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Understanding Anger and Its Causes

Friday, June 1st in Anger Management |

Shaykh Nâyif al-Hamad, presiding judge at the Rimâh District Courthouse

It is said that anger is the enemy to reason, like a wolf is an enemy to sheep. Scarcely does a wolf get access to a sheep without killing it.

It is true that anger can drive a person to sinful deeds. It can bring his good works to naught. It can cause a law-abiding citizen to perpetrate crimes.

At the same time, we scarcely find a person who never gets angry. Indeed, if we were to come across a person who was truly incapable of feeling anger, we would view that as a disability and not an asset.

The problem is that most of us do not know how to behave when we get angry. We are, so to speak, not good at being angry. We have not trained ourselves or our children how to get angry and why to get angry. Because of this, I have endeavored to bring together what the Qur’ân and Sunnah have to say about the matter, along with good advice form various thinkers.

Anger Defined

Many scholars of language, and of other fields, have attempted to define anger. The wording of their definitions vary widely, but the meaning is essentially the same. The basic meaning of anger is something that a small child understands as well as an adult, without any difficulty.

The danger in trying to clarifying and expound on matters that are obvious is that it often introduces obscurity into those matters that was never there to begin with.

This is why the classical scholar al-Manâwî was satisfied to define anger as: “a psychological state that is instinctively comprehended.”

Of course, other scholars were more ambitious in defining anger, and it behooves us to mention some of what they have said:

Al-Qurtubî defines anger as follows: “Linguistically, it means severity. An angry man is one whose manner is severe.” [Tafsîr al-Qurtubî (1/150)]

Anger has also been defined as: “A change that takes place in conjunction with an increase in blood pressure to bring about a vengeful disposition in the breast.” [al-Ta`rifât Another suggested definition is that anger is: “a desire to visit injury upon the object of one’s anger.”

Causes of Anger

Many things incite anger. Causes are many and people differ as to what angers them. What one person considers trivial can throw another person way out of sorts.

Here are a few major causes of anger:

1. Self-satisfaction: A person might be too well pleased with his own opinion or too proud of his status, wealth, or lineage. This can bring about feelings of enmity towards others if the person’s religious consciousness is deficient. This is because self- satisfaction leads to arrogance and ostentation.

Such arrogance is a major sin. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “No one will enter Paradise whose heart contains an atom’s weight of arrogance.”
[Sahîh Muslim (91)]

He also said: “Enjoin each other to what is right and forbid each other what is wrong until you see people succumbing to avarice, following their vain desires, and gripped by worldly passions – each person fully impressed by his own opinion. When that happens, be concerned for yourself and leave off the affairs of the common people.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhî (3058) and Sunan Abî Dâwűd (4341) and authenticated by Ibn Hibbân (385)]

Ibn `Abbas said: ‘Three traits are fatal: being conceited, succumbing to avarice, and following vain desires.”

The earliest generations of Muslims used to be very wary of self-satisfaction and used to warn each other against it, often by indirect means. Salîm b. Hanzalah relates that he was walking with a group of people who were tagging behind Ubayy b. Ka’b. When `Umar saw this, he raised his staff at him.

`Ubayy said: “`Umar, what are you doing?”

`Umar replied: “It is demeaning for them to be following behind you and it is a trial upon you for you to be followed like that.” [Sunan al-Dârimî (527)]

2. Disputation: `Abd Allah b. Husayn once said: “Disputation is what leads to anger, and Allah brings shame to the mind that is brought by it to anger.”

Disputation is blameworthy in many ways. For one thing, Islam has prohibited it. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “I can guarantee an abode in the quarter of Paradise especially for those who abandon disputation, even when they are in the right.” [Sunan Abî Dâwűd (4800)]

3. Jest: We find that people who are prone to cracking a lot of jokes often take things too far. Sometimes they talk utter nonsense. At other times, they say things that really hurt people, then brush it off by saying that they were only joking.

This is why the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “No one should snatch up something that belongs to someone else – not for real, and not even in fun.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhî (2160) and Sunan Abî Dâwűd (5003)]

Khâlid b. Safwân once brought up the topic of joking and said: “A person strikes his companion with something harder than a stone and makes him smell that which is sharper than a mustard seed and pours over him that which scalds more than the contents of a cooking cauldron, then says – I was only kidding with you.”

The caliph `Umar b. `Abd al-`Aziz said: “Avoid jest, because it brings on what is ugly and incites hatred.”

Mayműn b. Mahrân said: “If a conversation opens with jokes, it will end with insults and blows.”

4. Obscene and vulgar speech: Insults and deprecations burn in people’s hearts and incite their anger. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Allah hates the obscene and vulgar.” [Sunan al-Tirmidhî (2003) and authenticated by Ibn Hibbân (5693)]

There are numerous other causes of anger, such as behaving treacherously towards others, being greedy, and craving status. Al-Ghazâlî astutely observes: “One of the greatest encouragements for anger among the ignorant people is the tendency to describe angry behavior as courage, manliness, self-respect, and noble concern.” [Ihyâ’ `Ulűm al-Dîn (3/173)]

Being wary of the nature of anger and its causes will help us (God willing) to avoid falling prey to anger.

“The strong man is not the good wrestler; the strong man is only the one who controls himself when he is angry.” The Prophet Muhammad, (may God’s peace and blessings be upon him).



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