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‘Don’t get Angry’: A Little Fiqh of Anger & Acquiring Good Character

Answered according to Hanafi Fiqh by Qibla.com

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

I get angry very quickly. If there is the slightest provocation, I quickly explode and start to break things, swear, curse and issue threats of divorce…. What can I do to rid myself of this awful disease and extinguish this devilish fire?”

Answer:
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

The Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) said,

“Don’t get angry,”

In the name of Allah, the inspirer of truth. All praise is to Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate, and all blessings and peace to our Master Muhammad, his family, companions, and those who follow them.

Anger is something both the Shariah and the sound intellect regard as generally blameworthy. This is why the Beloved of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) told the one who sought his counsel, “Don’t get angry,” repeatedly.

The scholars recommend many measures to deal with anger, including:

1. Turn to Allah, and seeking refuge in Allah, from Satan.

When a man got angry in front of the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace), he told his companions, “I know some words that would make his anger leave, if he said them. They are, A`udhubillahi min al-shaykhtan (‘I seek refuge in Allah from Satan’). [Bukhari] Imam Mawardi said in Adab al-Dunya wa al-Din that one should remember Allah when angry, for this leads to fear of Allah, which directs him to obey Him and restrain one’s anger by returning to proper manners. Allah Most High said, “And remember Allah when you are heedless.” [Qur’an, 18: 24]

Turn to Allah in supplication, in order to control one’s anger. One should turn to Allah with one’s heart and tongue, asking him to rid one of anger, and all other lowly traits. If you can do this using the supplications of the Beloved of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), it is even more beloved to Allah. `A’isha (Allah be pleased with her) reports that, “The Prophet entered while she was angry. So he rubbed the tip of my nose and said, ‘My little `A’isha. Say, ‘O Allah, forgive my sin, remove the anger in my heart, and protect me from Satan.’ (Allahumma’ Ghfirli dhanbi, wa adhhib ghaydha qalbi, wa aajirni min ash-shaytan)” [Ibn al-Sunni, as mentioned in Barkawi’s Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya]  

{ اللَّهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لِي ذَنْبِي وَأَذْهِبْ غَيْظَ قَلْبِي وَآجِرْنِي مِنْ الشَّيْطَانِ }

2. Silence.

Do not say anything when angry, lest it contravene the Sacred Law, or go against your personal or social interests. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said, “If you get angry, stay silent.” [Ahmad]

3. Change your physical posture.

The Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) is reported to have said, “If you get angry while standing, sit down…. If you get angry while sitting, lie down.” The wisdom in this is that it prevents one from doing that which one’s anger would have made one do in that posture.

4. Perform ritual ablutions

The Prophet informed us that anger is from Satan, and he was created from fire, so we should extinguish anger with ritual ablutions. [Abu Dawud]

5. Follow the counsel of the Best of Creation(Allah bless him & give him peace)

His repeated counsel for the one who sought advice was, “Do not get angry.” [Bukhari]

6. Remember the great reward mentioned by Allah for those who control their anger.

“And vie with one another for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Paradise as wide as are the heavens and the earth, prepared for those fear Allah (al-muttaqin) ; Those who spend (of that which Allah has given them) in ease and in adversity, those who control their wrath, and are forgiving toward mankind; and Allah loves the good. And those who, when they do an evil deep or wrong themselves, remember Allah and implore forgiveness for their sins. And who forgives sins but Allah?…” (Qur’an, 3: 133-135)

7. Remember that true strength is not physical, but spiritual and moral.

The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said, “The strong one is not one who can out-wrestle others. Rather, the strong one is one who can restrain themselves when angry. [Bukhari& Muslim] Imam Kumushkhanawi, the great 19th Century hadith expert and Naqshabandi spiritual guide, explained that, this is because, “…the one who can control himself when his anger swells up has overcome the most powerful of his enemies and the worst of his adversaries. From this hadith, the Sufis deduced that it is incumbent on the knower of Allah to bear those who harm him, such as neighbors and others. (Lawami` al-`Uqul, 4: 23-4)

Imam Barkawi mentioned in his Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya that the way to remove the tendency to anger is, “By removing is cause, which is avidness for rank, arrogance, and conceit. One who has these traits is easily angered by that which normally does not anger others.

8. Remember the example of the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace)

Remember the clemency, forbearance, and easy-going nature of the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) with others, and did not get angry unless the anger was for the sake of Allah. The examples of this from his life are numerous. The scholars say that every Muslim should strive to read about the life and example of the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) daily.

9. Remember the harms of anger.

Be aware of the harms of anger, which include falling into that which Allah deems impermissible of words or actions, and acting in a way unbefitting of a believer. Would we act like this if we were aware that Allah sees all our actions? Would we act like this in the presence of the Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace)?

Imam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (Allah have mercy on him) counted getting wrongly angry as one of the first major sins in his Zawajir.

10. Remember that anger is generally animalistic.

Be aware that one resembles animals, more than noble humans, when in a state of anger. [Barkawi, Tariqa]  

 

Acquiring Good Character

_______________________

Imam Zafar al-Tahanawi mentioned, in the final chapter of his I`la’ al-Sunan, translated as Sufism & Good Character,

Refining (tazkiyya) character traits is one of the most central concerns of the Sufis, for they consider noble traits to be stations on the spiritual path. They were distinguished from others by their good character, and through it they were known. Whoever reflect on the the Qur’an and Sunna will know that good character is as central to religion as a foundation is to a building.

Improving character traits is not possible except through spiritual struggle at the hands of a perfected spiritual guide (shaykh) who has struggled with his own self, opposed his caprice, left lowly character traits, and adorned himself with praiseworthy ones. Whoever thinks they can achieve this by mere knowledge and the study of books has erred and gone far astray. Just as (outward) knowledge is only acquired through study with the scholars, good character is acquired by struggling to attain it at the hands of the knowers of Allah. [F: Imam Muhammad `Ali Al-Tahanawi, who is not related to the author, cautioned in Kashshaf Istilahat al-Funun that: “When a seeker (murid) thinks that he has found a spiritual guide, it is incumbent upon him to be cautious and exert his utmost effort in finding out whether the guide is fit to be a Shaykh or not. Most seekers were misguided and perished in this area (f: by following would-be guides); rather, most of humanity has been led astray and perished by following misguided leaders. The proper way, then, is to carefully examine whether the spiritual guide is uprightly adhering to the Sacred Law (Shari`ah), the (f: principles of the) spiritual way (tariqa) and the higher realities (haqiqa). If he is an innovator, this can be known by what [learned] people say about him, and by the conduct of those who follow and love him without correcting him. If the seeker finds out that the scholars of the time are not critical of this spiritual guide, and that some scholars and notables, young or old, take him as a guide and turn to him in their search for the spiritual way and higher realities, then he will know that such a spiritual guide is worthy of being followed…” (Kashshaf Istilahat al-Funun, 1: 1050)]

The Importance of Good Character

Good character is an attribute of the Master of the Messengers, and the best of the works of the veracious (siddiqin), and is in reality half of religion, the fruits of the spiritual struggles of the god-fearing, and the efforts of the worshippers. Lowly character is a killing poison, a deadly destroyer, a humiliating abaser, clear lowliness, and filth that distances one from the sanctuary of the Lord of the worlds. It makes the one characterized by it of the Satans, and it is the open door to the burning fire of Allah, that “Leaps up over the hearts (of men),”(Qur’an, 104: 7) as good character is the open door to the bounties of the Gardens and proximity to the Merciful. Lowly character is a sickness of the heart and a disease of the lower self. It is a sickness that endangers the ever-lasting life. Thus, it is necessary to pay utmost attention to it, even more than outward sickness.

Character traits are attributes of the self by which it leans to one of either beauty or ugliness. Complete outward beauty is not possible through the beauty of the eyes alone, without the nose, mouth, and cheeks; rather, it is necessary that all these be beautiful. Similarly, inward beauty needs four essential elements for good character to be complete through an appropriate balance and temperance of these elements. These elements are knowledge, anger, passion, and justice between the other three elements.

Knowledge

As for the attribute of knowledge, its good and uprightness lies in its ability to comprehend the difference between truthfulness and lying in speech, between truth and falsehood in belief, between the good and evil in actions. If this attribute of knowledge is made upright, then its fruits are wisdom, which is at the root of good character. Allah said of wisdom, “And he unto whom wisdom is given, he truly has received abundant good” (Qur’an, 2: 269), and it is what the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) meant by deep understanding (fiqh) when he said, “Whoever Allah wishes well for, He gives deep understanding (fiqh) of religion.” [Bukhari & Muslim]

Anger

As for the attribute of anger, its good lies in its suppression and expression being according to the dictates of wisdom.

Likewise, the good and uprightness of passion lies in its being under the indications of wisdom; that is, the indications of the intellect and Sacred Law.

Know, then, that those whom laziness has overcome find it difficult to carry out spiritual struggle, discipline, purify the self, and refine their character. They wrongly believe that because natures do not undergo change, it is not possible to change character traits. If this were the case, then counsels, admonitions, and discipline would have been of no use. How can it be impossible to change the behavior of humans, when it is evidently obvious that it is possible to change the behavior of animals such eagles, dogs, and horses by training?

In reality, those who deny that character traits may be changed have confused changing traits with removing them. What is not possible is the second. If one sought to completely remove all traces of anger and passion, it would not be possible. However, it is possible to control and direct them through spiritual struggle and discipline, which we have been commanded to do, and these are the means of our salvation and the path to reach Allah. At the same time, dispositions vary. Some are quick to change, others slow.

How can it be desirable to uproot passion and anger completely when without anger, jihad would not be possible? How could that be a goal if the Prophets (Allah bless them and give them peace) were characterized by them? For our Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “I am a human, and I get angry as humans do.” Similarly, if someone spoke in his presence about a disliked matter, he would get angry until his cheeks were red. However, he would not speak other than the truth, so his anger would not make him leave the truth. Allah Most High said, “Those who control their anger and are forgiving towards people; Allah loves the good.” (Qur’an, 3: 134) Allah did not say, “Those bereft of anger.” Anger and passion are to be returned to a balanced state, such that they neither overcome nor master the intellect. Rather, the Sacred Law and intellect are to be the standards and masters over anger and passion. This is clearly possible, and is what is meant by changing character traits, so understand [o reader].[1]

How to Achieve Balance

This balanced state is reached in two ways: firstly, by divine generosity and sound natural predisposition, such that one is born with a high intellect and good character, and with their passion and anger in balance. This is the case of the Prophets (Allah bless them and give them peace)…

The other way to attain these noble traits is by spiritual struggle and discipline, namely, to make oneself perform the actions that a desired trait entails. These traits are then gradually acquired by becoming used to those actions, as well as by keeping the company of those who already posses these traits.

One who wishes to become generous, for example, should force himself (yatakallaf) to act as a generous person would, by spending money. Then one consistently struggles with one’s self by giving until it becomes naturally easy to give, and one becomes generous by nature. Likewise, one who wishes to become characterized by humility (tawadu`) after arrogance (kibr) was preponderant, should force himself to perform the actions of the humble for a while, struggling with his lower self, until it becomes a character trait, and these actions become easy. All traits that are praiseworthy in the Sacred Law may be attained by this means.

Keeping the company of perfected spiritual guides and avoiding the company of those with blameworthy traits has a strong effect, for dispositions (tiba`) can acquire good traits through company as it can acquire bad traits.[2] Moreover, for many people a Shaykh’s reminders and reprimands may achieve what mere determination and spiritual may not. It may be that a student may leave the mire of lowly traits by the reminders and reprimands of his Shaykh far more quickly than by his determination and spiritual will alone.[3]

If the self finds pleasure from habit and its habitual company in the worthless and inclines to them, then how can it not find pleasure in the worthwhile if it is returned to it for a period and made to remain attached to it while mixing with the righteous and keeping their company, while avoiding worthless company? In reality, the self’s inclination towards despicable things is contrary to its natural disposition and akin to an inclination to eat mud. As for its inclining to wisdom, the love and knowledge of Allah and His worship, it is like its inclination to food and drink. It is a result of the natural disposition of the heart, for the heart is a lordly matter.[4] Thus, the self’s inclining to its passions is alien to it, and foreign to its disposition.

The food of hearts is wisdom, knowledge of Allah, and love of Him. Its turning away from its natural disposition is the result of sicknesses that afflict it, as when a sickness afflicts a person’s stomach, causing him not to desire food or drink though they are the means for his survival. Thus, every heart that inclines to love of other than Allah has a sickness to the extent of its inclining. The only exception is if it loved that thing as a means to the love of Allah and His religion. This is subtle, however, and only known by those of spiritual insight. The opinion of the one afflicted is of little consequence in this, unless confirmed by his spiritual guide.

It has become clear, then, that it is certainly possible to acquire good character traits by spiritual discipline, which is forcing oneself to perform certain actions until they become a habit. This is a result of the wondrous relationship between the heart and limbs, the self and the body. Every attribute that appears in the heart leaves traces on the limbs, until they do not move except in accordance with it. And every action of the limbs can leave traces in the heart, so the relationship is circular.

The one who wants to become a legal scholar of deep understanding (faqih al-nafs) needs to undertake the works of such scholars, namely repeated study of legal texts and keeping the company of jurists, until he is characterized by legal understanding, and thus becomes such a jurist. Likewise, the one who seeks to purify his self, perfect it and adorn it with noble traits and good works has no way to achieve this except in the same manner. Just as the student of law cannot become a jurist by a night’s study or reading, the one seeking to purify his self cannot achieve it by a night’s worship or be debarred from it by a day’s disobedience. However, a day’s remissness could lead to another until, little by little, the self becomes accustomed to remissness and leaves its striving.

Thus, good character traits may be present in some cases by natural disposition and nature. More commonly, however, they need to be acquired by making oneself used to performing good works, by observing those of good works and keeping their company. These are the worthy associates and brethren in godliness, for natures acquire both good and bad from the company one keeps. The one for whom all three means[5] are present is in a highly noble state, while the one with a lowly disposition who has bad companions whom he learns from, until the means to bad deeds become easy for him, is extremely far from Allah. Between these two stations are those with varying acquisition of these means, each with a station of closeness or distance depending on their state and situation. “And whoso doeth good an atom’s weight will see it then, and whoso doeth ill an atom’s weight will see it then.” (Qur’an, 99: 7-8) “We wronged them not, but they did wrong themselves.” (Qur’an, 2: 57)

Know too that at the root of good character is humility (tawadu`)[6] and making one’s intention sincere to Allah. The root of lowly character is arrogance (kibr)[7] and thinking highly of oneself.[8] Whoever is free from these has been saved from all ill. Whoever is humble for the sake of Allah is raised by Allah, and is shielded from the sicknesses of the lower self, and Allah knows best.

Whoever seeks more details on how to cure the sicknesses of the heart should read Imam al-Ghazali’s (may Allah have mercy on him) Ihya.[9] In this chapter, we have mentioned only the necessary minimum hadiths warning against lowly character and encouraging good character. Whoever seeks more comprehensive coverage should check more detailed hadith collections, such as Imam al-Mundhiri’s (may Allah have mercy on him) al-Targhib wa al-Tarhib.[10]

The basis of this entire chapter is the words of Allah Most High, “He is indeed successful who purifies it, and he is indeed a failure who stunts it.” (Qur’an, 91: 9-10)[11]

It is indeed strange how many neither direct themselves toward eternal success nor seek it, being content instead with failure and loss. O Allah, guide us to the best of character and works, for none guides to the best of them except You. And there is no ability or power except through You, and no recourse or safety from You except in You. [End of the quote from Imam Zafar.]

And Allah knows best.

Wassalam,
Faraz Rabbani
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[1] At the end of noteworthy investigations, or after making a strong argument, it is the habit of scholars so say, “so understand” (fafham). Out of good manners, if such texts are read to scholars, it is better to read, “so let it be understood” (falyufham), so that the student is not ordering the teacher.

[2] In this regard, Shaykh `Abd al-Rahman Shaghouri would often mention Allah Most High’s saying, “O ye who believe! Be careful of your duty to Allah, and be with the truthful.” (Qur’an, 9: 119)

[3] At the same time, one must be highly cautious of false would-be Sufis. These are very common, and their most frequent sign is laxity (or, most dangerously, complete disregard) towards the Shariah. Sufis have long warned against such pretenders. Ramadan Effendi says, for example, “The most harmful of things to people are: keeping the company of a scholar who is heedless of Allah or an ignorant Sufi…” (Sharh al-Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya, 1: 31)

[4] This points to Allah Most High’s saying, “They will ask thee concerning the Spirit. Say: The Spirit is of the affair of my Lord.” (Qur’an, 18: 85)

[5] The three means, as mentioned previously, are making oneself used to performing good works, observing those of good works and keeping their company

[6] al-Kumushkhanawi: “Know that humility (tawadu`) is among the greatest, most beautiful and most noble of praiseworthy traits. By humility the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) was made superior to the first and last (of creation), for he was (Allah bless him and give him peace) the most humble of people. He was given the choice between being a king-prophet or a slave-prophet, and chose the latter… From his humility was that he used to ride a donkey, let others ride with him, he used to visit the poor, milk his own goats, raise his garments [for long garments were considered a sign of arrogance], fix his own sandals, serve himself, feed his animals, tidy his house, tie his donkey, eat with servants and workers, and carry his own provision from the market.” (Jami` al-Usul fi al-Awliya, 31)

[7] The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “One who has even a mustard-seed of arrogance (kibr) shall not enter the Garden.” (Muslim and others)

[8] Ibn `Ata’illah said, “….”

[9] (words in praise of the Ihya) Useful works in English include:… It should be noted…

[10] al-Targhib wa al-Tarhib is ….. Imam al-Mundhiri …..

[11] Commentary on this… Imam Sawi…?

This answer was indexed from Qibla.com, which used to have a repository of Islamic Q&A answered by various scholars. The website is no longer in existence. It has now been transformed into a learning portal with paid Islamic course offering under the brand of Kiflayn.

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