Stick Your Cheek to the Ground: Islamic Approaches to Anger Management

Islam is a way of life and the Qur’an offers guidance in all areas of life. In the area of personal and emotional development, Islam encourages Muslims to manage their anger in two steps. In the first step, before becoming angry, Islam introduces a culture of forgiveness.   Islam indeed encourages Muslims to build anger-absorbing personalities, to develop the virtues of forgiveness, and to interpret things positively. In the second step, when angry, however, Islam suggests ways to properly manage anger. Islam, therefore, is not about avoiding anger but it is about dealing with it well. The first step is the step of protection / prevention while the second step is the step of treatment / cure.

Ibn Abbas narrates: “Oh son of Khattab I swear by Allah that you don’t judge among us justly.” Omar became angry to the degree of thinking to hurt him. One of the sahaba (companions) reminded Omar with Qur’an 7:199 that says “Take what is given freely (be easy in dealing with them and avoid causing them difficulty), enjoin what is good, and turn away from the ignorant.” This man is one of the ignorant. Omar responded properly, managed his anger and didn’t hurt the man.   This is an example of how the Qur’an influences behavior by going deep into the Muslim’s personality.

The Qur’an 42:47 speaks of forgiveness, “And those who avoid major sins and immoralities and when angry they forgive”  The glorious Qur’an (15:58) speaks also of kindness and wing lowering, “and lower your wing (show kindness) to the believers.” In addition to these two virtues, the Qur’an 5:54 talks about humility, “they are humble toward the believers.” Getting angry is nothing to be proud of; it is not even a sign of strength. The Prophet (peace and blessings be unto him) said,” Strong is not the one who wrestles others to the ground, but strong is the one who controls himself when angry.” The Prophet (peace and blessings be unto him) said, “I am warning you of zun which is thinking badly of others; zun is the most unreliable form of interaction; don’t follow each other’s shortcomings; don’t spy on each other; don’t envy each other; don’t hate one another; don’t plan evil to each other; be true servants of Allah-brothers in faith.” The last four virtues of forgiveness, kindness, humility and zun-avoidance bundle together to develop a shield against anger.

The glorious Qur’an (3:133, 3:134, 5:13) reminds Muslims directly and indirectly to forgive others before asking forgiveness from Allah. To build the Islamic personality with built-in defense against anger, the Prophet (peace and blessings be unto him) describe the Muslim who does not forgive as akir (evil one), “The awakirs (evil ones) are three: a leader who doesn’t thank you if you do well and who does not forgive you when you make a mistake; a bad neighbor who burry your good deeds and broadcast your bad deeds; and a woman who hurts you in your presence and cheats on you in your absence.” Who wants to be an evil one? Who wants to be an akir? Islam is practical; it acknowledges the imperfect nature of people. Interaction between people could be positive and could be negative. Muslims should continue interacting with people in spite of the negative possibilities. Our Prophet (peace and blessings be unto him) teaches Muslims to be active in their communities and mix with people and tolerate their hurts with patience. He said, “The believer who mixes with people and tolerate their hurts is better than the believer who doesn’t mix and doesn’t tolerate.” This is only a sample of how Islam builds the forgiving personality that is capable of dealing with anger properly. The article so far dealt with the first step, protection / prevention aspects of anger.

Now let us turn to the second step, the cure / treatment aspects of anger. So, when angry there are at least seven things to say or to do. First, seek refuge in Allah. “And if an evil suggestion comes to you from shaytan, then seek refuge in Allah, He is hearing and knowing.” (Qur’an 7:200) Second, do wudu (washing specific parts of your body according to the tradition of the Prophet who said, “Anger from shaytan, shaytan from fire; fire is put out by water; so when angry do wudu” Third, change body position. Our Prophet (peace and blessings be unto him) said, “If one of you gets angry while standing, he should sit. If he is still angry, he should lie down.” We may understand this hadith as follows: when angry, lying down is better than sitting; sitting is better than standing: standing is better than walking; walking is better than sa’y (which is some what between walking and running). Minimum energy positions are better because they are more restrictive.

Fourth, stick your cheek to the ground. Since anger is a product of pride, the Prophet (peace and blessings be unto him) said, “Whoever gets a little angry should stick his cheek to the ground.” Fifth, divert attention away from the cause of anger and participate in strenuous physical activity aiming at letting steam out and relaxing muscles. The Prophet (peace and blessings be unto him) used this approach to manage the tension of the sahabah on their way back from the battle of   bani al mustalaq. Abd Allah bin obay-the head of the the hypocrites said, “If we return to al madinah, the more honored (for power) will surely expel the more humble” (Qur’an 63:8 the sahabah became angry and the Prophet ordered them to continue marching for two days. When the sahabah took rest, they slept and forgot their anger. Present day psychologists advice housewives to collect empty beverage cans to flatten them with a hammer when they become angry.

Sixth, be silent, don’t speak. The Prophet (peace and blessings be unto him) said, “Teach, simplify, don’t complicate and if you get angry be silent.” Seventh, interpret events positively. An Arab came to Omar to complain about people who make fun of him because he belongs to the nose-of-the-she-camel tribe. Omar assured the Arab that there is nothing to be ashamed of by belonging to this tribe because the nose refer to the highest part of the body and it is the symbol of superiority not inferiority. After hearing what Omar told him, the Arab felt good and his anger went away? Omar gave Muslims a lesson in anger management by working in the brain/mind where decisions are made in the first place. It was a matter of interpretation.

Some readers may wish to read my last article entitled “Don’t Get Angry” and published in AL-AMEEN on January 12, 2007.   If you wish to read this article in Arabic, please consult www.bcmayahoo.come/links . The writer welcomes comments and feedback.

Dr. Mohammed Saleh is an educational consultant based in British Columbia and he may be reached at mohammedisaleh@hotmail.com .

About the Author
Dr. Mohammed Saleh

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Dr. Mohammed Saleh spent most of his life in the field of education: teaching, administration and consulting. He taught at the elementary, secondary and university levels. At Umm – Al Qura University (Makkah), Dr. Saleh held the position of Assistant Professor at the College of Education and Associate Professor at the college of Social Sciences. Dr. Saleh had the pleasure of running three k – 12 Islamic Schools in North America: Panama City Florida, Richmond (British Columbia) and Ann Arbor (Michigan.) As an educational Consultant, Dr. Saleh used his life – long experience in education to develop a model of Quran – curriculum integration process (abbreviated Q – cip.) His vision was to share his knowledge and experience with Islamic schools in North America to help teachers integrate the Glorious Quran in all subjects. May Allah swt, in His infinite Mercy, grant him the highest level of Paradise, inshaAllah.

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