Two days ago, I attended a live class on ‘The Emotional and Moral Intelligence of the Prophet ﷺ, conducted by Mikaeel Ahmed Smith who is the author of the book ‘With the Heart in Mind’, a deeply insightful read. The topic of emotional intelligence is relatively nascent within the field of our religion (and as Shaykh Mikaeel pointed out, is what’s missing in our transmission of our faith through generations), and even if there was, it was not a subject which was widely explored. I’ve been recommending all my friends and readers to buy this book because it’s such an important read! (You can get it from Wardah Books or Qalam Insitute website itself). Most of what he had laid out could be found in the book itself, but he teased out the gist of it and squeezed these reminders within an hour’s session, which I wanted to share on here. May these scribbled notes be of benefit to you readers in one way or another.
Why do we study emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is essentially the key to connecting with other people. And only when we have established this connection with other people, do we then hold the power to influence change.
But why do we need to study it from a prophetic perspective?
The prophets of Allah SWT had been gifted with the highest EQ because they were given the heavy responsibility of conveying the message of Islam to humanity. If one has an extremely important message to share with the world, one cannot simply share it without knowing how to interact with their people and ensure that the message has been received accordingly.
The messengers of Allah were given takleef (a responsibility to fulfil before Allah SWT). Therefore, all of our prophets had to understand their people’s emotional and cognitive barriers to receptivity. Only those who are emotionally intelligent can detect whether a person is ready to receive a message or otherwise.
When we work towards building a higher EQ, we will then be able to build a higher emotional connection with the people around us. By doing so, we are actually improving ourselves and others along the way as we would be more aware if our words or actions have been abusing or neglecting the emotions of the ones around us, especially with our family. Hence, being emotionally intelligent is a sunnah we should strive to follow. Let’s make the intention to learn more about Rasulullah ﷺ to increase our ability to deal and connect with various people around us.
There are two types of emotional intelligence:
- Intrapersonal (The awareness and understanding of your own self)
- Interpersonal (The awareness and understanding of the emotional states of people around you)
The aim of learning this knowledge is to able to improve ourselves and assist others to become better.
As the saying goes, “He who knows himself, knows his Lord“. So knowing ourselves and our inner workings is paramount in our journey towards Allah.
Foremost, we need to examine our intrapersonal awareness, or self-awareness, because only through our own awareness of our own emotional state are we then able to manage our emotions, given any situation. Being highly self-aware will lead to a healthy management of our emotions. If we are not even able to recognise the emotional state that is happening within us in the first place, how are we going to manage our emotions accordingly?
Between the Stimulus and Our Response
Before revelation came, our Prophet ﷺ loved solitude and reflection. He would dedicate pockets of time to reflect and listen to his inner thoughts. This is a component which is largely missing in our lives today. We never really get the time to reflect, making it harder to recalibrate and purify the state of our heart. If we have a strong intrapersonal intelligence, we can better regulate our response. Between the stimulus and our response, we have the ability to choose. We can decide to respond appropriately instead of having a knee-jerk reaction and end up responding harshly to the stimulus. Hence, for a person with good intrapersonal awareness, the time between the stimulus and response is vast for a conscious decision-making:
stimulus —————————–choose response————————————–> response
For a person with low intrapersonal awareness, the time between the stimulus and response is short as the person lacks the ability to choose a response; he/she simply reacts automatically without thinking, which almost always follows a feeling of regret for reacting as such.
stimulus —–-act harshly——–> response
This gets better when we work on our intrapersonal awareness and consciously try to choose a better response in any situation. For example, instead of getting mad and cursing and shouting at a person who accidentally bumped into you, we respond by brushing it off and being calm.
Our Prophet ﷺ was blessed with an incredibly high level of EQ. He was comfortable in showing emotions, and this is unprecedented in his society at that point of time. The people back then had a false understanding of what it means to be emotionally strong and were emotionally disconnected, clueless in expressing their emotions. Masculinity to them was perceived as being strong, harsh, painfully stoic. Our Prophet ﷺ was deconstructing the definition of true masculinity when it comes to emotions. He was overtly affectionate; he would cry, play with children, kiss them, give hugs, and more.
Here are some tips to increase our intrapersonal awareness:
- Increase time in solitude and reflection. When we are alone, we are able to listen to our inner voice. Listen to our thoughts and we’ll be able to take the time to understand ourselves better.
- Put away our smartphones. Go for a walk instead. Befriend our boredom. Since the dawn of smartphones, people have been able to constantly ‘escape’ boredom. Back then, people would fill up the boredom on their own with their thoughts, their creative pursuits. So put the gadgets away and take some time to be technology-free and recalibrate.
‘Amr ibn Al-‘As reported: I said, “Which person is most beloved to you?” The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Aisha.” I said, “I mean among men.” The Prophet said, “Her father.” I said, “Then who?” The Prophet said, “Umar ibn al-Khattab,” and he mentioned some other men. (Sahih Bukhari)
The hadith above was a testament to how emotionally connected our Prophet ﷺ was with everyone he met. ‘Amr ibn Al-‘As ended up regretting asking our Prophet the question because he had anticipated for him to answer “You, ‘Amr”, because that was how special ‘Amr felt in his company! Which is quite cute to be honest.
He had this incredibly amazing ability to make everyone feel like they are the most special person in his eyes. He had a way of making everyone around him feel valued and listened to. And he achieved this through empathy and emotional connection. It is therefore prophetic to emotionally connect to people, to feel hurt when others feel hurt, to feel pain when others feel pain. They key to connection is emotional investment. To be emotionally invested is to have our heart constantly present with the person we are engaging with. Now of course we need to know how to draw boundaries and not to over exhaust ourselves in investing emotionally, but a healthy amount of emotional investment is encouraged. This is why it is considered poor etiquette to be on your mobile phone while talking to someone. It conveys the message that you are not interested to be fully present in the moment that is shared between you and the person you are supposed to be engaged with. Presence communicates to you that you matter.
A key factor in emotional investment is listening. Listening closely with intent. The art of listening is a skill we need to master. In order to hear someone’s emotion, we have to listen closely, for emotions go beyond language. We have a responsibility to listen to pain, even when people cannot communicate it. Emotions are communicated through body language, tone, expression, these extralinguistic aspects. We have to learn how to speak and understand the language of pain, joy, sorrow, anxiety. When we learn to speak other people’s language, then we can connect, soothe, comfort and bring joy to the people around us. If we do not understand the emotions of our daughter, our son, our spouse, our loved ones… then we will never be able to connect with them.
Have Empathy for Everyone & Everything
What’s amazing about our Prophet ﷺ is that he did not only feel the pain of people – his empathy and emotional connection extends to other living things, like the crying date palm tree! This is just another level of emotional connection. We can emulate this example by treating living things right, keeping in mind that even if we can’t see it, they too have emotions.
Jabir (May Allah be pleased with him) said:There was a trunk of a date-palm tree upon which the Prophet (ﷺ) used to recline while delivering Khutbah (sermon). When a pulpit was placed in the mosque, we heard the trunk crying out like a pregnant she-camel. the Prophet (ﷺ) came down from the pulpit and put his hand on the trunk and it became quiet.
Learn from our Prophet ﷺ to hone our ability to hear the emotions of the people around us, even when the individual does not speak it. Like how he could tell whether his wife was angry or otherwise.
That Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) said to her, “I know when you are pleased with me or angry with me.” I said, “Whence do you know that?” He said, “When you are pleased with me, you say, ‘No, by the Lord of Muhammad,’ but when you are angry with me, then you say, ‘No, by the Lord of Abraham.’ ” Thereupon I said, “Yes (you are right), but by Allah, O Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ), I leave nothing but your name.” (Sahih Bukhari)
Our Prophet ﷺ was so invested in his emotion for others that he could even tell the emotions of Aisha (ra). Imagine how happy she must have felt when he told her that he was cognisant of her emotions even without her having to speak it, showing how close he was to her, and how much he listened to her. And imagine if we are able to do the same to others, beginning with our family… The world will be a much better place, as we aspire to listen more, empathise more, and be more emotionally connected with one another.
May we become individuals who become connected to others to become closer to Allah, through learning the life of Prophet ﷺ.