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Anger Management: Three Insights from One Quranic Verse

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Anger Management: Three Insights from One Quranic Verse

Image of A Man Smiling for the Picture

Good and evil are never equal. Respond to evil with what is best, and your enemy will become like a close, devoted friend.
But this cannot be attained except by those who are patient and who are truly fortunate.

The first key to anger management is to identify your own anger warning signs.

Whenever poked by a whispering from the Devil, take refuge in Allah; indeed, it is He alone is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing (Quran 41:34-36).

As this passage recommends meeting evil with good, it closes with an insight on how to deal with anger which could possibly be a barrier to achieving this great moral character trait. The flow of these verses indicates that taming our temper and disciplining our ego are ways to maintain better relations with others. How could this last verse help us with managing angry situations? Meditating on this verse, I found three insights that could help us control anger before it controls us.

The first insight comes from the initial clause “whenever poked by a whispering from the Devil …” Like any other emotion, anger is usually accompanied by physiological, biological and behavioral changes. In line with fact, the initial part of this verse alerts us to the first step in managing our anger. It instructs us to identify what irritates or “pokes” us—whether these provocations come from the devil or anyone influenced by the whisperings of the devil.

Anger specialists call these provocations “the anger warning signs.” According to them, each person has his own warning signs which usually fall under four categories: physical, emotional, behavioral and cognitive. (1) Physical signs refer to how your body responds. Examples of this type include racing heart rate, tightness in the chest, sharing, sweating, turning red in the face and feeling hot or flushed. (2) Emotional signs refer the feelings that accompany your anger. Examples include feeling disrespected, humiliated, guilty or jealous. (3) Behavioral signs refer to what you do when anger first rises. Examples of this category include clenched fists, yelling or slamming the door. (4) Cognitive signs refer to what you think about in response to the angry situation you. Examples here include having thoughts about revenge or aggression. Now, it is important to jot down your own warning signs. Once you are able to identify them, you can handle the angry situation rationally, rather than emotionally.

After identifying your anger warning signs, you have two options: turning your power to the Shaytan or turning back to Allah.

The second insight is represented by the Quranic instruction “take refuge in Allah”.How is this related to taming our anger? When we identify our warning signs, we face two choices: (1) Turing away our power to the devil and turning into a puppet that the devil, or those influenced by him, can move and control as they wish, (2) maintaining our power as we deeply breath with the calming prayer “I take refuge in Allah.” This statement is not a mumbling prayer but a mindful decision. In light of this Quranic guidance, the prophet recommended this statement to calm down inside. Imam al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim narrated, on the authority of Sulayman ibn Surad, that two men were abusing each other verbally. One of them was turning red in the face and his jugular veins swelled. Advising the angry person, the prophet (ﷺ) commented: “I know a word that, if this person says, his anger will go away. If he said: I take refuge in Allah from the devil (a’uth billahi mina al-shaytan al-rajeem) , his anger will go away.” Choosing to seek divine protection has many fruits. First, it guards us against losing our rational thinking. Second, it reminds us to relegate our affairs to Allah—especially when it is not fully clear who is right in an angry atmosphere. Third, it guards us against hostile aggressions as we remember that God’s power over us is ultimately greater than our power over others.

Interestingly, the verse, under discussion, is repeated later in a different surah. Once again this three-part insight depicts two choices for us after we identify our warning signs. Meditate on the following Quranic passage and notice the two different reactions to the satanic provocations:

Whenever poked by a whispering from the Devil, take refuge in Allah; indeed, He is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.

Those who are mindful of God think of Him when Satan whispers to them and immediately they can see

But the devils persistently lead their brethren [humans under the influence of the devil] deeper into wickedness, sparing no effort (Quran 7:200-202).

Avoid making any decisions during angry situations.

In this brief passage, we can identify two reactions to the satanic whisperings that breed more anger. The first reaction belongs to the righteous people who choose to retain their power by turning to Allah immediately. The sentence “they can see” indicates that those who ignore their warning signs and continue acting on their anger are blinded from seeing reality. This mental and spiritual blindness is highlighted in verse 202 which describes the second reaction to the whisperings of the devil. This verse indicates that when one fails to be connected with Allah, one would be an easy prey to more satanic and destructive thoughts.

The third insight comes from the closing divine attributes “He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.” It is a clear reminder to avoid any type of aggression or crossing the limits as we remember that God will judge us: “He is the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.” Al-Ghazali (d. 505/1111) advises anyone who has authority over others to avoid making any disciplinary decisions when angry. He gives two reasons for this advice. First, anger could make us cross the limits and pass unfair judgements. Second, these angry judgments may be a means of satisfying our ego, not purely honoring justice. He reports that Umar ibn ‘Abd al-Aziz, the great caliph, was once provoked by someone. Thinking about immediate disciplinary decision, Umar wisely said: “Were it not for causing me to become angry, I would have immediately disciplined you.”

Similarly, it is also wise to avoid writing a message or an email when angry. One has to wait until his anger goes away. One of the ways of feeling less stressed after an angry situation is to make wudu with cold water as a way of reducing stress and bringing the blood pressure down. Imam Ahmad and Abu Dawud reported, on the authority of ‘Urwah al-Sa’di, that the prophet said: “Anger is from Satan, and Satan is created from fire. As fire is extinguished by water, one is to make wudu when becoming angry.” Even though Imam al-Nawawi judges this hadith as weak, its content is true.

Wudu can help reduce your stress.

When one delays making decisions or composing messages until anger goes away, this practice will surely ensure proper thinking process and appropriate wording to communicate our messages. Abu ‘Awn al-Ansari reminds us: “Each harsh word has a substitute that communicates a softer tone but serves the same purpose!”

- Sh. Ahmed Arafat