Among many intense and innate emotions of man is anger, whose effects have the potential to pervade all over man's body and thinking, and one afflicted with it often exhibits wild-like and aggressive behavior. It can deprive man of logical thinking and make his conduct violent. We have many real life examples from our daily lives. The aggressive nature of cricket players, who boast of cricket being a gentleman's game is known to the world. Who can forget Garry Kirsten hitting Kapil Dev with his bat for his successful appeal for a run out before delivering the ball? Not to mention Zinedine Yazid Zidane's aggressive behavior in the last match of his career. Two years back I read in a newspaper about a shopkeeper who killed a man with a single blow, because he had a habit of throwing garbage in front of his shop.
What could be the reason behind such strange behavior of man? Why is it that the behavior of man when he is under the influence of anger contradicts his otherwise normal behavior? To know this we need to understand what exactly anger is.
Anger is an emotion related to one's perception of having been offended or wronged and a tendency to un-do that wrongdoing by retaliation. Videbeck describes anger as a normal emotion that involves a strong uncomfortable and emotional response to a perceived provocation.
Three types of anger are recognized by psychologists. The first form of anger is connected to the impulse for self-preservation, called the "hasty and sudden anger" proposed by Joseph Butler, an 18th century English bishop. It is common in both humans and non-humans and occurs when tormented or trapped. The second type of anger is the "settled and deliberate" kind, a reaction to perceived, deliberate harm or unfair treatment by others. These two forms of anger are episodic. However the third type of anger is dispositional and is related more to character traits than to instincts or cognitions. Irritability, sullenness and churlishness postures are examples of the last form of anger.
Anger has both positive and negative effects. It is an emotion which can become either boon or bane depending upon the way it is used. The use of anger for good can be noticed in the countries around the gulf these days in the form of peaceful protests against injustice.
The great researcher Ahmad ibn Muhammad, popularly known as Ibn Maskawayh, in his book Taharat al-Araq – a fine book of rare excellence in beauty of style and orderliness of contents – writes something which can be summarized as follows: Anger, in fact, is an inner psychic movement due to which a state of agitation is produced in the heart's blood, arousing a desire for vengeance. When this agitation becomes more violent, it intensifies the fire of anger. A violent commotion in the blood seizes the heart, filling the arteries and the brain with a flurry of dark smoke, on account of which the mind and the intellect lose control and become powerless. At that time, as the Hukama (wise ones) maintain, the inner state of the person resembles a cave where fire has broken out, filling it with flames and suffocating clouds of smoke that leap out of its mouth with intense heat and a fiery howl. When that happens, it becomes extremely difficult to pacify such a person and to extinguish the fire of his rage; whatever is thrown in it to cool it down becomes a part of it, adding to its intensity. It is for this reason that such a man becomes blinded to propriety and deaf to guidance. In such a condition, there is no hope for him.
Anger causes a bodily reaction; the sympathetic nervous system and muscles mobilize for physical attack. Muscles tense and the blood pressure and heart rate skyrocket. Digestive processes stop. Certain brain centers are triggered, which then change the brain chemistry. When angry, the bodily functions change for the worse.
Dr. Charles Cole of Colorado State University found that the physiological effects of anger can cause blood vessels to constrict, increase heart rate and blood pressure, and eventually lead to the destruction of heart muscle.
It is narrated that Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him) has said: "Anger is the key (that opens the door) to all kinds of vices." It is reported that he said his father used to say: "Is there anything more violent than anger? Verily, a man gets angry and kills someone whose blood has been forbidden by God, or slanders a married woman."
Imam Baqir (peace be upon him) has said: "Indeed, this anger is the spark lit by Satan in the heart of the son of Adam."
In the next world, this fire will acquire the form of the fire of Divine Wrath, as reported from al-Baqir in Al-Kafi. It is reported on the authority of Imam Sadiq that the Apostle of God (peace be upon him and his progeny) said: "Anger spoils faith in the same way as vinegar destroys honey."
What happens during the first few moments of anger, that man forgets everything except taking revenge? Man is blindfolded by the desire of revenge to such an extent that he reacts in an extravagant manner totally in contradiction to his otherwise normal behavior. After he has taken the so-called revenge, he again sits back in regret for what he has done.
It is reported from Imam Baqir that he said: "Verily, anger is a spark ignited by the Devil in the human heart. Indeed, when anyone of you gets angry, his eyes become red, the veins of his neck become swollen and Satan enters them. Therefore, whosoever among you is concerned about himself on account of it, he should lie down for a while so that the filth of Satan may be removed from him at the time."
It is a fact that the extent of Satan's effect depends on man's presence of mind and level of faith. It is a known fact that Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them all) were all tried and tested beyond the rules of humanity, yet never did their behavior cross the limits of faith and goodness. Their anger was totally under their control. We too can keep our anger totally under our control rather than giving the reigns of our behavior in the hands of Satan during the first few moments of onset of anger. Though it is difficult and requires much practice, it is not at all impossible. The most important thing for this is the presence of the mind and self-control at all times.
Constant remembrance of Allah and the feeling of "to Him we return" must reside in our minds all the time. We should learn the art of increasing and strengthening these feelings during anger, rather than burning them in the fire of anger.
Maysir reports that once anger was discussed in the presence of Imam Baqir, who said: "Verily, it happens that an angry person would not be satisfied until he enters the Fire (i.e. his anger does not subside until it drags him into Hellfire). Therefore, whoever is angry with someone let him sit down immediately if he is standing, for indeed this would repel from him the uncleanliness of Satan. And whoever gets angry with his kinsman, let him approach him and touch him, for the feeling of consanguinity, when stimulated by touch, induces calmness."
The commonly suggested method by psychologists to alleviate anger is to count from 1 to 10, as this will help one to pacify himself. The main motive behind this method is simple – diversion. When the brain is engaged in something else, it will help for the person to ease up and move away from the cause of anger.
If diverting concentration is the key, what better way is there than to divert it to the remembrance of Allah? Remembering the suffering of our Ahlul Bayt and the level of patience they displayed even under the most extreme circumstances, will also be of tremendous benefit. These steps to control anger and our constant remembrance of our Creator will help us in both controlling and preventing the spiritual malady that anger often becomes.