Race with one another towards Forgiveness from your Lord and towards a paradise the width of which spans the heavens and the earth. It has been prepared for the God-fearing.
The ones who spend (for Allah’s sake) in prosperity and adversity, and those who control anger and forgive people. And Allah loves those who are good in their deeds, [2:185]
Ibn Rajab reported: It was said to Ibn al-Mubarak, may Allah have mercy on him, “Summarize good character for us in a single sentence.” Ibn al-Mubarak said, “Leave aside anger.”
Ibn Rajab said, “The same explanation was offered by Imam Ahmad and Ishaq ibn Rahawayh, that good character is to leave aside anger.” [Jāmi’ al-‘Ulūm wal-Ḥikam 1/363]
Control anger/ “Don’t become angry” doesn’t mean that it is impermissible to have any sort of anger, because that would be outside human ability. There is a rule in Usul al-fiqh which states that it is not permissible for someone to be held accountable for that which he can’t control. Anger is part of human nature. The real question is, what is the permissible level of anger? How can we handle that anger when we do become angry?
When the Prophet (SAW) insisted on not getting angry, he implied that controlling one’s anger is a comprehensive act. Anger opens the door to all bad qualities and staying away from it opens the door to all good qualities. In a similar narration, it is stated that Humayd ibn Abdur Rahman(RA) reported: A man said, “O Messenger of Allah, instruct me.” The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Do not be angry.” The man said, “I thought about what the Prophet said and it occurred to me that anger gives rise to every evil.” [Source: Musnad Aḥmad 22660]
According to Imam Raghib al-Iṣfahānī(rh), the disposition of anger varies in different people.
Human anger is like fire. Some people are like grass quick to burn and slow to extinguish. Others are like leaves, slow to burn and slow to extinguish.
Differences in anger align with differences in human nature: a person with a hot, dry temperament has a fiery temper, while one with a cold, humid temperament has a mild temper. Differences in anger also depend on dispositions: some people are quiet and calm, having a gentle, modest temperament; while others are noisy and idly furious over small things like the dog who barks at a stranger.
Young boys and women are prone to be quick-tempered, whereas the elderly are likely to be merely irritated.
Imam al-Iṣfahānī explains how anger manifests itself in three situations:
When the faculty of anger [al-ḥamīyah], is triggered, it alters the circulation of blood. This happens in three situations: when a person is angry with his superior, or angry with his inferior, or angry with his equal. If he is angry with his superior and cannot express his anger, the muscles of his heart contract, his blood flows more slowly, and his anger turns to sorrow [al-ghamm].
If he is angry with his inferior, and can express his anger, his blood circulates quickly, and he is ready for revenge. This is real anger [al-ghaḍab]. If he is angry with his equal and is uncertain whether he can express his anger at them, his circulation fluctuates between slowing down and speeding up, his nerves are agitated, and his hostility intensifies. Sorrow and anger are therefore related: they are derived from the same faculty but are different emotions.
According to al-Iṣfahānī, the nature of anger is such that it makes the blood boil, filling the veins and brain with thick black fog so that the brain is unable to take wise action. He gives the analogy of a blazing fire. Just as the blazing fire in a small cave makes it difficult for one to come close enough to extinguish it, so too is the fire of ferocious indignation difficult to extinguish because the angry soul is impervious to guidance and religious exhortations.
Al-Iṣfahānī regards anger as positive or negative, depending on whether it is guided by reason. It is not the obliteration of anger that is virtuous, but how it is managed through reason. One of the positive expressions of anger is ‘diginified concern’ [al-ghῑrah], which is to stand for what is just and to protect the sacred, especially women. This is a God-given faculty. It enables one to protect one’s dignity, one’s household and family, and one’s farm and city.
The best advice from the best of advisors
On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him): “A man said to the Prophet, ‘Give me advice.’ The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, ‘Do not get angry.’ The man asked repeatedly and the Prophet answered each time, ‘Do not get angry.’” [Bukhari & Muslim]
Some scholars say that the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, knew that the man who asked him used to get angry often and that is why the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, gave him that particular advice. This view may lead to narrowing down and limiting the benefit of the hadith, whereas it is very comprehensive, far-reaching and applicable to all Muslims because everyone is subject to anger.
Abdullah ibn Amr reported: He asked the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, “What will distance me from the anger of Allah?” The Prophet said, “Do not be angry.” [Musnad Aḥmad 6597]
In another hadith, Abdullah ibn Mas’ud reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whom do you consider to be a fighter among you?” We said, “One whom men cannot wrestle down.” The Prophet said, “It is not so. Rather, it is one who controls himself when angry.” [Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2608]
And from the du’a (supplications) of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam: “I ask you O Allah, for truthful speech during times of pleasure and anger” [Nasaai and Ahmad]
Anger also constrains us. It is said that holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. And although difficult, its important to forgive people in your life, even those who are not sorry for their actions, just to free yourself. Holding on to anger only hurts you, not them.
You can’t control everything in life. But you can challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening. That’s where your power is. Getting angry is actually punishing yourself with the mistakes of others.
Anger management strategies
There are different strategies for handling anger, depending on the person and situation. If a person gets angry, then he or she should exercise muhasabah (holding the self accountable) for the mistakes committed, what led to them, and how to overcome them in the future. Examining the self and holding ourselves accountable is important training and a source of discipline and self-improvement. In various hadiths, the Prophet (sas) teaches us methods to help with anger:
- A person should learn how to change his character and adapt the characteristics of generosity, kindness, calmness, modesty, patience and forgiving. If a person adapts these qualities, then he may be able to restrain himself when he is about to get angry.In another hadith, the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, said: “If one of you becomes angry then he should be silent.”
- One should not act based on anger or while being angry.
Narrated Sulaiman bin Surad: A man from the companions of the Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Two men abused each other in front of the Prophet (ﷺ) and one of them became angry and his anger became so intense that his face became swollen and changed.The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “I know a word the saying of which will cause him to relax if he does say it.” Then a man went to him and informed him of the statement of the Prophet (ﷺ) and said, “Seek refuge with Allah from Satan.” On that, angry man said, ‘Do you find anything wrong with me? Am I insane? Go away!” [Sahih al-Bukhari 6048]
Therefore one of the keys to controlling ourselves during anger is to seek refuge in Allah from Satan because Satan influence us through the ‘was-was’ that influence our perception. Likewise, Satan promotes evil to people by influencing their perception.
Narrated ‘Abdur Rahman bin Abi Bakra: Abu Bakr wrote to his son who was in Sijistan: Do not judge between two persons when you are angry, for I heard the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, saying: “A judge should not judge between two persons while he is in an angry mood.” [Al-Bukhari; Vol. 9, No. 272]
- A Muslim must think before acting or speaking. As soon as the feeling of anger appears to oneself, then there is a need to think of why the anger appears and whether it is necessary to be angry. While asking these questions, the person must remember Allah and the Hereafter (Akhirah). This will cause the person to calm down and not get angry.If a person gets angry, then it is necessary that the person performs a muhasabah, which is to account oneself of the mistakes committed, what leads to them and how to overcome them in the future. This is an important training for us to improve ourselves.
A moment of patience in a moment of anger saves you a hundred moments of regret.
- In other hadiths, the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, teaches us how to deal with anger: “Anger comes from the devil, the devil was created of fire, and fire is extinguished only with water; so when one of you becomes angry, he should perform ablution.” [Abu Daud; Book 41, No. 4766]
- Changing your posture: Abu Dharr narrated: The Apostle of Allah, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam, said to us: “When one of you becomes angry while standing, he should sit down. If the anger leaves him, well and good; otherwise he should lie down.” [Abu Daud; Book 41, No. 4764]
- Make dua: Umm Salamah reported: I said, “O Messenger of Allah, teach me a supplication with which I can pray for myself.” The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Say: O Allah, forgive my sins, remove the anger in my heart, and protect me from the trials of misguidance.” [al-Du’ā lil-Ṭabarānī 1340
- Imam Al-Iṣfahānī explains the causes of anger, and how to manage it, stating: A person was asked, “How shall I prevent anger?” He replied, “Remember to obey and not only be obeyed, to serve and not only be served, to endure and not only be endured, and know that God watches you constantly. This will curb anger, and if you feel angry nevertheless, it will not be fierce.”
Some note should be given to praiseworthy anger as known from the examples of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam. He never got angry except when the commandments of Allah are violated. However, if we want to get angry for the sake of Allah, then we need to be careful that we:
- are really not getting angry for ourselves or for our own interests.
- need to do it in the right way, like not committing wrong actions or saying vulgar words while getting angry.
- can achieve the benefit as intended by the shari’ah. If the action leads to more harm than benefit, then it should be avoided based on the principle of weighing between the benefits and harms.
For example, when giving advice, say it in a good way, using good words, and be careful not to get into a quarrel.
An example of control
Allamah Aloosi (RA) has narrated an incident about Ali (RA)’s grandson, Ali bin Husain (RA). His slave girl was once helping him to make wudhu when the water jar slipped from her hand, fell on his head and wounded him.
Ali bin Husain (RA) looked at her angrily. The slave girl, being a Hafizah of the Quran, immediately started reciting from Surah Aale Imran 134, which says: “Allah(SWT)’s special servants are those who swallow their anger.”
Ali bin Husain (RA) immediately replied: “I have swallowed my anger.”
His immediate action was because of his acceptance of the word of Allah(SWT). It was not important to him who had recited it.
The slave girl then proceeded to recite the verse which says: “And those who forgive people.”
Ali bin Husain RA said: “I forgive your mistake. She then continued, And Allah(SWT) loves those who are kind.” Hadhrat Ali replied: “Go, I free you for the sake of Allah(SWT).”
The parable of two wolves
The Cherokee Indians would narrate that an wise Grandfather said to his grandson who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice
“It is as if there are two wolves inside me; One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all round him and does not take offence when no offence was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way. He saves all his energy for the right fight.
But the other wolf, ahhh! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing. Sometimes it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit.”
The boy looked intently into his Grandfather’s eyes and asked… “Which one wins, Grandfather?”
The Grandfather smiled and quietly said…… “The one I feed.”
It is said that anger is one letter short of danger and controlling ones anger for the sake of Allah(SWT) saves you and your hereafter from danger. Ibn Umar(RA) reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said,
“Whoever restrains his tongue, Allah Almighty will cover his faults.
Whoever controls his anger, Allah Almighty will protect him from His punishment.
Whoever apologizes to Allah Almighty, He will accept his apology.” [al-Ṣamt li Ibn Abī Dunyā 21]