Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet ﷺ said: “A strong person is not one who frequently defeats people in wrestling; it is the one who keeps themself under control when anger arises” (Bukhari and Muslim).
Upon reflection, the hadith teaches that one’s real power and strength depend on one’s ability to control anger. In other words, uncontrolled anger is a sure way to lose your power and ruin your life. That is why anger is connected to serious crimes such as assault and murder and frequently associated with helplessness, loss, frustration, violence, and, eventually, regret. The hadith comes to correct the fallacy that calmness or forgiveness is a sign of weakness. In an obvious statement, the Prophet equates power with controlling emotions. A wise man said: “This person [who controls their anger] will not be enslaved by lusts, conquered by whims or defeated by anger.”
What is anger? It is 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 treated. Others think it cannot be treated at all.” Both opinions, continues the Imam, are faulty. “As long as humans love certain things and hate other things, they will surely be apt to anger. As long as things go your way, you will love them; otherwise, you 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 get 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 narrated that once a man said to the Prophet ﷺ: “I come late to the Fajr prayer because the Imam makes his Salah long. Then the Prophet ﷺ got 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.” Although the Prophet’s anger was visible, it was constructive for the following reasons:
- The motivation of his anger was unselfish; it was for the injustice done to others, not to the Prophet.
- There was no physical or verbal abuse involved.
- There was no hatred or malice involved.
- His point was well presented with sound arguments.
- 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. Countless organizations developed out of outrage for intolerable carelessness. For example, in 1981, after two Wayland High School hockey players were killed in car crashes, SADD (Students Against Drunk Drivers) was founded to oppose drunk drivers and worked on passing stricter penalties. 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 uncontrolled anger, it should be considered one’s worst enemy. It is a sign of weakness, and sometimes a sign of insanity, that may destroy 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 life. Physically, anger causes increased heart rate, blood pressure, and levels of adrenaline. Socially, it may lead to ruined marriages, demolished families, hostility, and losing friends. Spiritually, the enmity and hatred caused by anger lead to many spiritual problems. In his Ihyaa, Imam al-Ghazali observes: “Hostility results in eight matters against the hated person.
- Hasad (Evil Envy): wishing that others would lose their God-given favors
- Feeling happy when a calamity befalls others
- Abandoning someone even if they try to approach you
- Withdrawing from someone out of belittlement
- Backbiting and slandering
- Mimicking out of ridicule
- Physical abuse
- Denying the rights of others
Due to all these damaging effects of anger, the Prophet instructed us not to get angry. According to Imam al-Bukhari, Abu Hurayrah narrated that a man came to the Prophet and said: ‘Give me some advice.’ “Do not get angry,” replied the Prophet ﷺ. 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 your anger and work on developing your character. Second, do not act on your anger when it arises as Allah describes the righteous, “And those who avoid the major sins and immoralities, and when they are angry, they forgive” (Quran 42:37).
Steps to Manage your Anger:
- Change your view of anger. Remember that the Prophet counted 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!”
- As I explained in a previous article on the Five Habits of Good Listeners, develop better communication skills.
- Develop the habit of Muhasabah (self-accountability). Ask yourself what you do wrong daily. When you realize that you dealt unjustly with someone, do not hesitate to ask them for forgiveness.
- 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” (Quran 7:200). Accordingly, the Prophet recommended 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].”
- Do not make decisions or pass judgments when angry. Wait till you calm down. Do not write any letters or send emails or phone messages while in a state of anger since there is a chance of error in judgment or harsh tone. Imam Bukhari and Muslim narrated, on the authority of Abu Bakr, that the Prophet ﷺ said: “Let none of you judge between two people when their anger arises.”
- Listen to your partner to absorb their anger. Screaming back will never solve a problem! Ibn Abbas reported that the Prophet ﷺ said: “If anyone of you gets angry, let them be silent!” Ibn Rajab commented: “This is a good remedy for anger because an angry person will utter offensive words, and then regret it when calm. So if they stop 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. It would be best if you practiced silence till it becomes second nature.
- Before abusing others, remember Allah’s power and your need to attain His forgiveness.
- Learn from your mistakes. Write down what triggered your anger. Ask yourself what you did wrong and how you can do better next time.
- Think of how ugly a person looks when angry.
- Try to recall anything good the offending person did for you. This will help undermine your anger.
- Forgive, and Allah will forgive you. “And let them pardon and overlook. Would you not like that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful” (Quran 24:22).
- Forgive, and Allah will appreciate your behavior and love your character. Allow time to feel Allah’s love and appreciation of your conduct peacefully. 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.”
- Recall and read the inspiring stories of forgiving and loving people.
- Pray. The Prophet ﷺ used to frequently pray: “O Allah, I ask you to grant me Truth in anger and displeasure” (Imam Ahmed).
- Do not give up.