud tnarrated that once a man said to the prophet r: “I come late to the Fajr prayer because the Imam makes his Salah long. Then the prophet rgot angry, I had never seen him angrier before, and said: “O people some of you dissuade people [from Allah]. Whoever leads Salah should make it short for behind him are the weak, the old and people with emergencies.” So the prophet’s anger was visible, however, it was constructive for the following reasons:(1) the motivation of his anger was unselfish; it was for the injustice done to others, not to the prophet, (2) there was no physical or verbal abuse involved, (3) there was no hatred or malice involved, (4) his point was well presented with sound arguments and (5) it was not his habit to get angry.
Usually this controlled anger is a signal that alerts us that there is something wrong that should be corrected immediately. It also ignites us to reject domestic, social, economic or political injustices and defend others’ rights. There are countless organizations that were founded because of being outraged by intolerable carelessness. For example, in 1981 after two Wayland High School hockey players were killed in separate car crashes SADD (Students Against Drunk Drivers) was founded to oppose drunk drivers and worked on passing tougher penalties for them. Now the organization expanded its mission and name to be named Students Against Destructive Decisions to prevent all destructive behaviors that are harmful to young people; such as drinking, impaired driving, violence and suicide.
As for the uncontrolled anger, it should be considered as one’s worst enemy. It is a sign of weakness, and sometimes a sign of insanity, that may lead to destroying individuals, family members, friends, co-workers or even nations. It may even cost your life! Mismanaged anger can lead to complicated physical, social and spiritual problems that make it impossible for one to enjoy one’s life. Physically, anger causes increased heart rate, blood pressure and levels of adrenaline. Socially, it may lead to ruining marriages, demolishing families, creating hostility and losing friends. Spiritually, the hostility and hatred caused by anger leads to many spiritual problems. In his Ihyaa, Imam al-Ghazali observes: “Hostility results in eight matters against the hated person. First, Hasad (Evil Envy) which makes you wish that he would lose his God-given favors. Second, it makes you feel happy when a calamity befalls him. Third, it leads to abandoning him even if he tried to approach you. Fourth, it makes you withdraw from him out of belittlement. Fifth, it makes you backbite and slander him. Sixth, it makes you mimic him out of ridicule. Seventh, it makes you abuse him physically. Eighth, it makes you deny him his rights.”
Because of all these damages anger causes, the prophet instructed us not to get angry. According to Imam al-Bukhari, Abu Hurayrah tnarrated that a man came to the prophet and said: ‘Give me some advice.’ “Do not get angry,” replied the prophet r. Then the man repeated the request several times only to get the same answer from the prophet.” Scholars interpreted ‘Do not get angry’ in two ways. First, avoid the situations that trigger you anger and work on developing your character. Second, do not act on your anger when it arises as Allah Udescribed the righteous“When they get angry, they do forgive” (42:37).
Steps to Manage your Anger:
1- Change your view of anger. Remember that the prophet rcounted uncontrolled anger as a sign of weakness. In his Ihyaa, Imam al-Ghazali observes: “One of the sparks that ignite anger is that many ignorant people call anger ‘courage, manhood, prestige and perseverance!”
2- Develop better communication skills as I explained in a previous article on the Five Habits of Good Listeners.
3- Develop the habit of Muhasabah (self-accountability). Ask yourself what you did wrong on a daily basis. When you realize that you dealt unjustly with someone, do not hesitate to ask him or her for forgiveness.
4- Breathe deeply and repeat a calming word, phrase or sentence. The Quran teaches: “If a suggestion from Satan assails your (mind), seek refuge with Allah; for He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing” (7:200). Accordingly, the prophet rrecommended saying faithfully: “a’udhu billahi mina al-Shaytan al-Rajeem” which means “I seek Allah’s refuge against Satan, the Expelled [from God’s mercy].”
5- Do not take decisions or pass judgments when angry. Wait till you calm down. Do not write any letters or send e-mails or phone messages while in the state of anger since there is a chance of error in judgment or harshness in tone. Imam Bukhari and Muslim narrated, on the authority of Abu Bakr t, that the prophet rsaid: “Let none of you judge between two people when his anger arises.”
6- Try to listen to your partner to absorb his or her anger. Screaming back will never solve a problem! Ibn Abbas treported that the prophet rsaid: “If any one of you gets angry, let him be silent!” Ibn Rajab commented: “This is a good remedy for anger because an angry person will utter offensive words, and then he would regret when he calms down. So if he stopped talking, all this evil would go away.” Just think of the last time you got angry with someone. Think about how much better it would have been if you had chosen to walk away or remain silent. You need to practice silence till it becomes a second nature to you.
7- Before abusing others, remember Allah’s power and your need to get His forgiveness.
8- Learn from your mistakes. Write down what triggered your anger. Ask yourself what you did wrong and how you can do better next time.
9- Think of how ugly a person looks when angry.
10- Try to recall anything good the offending person did for you. This will help undermine your anger.
11- Forgive and Allah Uwill forgive you.“And let them pardon and overlook. Would you not like that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful” (24:22).
12- Forgive and Allah Uwill appreciate your behavior and love your character. Allow time to peacefully feel Allah’s love and appreciation of your conduct. Imam Muslim reported, on the authority of Ibn Abbas, that the prophet said to Ashaj ibn Abd Qays: “You have two characteristics that Allah love: forgiveness and calmness.”
13- Recall and Read the inspiring stories of forgiving and loving people.
14- Pray. The prophet rused to frequently pray: “O Allah, I ask you to grant me Truth in anger and displeasure” (Imam Ahmed).
15- Do not give up.