How to deal with toxic people: Five tips from the Holy Quran

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Frasat Ahmad, Missionary, USA

The Holy Quran

For many, it can take just one person to poison one’s mental health. It might be a work colleague, or even a family member, or friend, but this person’s negativity constantly derails our day and destabilises our sanity.

Fortunately, Allah the Almighty has given us a powerful framework to combat their toxic influence: the Holy Quran.

The Holy Quran details exactly how to respond to toxic behaviours. When coupled with the Promised Messiah’s commentary and thoughts, these Quranic gems supply us with the tools necessary to eradicate toxicity and poisonous influences from our lives. 

Here are five Quranic tips to handle toxic people:

1. Control your anger

The Holy Quran instructs us to tame our anger:

وَالۡكٰظِمِيۡنَ‭ ‬الۡغَيۡظَ‭ ‬وَالۡعَافِيۡنَ‭ ‬عَنِ‭ ‬النَّاسِ

“And those who suppress anger and pardon others.” (Surah Al-e-Imran, Ch.3: V.135)

Many times, a person’s toxic conduct boils our blood and provokes us to react angrily. We want to give them a piece of our mind, thinking that confronting them harshly will quell their behaviour. Instead, we end up only escalating the situation further, allowing their poison to latch onto our souls and breed even more toxicity.  

The Promised Messiahas declares that such confrontational responses are the complete opposite of what the Holy Quran teaches:

“Remember that whosoever is harsh and falls prey to anger is one whose tongue can in no way speak with wisdom and knowledge. That heart which is quick to anger and loses control of itself when faced with opposition is a heart deprived of wisdom. The lips that spew filth and cannot be restrained are stripped of sophistication and elegance. Anger and wisdom cannot exist in harmony with one another. One who is quick to anger is dense and dim-witted. Such a person will never get success and help in any endeavour. Anger equates to half of insanity, and when it is excessively triggered, it can develop into complete insanity.” (Al Hakam, Vol. 7, Number 9, 10 March 1903, p. 8) 

In another instance, he writes:

“Good men and women are those who control their tempers when they are roused and who overlook people’s faults when that is appropriate […]. Some people are so vindictive that they keep in mind the wrongs done to their fathers through generations.” (The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, pp. 60-61)

2. Speak gently

وَعِبَادُ‭ ‬الرَّحْمٰنِ‭ ‬الَّذِيْنَ‭ ‬يَمْشُوْنَ‭ ‬عَلَى‭ ‬الْأَرْضِ‭ ‬هَوْنًا‭ ‬وَإِذَا‭ ‬خَاطَبَهُمُ‭ ‬الْجٰهِلُوْنَ‭ ‬قَالُوْا‭ ‬سَلَامًا

“And the servants of the Gracious God are those who walk on the earth in a dignified manner, and when the ignorant address them, they say, ‘Peace!’” (Surah al-Furqan, Ch.25: V.64)

One of the most powerful ways to attain Allah’s love when confronted with toxic behaviour is to speak gently to people and not allow their poison to faze us. 

About this, the Promised Messiahas writes:

“The true servants of the Gracious One are those who walk on the earth in a meek fashion and when ignorant people speak harshly to them, they respond in a peaceful and merciful manner. Instead of harshness and profanity, they exhibit compassion and pray for these people. They emulate the pinnacles of mercy and graciousness without distinction.” (Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya Part IV, Ruhani Khazain, p. 449, Footnote)

He further illuminates the point by stating:

“Think about how harsh a disbeliever Pharaoh was, yet still, Allah the Almighty instructed Mosesas, ‘Speak to him in a gentle manner’ [Surah Ta Ha, Ch.20: V.45]. The Holy Quran has a similar kind of instruction for the Holy Prophetsa: ‘If they [your enemy] incline towards peace, then you should also incline towards it’ [Surah al-Anfal, Ch.8: V.62].” (Al Hakam, Vol. 12, Number 27, 14 April 1908, p. 3)

3. Avoid them when appropriate

خُذِ‭ ‬الۡعَفۡوَ‭ ‬وَاۡمُرۡ‭ ‬بِالۡعُرۡفِ‭ ‬وَاَعۡرِضۡ‭ ‬عَنِ‭ ‬الۡجٰهِلِيۡنَ

“Take to forgiveness, and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant.” (Surah al-A‘raf, Ch.7: V.200)

Sometimes, it is necessary to avoid and turn away from toxic people, especially if speaking gently to them is not working, but rather worsening their venomous antics.  

The Promised Messiahas states:

“I am reminded of a story which Saadi has written in his book Bustan, that a holy man was bitten by a dog. When he arrived home, his family noticed that a dog had bitten him. An innocent young girl in the family asked, ‘Why didn’t you bite him back?’ The holy man answered, ‘My dear child, a human being cannot act like a dog.’ 

“So, when someone wicked abuses at them, a true believer must turn away [from a similar response]. Otherwise, the same example of acting like a dog would apply. God’s chosen ones have always been severely abused; they have always been tormented. But they have always been commanded to turn away from the ignorant.” (Malfuzat, Vol. 1, pp. 102-103)

The Promised Messiahas continues:

“Our own Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, the Perfect Man, was made to suffer immensely. He was abused, insulted and mocked. But how did that man, who embodied morality, respond to such behaviour? He prayed for them. As Allah the Almighty had promised [to the Holy Prophetsa] that if he turned away from the ignorant, He Himself would safeguard his dignity and protect his life and defend him from the attacks of vagabonds. And this is exactly what happened, that the Prophet’s enemies could not lay even a finger upon his honour; rather, they themselves were humiliated […].” (Ibid, p. 103)

4. Pray for them

اُجِيۡبُ دَعۡوَةَ الدَّاعِ اِذَا دَعَانِ ۙ فَلۡيَسۡتَجِيۡبُوۡا لِيۡ

“I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he prays to Me. So they should hearken to Me” (Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.187)

What did the Promised Messiahas do when confronted with enmity and toxic behaviour? His couplet gives us an illuminating response:

عدو‭ ‬جب‭ ‬بڑھ‭ ‬گيا‭ ‬شور‭ ‬و‭ ‬فغاں‭ ‬ميں

نہاں‭ ‬ہم‭ ‬ہو‭ ‬گئے‭ ‬يارِ‭ ‬نہاں‭ ‬ميں

“When the enemy exceeded in hue and clamour, we hid in the Hidden Friend.”

The Promised Messiahas states:

“Unless one prays for one’s enemy, it cannot be said that one has a clean heart. God says in the Holy Quran, ‘Pray to Me, and I will answer you’. He does not say, ‘If you pray for your enemy, I will not accept your prayer.’ I strongly believe that to pray for the enemy is the practice of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. The cause of Hazrat Umarra joining Islam was the prayer of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. He used to pray for him very often. One should not be niggardly towards one’s enemies in case of prayers; one must not become a troublesome person. I thank God that I do not find any enemy of mine for whom I have not prayed more than once; there is no such example. And it is the same thing which I advise you to do; I am teaching you how to do it.” (So Said the Promised Messiah, pp. 134-135)

He further elucidates:

“Just as a tree needs clean water, it also needs manure. A lot of divine actions are based on the mischief of the opponents. There is no one who had no opponents. It is good for a prophet [to have some opponents], for they make him pray, and miracles and help increases. This is also good for his followers, for it gives them strength of faith.” (Malfuzat, Vol. 7, p. 369)

The Promised Messiahas said: 

“One should not harbour malevolence against one’s adversaries. Instead, a person ought to pray for such people more than anything else and use other means to reform them.” (Malfuzat [English], Vol. I, p. 7)

5. Respond to evil with good

وَلَا تَسْتَوِى الْحَسَنَةُ وَلَا السَّيِّئَةُ ۚ اِدْفَعْ بِالَّتِىْ هِىَ أَحْسَنُ فَإِذَا الَّذِىْ بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَهُ عَدَاوَةٌ كَأَنَّهُ وَلِىٌّ حَمِيْمٌ

“And good and evil are not alike. Repel evil with that which is best. And lo, he between whom and thyself was enmity will become as though he were a warm friend.” (Surah Ha Mim al-Sajdah, Ch.41: V.35)

Echoing the Holy Quran, the Promised Messiahas teaches us that we must respond to evil and toxic behaviour with such virtue and high morals that our enemy has no other choice than to recognise their wrongdoings and become our friend. 

He writes:

“Should anyone behave mischievously towards you, you should try to repel it with peacefulness, whereby he who is your enemy will become your warm friend. In short, peacefulness means overlooking trivial matters of annoyance which occasion no great harm, and are more or less confined to uttering nonsense.” (The Philosophy of the Teachings of Islam, p. 57)

Again, he emphasises:

“If someone is kind to you, show him even greater kindness. All rancour between you will thus turn into a friendship so close that it borders upon kinship.” (Lecture Lahore [English], pp. 13-14)

One may say, “These steps are simple. There is nothing profound about this.” Yes, these Quranic tips are simple, but to act on them when necessary is not so simple. What is truly profound about these Quranic tips is the immense wisdom buried within them, and when implemented, the piercing impact they have in cleansing one’s surroundings of toxicity and discord.

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