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Emotional Intelligence of the Prophet sallallaahu 'alayhi wasallam

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Emotional Intelligence of the Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam

From a talk by Ustadhah S. Ahmed

Zaynab Academy Online

17 November 2019


Definition of EI (Emotional Intelligence)

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to be self-aware of one’s own emotions as well as the emotions of others (empathy) while being able to control and manage one’s own emotions.


EI has three components:

·         Self-awareness 

·         Self-management


When one is aware of, understands and acknowledge one’s emotions, then one can manage them better. We need to know what we are feeling and why we are feeling this way in order to figure out the best way to react.


·         Empathy

Empathy is the ability to be aware of the emotions of others and understand from their perspective.


By mastering all three components one can enhance one’s personal and professional life.


History of EI

Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer coined the term ‘Emotional Intelligence’ in 1990. Later Daniel Goleman wrote a book called, “Emotional Intelligence.” He said that it was not cognitive intelligence that guaranteed business success but emotional intelligence. According to him, one key benefit is that “emotional intelligence can help people make better decisions.” This increased effectiveness is invaluable for business, essential for education, and transformational for personal life.



He described emotionally intelligent people as those with four characteristics:


    They were good at understanding their own emotions (self-awareness)

    They were good at managing their emotions (self-management)

    They were empathetic to the emotional drives of other people (social awareness)

    They were good at handling other people’s emotions (social skills)

     (History of EI is not from the talk)


Emotional Intelligence in the Light of the Sunnah

As Muslims we should look at EI in the light of the Qur’an and Sunnah of our Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam and in terms of the success of the Aakhirah. Self-awareness for us is not just being aware of our emotions and managing them, but also includes our intentions.


When we study the Seerah and Hadith we see that the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam was an extremely emotionally intelligent person. There are lessons for us in becoming emotionally intelligent people in the way he understood his own emotions, acknowledged and managed them and the way he interacted with everyone around him, teaching them to be emotionally intelligent people.


When overcome with grief or in stressful situations we are not even aware of what we are feeling and often end up blaming others. Therefore cognition/realisation of feelings is very important in combatting negative feelings and channelling them to positive ones

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Part 1 – Self-awareness

Since the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam was guided by Wahy (Revelation) his self-awareness came from Allah ta’ala. He was made aware of his personality through verses of the Qur’an. In Surah Aali ‘Imraan (Verse 159) Allah ta’ala says,


فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللَّهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ وَلَوْ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لَانفَضُّوا مِنْ حَوْلِكَ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِي الْأَمْرِ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ

So because (of) Mercy from Allah you dealt gently with them. And if you had been rude (and) harsh (at) heart, surely they (would have) dispersed from around you. Then pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. Then when you have decided, then put trust on Allah. Indeed, Allah loves the ones who put trust (in Him)


This verse was in relation to the Battle of Uhud where some of the Muslims had disappointed the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam when they left the post despite instructions not to do so. Though the Sahabah RA had caused him grief the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam did not adopt a harsh attitude towards them. He did not rebuke or reproach them for their misdemeanor.


A person’s true character shows in rough and stressful times when they are hurt by others or when someone they depend on, lets them down, however the noble character and personality of the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam shines through and this is the sign of a true leader who, when people go through a rough and down time, brings them back up again.


Example of his Self-awareness and Self-management

It is mentioned in Hadith how, when he was angry, his face changed colour however he did not react angrily in word or act as the following incident shows.


After the Battle of Hunayn the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam distributed the spoils of war first giving to those whose hearts were to be won i.e. some of the Quraysh who had only recently accepted Islam, as a conciliatory gesture.


Abu Sufyan and his two sons Yazid and Mu’awiya were given 100 camels. Safwan was at his side while he rode through the valley of Ji’rranah and sensing Safwan’s wonder at the vast riches the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam offered him an entire pasture of camels, sheep and goats. He responded by acknowledging his goodness and accepted Islam.


This was not meant as a means of buying loyalty or to convert people but was meant to strengthen them. He wanted their hearts to soften towards Islam and hearts did soften. They realised the magnanimity of the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam and that he cared about them, and their hearts were won over.


Others however noticed their smaller shares and a person mentioned that justice had not been done. This was reported to the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam and upon hearing this remark the colour of his face changed red and he then said, “Who would do justice, if Allah and His Messenger do not do justice?” He further said, “May Allah have mercy upon Musa; he was tormented more than this, but he showed patience.



Upon hearing the remark, the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam felt anger (as indicated by the colour of his face changing) however he did not react upon his emotions. He first spoke about the justice of Allah and His Messenger and then he gave his own response which was a reflection on a past incident and a reminder to himself to remain patient.


The many Hadith regarding anger and its management are examples of self-awareness and self-management which he taught others.


Self-awareness in Du’a

In the Masnoon Du’a there is self-awareness.


A beautiful example in the life of the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam is the Du’a he made after the incident of Ta’if which occurred when he was extremely vulnerable after ‘Aami Huzn (Year of grief) during which he lost both his external support with the death of Abu Taalib, and his personal support with the death of his beloved wife and supporter from the beginning, Khadeejah RA.


During this time of vulnerability, he decided to visit Ta’if to give Da’wah which teaches us to motivate ourselves when demotivated by circumstances. He was ridiculed, stoned and chased out of town which must have been a very humiliating and painful experience. He took refuge in an orchard; exhausted and rejected, he collapsed in the orchard and made a broken hearted Du’a to Allah ta’ala;


اللهم إليك أشكو ضعف قوتي وقلة حيلتي وهواني على الناس
ياأرحم الراحمين أنت أرحم الراحمين
أنت رب المستضعفين وأنت ربي
إلى من تكلني إلى عدو يتجهمني أم الى عدو ملكته امرى
إن لم يكن بك غضب علي فلا أبالي ولكن عافيتك هي أوسع لي
أعوذ بنور وجهك الذي أضاءت له السموات و الأرض
وأشرقت له الظلمات وصلح عليه أمر الدنيا والأخره
أن ينزل بي غضبك أو يحل علي سخطك
لك العتبى حتى ترضى ولاحول ولاقوة إلابك


To You, my Lord, I complain of my weakness, lack of support and the humiliation I am made to receive. Most Compassionate and Merciful! You are the Lord of the weak, and you are my Lord.
To whom do You leave me? To a distant person who receives me with hostility? Or to an enemy You have given power over me? As long as you are not displeased with me, I do not care what I face.
I would, however, be much happier with Your mercy. I seek refuge in the light of Your face by which
all darkness is dispelled and both this life and the life to come are put in their right course against incurring your wrath or being the subject of your anger. To You I submit, until I earn Your pleasure.
Everything is powerless without your support.


In this situation of being rejected, with no human resources and no value in the eyes of the people, in total humility and realizing his weakness, the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam articulated his feelings in a Du’a, complaining to Allah ta’ala but at the same time hopeful.


Self-awareness in Shukr, Sabr, Tawakkul

To express Shukr (Gratitude) after eating and drinking from the blessings of Allah ta’ala, upon awakening after a restful night, upon relieving one’s self, etc. is self-awareness and an expression of internal feelings.


To have Sabr (Patience) and not be overwhelmed during difficulty is another example of self-awareness and self-management. Sabr is an oft mentioned subject in the Qur’an and Hadith.


To have Tawakkul (Reliance on Allah ta’ala) and turn to Allah ta’ala asking for protection i.e. reciting the Du’a when leaving home and other such Du’a, is realising one’s dependence on Allah ta’ala for protection.

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Part 2 – Self-management

What is meant by self-management is how we react to emotions as sometimes our emotions get the best of us and we react before we can think about the situation and we later regret it (referred to as emotional hijacking). EI people do not make rash decisions. They pause before saying or doing anything realising that emotions can be temporary and the harm caused by haste can be permanent.


What is the Islamic perspective? In a Hadith the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam said,


“Composure (being unhurried) is from Allah and haste is from Shaytaan” [Tirmidhi]



The Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam said,

“The judge should not issue a ruling between two people while he is angry.” [Bukhari]


Anger is necessary to fight any wrong however it has to be applied with justice and righteousness. Imam Ghazali (Rahimahullah) said anger is allowed at certain times, for certain reasons and in certain ways. Therefore, there are conditions attached.


The Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam felt anger too and he felt grief, sadness, etc. but it was how he managed it, channelling it to a positive way and he also taught others how to channel their emotions to a positive way. This can be seen in many incidents of his life.


His wife Safiyyah bint Huyayy RA, who was from a Jewish background, told him how the other wives teasing her about her Jewish origin made her feel sad. He said, ‘You should tell them, ‘How could you be better than me when my husband is Muhammad, my father is Haaroon (Aaron) and my uncle is Moosa (Moses)?’” [Tirmithi]


Some Sahaba RA who were amongst those most severely tortured for accepting Islam, once emotionally complained to the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam,


“Would you seek help for us? Would you pray to Allah for us?”


The Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam responded by affirming their emotions. He understood what they were going through and channelled their emotions to a positive way of thinking. He said,


“Among the nations before you a believing man would be put in a ditch that was dug for him, and a saw would be put over his head and he would be cut into two pieces; yet that torture would not make him give up his religion. His body would be combed with iron combs that would remove his flesh from the bones and nerves, yet that would not make him abandon his religion. By Allah, this religion will prevail in a way that a traveller from Sana, Yemen to Hadramaut, Yemen will fear none but Allah, and a sheep will not fear the attack of a wolf, but you people are hasty!” [Bukhari]


In this way the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam taught others how to manage their feelings.

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Part 3 – Empathy

This is the ability to understand the emotions of others.


Just as the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam brought revolution to this world in terms of Tawheed, justice, etc. he also brought revolution in empathy, showing care and concern to other people and even to animals. 


Empathy with family members

He was deeply aware of the feelings of his family members. He once said to his wife A’ishah RA,


“Indeed, I can tell when you are angry or pleased with me.” A’ishah RA said, “How do you know that, O Messenger of Allah?” The Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam said, “Verily, when you are pleased, you say: Yes, by the Lord of Muhammad! But when we you are upset, you say: No, by the Lord of Abraham!” I said, “Yes, I do not leave out anything but your name.” [Bukhari]


He was aware his wife was upset with him and this comes from the deep level of connection he had with others. When we are deeply connected with someone, just by their expression or the way they look, walk, talk we will know that they are feeling sad or upset.


Empathy for Newcomers to a Gathering

Making space in gathering for the newcomer is from the teachings of the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam. Just by shifting slightly even if there is space acknowledges the new comer and makes him/her feel welcome and connected. 


In this day and age when people are more connected to phones and internet, many have no emotional connection with anyone and most cannot express themselves. People often need just a kind word to make their day and this is especially so for young people. Showing love to children shows care and concern without which they stop talking to us and find others to talk to and when asked about it they say they tried to express their feelings but when there was no response, they stopped talking. Often, they cannot express themselves but they are calling out by being cranky or in other ways however their call is ignored. We should listen to them and even if they cannot talk to you, hug them.


Empathy for the Youth

Someone mentioned regarding a young man that he did not pray Tahajjud Salaah (as everyone prayed Tahajjud Salaah in those days). How did the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam react? He said what a good young man he was if only he prayed Tahajjud. So he appreciated and praised the young man first and then gave constructive feedback in a light way which would make a person want to do something.


Praising children makes them feel appreciated and encourages them to want to do more


Showing love to Children

When the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam showed love to children, it was very revolutionary at that time as people did not express love for children. People found it strange that the he hugged and kissed the children of the Sahabah RA.


Once Aqra bin Habis saw the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam kiss his grandson and said,

“I have ten children; I have never kissed any of them.”


Thereupon, the Prophet said, “He who shows no mercy, will receive no mercy.” [Muslim]


Expression of Grief

Until recent times, in many cultures, men did not cry however in Islam it is ok to show/express emotion by crying.


When Zainab’s RA son was dying, she called for her father, the Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam. The child was lifted up to the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam while his breath was disturbed in his chest. On seeing this his eyes streamed with tears.


Sa’d bin ‘Ubadah said “O Messenger of Allah! What is this?”

He (Sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam replied, “It is compassion which Allah has placed in the hearts of His slaves, Allah is compassionate only to those among His slaves who are compassionate (to others)”



Empathy with Animals

The Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam was also sensitive to the feelings of animals who could not express themselves. If the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam saw any animal over-burdened or ill-fed he would pull up alongside the owner and say, “Fear God in your treatment of animals.” [Abu Dawood]

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Emotional Intelligence in work of Deen

A major problem in our communities is that though we have moral intelligence i.e. understanding the right and the wrong, the Halaal and the Haraam, etc. however we are not good at communicating it to others in the emotional intelligent way which is crucial in teaching, counselling and communicating with others.


The living Miracle of his Personality

Finally, the personality of the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam was such that every person felt he/she was the most beloved to him.


‘Amr ibn Al-‘As reported, I said, “Which person is most beloved to you?” The Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam, said, “Aisha.” I said, “I mean among men.” The Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam said, “Her father.” I said, “Then who?” The Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam said, “Umar ibn al-Khattab,” and he mentioned some other men. [Bukhari]


He felt such love from the Prophet sallallaahu ‘alayhi wasallam he thought he would be high on the list.


In our case too, we all feel a deep, personal connection to him especially more so when we study Seerah. To everyone he is “My Nabi” regardless of where we are in the world and regardless of the different colour, ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Even to the sinful he is “My Nabi”!


This is the living miracle of his personality.

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