Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post by Saadia Faruqi. Saadia is an interfaith activist, blogger for Tikkun Daily and The Islamic Monthly, and a speaker on American Muslim issues. She lives in Houston, Texas and is currently writing a collection of short stories set in Pakistan. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi
Imagine driving on the highway on a peaceful summer afternoon, enjoying the wind. Another driver cuts you off, spewing profanities. You realize that you were driving too slowly in the fast lane. Is driving slow a crime? Or is it something to be forgiven and forgotten? Now imagine how you would react if you had a gun in the car, or if the other driver had a gun. Would you simply shout curses or even perhaps threaten him with the weapon? Would he?
This may seem like a scene from a bad movie, but unfortunately it’s all too real. Road rage is a big problem in the United States today, even though we tend to joke about it from time to time. It is actually a form of aggressive behavior by drivers, and ranges from abusive language and rude gestures to driving in an unsafe manner and even threats. Road rage can ultimately lead to fighting between drivers, collisions, even injury and death. Today, it is accepted as an anger issue that lies with the individual and has little to do with the road, traffic or driving conditions. In short, road rage is one manifestation of mental instability that comes from incorrect anger management.
As Muslims we have a beautiful guide in the practice of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as well as the Holy Quran. Many Muslims don’t know, however, that anger management is addressed very comprehensively in the Quran and Sunnah. Why? Because anger is part of human nature, and we are constantly challenged by difficulty, distrust, poverty, desires, ego and countless other problems that lead to dissatisfaction and finally anger.
Islam, however teaches us to remove our bad habits and improve ourselves, including our tendency towards anger. People who scream and threaten are often doing so because they think their behavior intimidates people. Men sometimes display anger towards women to make them obey and toe the line. Mothers often express anger towards their children because they incorrectly assume that fear will make their children good. In reality, it is the complete opposite. Fear harms the psyche of human beings, especially fear in terms of anger or abuse.
Islam teaches that an angry person is not a strong person but in fact a coward, because he gives in to base feelings and is unable to control oneself. The Prophet Muhammad taught us that to control our anger is true courage
“The strong is not the one who wins over others with his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger.”
So ladies, you can do much more with your children by expressing love and kindness, rather than by screaming and punishing. Men, your families will love you more if you control your anger and express yourself civilly. I agree that frequently this is easier said than done, but understanding and acknowledging the problem is the first step to improvement.
Sometimes, however, anger stems from an offensive or hurtful action of another person. In such cases, too, the remedy is simple, according to the Quran:
“Take to forgiveness, and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant” (7:201)
Similarly the Quran describes a righteous person as he or she who shuns antagonism:
“…those who suppress anger and pardon men; and God loves those who do good” (3:136)
Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) had advised us that when angry, one should try to change his body position. Meaning, if you’re standing up, sit down, and if you’re sitting down stand up. If this didn’t work, then go and wash and get prepared for praying.
So the next time a driver cuts you off on the highway, follow the guidelines of Islam. Shouting at the car, using obscene gestures or following too close are not the actions of a good Muslim. Think of something else, take a sip of water or soda, and recite some prayers under your breath. Be kind to other drivers on the road, perhaps a simple act of kindness will remind you to let go your anger. Finally, try forgiving. There is a reward for you, and everybody else on the road will be the safer for it.