Conquest of anger as a test of faith

There are, generally speaking, angry people everywhere. Very few spouses, children, students, subordinates, colleagues can afford not to be anxious about anger from others around them. But the very definition of a Muslim is that others feel safe in his presence.

For Shaykh al-Alam Nund Reshi this means anger doesn’t behove a Muslim. Anger is one of the seven deadly sins in the Bible and not something to be taken lightly. If we really understood the other as virtually God sent or deserving infinite care and reverence, we would restrain from anger.


I don’t know of a single person including myself from whom one could take amnesty from anger for granted. Let us meditate on this problem to heal our relationships and make our homes and office spaces more humane.

Krodh no Muslamanes pazae is one of the most succinct and characteristic poems of Rishi corpus of Kashmir presenting in few stanzas ethico-spiritual content of Rishiyyat framed in Islamic terms. I don’t find any significant reason to diverge from the following version in Bayhiqi, translated below, (except two words indicating voice in the last stanza).

The specific reasons for preferring Bayhiqi text have been well presented by Naji Munawaar in his preface and Prof. Shafi Shoaq in his foreword to Kuliyati Shaykh al-Alam, a landmark achievement in Reshi studies that needs to be noted by every scholar and student of Rishi thought.

This is edited and annotated first kuliyat of the poetry of Shaykh al-Alam that Mir Abdullah Bayhiqi compiled and as such we owe a great debt to both Bayhiqi and Naji Munawar.

With anger your lose all wealth

With anger all virtue is gone

Anger is a thief for your treasure

 Anger doesn’t behove a Muslim

He whose throne spanned heavens

What happened to it once?

Solomon had to live in the house of fisherman

Anger doesn’t behove a Muslim

Don’t look at other’s woman

That shall burn away this and the other world

That shall blemish your faith

Anger doesn’t behove a Muslim

Everyday see the Quran, the Criterion

And in its light read everything

That will keep Satan at bay

Anger doesn’t behove a Muslim

The Master will accompany the guest

Give something for his love

What you give to the other shall be yours

Anger doesn’t behove a Muslim

You shall be disposed off on the side of ground

Flesh and organs shall be under the earth

Every grain shall be taken into account

Anger doesn’t behove a Muslim

Here is summed up what the author of brilliant work Inside the Soul of Islam points about anger.

The only advice given to one of those who approached for it to the Prophet (SAW) was “Don’t become angry.” Note it is don’t become angry and not just “Do not display anger towards others.” A veto against becoming angry from the Prophet, on whom be peace.

Peace and surrender that constitute keys to one’s affirmation of Islam are expressible in negative terms as don’t become angry.  Learning to let go of anger is what may be enough to redeem so many of us.  Forbearance and humility that cut at the root of anger have been described as qualities of all the prophets. 

When we understand our feelings come from thoughts and not not external events as such. We block the very fount of anger.

Understanding One True Source of all human experience or spiritual power of thought or contemplating how God alone is the real Agent or there exists none but the One or there is really no other or the idea of a separate self is a delusion, one can’t  afford to become angry. 

It is  indeed a sinister, psychological form of idolatry that we all engage every time we pretend that something other than Allah, the One, through some mechanism other than thought, has the power to cause our feelings, we’re committing psychological idolatry. We’re unwittingly using our imaginations to take the power (to cause feelings) away from Allah, and putting it in the hands of the object.

If I think a person or a situation or a thing is making me feel a certain way in essence, I’m imagining that the thing has a power that, in reality, belongs only to Allah, the All-Powerful. When we say the formula, There is no might or power except Allah,’ this includes the power to cause feelings.

By understanding that Allah directly causes our feelings via thought, without needing any physical object to cause them, we free our minds from the shackles of psychological idolatry and return to the truth of psychological unity. Allah becomes our ally.

Sydney Banks’ point ‘The sicknesses of the mind are feelings that we create and put onto objects. But if you can see the objects without the feelings, you are healthy.’ translates this insight into simpler language.  (Yusaf, 2017: 227).

Mamoon builds on the great mantra in The Purification of the Heart  of Imam Mawlud “Repel anger by perceiving at its onset that no one is doing anything in reality except the Almighty” to  build his case against anger. 

“If we take ‘no one is doing anything’ to mean ‘no one is causing your anger’ (because angry feelings only come from angry thinking), then we have a precise description of how a mind trained in the Inside-Out Paradigm might react: angry feelings only come from angry thinking.”

The poem may be read as Reshi definition of a Muslim in terms of transcendence of anger which is an assertion of agency/will. To become angry is, ordinarily (as distinguished from what has been called “holy anger”), failure to live to the ideality of Islam as one who is available to the other or makes for peace.

Anger is to be avoided for one’s spiritual health as it negates one’s worship and destroys the treasure of good. The very essence of faith gets endangered by anger understood as a manifestation of othering.

The light of the scripture, the Criterion, is what keeps the Devil at bay. Parting with what is dear to oneself and obedience to the Master or welcoming the Guest are all chains in the links of assertion of self will.

The Unity and fellowship of man require one say no to othering or self assertion manifested in anger. The poem makes series of points all converging on or implying why angry disposition doesn’t behove a Muslim. The poem may be read with series of other poems elaborating other key characteristics of Muslims/ Reshi ethic and spirituality.

Since nothing burns in hell except self will as one medieval mystic has put it, death overcomes all arrogance or assertion of self will of which anger is a quintessential expression. We must account for every small act or do away with agency and let God take reign as otherwise death shall in any case reduce the flesh – muscles and organs – to dust.

Agnes Callard has drawn our attention to a long tradition of thinkers, with roots in ancient Stoicism and Buddhism, who think that we would have a morally better world if we could eradicate anger entirely. The Stoic philosopher diagnosed anger as a form of madness and Indian philosopher and monk Śāntideva enjoined those wishing to travel the road of enlightenment to eliminate even the smallest seeds of anger.

In our times, the philosopher Martha Nussbaum draws on Seneca and the Stoic tradition to argue that anger is an intrinsically mistaken vengeful and destructive attitude. Owen Flanagan, drawing on both Śāntideva’s Buddhism and a Confucian-inflected metaphysics, sees anger as an intrinsically hostile attitude, one that falsely presupposes a self-centered metaphysics of individuals.

However, we have equally distinguished line of thinkers who have noted uses of anger, especially what has been called holy anger. What unites these diverse streams of thought is the tacit recognition of self agency or self-centredness as a problem that we are required to overcome. Multiple uses of anger (and other drives) have been noted by various thinkers.

One can use anger, for instance, to protest against evil, to assert self dignity as distinguished  from self centredness, to condemn injustice. Ghazzali and others have noted and emphasized the point that the Prophet never became angry. Schuon’s comments about it  in  his work Sufis: Veil and Quintessence are noteworthy:

… one certainly does not expect this of him, and yet Moses and Jesus did exhibit holy anger; how can one believe that Muhammad—an Arab and a warrior—never did so? Aisha reports that the soul of the Prophet was like the Koran; now the Koran expresses anger by informing us—and assuring us—of the Wrath of God.

Ghazzali’s point may, however, be understood by noting that he denies that the Prophet expressed anger for a personal reason or what manifested self will.

Prescriptions against anger needn’t be construed as succumbing to indifference or passivity. As Schuon explains:

The morality that offers the other cheek—so far as morality can here be spoken of—does not mean an unwonted solicitude toward one’s adversary, but complete indifference toward the fetters of this world, or more precisely a refusal to let oneself be caught up in the vicious circle of terrestrial causations.

Thich Nath Hanh in his book Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames succinctly explains what is wrong with anger:

According to the Buddha’s teachings, the most basic condition for happiness is freedom. Here we do not mean political freedom, but freedom from the mental formations of anger, despair, jealousy, and delusion. These mental formations are described by the Buddha as poisons. As long as these poisons are still in our heart, happiness cannot be possible.

When a person’s speech is full of anger, it is because he or she suffers deeply. Because he has so much suffering, he becomes full of bitterness. He is always ready to complain and blame others for his problems.

The Bible states: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:17-21). This wisdom has been echoed in many forms by diverse writers and analysts.

For instance, “The world needs anger.  The world often continues to allow evil because it isn’t angry enough” (Bede Jarratt) and “He who angers you conquers you” (Elizabeth Kenny).

Anger is usually received as psychological violence and is regretted by the one who expresses it. Conquest of it is to enter the safe refuge or become mu’min. A beautiful soul would be loved for kindness and not feared for anger.

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