This statement, given in this context, is rich in meaning. First, by limiting his counsel to this one short instruction, the Prophet (peace be upon us) indicates the importance of controlling one’s anger, and that doing so has far-reaching implications for a person’s welfare both in the worldly life and in the Hereafter.
Ibn Hajar, in his commentary on this hadith, observes:
The man stated his question repeatedly, hoping to solicit an answer that was more beneficial, or more explanatory, or more general; however he did not give him anything more than that.” [ Fath al-Bârî ]
Secondly, the categorical nature of this brief statement gives the prohibition sweeping implications – since it can be understood to indicate many things, for instance, that we should prevent ourselves from getting angry in the first place, and that we should forbid ourselves from acting according to the dictates of our anger in the event that we become angry.
The emotion of anger
Anger is a very powerful emotion. It rages through a person, creating a desire for revenge and for striking out at the object of anger. Anger is an emotion that inspires action, and the action that it inspires is one of injury. The emotion of anger invokes within a person the very antithesis of mercy, compassion, self-restraint, and kindness.
This is what makes the emotion so dangerous. If left unchecked and uncontrolled, it is the emotion that can lead a person to the evilest of deeds and to the worst and most tragic consequences.
Prevention of anger
The statement “Do not get angry”, taken on its face value, is commanding us not to experience the emotion of anger at all. We know that this cannot be the intended meaning in an absolute sense, since it is an impossible instruction to uphold. Anger is a natural, human emotion. It is impossible for a person to avoid it absolutely.
Though this hadith may not be prohibiting us from ever experiencing the emotion of anger, it is, at the very least, advising us strongly to avoid that emotion as much as possible. And, indeed, there are measures that a person can take to limit his chances of getting angry. First, he can condition himself to remain cool-tempered. When a person’s temper is under control, he is less likely to become angry when an occasion for anger arises, and more likely to control himself when he, in spite of himself, does become angry.
Another way that a person can limit his chances of getting angry is for him to know what causes anger and remove those causes from his life.
Among the chief causes of anger are pride and arrogance, since a prideful person is most easily offended and the most painfully stung by criticism. Another cause of anger is being argumentative. The more a person disputes with others, the less likely he is to accept the truth. His views become increasingly polarized and emotionally charged. A Muslim is, therefore, encouraged to avoid these negative character traits. In doing so, he will be less likely to get angry.
Self-restraint in anger
The statement “Do not get angry” can be understood in another way. Instead of commanding us not to experience the emotion of anger in our hearts, it is telling us not to act upon that emotion when we are beset by it. There is no doubt that this hadith is commanding us to, at the very least, exercise self-restraint when we feel angry. This much is obligatory upon us.
This meaning is clearly conveyed to us by many texts, some of which praise those who control themselves in anger. This implies that feeling anger is not always sinful or blameworthy in and of itself. Indeed, when a person conducts himself properly in anger, he is in fact doing something worthy of praise.
Allah describes the God-fearing as those who restrain themselves in anger. He says: “And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden whose width is that of the heavens and the Earth, prepared for the God-fearing. Who spend in times of ease and times of hardship and who restrain their anger and who pardon people. And Allah loves those who do good.” [ Sûrah `Âl `Imrân : 133-134]
He also says: “And what is with Allah is better and more enduring for those who believe and who rely upon their Lord. And those who avoid the major sins and indecencies, and when they become angry, they forgive.” [ Sûrah al-Shûrâ : 36-37]
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The strong man is not the one who can throw another down. The strong man is the one who can keep hold of himself when he is angry.” [ Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim ]
We should seek refuge with Allah when we become angry. Two men began hurling insults at one another in the presence of the Prophet (peace be upon him), each one insulting the other with such anger that his face had turned red. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “I know a word that if one were to say it, what stresses him would go away. If he would but say: ‘I seek refuge with Allah from Satan the Accursed’.” [ Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim ]
The Prophet (peace be upon him) advised us not to speak when we are angry. He said: “If one of you gets angry, he should be quiet.” [ Musnad Ahmad ]
The Prophet (peace be upon him) gave us other practical advice. He said: “If one of you gets angry and he is standing, then he should sit down until his anger subsides. If it does not, then he should lie down.” [ Sunan Abî Dâwûd ]
He also said: “Anger is from Satan, and Satan was created from fire. Fire is but extinguished by water, so if one of you gets angry, he should perform wudû’.” [ Sûnan Abî Dâwûd and Musnad Ahmad ]
We need to mention that not all anger is sinful. Anger that inspires a person to avenge his own personal feelings is indeed blameworthy. However, anger can also be felt for the sake of Allah and for His religion. This is the anger that a Muslim should feel when his religion is attacked, his beliefs blasphemed, and the honor and lives of the people are transgressed against.
However, this anger, if it is truly and sincerely for Allah’s sake, will only inspire us to noble deeds and to personal sacrifice, and never to base, unjust, or ignoble actions.
The Companions relate that the Prophet (peace be upon him) would never became angry for anything. However, if the sanctity of Allah was profaned, then nothing could assuage his anger.” [ Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim ]
The Prophet (peace be upon him) never acted angrily for personal reasons. He never once so much as raised his voice to his servants or his family. Anas relates that he worked as the Prophet’s servant for ten years, and not once did the Prophet (peace be upon him) so much as say “ uff ” to him, or ask him when he did something “Why did you do that?” or ask him when he neglected something: “Why didn’t you do that?” [ Sahîh al-Bukhârî and Sahîh Muslim ]
The Companions relate: “The Prophet (peace be upon him) exhibited more shyness than a maiden in seclusion. If he saw something that he disliked, we would see it in his face.” [ Sahîh al-Bukhârî ]