20 June, 2010

Emotions: Vital for Survival, Instrumental for a Believer

Most of the discussions in the modern intellectual world about being emotionally intelligent are purely from the material aspect. For Muslims the material aspect of benefit could be considered as a bonus. But our real fruits of being emotionally intelligent can be tasted in the akhira by His Will and Mercy

If parents' never felt mercy and love for their little ones, how would generations continue to be established on earth? If we never felt remorseful for committing a sin, how would we mend our ways, become better Muslims and thus better human beings?
Emotions are vital components in our lives at individual and social levels. Some emotions if left unchecked for a long time can lead to disastrous consequences in both the worlds. Every type of emotion should be according to the given circumstance. You don't laugh when your friend tells you that his/her mother is in I.C.U. Nor is it expected of you to become sad when she recovers.
Imagine the following scenarios and think about your instant reaction to each one of them:

1- Your friend borrows your favorite watch (like really really favorite one, and probably you can never find the same thing again) which your parents' gifted you on the day of Eid 10 years ago. He/she drops it by mistake and the watch is broken into pieces! Oops!!!

2- You and your friends plan to spend time with orphans in a nearby city. You want to take the orphans to a masjid, play Islamic nasheeds and games and give them pocket money, but your friends want to take them to an amusement park and since the entry fees is quite high you cant give them pocket money. You try to explain it to your friends but they want to take them to the amusement park.

3- You and your friend enter a shop and your friend forgot to take his/her wallet and urgently needs to buy mobile reload card and you really wanted to buy that delicious chocolate bar you have been dreaming of since that morning… will u give the money to your friend or will you get the chocolate?

One of the well-known psychologists in the recent field of psychology of emotions is Daniel Goleman who has authored books on emotional intelligence (EI). Paul Ekman is another psychologist in the field who has done great analysis on human facial muscles and their relation with emotions.
Daniel Goleman states that knowing about our own emotional world and the ability to spot others' emotions at play are very important to have a life with fewer troubles, worries and to be successful.
The 4 constructs of EI according to him are:
1.Self-awarenessthe ability to read one's emotions and recognize their impact while using gut feelings to guide decisions.
If we are not aware about our chain of thoughts and emotions then it is impossible to improve ourselves. Because the first step to improve or to get rid of any bad aspect of our character is to be aware of our draw backs.
Self awareness, Islamically speaking, must make a person feel more humble and help him to constantly turn in repentance and seek Allah's SWT help to be on constant guidance (because when one is aware about his self, he naturally becomes aware about his short comings).
Allah SWT swears by the soul that is constantly repentant. "I swear by the reproaching self" 75:2
There is room for improvement for someone who realizes inadequacy in his/her character.
– involves controlling one's emotions, impulses, and adapting to changing circumstances.

Being self-aware is the first step to manage our feelings and impulses. When we combine this awareness with the knowledge about Paradise and Hell we become more zealous to manage our emotions and impulses. Prophet (S.A.W.) has prescribed some medicine for managing some negative emotions i.e, anger (by saying "I seek refuge with Allah, from the evil shaytan, the outcast one and the other solutions are to change positions i.e., sit if you are standing, lie down if you are sitting or take ablution).
When we wake up in the middle of the night to pray (tahajjud), we are delaying gratification and going against our impulse. How? Because we don't want to leave our cozy bed and when we wake up to pray and delay the urge to sleep we have thus displayed an ability to go against our impulse.
"Verily, the rising by night (for Tahajjud prayer) is very hard and most potent and good for governing (the soul), and most suitable for (understanding) the Word (of Allah). {73:6}
Delaying gratification and to keep our impulses under control are abilities that are praiseworthy in both the secular and religious sense.
People who lack these often get into arguments for any trivial matter at hand. They are also more likely to cheat, betray and lie in order to fulfil their desires.
g Allah SWT is the best way to manage our emotions and impulses.
"O Believers,Fasting is decreed for you as it was decreed for those before you, so that you may attain piety." 2:183
We know from Prophet's (S.A.W.) hadith that if don't give up lying, backbiting and doing other immoral activities then our fasting becomes null. This shows us that one of the objectives of fasting is to help us to attain praise worthy character .Moreover, delay gratification (by keeping away from food, water and intimate relationship with spouses) and also to inculcate empathy (we can now feel to an extent how poor people without many blessings that we have, especially food and water, are living. This makes us more zealous to help them) and last but not the least we appreciate Allah's SWT uncountable blessings on us and thus feel content.
3.Social awarenessthe ability to sense, understand, and react to others' emotions while comprehending social networks.
Here comes the role of empathy. Many a times we are quick to get heated up because we don't pause for a moment to think. For instance, a person knocks you when you are walking down the road. If you do not empathise, you might react angrily. But if you empathise by thinking "maybe that person is rushing because of some emergency i.e., his/her relative met with an accident or he/she has to reach the class before the lecturer will lock the door because of being late etc." chances of you getting angry is minimal.
I find Surah Ma'un (The Small Kindnesses), is relating an aspect of empathy to belief in the concept of reward and punishment in the next life.
"Have you seen him who belies the rewards and punishments of the Hereafter? He it is who drives away the orphan and does not urge giving away the food of the poor. Then woe to the praying ones, who are careless of their Prayer, who do good to be seen, and withhold small kindnesses (from the people)."{1-7:107}
Check out this link for more details: http://www.englishtafsir.com/Quran/107/index.html
Here we learn that most of the people who do not believe in the afterlife are the ones who are less keen to be empathic.
4.Relationship management the ability to inspire, influence, and develop others while managing conflict.

"It is by God's grace that you deal gently with them, had you been harsh and hard-hearted they would surely have broken away from you. Therefore pardon them and pray for them to be forgiven and consult with them in the conduct of public affairs…"
When it comes to dealing with people who hold different views compared to ours and who are quite annoying we are quick to get into arguments and get steam coming out of our ears ( you know what I mean if you watch tom and jerry J ). Prophet (S.A.W.) had to deal with all kinds of people. Yet, showed empathy and self-control.
Let's see how our mother of believers', Umm Salamah (R.A.) displayed emotional intelligence to solve a matter which Prophet (S.A.W.) was upset about.

"…When the peace treaty was written down, Allah's Messenger (SAW) said to his companions: "Get up and slaughter your sacrifices and have your heads shaved." One of the Companions of Allah's Messenger (SAW) relates: 'By Allah none of them got up, and the Prophet (SAW) repeated his order thrice. When none of them got up, he left them, and went to Umm Salamah (RA) (the Prophet's wife), and told her of the people's attitude towards him. Umm Salamah RA said: 'O Prophet of Allah! Do you want your order to be carried out? Go out and don't say a word to anybody until you have slaughtered your sacrifice and call your barber to shave your head.' The Messenger of Allah (SAW) did as Umm Salamah suggested. Seeing the Messenger of Allah (SAW), the Companions got up, slaughtered their sacrifices and started shaving the heads of one another…"
Many a times, things that may seem trivial eventually cause great troubles in relationships. By employing EI we can stop a problem from snow balling.
The other competence we are told to have inorder to be successful is to be self-confident. I feel "self confidence" is not the correct term to be used. I rather say full trust and confidence in Allah SWT because we don't rely on our capabilities. We hope and trust Allah's SWT help in whatever task we have to undertake in life and thus we are optimistic in that sense.
Most of the discussions in the modern intellectual world about being emotionally intelligent are purely from the material aspect. For Muslims the material aspect of benefit could be considered as a bonus. But our real fruits of being emotionally intelligent can be tasted in the akhira by His Will and Mercy
I'm sure all of us fall short in some area of being emotionally intelligent. But hey! that's what life is about. Constant struggle to improve ourselves. So let's be self aware and try hard to correct our flaws one by one. We have to grab opportunities like Ramadan or the first 10 days of dhul hijjah to incorporate a particular good habit or emotional intelligence or to get rid of a bad habit or constant negative emotions like anger, jealousy, suspicion etc.
Daniel Goleman shows through his extensive research that emotional intelligence guarantees a happy life. And as Muslims we believe that it's going to benefit us both in this world and Akhira, inshAllah!

And Allah Knows Best!
P.S. go thru the 3 scenarios mentioned earlier and try to form reaction in your mind using your emotional intelligence. :)

Author: Amatul Wadood

The admin may or may not have the same views on the topic and would not like to be quoted on what has been said above. The admin, however, deems nothing wrong with changing opinions, hence, he does not wish to amend/remove posts that do not resonate with his current thinking. 
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  1. Well, Beautifully put sister!

    One thing I wanted to say was that : the way Daniel Coleman would have taken 'happiness' would be different from the 'complete' concept of happiness that we have. So, his assurance that an emotionally intelligent person would be 'happy' doesn't carry any real value. As for the alchemy of happiness, we better read Imam Ghazali rather than Daniel Coleman :)...

    JazakiLLAH for your elaboration on how beautiful the Islamic teachings are, and how Islam guides us towards rationality in emotional matters!

  2. Salam wrt wbrt!

    Wa iyyak for the encouraging words!!
    Point noted about happiness from the 2 different sides.

    Ok..inshAllah i'll read about the alchemy of happiness...(just got it downloaded)..

    I totally forgot to add the ahadith sources in the article "Emotions:Vital for Survival and Instrumental for a believer."

    1.Hadith about Umm Salamah's (R.A.) advice to the Prophet (SAW) is from Sahih Bukhari (Book #50, Hadith #891).

    2.Sahih Bukhari Book#31 Hadith #127...fasting and not giving up sins.

    3.Changing positions to ward off anger (Al-Tirmidhi Hadith 5114)

    4.Taking ablution to cool down (Sunan of Abu-Dawood Hadith 4766)

    Check out this link for more info on anger:

  3. Masha'Allah a very unique way of writing. BarakAllahu Feeka.

    Somebody said that everyone should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so that they can see that it's not the answer.
    Because the answer lies in our shelves, forlorn and forgotten, buried in tons of dust. I wish people take it down some day and read the EI art from it.

    U put the pieces very nicely together. It did serve as a BIG reminder for me..JazakAllahu Kheran Kaseera