By Sheikh Salman al-Oadah
All of us have to wrestle with the emotion of anger, an emotion that flares up and tests a person's ability to control himself and keep himself from stooping to the level of the one who wronged him.
There are reasons why some people can keep their composure and exercise self-control. The following are nine of these reasons:
1. Mercy, sympathy, and leniency to the person who is in the wrong
Allah says, addressing His Messenger (peace be upon him): “It was by the mercy of Allah that you deal with them gently, and had you been rough or hard hearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult with them upon the conduct of affairs” [ Sûrah Âl `Imrân : 159]
This verse provides us with an extremely beneficial lesson. It teaches us that people are brought together by kindness and leniency. They are not brought together through severity and violence. Allah says: “...had you been rough or hard hearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you.”
The people being referred to in this verse are the Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him), the people who emigrated for the sake of their faith and those who welcomed the emigrants with open arms. These are the people who are described by the Qur'ân as “the foremost” among the believers. [ Sûrah al-Tawbah : 100] How can we hope to expect more from those who come after them? What can we expect for those who are in a far lesser position than Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him), people like scholars and Islamic workers and others in leadership positions?
Therefore, it is not possible for people to unite except on the basis of mercy and clemency.
Abû al-Dardâ' said to a man who insulted him: “Do not become engrossed in cursing us. Leave some space for reconciliation. For indeed, we do not respond in kind to those who disobey Allah regarding us as much as we obey Allah Almighty regarding him.”
A man insulted al-Sha`bî, so al-Sha`bî said to him: “If I am as you describe me, then may Allah forgive me, and if I am not as you describe me, then may Allah forgive you.”
Once a person insulted Mu`âwiyah in a most direct and harsh manner. Mu`âwiyah responded by offering a supplication on his behalf and bestowing upon him a grant of money.
It is essential that we accustom ourselves to being more accepting, patient, and tolerant. A person practices kindness until he becomes a kind person. Abû al-Dardâ' relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Knowledge is attained only through learning and gentleness is attained only through being gentle. Whoever is intent on attaining goodness will be given it and whoever keeps away from evil will be spared it.”
Each of us needs look into himself and straighten out his own affairs before taking others to task. We must keep in mind that the greeting of Islam is “Peace be upon you and Allah's mercy and blessings.” It is this greeting that the Prophet (peace be upon him) ordered us to utter when we enter our homes. Indeed Allah says: “When you enter houses, greet one another with peace.” [ Sûrah al-Nûr : 61]
We use the same greeting whether we are addressing children, our elders, those whom we know, and those whom we do not know.
A man asked the Prophet (peace be upon him): “What is the best Islam?”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: “To give food (to those in need) and to greet with peace those whom you know and those whom you do not know.” [ Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim ]
`Ammâr said: “There are three things that if someone possesses them all he will have comprehended faith: applying justice to yourself, greeting the world with peace, and spending in charity under straitened circumstances.”
This greeting has many meanings. One of these meanings is the person you are greeting will be safe from you – from your tongue, your heart, and your hand – and that you will not transgress against him with your words or your deeds. This greeting is also a prayer for peace, safety, mercy, and blessings. We should take these noble meanings that we say with our tongues and make them our way of life in our dealings with other people.
2. Magnanimity and assuming the best about the other person
Some people of wisdom have said: “The best of noble qualities is to pardon when you are able to take revenge and to be generous in poverty.” A person may have the power to take revenge upon his adversary, but instead he responds with forgiveness and forbearance. Allah says: “And whoever is patient and forgiving, indeed these are acts of great resolve.” [ Sûrah al-Shûrâ : 43]
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, addressing the people of Quraysh on the day of the conquest of Mecca : “What do you think I shall do with you?”
They said: “What is good. You are a noble brother and the son of a noble brother.”
He said: “Go, for you are free.”
Joseph (peace be upon him) said to his brothers after they had come under his power and authority: “This day let no reproach be (cast) upon you: Allah will forgive you, and He is the Most Merciful of those who show mercy!” [ Sûrah Yûsuf : 92]
3. Nobility of spirit and high-mindedness
We must hold ourselves above banal insults and see that responding in kind is beneath our dignity.
We must accustom ourselves to being able to bear the insults of others while maintaining a cheerful countenance. We need to train ourselves, slowly but surely, to exercise self-restraint.
4. Seeking our reward from Allah
Anger is a bitter draught that we sometimes must force ourselves to swallow for the sake of Allah, for the blessings and rewards that we receive for doing so.
Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever restrains his anger when he has the ability to carry it out, Allah Almighty will summon him above the heads of all creation on the Day of Judgment and give him the choice of any the pure companions he pleases.” [ Sunan al-Tirmidhî , Sunan Abî Dâwûd , and Sunan Ibn Mâjah ]
It is easy for us to talk about such things. This requires practically no effort at all. I believe that almost anyone can get up and give a nice talk about the topic of restraining ourselves when we are angry. However, it is another matter altogether to put such things into practice when we are in a situation where tempers are on the rise. At such times, we will really need to have already cultivated the qualities of patience, magnanimity, and clemency, or we will suddenly come to realize that there is a big difference between words and deeds.
5. A sense of shame
A person should feel shy to put himself in the same position as the person who is doing wrong. Some people of wisdom have said: “Suffering a fool is better than adopting his manner. Overlooking someone's ignorance is better than aping it.”
A man of letters once said: “A gentleman never speaks foully and a nobleman never speaks derisively.”
We should consider what happened when the people of Tâ'if cast the Prophet (peace be upon him) out of their city in a most deplorable manner.
`Â'ishah, the wife of the Prophet (peace be upon him), relates that she once asked him: “Was there ever a day that was worse for you than the Battle of Uhud?”
The Prophet replied: “Your tribe had troubled me a lot, and the most severe of this trouble was on the day of 'Aqaba when I presented myself to Ibn `Abd Yalâyil b. `Abd Kulâl and he did not respond to my request. So I departed, overwhelmed with sorrow, and proceeded on, without rest until I found myself at Qarn al-Tha`âlib where I lifted my head towards the sky to see a cloud shading me unexpectedly. I looked up and saw within it Gabriel.
“He called me saying: ‘Allah has heard what your people have been saying to you, and how they have disputed you. Allah has sent the Angel of the Mountains to you so that you may order him to do whatever you wish to these people.'
“The Angel of the Mountains called and greeted me, and then said: ‘O Muhammad! Order what you wish. If you like, I will cause the two mountains to fall upon them.'
“(I) said: “No, for I hope that Allah will bring forth from their progeny people who will worship Allah Alone, and none besides Him.” [ Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim ]
6. Practicing patience and magnanimity as a part of faith
The muscle that lies within our breasts can undergo training and conditioning. We need to condition our hearts to exercise magnanimity on a constant basis and to let us forego our rights and to not demand our share all the time. We must train our hearts to stay full of affection.
If you are able to make your heart feel love for others, it will never feel strained by them. You will find that it will indeed expand every time a new guest arrives. It will be able to accommodate every worthy soul.
You should exercise your heart upon magnanimity and tolerance before going to bed every night and in this way give yourselves a restful night's sleep. You should pardon all those who infringed upon your rights, wronged you, or ill-treated you in any way, and you should ask Allah in full sincerity to forgive them and to reform their ways. If you do so, you will be the one's to profit the most.
Just like we wash our faces many times a day because other people will be looking at us, we should cleanse our hearts, for this is were Allah looks at us. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Allah does not look at your forms or at your wealth, but he looks at your hearts and your deeds.”
Since Allah looks at our hearts, we need to be even more concerned about their condition, so that they will exhibit nothing but the noblest of meanings and the best of intentions.
We must cleanse our hearts every day so they do not accumulate a tarnish of envy, hatred, and bad thoughts that hinder us from going forward in life in a positive manner.
7. Holding back the tongue from insults
When someone else starts insulting you or deriding you, the hardest thing for you to do is to stop it in its tracks. Indeed, it takes a firm resolve to do so.
From experience, the effort that one of us expends in responding in kind to those who insult us yields fewer results than those yielded by silence. Keeping silent safeguards our tongues, our valuable time, and our hearts. This is why Allah says to Mary (peace be upon her): “And if you see anyone from among humanity, say ‘I have taken a vow of abstention to the Most Merciful, so I will not speak today to anyone.” [ Sûrah Maryam : 26]
Wrangling, quarrelling, and arguing back and forth can really injure the heart and can often result in far more harm than benefit.
8. Considering the consequences
We must assess what it in our best interests and what is best for the general welfare. This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) praised his grandson al-Hasan by saying: “This son of mine is noble, and perhaps Allah will at his hands bring reconciliation between two great divisions from among the Muslims. [ Sahîh al-Bukharî ]
This shows us that concern for the general welfare – a concern for keeping people together and away from fighting – is nobility.
9. Preserving and upholding the good that had been before
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Acknowledging the good of others is part of faith.”
Al-Shâfi`î said: “The nobleman is the one who holds in esteem the affection shown for a moment and who keeps his affiliation with one who did something good for but a moment.”