Emotional Intelligence – the Sunnah Way

Today, we’ve crossed the limit. Selfishness is at an all-time high, and it doesn’t seem to be stopping any time soon. But in this vicious cycle of me, myself, and I, we ironically tend to lose sense of ourselves as well.

The more I read about the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, the deeper I fall in love with his exquisite character, his sensitivity, his ability to acknowledge his own and others’ emotions.

To me, the beauty of his personality lies in his transparency and honesty regarding his own feelings and of those around him. If he was happy, his Companions and his family members knew, and vice-versa. If he was upset about something, they could easily tell, and vice-versa.

Once, the Prophet told his wife Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) that he could tell when she was upset with him. When she was happy with him, she would say, by the Lord of Muhammad, and when she was upset, she would say, by the Lord of Ibrahim. To which she responded – yes, I do not leave out anything but the name. Even to note such subtle differences in one’s spouse’s mannerisms is a sign of sensitivity.

The only times he hid his feelings were when he was caring for others’ emotions. When a Companion brought some grapes that he soon discovered were sour, he ate all of them without passing them along to his other Companions, for fear that their expressions would give away the taste of the grapes and as a result hurt the man’s feelings. And though his heart would be grieving, his face would be adorned by a beautiful smile, by default. 

The Prophet’s every word was wrapped with kindness and tenderness. In the situations that required firmness, he demonstrated it, but with tact and wisdom. He was a human being, he wasn’t an angel. There were times he was also overcome with conflicting emotions and had a difficult time harnessing them. Would an angel think of killing himself in grief when he thought his Rabb (Lord) was angry with him?

But he would always regain composure after turning to His Rabb.

According to Psychology Today, “Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others. It is generally said to include three skills: Emotional awareness; the ability to harness emotions and apply them to tasks like thinking and problem solving, and the ability to manage emotions, which includes regulating your own emotions and cheering up or calming down other people.”

Emotions aren’t meant to rule over you – we have to learn the best way to manage them. But at the same time, emotions are not meant to be ignored. Studying the Prophet’s behavior and his relationships with other people is undoubtedly the best way for all Muslims to live a life of harmony and minimal drama.

When we hear the word “drama”, often the first relationship we think of is that of a husband and wife. But why is there usually incessant conflict? The number one reason is lack of emotional intelligence on one or both sides, and it’s often a wider gap of understanding due to the simple fact that two opposite genders coming from two different families have to suddenly learn how to deal with seemingly foreign emotions.

How did the Prophet, a man, deal with the emotions of his wives? His wives were certainly patient women and exemplary role models for us all, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have normal feelings. For example, we have evidence that Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) showed her jealousy, impatience, fear of losing his love, and many other kinds of feelings that might not be easily understood by men. But due to the wisdom and intelligence that his Rabb gifted him with, the Messenger of God always responded in a sensible way. His tone was always gentle, his words chosen carefully, his body language conducive to a calm response.

Once, the Prophet was relaxing with Aisha  and speaking with her, when suddenly he needed to get up and pray, so he turned to his wife and asked, “Will you give me permission to speak to my Rabb?” Logically speaking, does the Prophet need permission to pray? Of course not. But why did he ask his wife? He asked her out of love and respect, not sarcasm. He knew she would say yes, but he wanted to ask her because it was her rightful time that she was spending with him. Just imagine how honored she must have felt! Subhan Allah.

As a parent, and later even after the death of his beloved wife Khadijah, may Allah be pleased with her, the Prophet was sure to remain involved in his children’s lives both as a guide and as a comfort. When his daughter Fatima (may Allah be pleased with her) would enter the room, he would stand up out of love and respect for her. He also respected and loved his son in law Ali (may Allah be pleased with him), but he expressed that love differently. He knew that as a woman, Fatima was more sensitive, so he made sure to go out of his way to care for her feelings.

A narcissistic personality can never be emotionally intelligent, as empathy is key. As demonstrated by our Prophet, in order to be a good person, you should want for others what you want for yourself. To put yourself in the other person’s shoes and make your best effort to feel what they’re feeling is not going over the top; it’s not “extra credit” so to speak – it’s a Muslim’s duty! Yet how depressing it is that we fail to empathize even with the ones we claim to love the most.

We must feel each other’s pain. If you aren’t concerned when your wife bends down to pick up your child and winces due to her back pain, then there’s a problem. If you aren’t pained by the creases on your husband’s forehead as he struggles to pay the bills and provide for you and your kids, then there’s a problem. If your eyes don’t moisten at your sister’s ongoing, painful struggle to conceive, then there’s a problem.

If being an emotionally intelligent person was impossible, why would Allah choose for His Messenger to display such behavior, when the primary reason for his existence is to be a guide and mercy for all of mankind? The fact that the Prophet was able to empathize and show kindness in the direst of situations, tells us that we are capable as well. Allah made him a human, with the rawest of emotions, in some of the most troubling situations we could ever imagine, yet he never compromised on his principles of compassion, sincerity, and benevolence.

The person we send prayers and blessings (Salawat) upon in every prayer, the one whom we must follow and love and respect as a prerequisite for even getting a chance to gain Allah’s love – if he never felt the need to be cunning, elusive, make a grand show of his importance, or become rigid as stone, then who are we to look down upon others and dismiss their feelings?

Humility. It’s what this whole process should help us gain. As intelligent as we may seem, true knowledge lies only with Allah. We must internalize this fact. If helping others simply causes us to develop pride and arrogance, then our intentions aren’t sincere. Keep reassessing your motivations, remind yourself that if you are able to understand and do good for someone, then it is by Allah’s favor upon you, for He could’ve chosen someone else, but He chose you.

Emotional intelligence in the worldly sense ends with this – with acknowledging your and others’ emotions and acting wisely. But Allah gave us the tools to cope. We have the Quran, the best source of guidance and healing. We have the Sunnah, the stories of the Prophet to gain inspiration and strength. For every stress and hardship, there’s Dua. When the Prophet would come across a difficult situation, He immediately turned to his Lord in prayer. When the Prophet needed direction, Allah sent him guidance through Wahy (revelation). This is a Muslim’s intelligent response to his/her own overwhelming feelings. We cannot let go of the Quran.

May Allah tie our hearts to His Words and the Sunnah of His Prophet, and help us all become emotionally intelligent beings.

#EmpathizeliketheProphet

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