Anger: What is it and what can I do about it?!

by Sarah Ahmed

We often hear that anger is bad, we shouldn’t get angry, and sometimes even that it’s haram. But is it really? According to Imam Ghazali the purpose of anger is to protect us from harm. We get angry because we care. Think about it. What kinds of things do you get angry about? If some kid at school hits our little brother, we get angry. If someone says something hurtful to us, we get angry. And on a more global scale, when a government or organization harms a group of people, we get angry. Anger enables us to protect ourselves, to care for our loved ones, to uphold justice. Without anger, the word would be completely corrupt and nobody would stand up against oppression. Something that’s pretty cool is that psychologists today actually agree with Islamic scholars, that anger isn’t only negative. They say that we need it to achieve our goals, get things done, motivate ourselves, and address conflicts and injustices.

But if anger is important, then why does everyone say it’s bad? Well, there are different kinds and levels of anger.

Imam Ghazali’s 3 Degrees of Anger:

  • Too little:
    We don’t care anymore and we aren’t moved anymore. For example, our classmate at school keeps insulting and bullying our best friend. If we didn’t feel the emotion of anger, what would we do? Probably just stand there, watch, and let it happen. Anger would be good in this situation if it got us to stand up for our friend…for justice.
  • Too much:
    When anger is too much, it dominates and controls our actions. We no longer follow logic, intellect, and lose our freedom of choice. We get in this zone where we most likely will do something that we’ll regret. Something like punching a hole in the wall that we’ll have to fix later, breaking something valuable, or saying hurtful things to our loved ones that we’ll definitely regret.
  • Just right:
    This is the one that is balanced and in moderation. When anger is balanced and in moderation, we take enough action to make positive changes without letting it control our actions. This is the one that will help us stay on the straight path and will keep us physically happy. Kind of like Goldilocks in The Story of the Three Bears, this is what we are looking for.

That second one is the one that most of us struggle with: too much anger. What’s great is that it is something we can control. “Scholars have likened anger to a hunting dog: without training, it will never retrieve what its owner needs nor will it point a person in the right direction.”

Anger, the Brain, and Adolescence 

But where does that untrained hunting dog come from? Here’s a short video that shows you what’s happening in your brain when you’re feeling emotions (anger is an emotion!).

Something interesting is that what happens in the brain kind of works differently in adolescence than it does at other stages our lives. During your adolescent years (from 12 to 24) is that your brain changes, it builds itself. Because of all the wiring and rewiring and growing and changing that occurs during adolescence, the amygdala (emotion part of your brain) is a lot more active than it is during childhood and adulthood. In his book about the teenage brain, Dan Siegel talks about how there are two different routes that information is sent to the amygdala. One is fast and one is slow. Studies have shown that when people are calm, teenagers mostly use the faster route to the amygdala and adults use the slower one. The amygdala is activated faster in teens than in adults. What does that mean? It means that when you’re feeling any kind of emotion, such as anger, you’re likely to feel it a lot faster and more rapidly than an adult would.

Here are some (definitely not all) things we can do when that amygdala starts acting like an untrained dog: 

Say a’udhu billahi min ash shaytanir rajim. I seek Allah’s protection/refuge/shelter from Shaytan, the accursed one. Say this with the intention to control your anger, to bring Allah into the picture, and kick Shaytan out!

If you’re standing, sit down. If you’re sitting, lay down. By doing this, you’ll remove yourself from the position in which you are capable of attacking the person you’re mad at.

Make wudu. Washing yourself with water, especially cool water, will cool you down and give you an opportunity to remove yourself from the situation. The act of wudu itself also brings blessings from Allah and protects you from Shaytan.

Make ghusl. Take a shower. This is the same concept as wudu. The water cools you down and removes you from the situation that angered you. Again, it’ll work even better if you shower with cold water.

Take a break from whatever you’re doing. Leave that situation. If you can’t actually leave, you could imagine yourself in your “happy place.” Again, like making wudu and showering, you’re leaving the situation and giving yourself space from the conflict.

Keep silent. Keeping silent will prevent you from saying things you’ll regret once the anger is gone. This not only will help you cool down, but it will also give the other person space to do so as well.

Smile! It’s sunnah and it brings good fortune. Smiling while you’re angry sounds crazy and slightly impossible, but that’s why it works! Sometimes when I’m angry around my mom, she’ll pull out her phone and take a picture of me, and then show me. My face always looks so ridiculous in that angry picture, that I start laughing. And as crazy as it sounds, that laughter and humor actually takes the anger away.

Physical activity. Exercise helps release those all the endorphins in your body and gives your body a physical way to get that anger out of your system. Go on a run, go lift, punch a heavy bag, do some yoga, or whatever it is that you like best. This is the one that works best for me. When I’m angry, I leave the situation and go on a run. It gives me thinking time, while letting out the anger physically. It’s funny, because if I ever go on a run in the middle of a heated argument with my little brother, I’ll come back refreshed and happy while he’s sitting there still steaming in anger.

This list definitely does not cover everything that can possibly be done to cool down your anger. What are some things that have worked for you? Share in the comments below!

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Making Excuses

by Omar Jamil

According to Wikipedia, Fundamental Attribution Error is “people’s tendency to place an undue emphasis on internal characteristics to explain someone else’s behavior in a given situation, rather than considering external factors.” But what exactly does that mean? Let’s look at an example:

I am running late for a meeting in which I am giving a presentation. Why am I running late for the meeting? I am suffering from a bad cold, so it took me a while to get out of bed because I had a bad headache. After showering I had to let my hair dry before I went outside, I don’t want to make my cold worse! I am scrambling to get everything together, working through a haze of sickness. I check my phone at 9:07am and see that someone from the meeting has texted me, with no time to see what he said I grab my things and run out the door. Overall, my morning routine was pushed back 20 minutes. When I arrive I hope everyone will realize that I am sick and that my illness caused my tardiness. After all, its not like I can control whether I am sick or not! After the 20 minute delay, the meeting finally begins.

Let’s flip the script now.

I am sitting in a meeting at 9:02am, the meeting was supposed to start 2 minutes ago. The person who was supposed to present today is still not here. Ugh, they are so irresponsible, how could they be late to the meeting they are presenting in!? Another 5 minutes go by, 9:07am. You know, he’s pretty lazy, I bet this 9am meeting was a real push for him anyway, I doubt he is even awake. I shoot him a quick, slightly passive aggressive text, but no response. He’s probably ignoring my text, what a jerk. At 9:20am the presenter finally comes rumbling into the room, blowing his nose as he puts his things down, obviously sick. He has such terrible sleeping habits, I bet his immune system really suffers from him not taking care of himself. After the 20- minute delay, the meeting finally begins.

The short story helps us understand Fundamental Attribution Error. When we make a mistake, we tend to focus on the circumstances that resulted in the mistake. We realize that external factors contribute to many of our shortcomings and we also hope that others will recognize these. Ironically, while we hope others will give us the benefit of the doubt, we rarely give them the benefit of the doubt. When others make mistakes we usually attribute those errors to ingrained problems in the person’s behavior.

This Fundamental Attribution Error has a negative impact on our hearts in 2 ways:

  1. We constantly make excuses for our own shortcomings, refusing to acknowledge how internal problems contribute to them
  2. We point out the flaws of others (often wrongfully so), becoming complacent in our own development and developing other sins of the heart (hatred, jealousy, mistrust etc.)

The Prophet SAW said, “Overlook the slips of respected people” [Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad], meaning that we should give people the benefit of the doubt and overlook their flaws. Note, that the Prophet SAW said a respected person. This does not mean that you should give a stranger your wallet and give them the benefit of the doubt. It does mean that if you see a Muslim brother walking with a girl, you should assume they are talking about something important, or simply overlook what you saw and move on (if something becomes a pattern, sometimes you should advise them in the appropriate way, but this is a different discussion). To this point Hamdun al-Qassar, one of the great early Muslims, said, “If a friend among your friends errs, make seventy excuses for them. If your hearts are unable to do this, then know that the shortcoming is in your own selves.” [Imam Bayhaqi, Shu`ab al-Iman, 7.522]. This does not mean that you should literally make a list of 70 excuses when you see someone make a mistake, but rather, that you should try your absolute best to assume the best of others.

Not only will this skill help you in your relationship with others, but as Hamdun al-Qassar indicates, people that constantly see the flaws of others are actually flawed themselves! The Prophet SAW said that, “A believer is a mirror of the believer.” [Abu Dawud] meaning that what we see in others is a reflection of what we have inside. So we should make excuses for people, overlook their faults, focus on the good in others and hope that as a result of that, we develop goodness in ourselves.

In his commencement speech to Stanford in 2012, Corey Booker tells a beautiful story which hits on many of these lessons, and emphasizes how we should not only have a positive outlook of the people around us, but of the world around us.

(Starting at 16:40 in the video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZ39FswOyFk

“Newark had so many strong neighborhoods but I sought out one that was in struggle and found it on Martin Luther King Boulevard. It looked spectacularly troublesome to me. My eyes saw abandoned homes being used for drugs. My eyes saw violence. My eyes saw graffiti. But the first person I met, the tenant leader in high-rise projects that I would eventually move into, Miss Jones, she said to me, “Tell me again what you see. Describe what you see around you.” And I described what I saw.

And she looked at me and she said, “Boy, if that’s all you see, you can never help me.” And I go, “What do you mean?” And she goes, “You need to understand something, that the world you see outside of you is a reflection of what you have inside of you. And, if you see only problems and darkness and despair, that’s all there’s ever gonna be. But, if you’re one of those stubborn people who every time you open your eyes, you see hope, opportunity, possibility, love – even the face of God – then you can help me make a change.” And I remember, after she said that, looking at her, scratching my head, and thinking to myself – OK, grasshopper, thus endeth the lesson.”

MALICIOUS MUSIC

by Amina Ashraf

Like most Muslims, I used to listen to music a lot. I was in chorus for four years and girls’ ensemble for a year. We performed for the school and different competitions. I studied music for a very long time. Then one day I was reading the Quran and noticed in the commentary the following hadith:

It was reported in Saheeh al-Bukhaari and elsewhere that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said that there would be among his ummah those who would allow zinaa, silk, alcohol and musical instruments, and he said that they would be transformed into monkeys and pigs.

I was completely shocked. Okay, maybe listening to music wasn’t as good as listening to Quran, but was it really that bad? Was it really haraam? Why did the Prophet (S) list it with such major sins like zina and alcohol?!

After doing more research on music, I realized that musical instruments are haraam in Islam, with the exception of the duff (read below for evidences). So to make it easier to stop, I threw away my CDs, cassette tapes (I know, I’m old), and deleted the songs off my computer. Even then it was hard to get away from music because it was everywhere! You hear it in the stores, at weddings, on the phone when you’re put on hold for 2 hours, etc.

In sha Allah we will only be held accountable for what we can control. Even though we can’t stop the music all over the world, we need to do the best we can and make sure we don’t make an effort to listen to it ourselves. Even in the stores, I do my best to think of something else or do dhikr to drown out the music. But you know what the scary part is? It’s still going in your subconscious! The scholars have called music the voice of Shaytan. Can you imagine Shaytan taking over your brain and you don’t even realize it?!

music-brain

So instead of listening to music, I started listening to nasheed (Islamic songs without music). Unfortunately, I started getting nasheeds stuck in my head while I was forgetting verses of the Quran I had memorized. So alhumdulilah I stopped listening to nasheeds as well and stuck with the Quran. May Allah help us all do what is pleasing to him. (Note: Nasheed with no haraam wording or music are only allowed under certain conditions. Please watch Abu Mussab’s lecture below for details.)

I remember doing a research paper for my Psych Lab course in college about the effects of music vs. the Quran on the brain. I found studies that had correlations between music and negative behavior and emotions. When people listened to rock music with negative lyrics, the listeners became violent themselves. Some songs that were very depressing and spoke of suicide influenced people to become depressed or commit suicide themselves!

I came across four studies that showed that the Quran helps the brain relax and can be more effective than music and other sounds for therapy. These were the findings:

  1. Baharudin and Sumari (2010) studied Malaysian working women’s level of stress and found that they felt more relaxed and less stressed when listening to Quran than listening to nature sounds.
  2. Abdullah and Omar’s (2011) experiment revealed from brain imaging that the brain was most relaxed when listening to Quran compared to when listening to hard music or just resting.
  3. Ahmad et. al (2010) showed that a group of students had increased positive emotions and decreased negative emotions after listening to the Quran compared to the group that listened to music.
  4. Zulkurnaini et. al (2012) conducted a similar experiment as Abdullah and Omar, but instead of hard music, they compared EEG signals from Quran and classical music. They also found that there were more alpha waves during the Quran recitation, meaning the brain was more relaxed.

But some forms of music showed some benefit and that is why they are used in music therapy. We have to remember even when studies show that music is beneficial that Allah said in the Quran:

They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, “In them is great sin and [yet, some] benefit for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit.” (Surah Baqarah 2:219)

So even if some benefits are found in music, the harm is far greater. Plus, one of my non-Muslim friends who works as a music therapist told me it’s not necessarily the music that heals, but the fond memories from the music that helps people feel better.

I’ll end by sharing two true stories. There was a young man in a Muslim country who had the habit of listening to the Quran in the car. One day he had a terrible car accident and was taken to the hospital. His family urged him to say the shahadah when he was dying, and alhumdulilah he died reciting the Quran. Similarly, there was a Muslim youth who always listened to music in the car. He also had a fatal accident. When his family encouraged him to say the shahadah, he passed away singing songs. Think about it: one of the guy’s final deeds on earth was listening to Allah and the other listening to Shaytan. Which one will we choose?

*Let me know if you want to read the four studies on music and Quran. I can email them to you in sha Allah

*If you’re interested in learning more, there are many lectures on youtube. Here are two good ones alhumdulilah.

End of Music by Kamal el-Mekki: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vtkXdi61k0

The Classical Hit by Abu Mussab: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hp5KFGFl1hU


EVIDENCES:

Praise be to Allaah.

MEANING OF MUSIC

Ma’aazif is the plural of mi’zafah, and refers to musical instruments and singing.

QURAN

“And of mankind is he who purchases idle talks (i.e. music, singing) to mislead (men) from the path of Allaah…” [Luqmaan 31:6]

Al-Sa’di (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: this includes all manner of haraam speech, all idle talk and falsehood, and all nonsense that encourages kufr and disobedience; the words of those who say things to refute the truth and argue in support of falsehood to defeat the truth; and backbiting, slander, lies, insults and curses; the singing and musical instruments of the Shaytaan; and musical instruments which are of no spiritual or worldly benefit. (Tafseer al-Sa’di, 6/150)

“[Allaah said to Iblees:] And befool them gradually those whom you can among them with your voice (i.e. songs, music, and any other call for Allaah’s disobedience)…” [al-Israa’ 17:64]

It was narrated that Mujaahid (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: “And befool them gradually those whom you can among them with your voice” – his voice [the voice of Iblees/Shaytaan] is singing and falsehood. Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: This idaafah [possessive or genitive construction, i.e., your voice] serves to make the meaning specific, as with the phrases [translated as] “your cavalry” and “your infantry” [later in the same aayah]. Everyone who speaks in any way that is not obedient to Allaah, everyone who blows into a flute or other woodwind instrument, or who plays any haraam kind of drum, this is the voice of the Shaytaan. Everyone who walks to commit some act of disobedience towards Allaah is part of his [the Shaytaan’s] infantry, and anyone who rides to commit sin is part of his cavalry. This is the view of the Salaf, as Ibn ‘Abi Haatim narrated from Ibn ‘Abbaas: his infantry is everyone who walks to disobey Allaah. (Ighaathat al-Lahfaan).

Allaah says: “Do you then wonder at this recitation (the Qur’aan)? And you laugh at it and weep not, Wasting your (precious) lifetime in pastime and amusements (singing)” [al-Najm 53:59-61]

It was reported from Abu Umaamah (may Allaah be pleased with him) that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Do not sell singing slave women, do not buy them and do not teach them. There is nothing good in this trade, and their price is haraam. Concerning such things as this the aayah was revealed (interpretation of the meaning): ‘And of mankind is he who purchases idle talks (i.e. music, singing) to mislead (men) from the path of Allaah…’ [Luqmaan 31:6].” (Hasan hadeeth)

HADEETH

It was reported in Saheeh al-Bukhaari and elsewhere that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said that there would be among his ummah those who would allow zinaa, silk, alcohol and musical instruments, and he said that they would be transformed into monkeys and pigs… None of the followers of the imaams mentioned any dispute concerning the matter of music. (al-Majmoo’, 11/576).

It was narrated that Naafi’ (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: Ibn ‘Umar heard a woodwind instrument, and he put his fingers in his ears and kept away from that path. He said to me, O Naafi’, can you hear anything? I said, No. So he took his fingers away from his ears and said: I was with the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and he heard something like this, and he did the same thing. (Saheeh Abi Dawood).

Al-Qaasim (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: Singing is part of falsehood. Al-Hasan (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: if there is music involved in a dinner invitation (waleemah), do not accept the invitation (al-Jaami by al-Qayrawaani, p. 262-263).

THE EXCEPTION

The exception to the above is the daff – without any rings (i.e., a hand-drum which looks like a tambourine, but without any rattles) – when used by women on Eids and at weddings. This is indicated by saheeh reports. Shaykh al-Islam (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: But the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) made allowances for certain types of musical instruments at weddings and the like, and he made allowances for women to play the daff at weddings and on other joyful occasions.

And Allah Knows Best.

The Successful Muslim

by Safiya Arif

RasulAllah (S) said, “The most beloved of deeds to Allah are the most consistent of them, even if they are few.”

As Muslims we do the best we can to worship Allah (swt). Everyone is at different levels when it comes to faith, and that’s perfectly okay. What might be a struggle for you may not be difficult for someone else. What you might find easy may be the hardest thing for your friends. Everyone is unique in their knowledge and experiences, so it makes sense that everyone is at different locations on the path of Islam.

With that in mind, we should always try to increase our knowledge and become better people. As we continue to grow, our abilities will also change. Just think back to who you were 5 years ago. Your strengths and weaknesses were completely different, and the best you could do then is nowhere near the best you can do now. Your standards and goals for yourself are higher now, and with time you’ve become more capable to reach them.

Something to remember as you strive to become a better version of yourself is the need for consistency. Real change doesn’t happen overnight. You can wake up one morning and try to reach all your goals at once, but what will most likely happen is you’ll be successful for a couple of days, struggle for a couple more, and then after realizing how exhausted you are from all the effort, you’ll stop. And your change will end just as quickly as it started. If you want your improvements to last, you need to be consistent. Here are some ways how:

  1. Make your intention for the sake of Allah (swt). Spend some time thinking about who you are. Are you the best version of yourself? Set out to increase your strengths and decrease your flaws. Reflect on your character from time to time, and inshaAllah you can continue to build on top of your improvements. As my sister says, life is a constant recalibration of the self. There’s always room to grow. Ali ibn Abu Talib (R) said, “Meet people in such a manner that if you die, they should weep for you, and if you live they should long for you.” Strive to be the best you can be inside and out. Strive to make a positive difference in the world. Strive to be rewarded with the highest level of Jannah. And ultimately, strive to please Allah (swt).
  1. Form a daily routine. Now that you’ve made your intentions, implement them as actions in your daily routine. Try to do things around the same time and place every day and it’ll be harder to forget. For example, if one of your goals is to read Qur’an every day, you can decide to read a couple pages right after school. That way, there’s less of a chance that you’ll get busy with homework and forget. For certain actions like praying salah and reading Qur’an, I would recommend using a chart (like our prayer charts at HSYC!) to keep track of your progress. With our phones nowadays, you can set up alarms or reminders too. There are even specific apps designed to help! Keep in mind that it takes about 30 days to form a habit, so make sure you consistently work on your goals. If you set aside just a little bit of time every day, inshaAllah you’ll get to the point where your changes are permanent parts of your life.
  1. Be patient. Oftentimes when someone’s trying to work on a goal, they expect to see results right away. When they’re disappointed, they decide that their actions are not working and give up. When it comes to change, however, you have to realize that it takes time. Be patient with the process and be patient with yourself. Don’t lose hope. You may want to do as much as you can, as quickly as you can, but keep in mind that you’re trying to become a better person for your whole future and not just a couple of weeks. Realize that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Find a comfortable pace, and don’t be afraid to slow down if you feel like you’re becoming overwhelmed. The purpose is to sustain the changes you make. InshaAllah they’ll be a part of you for the rest of your life.

“Everyone is going to be making progress and everyone’s going at their own pace. No matter how fast or slow they’re going, as long as they’re making progress they are successful.” –Nouman Ali Khan

  1. Motivate yourself. Think about why you want to make the improvements you’re working on. When I decide to make a change, I usually write down why it means so much to me so that on days when I need an extra boost of motivation, I can remind myself why I began. It’s important to know the significance behind your actions because it adds meaning to the progress you make. For example, if you’re working on your prayer, try to learn the meaning of some of the surahs you recite. With any journey, you’re going to experience some struggles along the way. Don’t let that discourage you. Instead, take a look at how far you’ve come, be proud of yourself, and use that to drive you forward and continue toward success.
  1. Support each other. Everyone has something they want to work on. Find a buddy with similar goals and help each other out! You can share your strategies and ideas and inshaAllah make it easier for each other to succeed. Praying dhuhr in high school was a big concern of mine. Alhamdulillah my teachers were extremely supportive and happy to help, but the person who really made a difference was my friend. We used to pray together after fifth period every day, and subhanAllah having her there helped me become more confident as a Muslim. This is also why it’s important to surround yourself with good company, because their good traits will automatically rub off on you and help you become a better person. Another way to build a support system is through your family. Tell your parents and siblings about your goals and inshaAllah they’ll find a way to help you. When the whole house is working toward something, it’s hard to go off track. When you work with others, you become invested in their success as much as you are in your own. They will give you more strength inshaAllah. 

“Perfection is not demanded of us. But sincerity, integrity, honesty, and our best effort is what Allah (swt) and His messenger (S) have asked of us.” – Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jangda

  1. Beware of Shaytan. As you build on your character, Shaytan will become concerned that he’s not doing his job well enough. While you continue to succeed in life, he’ll think of ways to point you in the opposite direction. That’s when you’ll start to experience some difficulties in your progress. Recognize that it is Shaytan who is trying to pull you back, and decide not to let him get in your way. Don’t give in to his whispers and keep moving forward inshaAllah. Every time you feel like giving up, Shaytan is getting ready to celebrate another victory. It’s up to you to defeat him, and the best way you can do this is by asking Allah (swt) for protection against him. Which leads me to my final (and most important) point…
  1. Ask Allah (swt) for help. In any and every one of your endeavors, Allah (swt) is the only one who can grant you success. Thank Him for all that He has already given you, and ask Him to help you grow in every aspect of your life. Remember Him and He will remember you.

“Oh you who believe! Seek help in patience and in prayer; Allah is with those that are patient.” Surat Al-Baqarah, Ayah 153 

May Allah (swt) help us accomplish our goals. May He purify our intentions and put barakah in our actions. May He help us become better children, siblings, and friends to those around us. May He allow us to implement positive changes in our lives and continue to grow as Muslims. May He be pleased with our efforts and reward us with the highest of Jannahs. Ameen.

That’s all I have for you! Have you used any of these tips to work on your goals in the past? Do you have any strategies of your own that have worked for you? Share your experience in the comments below!