Q&A: How can I overcome anger rooted in my past?

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Q: Assalamualaikum. How to overcome anger with the past? How can I accept and make sense of what’s going on? How do you accept that what has happened to you is what God has destined for you, although it does not make sense, logically? What are the daily practices needed to go through this and to overcome it?

A: [Shaykh Abdul Aziz] Bismillah & salawat. First part’s easy: Waalaikumsalam. Again, I haven’t got all the answers, but I can point you in the right direction. The thing about anger is that, in Imam al Ghazali’s Ihya Ulumuddin, there are 40 books in there, and one of them is on anger. It’s basically in four parts, the first part is on ibadaat: praying, fasting, things like that. The second part is on muamalat: interacting, trade, marriage, divorce. The third part is on things that destroy the self, including anger. And the final 10 books are on the things that will cure the heart from those that will destroy you, and among those things is remembering death, which is actually the last book in the whole collection.

So that’s what I would say: you should go away and read, you should go and study and contemplate on what’s said in that book. But the best way is probably to go back to what the Prophet Muhammad salAllahualayhiwassalam said, because this is the source of everything. He said, when you become angry, you should put the fire of anger out with water. You should sit calmly. And interestingly, people misunderstand what this means.

Maybe I’m a bit unorthodox, and I shouldn’t be saying this in front of Dr Omar, but somebody came to me and had all these problems, and I said, download a song from the internet, it’s called The River by Bruce Springsteen, and put it on your mp3 player (this shows how old it was). Then go down to a place just outside of your house and just sit on the grass and listen to that. He said, “I thought you were a Shaykh.” I’m a Bruce Springsteen fan. Now there is a wisdom in that, because when the Prophet salAllahualayhiwassalam said to sit down, he actually meant to sit down on the floor. He didn’t mean sit on a chair, but this is what people think, that if you get angry, you just sit down. No, what he means is sit on the ground. There’s a difference, because when you sit on the ground, when you actually get physically in touch with the ground, what you’re doing is you’re getting in touch with your origin. All of us came from the ground, and all of us will return to the ground. Once you’ve understood where you’ve come from, and where you’re going, what is it that makes you so angry? You’re from the ground, and you’re going to the ground. The Prophet Muhammad salAllahualayhiwassalam put emphasis on sitting on the ground and touching the ground. He didn’t mention Bruce Springsteen, I just added that in because it sounded appropriate at the time.

What he meant was to try and lift yourself from the state that you’re in, and get in touch with the ground. That’s what it means to be grounded: it’s to physically sit on the ground. What it means, to put [anger] out with water, is actually to go away and make wudu’, because the process of making wudu’, with the duas that Imam al Ghazali provided, for example, will help to get yourself prepared. Sayyidina Ali karamAllahuwajha said, “If people knew the benefits of wudu’, they wouldn’t even pray.” Of course he’s not telling you that you don’t need to pray, but he’s saying that if people understood how blessed and important the wudu’ was, this would be enough for them. So we need to go back to these kinds of things. So part of it is the physical acts, and also the thinking and reconfiguring your understanding, and the best way is through Imam al Ghazali’s Ihya.

This question was answered by Shaykh Abdul Aziz at the Sacred Path of Love Retreat 2015.