Anger is one of the more serious diseases of the heart. The Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, emphasised its severity in numerous ahadith. For example, Abu Huraira, Allah be pleased with him, narrates that a man said to the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace: “Advise me”. He said: “Do not become angry”. So he (the man) reiterated (the question) over and over. He (the Prophet) said: “Do not become angry” [al-Bukhari]. And Anas, Allah be pleased with him, asked the Prophet about that which distances him from the anger of Allah, and he said: “Do not become angry” [Ahmad].
But does this mean that one should never feel anger? How should we feel, for instance, when experiencing or witnessing oppression, cruelty or injustice? Or when someone reviles our religion or our beloved Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace? Imam al-Ghazali takes the view that excessive anger, as well as the inability to become angry at all, are reprehensible. However, being angry in moderation is permissible, as long as it is controlled by the intellect. This is in accordance with our Prophet’s instruction to always follow the middle way in everything.
By way of illustration, let us consider the case of Islamophobia. As Muslims living in the West, we have become all too familiar with its subtleties – veiled comments about bomb-carriers, descriptions of women in niqab as letter-boxes – as well as with its more overt forms – women’s headscarves being ripped off, pigs’ blood being spattered on mosques. But how should we deal with the anger that these experiences evoke?
Imam al-Ghazali’s cures for anger are as insightful in this respect as they are in regard to anger more generally. He exhorts us to humility and patience, and to view ourselves as no better than others. Rather than step forward to take on the perpetrators, to insist on our rights above all else, or to retreat to a siege of separatism, we should think of how our response can demonstrate the truth and beauty of Islam. And how better to do this than to emulate the example of Allah’s Beloved, Allah bless him and give him peace. In this way, our moderate anger will be kept under the control of our intellect. For he, when people reviled and hurt him, responded with the best of character. Instead of seeking the destruction of the people of Ta’if who had hurt him so badly, he expressed the hope that believers would come forth from among their descendants. And instead of being harsh to Abu Jahl, he asked Allah to honour Islam with the one whom He loves more: Abu Jahl or Umar ibn al-Khattab [Tirmidhi].
So the anger we feel when we experience or witness things that hurt or offend us in our religion is justified, provided that it is moderate and controlled. But if we go beyond that, and try our best to transform the anger into forgiveness, gentleness and kindness to those who have hurt or offended us, we will be calling them to the truth and reality of Islam. Let us try to emulate our Beloved in this, as we try to emulate him in everything else.