Learning to overcome worry

This article explains the meaning of worrying its signs and the devastating effect on our emotional and social well-being and gives examples from the Majestic Quran of the worries of great people. Finally, it gives very clear strategies for disengaging oneself from the devastating negative impact of worry.

What is worrying?

The Arabic word hala’ means to fret, be distressed, worried, bitter and indignant because of a particularly difficult circumstance, it leads to anxiety or unease, allowing the mind to dwell on difficulty or trouble and eventually producing a disturbed state of mind. The Messenger (peace be upon him) warned against it when he said: “a dangerous evil in man is the greed of a fretful and the cowardice of a morally depraved” (Abu Dawud).

Here are some statistics that show that our worrying is unnecessary most of the time:

  • 40% of the things we worry about never happen
  • 30% are in the past and can’t be helped
  • 12% involve the affairs of others that are not even our business
  • 10% relate to sickness, real or imagined

So only 8% of the things we worry about are likely to happen! There’s a 92% chance that you’re worrying about something that will never happen to you. Scientists at Yale University have actually identified a ‘worry gene.’ But they say that while you may have inherited it, you can overcome it. Here is what the Majestic Quran tells us about this dangerous human condition:

Humans were created anxious; when misfortune befalls them, they are impatient, and when good fortune befalls them, they are selfish; except the worshippers, who perform their prayer constantly, in whose wealth is a due share for the beggar and the deprived, who believe in Judgement Day, who are fearful of their Lord’s punishment, their Lord’s punishment from which no one is safe (Al Maarij: 19-28).

Some examples of worry and anxiety in the Quran

Surah Duha reveals a serious worry of the beloved Prophet (peace be upon him), it was in the early days of his prophethood that for a while angel Jibreel stopped coming to him, so he did not preach. Seeing this some of the Makkan’s began to say his Satan has abandoned him. This really upset the Prophet (peace be upon him), he was worried and anxious, the generous Lord wanted to relieve him and calm his nerves and revealed this short and pithy response to the kuffar’s insinuations. The surah addressed him and said to him; don’t worry! Your lord has not forsaken you nor is he annoyed with you, your future is brighter than the past and you will be blessed with so much that you will be happy. Then it reminded him of his three wonderful past successes; how as an orphan he was lovingly cared for, how he was poor and God made him wealthy through his wife and finally how he was engrossed in the Divine love and he was given the mantle of Prophethood.

The final part instructs him to carry out three actions; be caring to orphans, don’t turn away poor beggars and talk about your Lords blessings. Here we have a complete programme for overcoming worry, these are three steps that the Quran recommends;

  1. Challenge that obsessive and negative thought and start looking at things in a positive light.
  2. Remind yourself of past successes in your life, like the race you won, the flying colours in exams etc.
  3. Take action, do something good and engage yourself in a project, a lot of anxiety is caused by a lack of asserting your control, not managing the affairs and lack of action.

Mother of Moses is worried

When Moses was born, Pharaoh had issued an order to kill every newborn child amongst the Israelites, so you can imagine the intense worry and fear of Moses’ mother, the Quran tells her “don’t worry and don’t fear.” We will take care of this baby, and how He did so is so wonderful. The Quran describes this besieged young mother’s dilemma: “By the morning Musa’s mother was impatient and she nearly revealed his identity, if We hadn’t strengthened her resolve to remain silent about him. She told his sister: “Follow him”. From the river bank, she kept an eye on him without letting the Egyptians see her” (Qasas:10). So the Divine strength comes to us if we believe in Allah.

The companions are worried by the Allied forces surrounding Madina

When the kuffar of Arabia all gathered together a mighty army to destroy the Muslims of Madina in the third year of Hijrah. The Muslims had never seen such a huge army, they were naturally scared and worried. The Quran describes their state as “They came against you from above and below, your eyes rolled, your hearts leapt to your throats and you had wild thoughts about Allah; the believers were tested and severely shaken.” (Al-Ahzab;10-11).

The Prophet’s (peace be upon him) constant motivation to persevere on and be patient paid off in the end as the mighty armies were scattered by invisible forces. We are constantly warned not to fall into the traps of; Wahm, baseless fear, guesswork, suspicions, doubts and wild imaginations that lead to delusions. The other related danger is Wahn, losing courage and vigour and feeling weak, vulnerable and feeble. The Majestic Quran guides us “don’t lose courage nor fear”.

Rumi’s story of the schoolboys who made their teacher ill

A group of boys who went to school together decided that they wanted to get their teacher back as he was very harsh with them. One of the boys suggested that when the teacher comes he will say to him “Sir why are you looking very pale today? I hope you’re well, your colour is not normal, you might have a fever”. The clever boy explained his plan and asked the other boys to repeat the same remarks about the teacher, he said that slowly and slowly we will set his imagination working a little more. The imagination drives even the most reasonable man insane.

The next day when the teacher came into the class, the clever boy went to the teacher and said “good day sir! I hope all is well with you, your face is rather pale”. The teacher said, “no there’s nothing wrong with me, go and sit down at once and don’t talk nonsense”. Although he had denied it, the dust of evil fancy suddenly struck into his heart a little, then another boy entered and spoke likewise and then another boy stood up and said: “Sir you don’t look well, what’s the matter?” He began to feel as though he wasn’t well and then the fourth and the fifth boy repeated the same remarks about his illness and his weakness and him looking pale.

By now the teacher really felt as though something was wrong with him, he dismissed the class and went home. When he got home his wife asked “what’s the matter with you? You’ve come early today, is there no school?” The teacher by now was feeling bad, feverish, angry and he said to her “how dare you say that, can’t you see my colour and my condition? Even strangers are sympathising with my distress but you at home have no sympathy for me!” The woman tried to explain to him that there was nothing wrong with him, however, he shouted at her again and said: “bring me my blanket and quilt”. The moral of this story is that when we worry about something it can really become a reality and have a huge impact on our well-being.

Imam Shadilli’s worry is relieved by a prayer

Imam Shadilli is regarded as one of the outstanding genius and Saint of the seventh century, he was a great scholar and a guide of his time. The following story tells about his worry and how he overcame this. It is said that one year the Imam decided to go on Hajj, he boarded a ship to cross the Red sea. However, the wind was blowing in the opposite direction, so the ship had to be anchored. Days passed and the direction of the wind did not change, the Christian captain began to mock him by saying that the time of Hajj is fast approaching and the ship is at a standstill. How are you going to do your Hajj? The Imam was troubled by this and fell asleep, in his dream he was told to read the ‘Hizbul Bahr’ a most wonderful collection of prayers. When the Imam woke up he performed ablution and told the ship captain to pull up the anchor, as he did so the wind blew in the right direction and they safely landed at Jeddah. On the other side of the Red sea, upon seeing this miracle the Christian captain and his sons became Muslims. The prayer that the Imam read is now one of the most famous prayers and it begins “O Lord! We seek your protection in every situation, from evil words, motives, thoughts, doubts and superstitions that veiled the heart from seeing the reality“.

How foolish is that?

Take the fear of flying, for example. You would have to fly every day for nineteen thousand years before reaching the probability of being involved in a plane crash. Yet it is one of the six most feared causes of death. When you worry, you doubt God and give the devil an entry point into your life. How long have you been doing this? When are you going to stop it? You can learn to stop these thoughts and have better emotional health as chronic worry can lead to severe health problems like high blood pressure, headaches, anxiety, depression and heart disease. Unwarranted worry is dangerous for another reason, we can misjudge risks, because we have become fixated on a perceived threat that might not be at all dangerous and thus overlooking real dangers since we are too obsessed, consequently the real danger does not set off our subconscious alarm bells.

Disengaging strategies

How can you break this agonising cycle of emotional disturbance? How can you stop worrying? It’s true that worrying is in our DNA, it’s natural, we will worry but chronic worry is harmful and unnecessary, here are some strategies to help overcome it:

  • Prayer (Salah & Dua) are the most effective and simple method of disengaging the mind from the obsessive negative thoughts, the example of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is that whenever he was worried he would pray earnestly and taught us to do the same.
  • Do something good like greeting someone cheerfully, cleaning up, visiting a friend and making a donation for a good cause.
  • Turn to Allah with humility, love and reverence praying; “O Lord, protect me, cover up our deficiencies and weaknesses and make us feel safe and secure”.