Think Before You Act: The Virtues of Empathy & Emotions

The ability to feel emotions and being vulnerable with oneself is an attribute many of us are not skilled in. More so, there are people who have no regard for other’s feelings, making decisions that could negatively impact someone else’ emotions and mental health. The Prophet Muhammad (saw) exemplified the best version of a caring and sensitive heart because he made sure to always take others’ feelings into consideration before making decisions.

“The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: ‘I start prayer and I want to make it long, but then I hear an infant crying, so I make my prayer short, because I know the distress caused to the mother by his crying.’”

-Ibn Majah

Empathy is defined as “the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their point of view, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.” Some of us are more empathetic than others because we have dealt with more diverse hardships, while there are some that have minimal empathy and do not realize how severely even their simple actions can affect others; sometimes, it is about the principle of the action, not the action itself. Sympathy is different because it means to acknowledge and show you care about someone’s pain, not actually understanding or feeling their pain. A large portion of our Ummah has a lack of emotional intelligence, which equates to “the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.”

“The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When one of the limbs suffers, the whole body responds to it with wakefulness and fever.”

-Sahih al-Bukhari

Treat people how you would want to be treated. A common example is if someone desperately needed help financially and asked you for help; do not turn a blind eye and look away – Allah (swt) can easily put you in the same difficult position they are in. If you cannot help them with the finances, you could show you care by listening to them explain their struggles, tell them everything will settle in due time by the will of Allah (swt), ask others in the community if they can help, and make immense duah for them. Another instance is if your spouse tells you they feel uncomfortable with you going somewhere or doing something. Before immaturely lashing out and saying, “You can’t tell me where to go and what to do,” you should sit down and think about how you would feel if you were in your spouse’s shoes and how the Prophet Muhammad (saw) would have emulated his qualities in a similar situation. If you still do not understand where they are coming from, an effective conversation with one another must occur to attempt to communicate and comprehend one another’s emotions.

“When one of you is angry, he should remain silent.”

Musnad: Imam Ahmed

The Prophet Muhammad (saw) always tried to protect people’s emotions from being disheartened, even if it meant suppressing his own feelings at times. Once, a poor man gave the Prophet (saw) grapes as a gift with a bright and gleaming face, showing his intense love for the Prophet (saw). After he graciously thanked the poor man for the grapes, he started eating them one by one, without offering them to any of the Companions by his side. The Companions were confused because it was not the nature of the Prophet (saw) to not to share. The poor man was beaming with joy as he saw the Prophet (saw) eat the grapes happily and then he left with a warm heart. The Companions then asked the Prophet (saw) why he did not share the grapes, and the Prophet (saw) said that the grapes were sour, and if he had shared them, they may have made it obvious they were distasteful. The Prophet (saw) wanted to keep the poor man happy and prevent his feelings from getting hurt, especially after he graciously offered him the gift. Such was the character of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw), always considering other people’s emotions his own.

“Who has hurt the feelings of this bird by taking its youngsters? Return them to her.”

-Imam Muslim

Shaykh Abdul Nasir Jangda narrated a beautiful story of when the Prophet (saw) was going through intense physical and emotional hardships from suffering major injuries in battle to grieving recent family losses. These intense issues in his life were difficult to overcome, and he needed time to heal, but he still showed beautiful empathy to the Ummah around him. Jabir ibn Abdullah (ra), a notable Sahabah, was left devastated and heartbroken after his beloved father died as a shaheed in the Battle of Uhud. This resulted in him having to essentially become a father to his 7 younger sisters and the primary owner of his family overnight, whilst still deeply grieving the loss of his father that he was incredibly close to. The Prophet Muhammad (saw) had awareness and empathy to see, hear, and sense someone else’s pain in a way others could not, so despite the fact that he was dealing with his own major problems, he reached out and consoled Jabir (ra), and told him that the angels were protecting his fathers body with their wings in the grave, so that the sunlight does not bother him.

At another instance, the Prophet Muhammad (saw) was gifted a robe and the Sahabah and Jabir were complimenting it and saying it was nice, but the Prophet (saw) told Jabir that the garments and clothes that his father got in paradise were nicer. The Prophet (saw) was always trying to financially provide for Jabir (ra), but he was too humble to accept it. Jabir (ra) had a camel that the Prophet (saw) liked, so he wanted to buy it. Jabir (ra) repeatedly said he will give it to him as a gift, but the Prophet (saw) insisted on buying it. Jabir (ra) said 1 dirham was enough, but the Prophet (saw) bought the camel for 400 dirhams, a completely overpriced amount at the time because he wanted to help Jabir (ra) overcome his debts. After paying for the camel, the Prophet (saw)  returned the camel back to him for free and stated that his intention was never to buy the camel, but to help Jabir (ra) financially. All of this occurred while the Prophet Muhammad (saw) was going through intense struggles of his own, yet he still had the heart to take care of others because he could feel their pain.

“A Muslim is the one who avoids harming Muslims with his tongue and hands. And a Muhajir (emigrant) is the one who gives up (abandons) all what Allah has forbidden.” –Sahih al-Bukhari

The extraordinary ones are those that do not lose their empathy after the intense hardships they go through in life; the hardships should result in softer hearts as time goes by. We should take control of our emotions, and not let our emotions control our actions. Empathy for oneself is also something we need to focus on. What is the ROOT cause of our sadness? Why is something so small bothering us so much? Is there a deeper meaning behind it? Or are we not looking at the bigger picture? Journaling and understanding why we are the way we are is a step we all need to take. Understanding your own emotions and showing empathy for others will establish stronger bonds in relationships, and create a stronger sense of imaan and connection to Allah (swt). Be rational in your decisions, but also protect the feelings and well-being of others.

“Have mercy on those on the earth, and the One in heaven will have mercy on you.” 

At-Tirmidhi

Name-calling, bullying, insulting, are all terrible actions we have been impacted by or done to others. These are not exemplary of a good Muslim, nor is it the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (saw). Even if we claim that it was just a “joke”, it could have deeply hurt the other person without our knowledge. We have all been deeply hurt by someone, whether it be from our loved ones, or a complete stranger. The afterthought of, “How could they have done that to me? I can’t ever imagine doing something like that to them,” lurks in our heads. Maybe there were times where we hurt someone and realized our wrongs after as well. Everyone makes mistakes, but those mistakes should not be repeated ever again. Lessons need to be learned and genuine apologies need to be given, but they do not fix the core problem until true changes are made. If you were ever the target of an unsympathetic or arrogant person, and they hurt you, then forgive them and move on. It will clear your heart of any grudges you have and you would want Allah (swt) to forgive you for all the times you disobeyed and hurt Him intentionally or unintentionally too.

May Allah (swt) soften our hearts, adorn us with gentleness, accept our repentance, grant us sabr, remove any characteristics of ours that is not beloved to Him, and guide us to follow the sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (saw).

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