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Monday, May 01, 2006

Emotion Management.

Islam recommends “zikir” for emotion management. These are chants or repetitions of certain Holy words, usually in Arabic, that are said to “drive out” lower levels of emotion and raise the consciousness of Muslims to higher levels. “Zikir” is being applied to social problems such as drug addiction. Sometimes, a further goal of “zikir” is to reach some ecstatic feelings of worshipping Allah s.w.t. Negative emotions lose their power when displaced by positive emotions produced by chanting “zikir” in groups.

We may not know exactly what happens during “zikir” sessions, but one thing we do know. As Muslims, we place our feelings aside five times every day, when we face Our Creator. It is not very easy to perform our prayers in the presence of strong feelings. So effective emotion management is very important for the smooth and correct presentation of our humble selves in front of Allah s.w.t. Most religions also teach emotion management as part of their worship. The cultures that have the most trouble with emotional difficulties are those whoo ttumm away from religion, such as the Americans.

Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. advises us to restrain our anger, or, if we cannot, perform the wudhu’, if still not capable sit in a chair. If we still cannot contain our anger, we must lie on a bed, or perhaps even on the floor. In any case, we may NOT resume talking until our anger has been controlled.

Another relevant regulatory advice is that we are ordered to reconcile with our estranged brothers or sisters after a maximum of three days. The duration of any estrangement between Muslims may not be longer than that. Therefore, Muslims MAY NOT bear long term grudges against each other. They have a maximum of three days to hold angry feelings, after which a proper apology or reconciliation effort must dissolve that anger back into the mutual respect of brotherhood or sisterhood.

Does it work? 1,426 years ago, Prophet Muhammad s.a.w was faced with emotion management problems of an incredibly wild and immoral people that is, the Arab tribes of that time. Without modem scientific knowledge of the basis of emotion in the human nervous system, or of the laws of its interaction with human behavior Rasulullah s.a.w still had to deal with the emotional attachments and excesses of his “jahiliyyah” (pagan) Arabs.

From the Revelation of Al-Qur’an, Muhammad s.a.w passed on various guidelines on emotion management in his Hadith. His advice on dealing with anger is mentioned above. This advice takes precedence over “working out the anger” by finding causes or analyzing childhood frustrations. The good of the social body, the Ummah of Islam, depended on immediate upgrading of the civility of the Muslims, an upgrading that is as much needed today among Muslims as among Westerners.

The question is not whether the Prophet's advice will work, but rather who among us can really put it into practice. Without our love and respect for our Prophet, or even with it, we may have difficulty finding sufficient strength of motivation to really manage our anger or other negative emotions.

How do we stop backbiting our neighbours? How do we achieve what my grandparents achieved, who were not even Muslim? According to my grandmother, my grandfather never once raised his voice in anger to her throughout their entire married life.

Emotion management is very important for the future of the Muslim Ummah, and indeed, the entire human race. Muslims cannot dictate what the non Muslims may or may not do, and vice versa. But we can manage our own emotions, according to our best understanding of our religious traditions. For Muslims, Ramadhan, and especially the “inner fasting” taught by Al-Ghazzali, is a superb course in emotion management.

Al-Ghazzali says that during the Ramadhan fast, we must not use our feelings to react to the feelings of others. Whatever confusion or anger or misunderstanding may come at us during Ramadhan, we must not “ingest” the other's feeling, we must not take it into ourselves and then return it in like form.

Al-Ghazzali gives another suggestion for the “inner fasting” when he says we should simply not talk about any person who is not present with us. By such “emotion management”, we may be able to avoid the gossip and backbiting that surrounds us so much during other months, and which AllQur’an clearly states is equivalent to “eating the flesh of our dead brother.” Not talking about anyone who is not present is a fast in itself!

The Muslim Sunnah teaches: “He who covers up the sins of his brother Muslim will have his sins covered up by Allah s.w.t. in the Hereafter”. Freedom of self-expression, including freedom of the press, is therefore NOT a human right, as believed by the westerners. We must go well beyond western psychology.

However, the tools and methods are there as well, for those who wish to take them up, for those who HAVE NOT THE STRENGTH to follow the Sunnah of their Prophet, or the teachings of any other religious leader, merely by self-discipline. There is NO SHAME in therapy.

But let’s start with something exceedingly simple. When was the last time you failed to return the “Salaam” greeting of another Muslim? Ask any foreign Muslim visiting here in Malaysia. It is almost impossible to get a “Salaam” returned from Malays who are not already their friends. Yet Al-Qur’an gives Muslims this very simple principle of emotion management.

Whether you like someone or not, whether you are busy or not, whether you consider him or her a good Muslim or not, if you are given the “Salaam”, you are REQUIRED BY ALLAH ORDER, to return an equal greeting or one better. What excuse do you have for not following even this most elementary method of emotion management?

And what happens in the heart of your Muslim visitor who receives only dead silence in response to his well meant greeting to you? His heart becomes more and more hurt until he does not care any more to even know you as friends. By disobeying Allah's order, you CREATE ENMITY between yourselves and other Muslims.

What about emotion management between husbands and wives? Aside from abuse of the polygamy privilege (taking second wives in secret, which is really no better than the European custom of the secret mistress), let us consider the subject directly from the Qur’anic level. Qur’an states that husbands and wives are “garments unto one another”.

What does this mean? Clearly, when the husband leaves the home for whatever purpose, he bears the soul of his wife with him. Clearly, however he treats his wife is how he treats his own soul. And vice versa. In her husband's physical absence, the wife must protect and defend his home and property with her very life. She is not available to other men in his absence. This may be why so many Muslim husbands have a problem with allowing their wives to work.

A strong Islamic economy may allow the wives to be real “homemakers,” but nowadays the needs of many Muslim families require that the mother go out of the home, to the extent that women everywhere rather prefer it. The women of the Prophet’s Companions were very busy in the community life, so there is nothing wrong with it. But both spouses must retain their absolute loyalty to each other and their children together. The slightest deceit to your husband or wife is a deceit to your own soul. If we remember this principle, as derived from the Qur’anic verse mentioned above, we MAY be able to treat our spouses with sufficient respect.

We have two Hadith relating to emotion management between spouses. On the woman's side, we have a report that one woman asked Rasulullah for a divorce from her husband simply because she could not feel happy with him, even though he was sufficiently dutiful. The divorce was granted.

On the men’s side, we have the well-known order to Muslim wives to leave even “their ovens” (i.e., their cooking) to honor their husband's call for companionship. And, of course, Prophet has said that when a woman dies, if her husband has been pleased with her, she may enter Paradise by any one of its seven gates. So we have clear orders to cherish and nurture the happiness of our spouses, although we should also remember that happiness in this world is not guaranteed by the Holy Book of any religion, and therefore cannot be a demand of one spouse upon another.

The western “human right” to the “pursuit of happiness” is therefore exclusively secular and not a right in any religious sense. We may aspire to happiness, of course, and we may hope to bring happiness to our families, yet Qur’an also suggests that on our Day of Judgement, our wives and children will not alleviate the consequences of our sins.

All these teachings infer a delicate and highly refined interweaving of management principles, such that no book of “pop psychology” could really do them justice. Yet the reality of modem life is that, in spite of the clear and complete advice contained within our major religions, vast numbers of people are simply unable to put that advice into practice.

Therefore, we may have recourse without shame to “zikir”, group psychotherapy, individual counseling, or any other means whose effect is to strengthen our capacity to follow religious guidance. Without that effect, we may be wasting our time with many secular therapists who practice or support promiscuous lifestyles, or counselors who ignore our ibadah as a factor in our personal happiness. After all, psychology and sociology from the West pride themselves on being “value free”. They think this is the equivalent of being “scientifically objective”. They disregard the Unseen.

We will conclude with this thought, that if we have been given rituals of worship by one of the prophets of God, and we fail to implement these rituals, together with our families, we may then create the fundamental emotion management problem. In Islam, we pray foot to foot in the lines behind the Imam. The meaning of this arrangement is that we leave no space for the Devil to insert himself.

It is sad how many Muslim families do not avail themselves of this fundamental Emotion Management for the family unit.

If we fail in our family or congregational prayers, we open a space for the Devil, in the form of problem emotions, to arise. And these problem emotions, even those that we enjoy, will ultimately consume too much of our time and attention, not to mention upsetting our family members.

Do we really need therapy for problems and emotions that arise from deficiencies in our ibadah? Wouldn’t it be much easier to pray our requisite prayers, fast our requisite fasts, and then take what problems remain to whoever we trust for advice and guidance?

At least we may designate these problems and emotions as “halal” problems, rather than “haram” problems! At least we are not then asking for help with emotions that have arisen from our own religious laziness. Therefore, our first principle of emotion management as Muslims must be to correct our ibadah, to remove our resistance to it. Resistance to our prayers is equivalent to resistance to the validity of the Revelation. We offer our prayers as taught by our Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. I

We offer those prayers because Allah s.w.t. has commanded us to do so. We believe in the divine origin of that command. And we believe that these prayers of ours are something absolutely precious and absolutely unique to our Ummah, something no one else has.

Emotional difficulties we may have after fulfilling our basic duties to Allah s.w.t may then be submitted to our family, our friends, or our counselors with a clear conscience that we have done our best on our own. After that, if we need help, there will be no shame in seeking that help, no shame at all. Hopefully an effective Islamic counseling profession will soon be developed to assist us with “future shock” and the other ills and temptations of modernity. And Allah knows best.

Artikel oleh Sulaiman Dufford, Milenia Muslim 2005.

“Mereka berkata: `Hai Musa, kami sekali sekali tidak akan memasuki nya selama-lamanya, selagi mereka ada didalamnya, karena itu pergilah kamu bersama Tuhanmu, dan berperanglah kamu berdua, sesungguhnya kami hanya duduk menanti disini saja”. (Al-Maidah:24)


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