How does Islam view human emotions?” I received this very short question from one of my readers, and I thought the answer could fill a whole book.
Let me share with you some insights and broad ideas on this important issue, and I encourage you to read more on each point, both online and from professional books and courses.
What are Humans Made of?
To be able to understand the value of emotions, we have to see them in context.
As Muslims, we believe that God –Allah- created the universe, and gave it laws so it would run with such amazing precision. Among His beautiful creations, He also created people and gave them many traits: emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical, because He entrusted them with sustaining and protecting life on this planet, so in order to help them with their mission, The Creator sent them messengers to teach them how to live their lives within the laws of His universe.
As God's final message to mankind, Islam is not just a worship program, but a comprehensive, intelligent and practical life system; because it respects all the different components of the human being equally, and regulates them to their full potential, rather than suppressing them (which hurts the individual), or setting them completely uncontrolled (which causes damage to the community and environment).
Emotions are given their place of importance in all Islamic teachings as a fundamental element of the human soul, so let's explore how a Muslim is expected to handle emotions, both his own and those of others:
Islam and Emotional Management:
Emotional interaction is inevitable. We experience emotions constantly in our daily lives in relation to events and people. But, to what extent should we allow ourselves to affect and get affected?
Islam teaches moderation in everything, aiming to create equilibrium so that one is always at peace with self, the universe, and God. It's advised to avoid extremes in negative or positive emotions, as any extremes are destructive if left uncontrolled: for example extreme happiness leads to indulgence in excesses to give a false sense of ‘celebration' (as in getting drunk or drugged), while extreme sadness leads to being destructive to self and others (as in committing suicide or causing pain to others). Here are some examples of emotional-related teachings in Islam:
1- Positive emotions :
Emotions such as love, hope, enthusiasm, determination…etc are strongly encouraged in the Quran and teachings of The Prophet, as they result in a positive attitude for the Muslim at home, in public, and in relation to the rest of the world including all other creations. The Prophet teaches that no one's faith is complete until they love for others what they love for themselves, which is a very positive state of mind. Love is recognized and respected as the noblest emotion; however, in a man-woman relationship, it's regulated to assure building long-term bonds, rather than just satisfying momentary urges.
2- Negative emotions :
Anger, depression, hate, envy…etc are strongly discouraged. A Muslim is advised to practice strict control over those destructive emotions, and to repent if they influenced deeds or attitudes towards others. To do so, one is expected to maintain strong ties with God, and to draw strength and support from Him at all times. If one believes there is an all-wise, all-knowing God running the universe and that everything happens for a good reason within a wise and just master plan, then there would be no reason for despair, envy or depression.
3- Emotional recycling
A Muslim is instructed to take the negative energy of destructive emotions and use it as steam to move forward in a positive direction, thus turning it into positive energy. The same applies to the energy of excess positive emotions: instead of becoming euphoric or hysterical, one should re-channel this energy to use it for something constructive, rather than let it go to waste.
4- Emotional Interaction:
No one could isolate themselves emotionally; consequently, Islam offers practical prescriptions for emotional interaction:
a) Among people:
We're instructed to control tongues and physical power when sad or angry. When we react emotionally it should be in a dignified and respectable way. The Prophet cried in sadness when he lost a son, yet refused to let people believe the sun eclipsed because of his sadness. We're not supposed to let emotions take control of our actions; instead, we should take control of our emotions. There is no excuse for causing hurt or destruction because one got “carried” away by emotions, for example killing while angry or raping while tempted. There are no softer penalties for these irresponsible actions in Islam, since destructive actions resulting from negative emotions can only create a vicious circle of more negativity and destruction, which disturbs the balance of God's peaceful universe.
b) Between people and other creatures:
We interact emotionally with other creatures in the universe as well, so we are expected to handle them with the same care and respect due to fellow humans.
Psychological cruelty is a concern in Islam, even to animals! The Prophet himself cared for a bird's emotional distress, when, during a trip, some of his companions in his absence saw a bird's nest and took the young away. When the Prophet came back, the mother bird was circling above in the air beating its wings in grief, so he said: 'Who has hurt the feelings of this bird by taking its young? Return them to her'. (Muslim)
5- Islam and Emotional Intelligence:
Emotional Intelligence features prominently in the Islamic code of conduct, where there isn't much emphasis on hereditary intelligence (IQ), but the focus is on emotional intelligence skills (EQ) which modern research had proved to be acquired skills which could be learnt and practiced by everyone, and that they're the true measure of success in practical life. For example: anger management, social intelligence and empathy . There are many sayings of The Prophet to encourage being alerted, prudent, compassionate and emotionally strong, and considering those qualities as a mark of a true Muslim.
So actually, the whole range of human emotions are recognized and respected under Islam. People are not denied being “human” and having their weak moments, they're allowed to experience all sorts of feelings, both good and bad, as long as they make a serious effort to regain their balance and composure and get back in control quickly.
In short, Islam provides an applicable system for being wise and strong humans, who are in control of their feelings, and not the other way around.
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