The meaning of Sabr (Patience)
By: Ayub Hamid
It implies patience, forbearance, perseverance, determination, fortitude, constancy and steadfastness. Sabr assumes different dimensions depending upon which aspect of life is the point of reference:
Sabr in personal life
1. The first kind of Sabr is ’patience’ as it is ordinarily understood.
It is the ability to hold back, remain calm, maintain one’s cool, restrain oneself and wait and see despite the urge to jump on, barge in, respond, and do something in the situations of heat, pressure, anxiety, curiosity, anger, confrontation, etc.
It also represents the patience exercised during the hardships people face in their lives such as illnesses and diseases, death of loved ones, natural calamities and disasters, and problems or setbacks emanating from the situations and circumstances beyond one’s control. Knowing that all these things are part of our test for which we have been put on the earth and knowing that our success lies in how well we react to and handle such situations helps a believer endure these hardships without panicking, complaining or being frustrated.
“A person who faces a physical or financial setback, keeps quiet about it and does not complain to people, has a right on Allaah to be forgiven.” Attributed by Ibn ‘Abbaas to the Prophet sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam as reported in At-Tabaraani’s Al-Owsat
“A Muslim does not suffer any mental or physical anguish, or any distress, grief, pain or sorrow – even from the prick of a thorn – except that Allaah expiates his mistakes and sins.” Bukhaari and Muslim
This Sabr is an extremely important virtue for a believer. The Prophet sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam, talking to some poor Muslims from Ansaar whom he had given whatever he had, said:
“Whoever practices Sabr, Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta’alaa gives him Sabr. And no one can be given anything better or more far-reaching (comprehensive) than Sabr.” Aboo S’eed Khudri in Bukhaari and Muslim.
In a letter of condolence dictated for Mu’aadh Ibn Jabal on the death of his son, the Prophet sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam said, “May Allaah increase your reward and bestow you patience, and enable us and you to be thankful to Him. Our lives, our wealth and our families are blissful gifts that are trusts temporarily entrusted. Allaah gave you the opportunity to enjoy (your son gifted to you in trust) with happiness and pleasure, and then he took it from you in return for a big reward. May He bestow upon you blessings, mercy and guidance, if you restrain yourself in expectation for His reward. So, be patient and do not let wailing destroy your reward, to be sorry afterwards. Remember wailing neither brings back the dead, nor removes the grief. What had to happen has happened.” At-Tabaraani.
However, tears or sadness is not against the spirit of the patience. When the son of the Prophet’s daughter, Zainab, was taking his last breath in the Prophet’s lap, tears came down from Prophet ‘s eyes. When Sa’d wondered, the Prophet sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam explained, “This is an expression of mercy that Allaah has put in the hearts of people.” Reported from Usamah Ibn Zaid in Bukhaari and Muslim.
This kind of patience is the lowest level of Sabr expected of the believers and is one of the qualities emanating from the Taqwaa in the heart. The test of the patience is at the initial shock. With time, everyone cools down. The patient person controls his/her reactions at the very outset. Reacting emotionally in the beginning and then cooling off is indicative of lack of patience.
The Messenger of Allaah sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam told a women crying over the grave of her husband, “Maintain Taqwaa and be patient.” Later on he explained to her, “The real Sabr (patience) is that which is demonstrated at the initial shock.” Reported from Anas in Bukhaari and Muslim.
The Messenger of Allaah sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam said, “Allaah Tabaaraka wa Ta’alaa says: O son of Adam! If you remained patient restraining yourself and expecting my reward at the initial shock, I will not be happy without rewarding you with Jannah.” From Abee Umaamah in Ibn Maajah.
The complementary quality for this Sabr is Shukr (gratitude) which means thanking Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta’alaa for any good things, happy occasions, successes, health, profitability, good harvest and prosperity we enjoy in our life. Because all of these things depend, in addition to our hard work, on many favourable circumstances and conditions that are beyond our control, a believer thanks Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta’alaa for providing the ability to work hard and making our efforts fruitful through all those favourable circumstances and conditions.
This is what is alluded to in the following Ahaadeeth:
The Messenger of Allaah sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam said, “Wondrous are the believer’s affairs. For him there is good in all his affairs, and this is true only for a believer. If he encounters something troubling, he remains steadfast with patience, and that is good for him. If he experiences something pleasing, he thanks Allaah, and that is good for him. Reported from Suhaib in the Muslim.
The Messenger of Allaah sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam said, “Allaah told Eesa (Jesus) peace be upon him: I will bring up an Ummah after you who will thank Allaah when they encounter what they like; and they will restrain themselves expecting reward from Allaah and will remain patient when they suffer something they dislike.” Reported from Aboo-Ad-Dardaa by Baihiqi in Shu’abul-Eemaan.
Here is a brief review of the second dimension of Sabr:
2. The second kind of Sabr is the forbearance exercised in the face of the ignorant behaviour shown by people around oneself. It is to endure verbal abuse, accusations, disrespect, slander, backbiting, false assumptions, name-calling, ridicule, maligning comments, etc. from people around us because of their jealousy, misgivings, maliciousness, difference of opinion or dislike for whatever reason.
A person will be within one’s right to defend himself from any misbehaviour. That is justice and everyone is entitled to it without being blamed for it. However, Ihsaan is that the believer takes all that in stride graciously and magnanimously without responding, fighting back, paying much attention or complaining. Ihsaan is the standard good Muslims are expected to strive for. The Holy Qur-aan states:
“The fair settlement for a wrong is equal retribution. However, whoever forgives and reconciles, his reward is due on Allaah, and Allaah does not like the unjust. And whoever avenges himself after being wronged, they are not to be blamed. The blame is on those who oppress people and wrongfully rebel in the land. For them, there will be a painful punishment. And indeed whoever practices Sabr and forgives, that is a highly resolute, top-notch behaviour.” Ash-Shoora 42:40
It is also indicated by the following episode:
Once, a person was verbally abusing Aboo Bakr while the Prophet sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam was curiously watching with a smile. After taking much abuse quietly, Aboo Bakr responded to a few of his comments. At this, the Prophet sal-Allahu alaihi wa sallam exhibited his disapproval, got up and left. Aboo Bakr caught up with the Prophet sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam and wondered, “O Messenger of Allaah, he was abusing me and you remained sitting. When I responded to him, you disapproved and got up.” The Messenger of Allaah sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam responded, “There was an angel with you responding to him. When you responded to him, Shaytaan took his place.”
He then said,
“O Aboo Bakr, there are three solid truths: If a person is wronged and he forbears (without seeking revenge) just for the sake of Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta’alaa , Allaah will honour him and give him upper hand with His help; if a person opens a door of giving gifts for cementing relationships with relatives, Allaah will give him abundance; and, if a person opens a door of seeking charity for himself to increase his wealth, Allaah will further reduce his wealth.” Reported from Aboo Hurairah in Mishkaah and Musnad Ahmad.
The prime example for practising Sabr, forbearing and then forgiving is the behaviour of Yousuf in response to his brothers’ wrongs. The Glorious Qur-aan observes:
“Indeed, whoever maintains Taqwaa and practices Sabr, Allaah does not let the reward of the Muhsineen be lost.” Yousuf 12:90
The above two dimensions of Sabr were purely from the perspective of the personal life of a Muslim. The third and fourth dimensions cover the kind of Sabr needed in the Islamic work. No matter what dimension of sabr we talk about, we must always remember, that our Prophet sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam provided the best examples in all of them.
Sabr in the Islamic Work
The most important Sabr expected of Muslims is the determination, endurance, fortitude, perseverance, steadfastness and constancy that the Muslims must demonstrate in fulfilling their duties of establishing Islam in their own lives, in their communities and in their societies with a vision to implement Islamic world order of peace, justice and security over the whole globe. This work — which all believers are obligated to undertake firstly to establish a global community of believers and then to maintain it is a very perilous work beset with hardships, challenges and risks. It requires a lot of endurance, fortitude, tenacity and perseverance (Sabr). Practising Sabr In the Islamic work is the basic requirement of faith.
The Islamic work has two distinct stages that call for two kind of Sabr, each relative to a different stage of Islamic work.
3. The first stage of Islamic work is spreading the word of Islam, seeking commitment of people to the Islamic work and organizing and mobilizing those who respond positively to the Islamic Da’wah. This work continues until the majority of the people of a selected society have become workers of the Islamic movement resulting in the establishment of an Islamic state or kingdom of God.
As soon as a believer sincerely dedicates himself to and embarks upon an organized Islamic mission, tests and tribulations start in full force. The more dedicated and effective the efforts are, the harder the persecution is. The persecution starts with verbal abuse progressing to psychological, financial and physical abuse, imprisonment and sometimes leads up to attempts on one’s life. Depending upon who is the object of Da’wah and where the Da’wah is being given, the perpetrators of the persecution can be people who call themselves Muslims or they can be Non-Muslims. Some of the problems are even caused by those who are companions of the Islamic workers. It may be due to their lack of experience or vision, or due the gullibility or influence of negative propaganda of the people against the Islamic movement.
The negative reaction from non-Muslims is understandable and expected, but opposition from ‘Muslims’ is very discouraging, injurious and problematic. As soon as a believer stands up for Islam, people expect him to be perfect according to what they think Islam is about. The moment the worker differs in any respect from their viewpoint or the moment he makes a small mistake which every human being is prone to, all his selfless efforts and the high standard of his character are disregarded and forgotten. People overlook their own major sins but the Islamic worker’s small error of judgement becomes the biggest concern in the world. Backbiting, baseless accusations and false stories start flying against the person all over without even his knowledge. His words are twisted, motives doubted, and even the best of the action flawed. The most popular accusations are usually: ‘He is greedy for leadership or fame’ or ‘he thinks he is better than others’ or ‘he has caused disunity in the community’. But this is just the beginning, If the Islamic worker remains strong and continues his work with dedication, it becomes much more nasty.
The Sabr during this work, at the basic level which is the corollary of faith, is to continue to work steadfastly for the mission, enduring all the verbal, physical and financial abuse as well persecution, torture, oppression, imprisonment and loss of respect, wealth and property without retaliating, fighting back, and showing any weakness, reduction in efforts or giving up. Sabr at the level of Ihsaan is enduring the aforementioned abuse and persecution, while continuing to wish for the guidance and well being of the people with care and conviction, without slowing down in the missionary work and enthusiasm; without making any compromises whatsoever; and without hating the tormentors.
The Messengers of Allaah sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam have set excellent examples of this Sabr. Moosa (Moses) peace be upon him demonstrated a good example of Sabr on the problems caused by Banee Israaeel, the members of his Islamic movement, with their nagging questions, superficial objections, foolish arguments, short-sighted suggestions, undue demands, improper expectations, lack of firm commitment, half-hearted support and weakness in obedience. To discourage repetition of that kind of behaviour, Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta’alaa commanded, “O Believers, do not be like those who abused Moosa; then Allaah cleared him from what they said. And he was, in the sight of Allaah, honourable.” Al-Ahzaab 33:70
“And when Moosa said to his people, ’O my people, why do you abuse me when you surely know that I am the messenger of Allaah to you?’ When they deviated, Allaah caused their hearts to deviate.” As-Saff 61:5
Eesa peace be upon him was the best example of those who practised Sabr on the reaction of the so-called Muslims, Banee Israaeel (who were supposed to be and claimed to be the believers), to his call for the Islamic movement and revival. He was sent to revive Islam without bringing any new Sharee’ah. So, he tried to bring them from petrified, ritualistic Islam to the true spirit of the dynamic Islam that results in the establishment of the kingdom of God and that converts every believer into a missionary for the establishment for the supremacy of the Islamic way of life, but he was rejected and persecuted. So much so that they plotted to kill him, siding with the pagan Romans.
Our Prophet sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam demonstrated best of Sabr in all of the situations described above giving us a vivid picture of what a perfect and ideal Sabr looks like. The most outstanding example of Sabr in the way of Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta’alaa demonstrated in the face of persecutions from non-Muslims was that of our Prophet sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam’s 13 years in Makkah and his experience in Taaif. That was humanity at its best, Sabr par excellence and Ihsaan without a parallel. To prepare for this, he was admonished at the very outset of the mission,
“And practice Sabr for the sake of your Lord.” Al-Mudaththir 74:7
And then he was reminded, “Rejected were the messengers before you, and they continued to practise Sabr while they were being rejected and persecuted, until Our help reached them.” Al-An’aam 6:34
“And practice Sabr, certainly Allaah does not let the reward of the Muhsineen be lost.” Younus 11:115
He indeed excelled in what he was commanded. The same is expected from us. Although we may not be able to reach that level of excellence, our goal is to strive towards that level. We all have an obligation to revive Islam as a movement and we are bound to face all three kind of difficulties mentioned in this section requiring us to exhibit appropriate Sabr in response to all of those circumstances.
The Prophet sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam did warn us about this situation,
“A time is going to come on people when remaining steadfast on Deen will be like holding a burning coal in one’s hand.” Anas in At-Tirmidzee
When asked what should we do in those circumstances, he said:
“Just as did the companions of Eesa Ibn Maryam: they were sawed into pieces, they were hanged on the crosses. Death in the obedience of Allaah is better than the life in disobedience of Allaah.” Mu’aadz Ibn Jabal in At-Tabaraani
Often, when Kuffaar become blinded by their hatred and anger against Muslims, they violate every principle of human decency, break every ethical rule or moral code, use every deceitful and immoral tactic and they viciously persecute and savagely torture Muslims. This has always happened in the past and continues to happen today, though unashamedly they lay claims to civilization, freedom and human rights. However, despite observing this vicious phenomena or experiencing the deceit and torture at their hand, a Muslim continues to practise Sabr by strictly following Islamic values and moral code in their treatment of Kuffaar.
Thus, the true believers stand up for Islamic mission and, when they face the persecution, they say:
“And why should we not rely upon Allaah while He indeed has shown us our ways? And we shall certainly practice Sabr on the persecution you inflict on us.” Ibraaheem 14:12.
4. Once an Islamic state or the kingdom of Allah is established to conduct the affairs of the community of believers according to Islamic values and Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta’alaa’s rule, Kuffaar usually attack such a state with their full military might to destroy and annihilate the Islamic state. They usually do not give up until either their own power is eroded or Islamic state is destroyed. If the Islamic state survives by withstanding the onslaught and by eroding the power of Kuffaar, then they try to put obstacles in the way of the Islamic state’s ability to expand and to bring the rest of the humanity under the law of Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta’alaa. Whether it is a war when the Islamic state is trying to survive or whether it is a war put up to stop an Islamic state from liberating other people from the rule of Kufr, the believers are supposed to demonstrate Sabr by fighting bravely with valour, without showing any weakness and without retreating, surrendering, running away or giving up despite the intensity of battle or casualties. This Sabr pertains to the Madani stage of the Islamic movement. Again, the most excellent example of this Sabr was demonstrated by our Prophet sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam and his devout companions at battles of Uhad, Ahzaab and Hunain.
At the beginning of the Madani stage, keeping the inevitability of onslaught of Kuffaar over the fledgling Islamic state, Muslims were prepared to face the inevitability by the following command:
“O Believers! Seek strength through Sabr and Salaah, verily Allaah is with those who practice Sabr. And do not consider those who are killed in the way of Allaah dead, but alive; however, you do not understand. Surely, we are going to test you through things like fear, hunger and loss of wealth, lives and produce. And give the good news to those who practice Sabr -those who, when they encounter troubles, say we are for Allaah and to Him we are going to return.” Al-Baqarah 2:153
They were also told:
“You will surely be tested in regard to your possessions and your lives; and you will surely hear from those who were given the Book before you and from those who equate others with Allaah much hurtful abuse.” Aali Imraan 3:186
This is the most emphasized Sabr in the Holy Qur-aan. In this regard, Muslims were commanded:
“O Believers! Practice Sabr, outdo others in practising Sabr, and be prepared to face the enemies so that you may be successful.” Aali-Imraan 3:200
“And We shall test you until We know those who perform Jihaad and those who practice Sabr (remain steadfast); and We shall test to appraise your state.” Muhammad 47:31
“Do you think that you will enter Jannah without Allaah testing as to who are those that perform Jihaad and that practice Sabr.” 3:142
And the Prophet sal-Allaahu alaihi wa sallam admonished, while addressing people in one of expeditions:
“Do not wish war, rather ask Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta’alaa for peace and security. However, when you confront the enemy, practice Sabr (fortitude and perseverance) and know that Jannah is under the shade of the swords.” ‘Abdullaah ibn Abee Owfaa in Bukhaari and Muslim
And Muslims are assured:
“Allaah is with those who practice Sabr.” Anfaal 8:46, 66
Regardless of the type of circumstances and causes of difficulties, Sabr is an essential quality of a believer. Sketching the personality of those who truly have Taqwaa, Allaah Subhanahu wa Ta’alaa mentioned:
“And those who practice Sabr in hardships, physical afflictions and during the war.” Al-Baqarah 2:177
Although Sabr is a basic requirement of faith expected of all Muslims, the difficulty of the task is well recognized:
“And if you practice Sabr and keep Taqwaa, that is quite a resolute, high calibre of the tasks.” ‘Aali Imraan 3:186
“O my son! Establish Salaah, enjoin good, forbid evil, and bear with Sabr whatever befalls on you, indeed, that is quite a resolute, high calibre of the tasks.” Luqmaan 31:17
Hence the reward promised to those who practice Sabr is equally outstanding:
The people who practice Sabr will be entered into the beautiful, everlasting Jannah and angels of Allaah will welcome them with: “Peace be upon you for the Sabr you practised. Excellent indeed is the final home.” Ar-Ra’d 13:24
“And He will reward them for their Sabr in the form of Jannah and silk, reclining on raised thrones wherein they will not see sun or cold.” Ad-Dahr 76:12-13
“Those who practice Sabr will be rewarded their recompense without measure.” Zumar 39:10
They will be rewarded not according to their average, but according to the best of their performance:
“We will certainly reward those who practice Sabr according to the best of their actions they used to perform.” An-Nahl 16:96
The practice of this standard of Sabr is not possible without collective efforts of the Ummah and mutual support and reminder towards each other. Hence, it is incumbent upon believers to enjoin each other this Sabr. Without it, (according to Soorah Al-’Asr) loss is not insured, salvation is not promised and success is not assured.
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