Islam and Anger Management (Part 2): Strategies to Keep Anger at Bay

Posted on January 10, 2008

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by Rafik Beekun (Updated on Aug 3, 2011)

This is part two of the series I have been working on on anger. The first article is entitled:
Islam and Anger Management (Part 1): What is your level of anger?

Anger is something that happens to all of us.  Prophet Jesus (s) was angered by the money changers in the Temple.  Prophet Moses (s) was angered when he came down from the mountain, and found the tribes engaging in idolatry.  Even the Prophet Muhammad (s) got angry at times–though very rarely.  For example, in a hadith (Sahih Al-Bukhari, volume 8 #134), Zaid bin Thabit reports the following:

Allah’s Apostle made a small room (with a palm leaf mat). Allah’s Apostle came out (of his house) and prayed in it. Some men came and joined him in his prayer. Then again the next night they came for the prayer, but Allah’s Apostle delayed and did not come out to them. So they raised their voices and knocked the door with small stones (to draw his attention). He came out to them in a state of anger, saying, “You are still insisting (on your deed, i.e. Tarawih prayer in the mosque) that I thought that this prayer (Tarawih) might become obligatory on you. So you people, offer this prayer at your homes, for the best prayer of a person is the one which he offers at home, except the compulsory (congregational) prayer.”

Here are some techniques for controlling one’s anger.

1. Relaxation

Relaxation  can be accomplished very easily through breathing deeply, and can, Insha Allah, help control and then soothe your anger.

Here are some simple steps:

  • Breathe deeply, from your diaphragm; breathing from your chest won’t relax you. Picture your breath coming up from your “gut.”
  • Slowly repeat a calm word or phrase such as “relax,” “take it easy” or even “Laa ilaaha ilallah (There is no God except Allah).” Repeat it to yourself while breathing deeply.
  • Recite the following du’as: (1) “I seek refuge with Allah from Satan, the accursed.” (A`oodhu billahi mina ash-shaytaani ar-rajeem). This du’a comes from the following agreed upon hadith: Sulaiman b. Sard said, “I was sitting with the Prophet (s) when two men abused each other and one of them became so angry that his face became swollen and changed. The Prophet (s) said, ‘I know a word that that will cause him to relax, and this is, “I seek refuge with Allah from Satan, the accursed.” (If he said these words) his anger will cool down.’ (Reported in Sahih Muslim and Bukhari) (2) Allaahumma innee a`oodhu bika min hamazaati ash-shayaateen; wa a`oodhu bika rabbi an yahdhuroonee (O Allah, I seek refuge in You from the whisperings of devils; and I seek refuge in You from their presence around me). (3) Astaghfiru Allah (I ask Allah for forgiveness) three times. (4) Rabbi qinee sharra nafsee; rabbi qinee sharra sam`ee; rabbi qinee sharra basaree; rabbi qinee sharaa lisaanee (My Lord, save me from the evils of my own self; my Lord, save me from the evils of my hearing; my Lord, save me from the evils of my seeing; my Lord, save me from the evils of my tongue.) You can also simply make the following tasbeeh: Subhaan Allah, al-hamdu lillah, laa ilaha illa Allah, wa laa hawla wa laa quwwata illa bi-llah (Sublime is Allah; praise be to Allah; there is no god but Allah; there is no power or strength except by the will of Allah).”
  • Visualize a relaxing experience, from either your memory or your imagination.  I find that visualizing the Kabbah or Masjid An Nabawi or even a very beautiful landscape works for me.
  • Practice these techniques daily until they become automatic when you’re in a tense situation.
  • Use the video on this blog (Part 5 of Islam and Stress Management) to help practice the abovementioned steps until they become automatic.

2. Cognitive Restructuring

This means modifying the way you think.  When someone is angry, he/she tend to curse, swear, or use offensive or dark language. Islam warns us about what we may unadvisedly say during times of anger. In the Qur’an, Allah warns us: “O ye who believe! Let not a folk deride a folk who may be better than they (are), nor let women (deride) women who may be better than they are; neither defame one another, nor insult one another by nicknames. Bad is the name of lewdness after faith. And whoso turneth not in repentance, such are evil doers.” (Al-Hujurat: 11)

When angry, you are under stress, and may be experiencing threat rigidity effects.  Either you have difficulty thinking, or you may tend to exaggerate what is happening.  After using the techniques listed under relaxation, try replacing these dark thoughts with more rational ones. For instance, instead of telling yourself, “this person is an absolute jerk, and “tell yourself,”this person helped me when I needed, and I need to give him or her some latitude.”  Do not forget that very often it takes two people to create a conflict-oriented situation.  Ask yourself (when you have calmed down) what your role was in the conflict.  Surely, it was not only the other person who caused the situation to escalate?  Remind yourself that getting angry does not solve anything, and may actually escalate the situation.

Cognitive restructuring also includes thinking about Allah.  Here is an example: in a hadith narrated in Sahih Al Bukhari by Abu Musa Al Ashari (volume 9, #394),  Allah’s Apostle was asked about things which he disliked, and when the people asked too many questions, he became angry and said, “Ask me (any question).” A man got up and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Who is my father?” The Prophet replied, “Your father is Hudhaifa.” Then another man got up and said, “O Allah’s Apostle! Who is my father?” The Prophet said, “Your father is Salim, Maula Shaiba.” When ‘Umar saw the signs of anger on the face of Allah’s Apostle, he said, “We repent to Allah.”  Please notice that ‘Umar by referring to Allah and implicitly apologize for the participants asking trivial questions from the Prophet (s) was (1) encouraging everyone to refocus on and think about Allah, and (2) recognizing the role of the participants in causing stress to the Prophet (s).

According to the scholars at Islamonline.com, when in anger, think of Allah’s attributes. The first attribute of Allah that we Muslims are reminded (of) is Ar Rahman-Ar Rahim that is, Kind and Merciful. God Himself said, my mercy overtakes my wrath, and He told in one of the Hadith Qudusi, ‘O son of Adam, when you get angry, remember Me.” Thus, remembrance of God and meditation will put us on the right track. One of the meditation words is ya Halim (Patient), which is one of the attributes of God, being the Mild One. One can also pray to God to take control. We must also think that our life that is so dear to us, is a temporary life, and we must not forget our death and destroy the life of eternity at the cost of this life. Washing one’s face with cold water or taking a cold shower is also helpful.

3. Problem Solving

Sometimes, our anger is triggered by very real issues in our lives, and may be a natural response to these problems.  Some cultures expect one to become angry in some situations, i.e. if a son gets married without consulting his parents.  Some of the problems leading to anger may have taken years to emerge, and will not be solved over a cup of tea and samoussas.   Both parties will need to dig deep to find out the underlying root cause fo the problem and address this root cause first before any permanent solution to the problem can be reached. The best way to approach  such a situation, then, is not to focus on coming up with an immediate solution, but agree on the manner by which you can  face the problem. Deal with the issue with your best intentions and efforts and make a serious attempt to face it head-on, but do not rush–unless circumstances warrant it.

4. Better Communication

Angry people tend to be defensive and reactive, and tend to come to hasty, and flawed conclusions.  The first thing to do if you’re in a rage is slow down and think through your responses. Don’t say the first thing that comes into your head.  Take a time out, count to 10 (silently),  and do not blurt out.  In my family, any two members in conflict with one another can call out, “Time out”.  This means that neither party can say or do anything about the current situation until a couple of hours have passed, and both are calm enough to deal constructively with one another.    The reason for a time out is that words once spoken can never be recalled,but do not make the time out so long that one of the parties just keeps boiling on the inside for an extended period of time.

The irrational and hurtful words and behavior resulting from anger are why the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) advised a man who had come to ask him for advice saying, “Don’t get angry”; when the man repeated the same question three times, the Prophet repeated his answer three times. What the Prophet meant was that we are not to allow ourselves to be carried away by our anger so that we do or say things that are either unIslamic, hurtful and/or undesirable; Effective communication is only possible when both the speaker and listener take care to allow each other the time to speak, and the time to listen.

When someone critiques you, do not react negatively. The Prophet (s) is reported to have said: “Whoever can guarantee (the chastity of) what is between his two jaw-bones and what is between his two legs (i.e., his tongue and his private parts), I guarantee Paradise for him.” (Reported by Al-Bukhari). Therefore, do not launch into a diatribe against the other person. Instead, listen to the meaning behind the words.   Getting angry will put an immediate end any meaningful discussion.  Make it a point of allowing the person to finish what he/she is saying.  If you are not clear about the meaning the other person is trying to convey.  Ask polite and courteous questions to clarify any misunderstanding, and then formulate your answer.  Please note that in some situations, it may be better to request more time before providing a hasty answer.  Umar (r) used to consider any positive criticism he received as being equal to a treasure that he was being given; the reason is that such criticism would allow him to improve.  He did this in spite of his notoriously quick temper!

5. Using Humor

Humor is allowed in Islam (please click on the “Stress” tab at the top of this blog, and read the article about humor and stress management in Islam).  Humor can help defuse anger in a number of ways. It may show you just how trivial the whole situation is. There are two caveats in using humor. First, don’t try to just use sarcastic humor because it may trigger more anger in the other person; rather, use humor to help yourself rethink what you are going through. Second, don’t use humor to shrug off the situation completely because there may be an issue here that needs to be addressed sooner or later.

6. Changing Your Environment

Sometimes it’s our immediate surroundings that prompt us to become angry. Give yourself a break. Make sure you have some “personal time” scheduled for times of the day that you know are particularly stressful. One example is the father or mother who has a standing rule that when he/she comes home from work, for the first 15 minutes “nobody bothers Dad or Mom unless it is an absolute emergency.” After this quiet time, he/she  is now relaxed enough to deal with family issues without getting upset.

7. Adjusting your physical position and making wudhu

Prophet Mohammad (s) had advised us that when angry, one should try to change his body position. Meaning, if you’re standing up, sit down. In hadith reported in Ahmad and Tirmidhi (#1322), Allah’s Messenger (s) said, “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.”

If you’re sitting down when you angry, stand up. If this didn’t work, then go and wash and get prepared for praying. In other words, move away from the source of your anger, and refocus by thinking of your Creator.

The rationale for making wudu and praying when angry is explained by the Prophet (s) in a hadith related by Atiyya As-Sa’di in Sunan Abu Dawood (#2227):  “AbuWa’il al-Qass said: We entered upon Urwah ibn Muhammad ibn as-Sa’di. A man spoke to him and made him angry. So he stood and performed ablution; he then returned and performed ablution, and said: My father told me on the authority of my grandfather Atiyyah who reported the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) as saying: 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.

In another hadith (#1331) reported in Al Tirmidhi by AbuSa’id al Khudri, the Prophet (s) said, “Some are swift to anger and swift to cool down, the one characteristic making up for the other; some are slow to anger and slow to cool down, the one characteristic making up for the other; but the best of you are those who are slow to anger and swift to cool down, and the worst of you are those who are swift to anger and slow to cool down.” He continued, “Beware of anger, for it is a live coal on the heart of the descendant of Adam. Do you not notice the swelling of the veins of his neck and the redness of his eyes? So when anyone experiences anything of that nature he should lie down and cleave to the earth.”

Some Other Tips for Easing Up on Yourself

Timing: If you and the other party tend to fight late in the day, please remember that is probably when you are tired and stressed from the events of the day.  It also be a habit–i.e. you like to discuss family finances before you go to bed. Try changing the times when you talk about important matters, and do so only after having agreed on the parameters of the discussion.

Avoidance: If your co-worker’s cubicle or office makes you furious every time you walk by it, close the door.  At some point, though, try to sit down with your co-worker to discuss about what it is that is irritating.  In the short term, give yourself time to cool down.

Finding alternatives: If your daily commute through traffic leaves you angry and frustrated, start at a different type, use a different route, or use other means of transportation, such as a bus or commuter train.  Go to the dua section of this blog: there are several duas you can recite during your trip or make zikr.  I find that if I am stuck in traffic, reciting tasbih works great for me, and I do not become frustrated.

Counseling: If you feel that your anger is really out of control, if it is having an impact on your relationships and on important parts of your life, you need to seek professional help.  A psychologist or other licensed mental health professional can work with you in developing a range of techniques for modifying your thinking and taking control of your behavior.  Please notice that the Prophet (s) never took any physical action himself against anybody when he was angry.  Please also remember the following advice when you are having difficulty controlling your anger: in a hadith (#2302) reported in Sunan Abu Dawud by Samurah ibn Jundub, the Prophet (s) said: Do not invoke Allah’s curse, Allah’s anger, or Hell.  This advice is very important when you are angry, and may be saying things that you would regret later on.

Finally, please remember the following hadith (Sahih Bukhari, volume 8, #135) narrated by Abu Huraira. The Prophet (s) said, “The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger.”

Reward for managing one’s anger in Islam

In a hadith transmitted by Ahmad and Al-Tirmidhi (#1324) and narrated by Abdullah Ibn Umar,  Allah’s Messenger (s) said, “No one has swallowed back anything more excellent in the sight of Allah, Who is Great and Glorious, than anger he restrains, seeking to please Allah most high.”

Sources:
1. www.apa.org/pubinfo/anger.html
2. http://www.irfi.org/articles/articles_1_50/gender_violence.htm
3. Tips to control anger from Islamonline.net.
4. Anger: Its danger and remedy from Islamonline.net.
5. Anger management tips: Tame your temper from the Mayo Clinic.

This article is copyrighted 2008 by Rafik Beekun. Please do not reproduce on another website, cite, or quote in any format without first receiving permission.

Additional articles:

1. Patience (Sabr): A great virtue to live by.

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