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Anger: What is it… how does it erupt?

By His Eminence, the late Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra)

It is narrated in some Hadiths that: “Verily, anger is a burning coal lit by Satan in the heart of the son of Adam; when anyone of you becomes angry, his eyes will redden, his veins will become swollen and he will be possessed by Satan.” It is also narrated that the Prophet (p.) said: “Verily, anger corrupts faith as the juice of bitter plants corrupt honey.” It is also narrated that Imam As-Sadiq (a.s.) said: “Anger is the annihilation of the heart of the wise,” and: “Anger is the key to all evil,” and: “He who does not control his anger does not control his mind.”

These are some (five) Islamic texts that touch upon the issue of anger and its impact on man’s spiritual, mental and practical life. We notice that the first tradition regards anger as an emotional state that inflames man’s being and heart just as the coal burns and emits sparkles and flames around it, so man’s nerves would be enraged and overwhelmed with anger and inclinations that spin out of control. Thus, the factors of badness and tendencies of evil would be unleashed to dominate man’s entire entity; thus, driving him towards their goals with no sweats, for once the soul is overwhelmed with anger, it would not be a lamb anymore, and it would turn into a pure-evil wolf driven by Satan.

With anger, one would turn wild and completely irrational and his feelings would spin out of control… Perhaps, we can say that this meaning is described in the fourth tradition, for if the soul lives in such an agitated feverish ambience, it would lose the key to the door that keeps evil away from it, and evil would totally and insanely possess it.

As for the third and fifth Hadiths, they display the negative impacts anger leaves on man’s mind and thought, for it annihilates the heart of a wise man, and by heart here we mean the thought, for anger, as we described it, takes part in destabilizing the organized meticulous thinking that is based on a clear picture, as well as the scrupulous meanings between which the thought makes a coordination and linkage to turn them into new results.

Just as anger prevents one from thinking right on the one hand, it hinders, on the other hand, the mind’s ability to control one’s deeds and conducts, and obstructs the process of self-criticism and scrutiny. Once one’s will is weakened and his role in self-criticism is impeded, he will be subjected to blind motivations and compulsory stimulants.

In the second Hadith related on the authority of the Prophet (p.), we study the impact of anger on one’s faith and realize that it corrupts his faith as well as his mind, for believing in Allah is based on man’s deep and full awareness of his relation with Allah and commitment to what He allows and what He forbids. Therefore, [to preserve his faith] man ought to stay in contact with his serene soul and deep thinking.

Moreover, we have come to learn that anger makes one lose the serenity of his soul and the uprightness of his thinking, so once he loses those, he will lose his awareness of Allah and his commitment to His will.

How does anger erupt?

It is narrated that Imam Ja’afar As-Sadiq (a.s.) said: “The disciples said to Jesus the son of Mary (a.s.): ‘O teacher of the good! Teach us what the severest thing is.’ He said: ‘The severest thing is the wrath of Allah.’ They said: ‘Then what prevents the wrath of Allah?’ He said: ‘That you not be wrathful.’ They said: ‘What is the source of wrath?’ He said: ‘Pride, haughtiness and contempt for the people.’”

We notice, in this Hadith, that some of the causes of anger, within the scope of human relations, lie inside man’s character.

The person who deals with others with pride and haughtiness and looks down on them cannot control himself whenever he is agitated. He would see that he has the right over all the people, while they have no right over him; thus, his coexistence with them would be overwhelmed with a state of permanent tension and destructive anxiety. Actually, this flourishes the feeling of his self and its greatness that would turn into a complex, which, in itself, turns into a state of megalomania through which he would feel that he is of an absolute divinity; thus, life should be subservient to him, glorify his bounties and sanctify his desires.

Accordingly, his view towards his surrounding environment and people would change, for [he considers that] life in its entirety should be submissive to him and the people are responsible of his relief even if at the detriment of their own wellbeing. He considers that they have no right to address him except from the position of feeling his glory and greatness; or else, they will have to bear his anger if they say something or do things or exhibit public or private situations that do not go with his mood or conform to his desires and even if they have nothing to do with him, for he sees that people have to consider everything from the point of view of what brings about his relief and not from that of the natural laws of life.

Actually, the psychopathic composition of such a man is what leads him to erupt in anger uncontrollably against anyone and everything around him, even for the most trivial reasons that might not have any impact on one’s ordinary life.

Unfortunately, this is the prevalent attitude of many of those who enjoy great wealth, high prestige and wide authority. They would make a mountain out of a molehill by feeling the enormity of their personalities and the pettiness of the others’ characters, to the extent that the concept of demanding a right would become, according to them, an aggression on the authority, for they feel that they do not owe the others any rights whatsoever; thus, they get agitated and erupt in anger, which leads them sometimes to commit a crime.

Some people might address such people using ordinary words of mild criticism or blame, but they would turn, in their sick conscience,  into words of cursing and swearing, for they consider that people have no right to address them the way they address each other even in the most intimate and close relations, as in the husband and wife relation… In this regard, we notice that some men consider that their wives ought to live up to the level of sanctified admiration towards them, even in the most intimate and private marital aspects.

It goes without saying that the strength of this state in man differs from one person to another; therefore, the strength of the impact it leaves on man’s nerves differs from one person to another as well. Therefore, the haughtier man becomes, the faster he will be agitated, even by things that do not cause agitation normally, and the lesser haughty he becomes, he will realize that people have a right on him and the further he will go from agitation and the closer to calmness in dealing with the issues through its natural conditions and ordinary situations he will become.

Perhaps, some people regard anger as a feature of courage and a means of assertiveness and a feeling of proudness and dignity before the elements of agitation inflicted by the others… They even cite a renowned saying by Imam Ash-Sahfi’i to describe anger [the way they perceive it]: “Whoever is intrigued to get angry and does not get angry is a donkey…” In this sense, they believe that the reaction they make when they get angry or enraged is merely driven by the stands of proudness and dignity that Allah imposes on the Muslims to take.

But such thinking is wrong, for anger has nothing to do with such traits, as it is narrated that the Prophet (p.) 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.”

In this context, I cannot but cite the following words by Al-Ghazali in his book “Ihya’ ‘Uloom Ad-Deen (Reviving religious sciences)”: “And calling that (anger) an act of self-esteem and courage is but ignorance, let alone a disease in the heart and a deficiency in the mind. It reflects the deficiency and lack in one’s self-esteem and the proof to that is that the sick is enraged faster than the healthy, the woman is enraged faster that the man, the young is enraged faster than the big man, the elderly is enraged faster than the middle-aged and the vile and immoral is enraged faster than the virtuous…”

Anger might be intrigued in severe cases when man faces what he hates, such as offending something he sanctifies or simply loves, depriving him of certain personal needs or facing embarrassing situations and others in which man loses his harmony with the reality surrounding him or he is facing; thus, he would exhibit a violent reaction and erupt in anger which makes man loses his mind as a result of losing his balance.

Perhaps the best way to explain anger in such cases is the hastiness of man to step out of the problem he is in or the situation he hates in the fastest and easiest way or as a means of compensating a deep feeling of failure or helplessness.

[Extracted from the book “General Islamic Concepts”]