How the Quran tackles bullying
November 25, 2020
The psychological impact of bullying
The Prophet (peace be on him) had been mocked, intimidated and humiliated over 13 years in Makkah. He was called a sorcerer, poet and liar, as recorded in the Quran and the seerah, though he had always been known to be truthful and trustworthy – al Sadiq al Amin. When he received the revelation, overnight he became an outsider. The attacks on him were relentless and the did affect him. Allah Almighty said:
We know that you, [O Muhammad], are saddened by what they say. And indeed, they do not call you untruthful, but it is the verses of Allah that the wrongdoers reject. (6:33)
This ayah may appear simple, but it is very deep. In it we see the effects of bullying on human psychology. The Prophet (peace be on him) who was a victim of bullying, was human after all. He had feelings. In fact he was very sensitive and had a high level of emotional intelligence. It was his ability to be aware of and gauge people’s emotions that made him able to connect with them at a deep level.
Don’t blame yourself
In this ayah Allah Almighty reassures him that it was not him they were rejecting, but Allah’s verses. There is a subtle difference between the two, but a huge psychological difference because Allah Almighty was telling him not to take the rejection personally. Instead, he was being told to detach himself the abuse. His attackers had an issue with the message he was bringing, not himself.
Indeed, one of the fiercest critics of Islam Abu Jahl said to the Prophet (peace be on him) ‘We are not calling you a liar. But what you are saying is lies.’ The Quran was therefore reassuring the Prophet (peace be on him) not to take their criticisms to heart, because they were a reaction to the message they did not want to hear.
The ayah is consolatory, which is muwasaat or ta’zeeya in Arabic. Allah Almighty was providing emotional and spiritual support and giving recognition to his emotions and the psychological impact of being constantly attacked.
Bullying can occur anywhere
Recently in the news there has been much comment about the Cabinet Office inquiry which reported that the home secretary Priti Patel had bullied civil servants. Allan Rutman, the former Home Office Permanent Secretary said Patel’s behaviour met the civil service definition of bullying as “intimidating or insulting behaviour that makes an individual feel uncomfortable, frightened, less respected or put down”. The inquiry concluded that she had broken the ministerial code of conduct, which sets out the standards expected of ministers in office.
The existence of the code, (though devalued by the fact that the Prime Minister chose to ignore the findings), reflect the fact that bullying and harassment are unacceptable in any environment.
Bullying can be physical, verbal, or relational, in-person or online. Bullies are often relentless, and their victims become intimidated and fearful of when they will strike next and how far they will go. It can take the form of taunting and exclusion.
It can take place within the school environment, or at work, or even within the home between family members, as well as online as cyberbullying and on social media.
Bullying is toxic
Bullying causes anxiety, distress and stress, it gives people nightmares, and can lead to depression and mental illness. Bullying is a behaviour that is repeated over time with the intention of causing physical or emotional hurt by an individual or a group.
How did the Quran address the issue of the Prophet (peace be on him) being bullied?
First, Allah Almighty acknowledged that the Prophet (peace be on him) was feeling sad. Allah Almighty did not say, ‘Stand up and be a man!’ He was already the best man Allah Almighty had created. Allah Almighty identified his pain, and recognised the negative impact of being bullied. Knowing that someone understands what you are going through provides emotional support.
Feelings are natural but society brushes them under the carpet
Our community has a tendency to ignore feelings. On the whole, the Arab and Asian Muslim community do not give much importance to emotions. Particularly men’s emotions. There is an attitude that men mustn’t cry, and that crying is for women and the weak. There is a tendency to brush aside and repress emotions.
Men have feelings too
Who said a man can’t cry? Men have feelings. We often prevent boys from crying and tell them to toughen up or think that crying is a feminine trait. People say, ‘Don’t cry like a girl’. Crying is not just for girls. It is for humans. The Prophet (peace be on him) cried when his son died. His companions were surprised by this and asked him, ‘Even you Rasul Allah?’ To which he replied that his tears were out of the mercy that Allah has put in human hearts.
The impact of being harassed or emotionally abused is real, not imaginary. It creates physical stress in the body, including on the blood pressure, memory and self esteem. Longer term it can lead to an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. And it can also cause depression.
Bottling up emotions is not healthy
Pent-up emotion, unless it is articulated and released, will most likely burst out at another time in a disproportionate and unwarranted reaction .
Negative feelings which have been stored up unacknowledged can resurface as feelings of deep sadness and remorse, or aggression. The person may not even realise what is causing them, but those unresolved feelings and issues will keep emerging.
Find the cause
When you have a negative emotion, it is important to get to the root of the problem and what is causing it. Allah Almighty here identifies the root of the problem. It is as if He is saying, ‘Tell me about it. When did it start? What happened?’ Unless you know this you won’t be able to resolve the issue.
Allah Almighty is aware that the hurt is being caused because the Prophet (peace be on him) is being rejected, but He clarifies that the Quraysh are not actually doubting his veracity. They know full well he is truthful. However by their rejection of the revelation, indirectly they are saying he is lying.
Everyone in Makkah respected the Prophet (peace be on him) before he brought the revelation. They admired his character, he had a good marriage, business, and social standing. When they refused his message, the problem was with them. They were the one who were denying the signs of Allah Almighty.
Anyone being unfairly accused of something needs reassurance that they are not the one in the wrong. Here Allah is reassuring his Messenger (peace be on him) that he is not lacking in any way, but those who oppose him who are misguided. They want to break him down and hurt him.
Allah is teaching the Prophet (peace be on him) to fortify himself against the bullies. Not to feel trapped by them. He had an important mission and message to deliver. So Allah Almighty places confidence in him and shows him the overall picture – he is Allah’s Messenger and he has been sent the truth:
Say, “Allah is witness between me and you. And this Qur’an was revealed to me that I may warn you thereby and whomever it reaches. (6:19)
Don’t give false hope
Allah Almighty does not give the Prophet (peace be on him) false hope that the situation will get better overnight. If someone tells you that they will sort out your problem and then they don’t it, it causes double the pain. Instead, Allah Almighty is telling the Prophet (peace be on him) to be aware of the fact that his situation is not about to improve. The Quraysh were not going to back off.
Knowing others who have been in the same boat
And certainly were messengers denied before you, but they were patient over [the effects of] denial, and they were harmed until Our victory came to them. And none can alter the words of Allah. And there has certainly come to you some information about the [previous] messengers. (6:34)
Next Allah Almighty provides perspective on the issue. It is not unique. Many messengers who came before experienced the same insults, humiliation and rejection. Allah Almighty shows their coping mechanism, patience and strength. Though Allah Almighty would ultimately make the Prophet (peace be on him) victorious, it would not be soon. Until then, the situation would get worse before it got better. He would have to endure with patience until then.
When you are telling someone to do something, knowing that it has been done by others makes it easier for them psychologically, than being the first to attempt it. Just as climbing a mountain is easier if you know many others have climbed it before, than being the first to climb it. You don’t know if it can be done and whether it is manageable, so you are more intimidated and uncertain of success.
Allah Almighty took the Prophet (peace be on him) through several steps before advising him to be patient. It was not His first response to say, ‘be patient’.
Patience alone is not enough, that is why Allah combined it with reassurance, analysing the issue and boosting his morale by telling him that many prophets before him, who were the best people, chosen by Allah Himself, had experienced this and not given up. They were patient until Allah gave them victory. He told him, this situation would continue, not stop, so he would have to be strong to face this reality, but the fruits of his patience come later and he would eventually be victorious.
Callers for reform have always faced challenges
The pattern since time began is that whenever you have callers to the divine message, and who agitate for reform and goodness, they face the same fate – opposition, persecution and rejection. Evil people will always fight them so they have to be prepared for such battles. This is the system. Whenever you have good, there is evil ready to attack.
Don’t be naïve that because you are good everyone will accept you. People will be disturbed by your goodness, because it will show their ugliness and many corrupt people will fight reforms. It is a preparation for all righteous people fighting for human rights and dignity that they will face opposition.
Are you a bully without realising it?
It might not be deliberate, but you yourself might be causing someone pain without realising it. You may have no idea you are doing this to them, but your style or approach or way of doing things or speaking to others or how you analyse issues might be causing them to feel hurt without you knowing.
Don’t think you are 100% right in everything you think and say and do. You might be very wrong at times, but your lenses are fogged up beneath layers of ego, whims, desires and pride which prevent you from seeing the truth as it is.
Sometimes you can’t see the ugliness of what you are doing, unless these layers obscuring your vision are removed.
What should you do? Keep asking Allah to show you the reality as it is. And to rid you of bad traits and rectify any damage you have done and wrongdoing you have committed.
Parents sometimes bully their children when they are young and later, when they are older, use emotional blackmail.
They don’t realise what they are doing is wrong. They don’t always realise the pain they are causing or the psychological impact of their behaviour. Therefore, it is good to broach the subject with them, and have a conversation to explain the pain they are causing. It could open their eyes and help them gain insight into themselves.
Even if parents are bullying, always treat them nicely and kindly. Point out gently that what they are doing is not right.
You can articulate to them that their words, attitude, behaviour or tone are hurtful. Often parents don’t have an ill intention towards their child, but if being on their receiving end is painful, they should be made aware of this. Say, ‘I love you but I felt hurt when you said this.’
One of the ways of getting through the pain of past abuse is to mention the pain to the person who caused the pain. Not in a destructive way to break the relationship, but to enable healing to begin.
Not recognising bullying
Many people don’t realise that they are bullying others because they assume bullying is what happens in a school playground. However, bullying can take the form of control and coercion.
There was a couple I met where the wife complained about her husband. However the reality was that she was the bully. She was not aware of this. But the husband sought help from a psychologist and their marriage ended in divorce.
Parenting future generations
Bullying is also at the root of domestic violence. These patterns of behaviour are often entrenched within families.
Most people with that upbringing should seek some form of counselling before they get married so they do not pass that parenting pattern onto their children.
Bullying is a form of abuse which is trans-generational. Rather than seeing it as something dark, it can be present in most families, and is part of the human condition, so we need to be proactive about rooting it out.
We need to learn parenting just as we learn how to pray. We need to learn how to be good parents. It does not come genetically.
We should have programmes for those who want to get married to improve their communication with their spouse and children to avoid this for future generations. However we can’t do this in reverse to those have already experienced it, and those who have been adversely affected by it can seek professional help.
The Quranic approach
In summary the Quranic way of dealing with bullying is:
Check the root of the problem.
Don’t give false hope.
Teach coping mechanisms.
See the overall picture.
Do not allow others to obstruct you from your aim.
Don’t let your emotions control you
Know that the path of the prophets and their followers is full of challenges and obstacles, so be prepared.
Victory will come when the conditions are right.
Strengthen your trust in Allah and His wisdom.
May Allah enable us to have clarity and wisdom to see reality as it is and to tackle our issues with patience and strength.
Delivered by Shaykh Hatham Tamim on 25th November at the Wednesday Tafseer Class. If you’d like to join the class please message firstname.lastname@example.org
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