Patience (ṢBR) is a word that is mentioned hundred of times in the Holy Quran. It refers to an attitude that beautifies all other aspects of our Muslim lives as we endeavor to submit to the ways of Allah.
Obstacles are inevitable in human lives. But the way we deal with them would determine the final result. Having a painful moment does not mean that we are being neglected by Allah; instead we are being brought closer to the Almighty. Prophet Muhammed (ﷺ) said,
“If Allah wants to do good to somebody, He afflicts him with trials.” (Ṣaḥîḥ al-Bukhârî #5645. Dâr Ṭawq Al-Najjāh, Beirut, 2002, Volume 7, Hadith 115)
The life we live in this world is the prelude to life in the next world. Believers are obliged to work hard in the here-and-now in order to be joyous in the hereafter. In order to guide us to grow closer to Himself, Allah throws hurdles onto our paths to force us to inspect our own faith. Believers strive to be patient in these moments of hardships, craving the delayed ecstasies in heaven.
Most of the time we are not able to know the mystery behind something that we assume as a hardship, but in fact that hardship might be something good for us. For instance, we might have to reach a place within a specified time, but then we miss the train. This failure to meet the appointed time would be for a better reason that we even couldn’t figure out at the time, such as avoiding a car crash along the way. Or, sometimes we would have to be faced with some troubles, perhaps because our deeds incline towards evil. Indeed Allah says,
“And whatever strikes you of disaster, it is for what your hands have earned—but He pardons much.” [Sûrah Al-Shûrâ, 42:30]
Patience is always considered as a good quality for humankind to develop and to increase. Islam always upholds the standard of being patient and kind. Allah says,
“Indeed, the patient (al-ṣâbir-ûn) will be given their reward in full without measure.” [Sûrah Al-Zumar, 39:10]
Being patient will help us to analyze a situation and to work on overcoming it. Patience in Islam has many dimensions. Holding back one’s body from what Islam restricts and training it to perform righteous deeds are some of those dimensions. Many examples in the lives of the Prophets show how great their patience was. Even though Prophet Nûh (A.S.) had propagated his divine message for almost 950 years, it brought around only some 11 to 80 followers. Throughout his propagation struggle he faced many abuses, derisions and at times complete ignorance. But he kept patiently waiting for the fruits of his efforts. Then he, along with his followers, sailed to Mount Judi when the the great flood covered the rest of the earth.
“And certainly We sent Noah to his people, so he remained among them a thousand years save fifty years. And the deluge overtook them while they were unjust. So we delivered him and the Companions of the Ark. And We made it a sign for all peoples.” [Sûrah Al-Ankabut 29:14-15]
The Quran describes the patience of Prophet Ya‘qûb (A.S.) as “beautiful patience.” He loses his son but still waits for his return with much patience.
[The brothers] said, “O our father, indeed we went racing each other and left Joseph with our possessions, and a wolf ate him. But you would not believe us, even if we be truthful.” And they brought his shirt, stained with false blood. He responded, “No! Your souls must have tempted you [to do something evil.] So [I can only endure with] beautiful patience (ṣabr)! It is Allah’s help that I seek to bear your claims.” [Sûrah Yusuf 12:17-18]
These stories draw out how much Allah loves patience. No matter what occurs in life, the believer always gives priority —through his sincere belief in Allah— to thinking that whatever that outcome, it is for the ultimate good. Whenever ease comes along, he thanks Allah. And whenever hardship hits him, he relies on Allah.
Prophet Muhammed (ﷺ) said: “Wondrous is the affair of the believer, as there is good for him in every matter —which is not the case with anyone but the believer. If [the believer] is happy, he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him. If he is harmed, he shows patience (al-ṣabr) and thus there is good for him.” (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, #2999. Dār Iḥyāʼ al-Kutub al-ʻArabīyah, Beirut, 1955, Volume 4, Hadith 2295)
Notice how food becomes more tasty to us when our hunger intensifies. In the same way we can experience the best taste of our blessings during our hard times. According to Ibn Al-Qayyim, patience means,
“…to stop ourselves from despairing and panicking, to stop our tongues from complaining, and to stop our hands from striking our faces and tearing our clothes at times of grief and stress.” (Translated into English by Nasiruddin al-Khattab in Patience and Gratitude, London: Ta-Ha, 1997)
As long as we keep up our patience, Allah is removing our sins and rewarding us for every single moment of discomfort we experience, no matter how seemingly trivial. Moreover, being tested with difficulties in this world is much better than being punished in the afterlife. The Prophet (ﷺ) said,
“If Allah intends good for His servant, He hastens the punishment for him in this world.” (Jamî‘ Al-Tirmidhī #2396. Dār al-Ġarb al-Islāmī, Beirut, 1998, Volume 4: Hadith 179; declared fair [hạsan] by Al-Tirmidhī)
Furthermore the Prophet (ﷺ) said,
“The believing men and women continue to experience trials in their lives, with their children and wealth until they meet Allah without any sin.” (Jamî‘ Al-Tirmidhī, #2399. Dār al-Ġarb al-Islāmī, Beirut, 1998, Volume 4: Hadith180; declared authentic [sạhị̄h] by Al-Tirmidhī)
The intention of Allah in testing us is not to discourage us, but to purify our emotions and to heal us with spirituality. We can adopt the Holy Quran’s teachings regarding patience into our way of life in many ways, using it to guide us now and into the hereafter. A physical journey, whether you are walking, driving or otherwise, is rarely a straight line from point A to B; rather, it has many twists and turns required for one reason or another. Such forced pauses or side trips require patience.
Think about patience in terms of personal and professional development. There will always be hardships along the way. It is how we deal with these setbacks —displaying patience— which ensures we can see a difficult situation from all angles and thereby gain experience for the future. Confrontation rarely gets you anywhere, and conflict, more often than not, closes one door without necessarily opening another. Opposition to difficulties helps no one, but patience does.
The Holy Quran teaches us to control our anger as otherwise it will become a distraction. Instead, we should adopt a positive mentality and, in the event of disagreement or provocation, we should exercise patience. This can give us pause to remember the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.
Part of ṣabr (patience) is the discovery of truth, which is why patience in Islam is not simply sitting off in the corner and allowing the world to pass you by. Life presents many challenges and, unfortunately, there remain those who face many more challenges than we do. Those who suffer from poverty and war face the biggest challenges of all; the discovery of this truth, as well as taking action to help them, purifies the soul.
“For those who do good in this world there is good, and the earth of Allah is vast. Only those who are patient (al-ṣâbir-ûn) will be paid back their reward without measure.” [Sûrah Al-Zumar, 39:10]
Though Islam encourages patience, it does not preclude expressing one’s emotions at loss or disappointment. Prophet Muhammed (ﷺ) wept for his beloved son Ibrahim. Thereupon his Companion,
‘Abdur Rahman bin ‘Awf, who belonged to a family of the Ansar, was surprised to see the Prophet shedding tears. He objected to this saying: “You have been restraining us from weeping for the dead. How is it that you are now shedding tears at the death of your son?” The Prophet replied: “I have never said that you should not weep at the death of your dear ones because that is a sign of kindness and pity. In fact, a person whose heart is not moved for others does not become entitled to the blessings of Allah. (Biharul Anwar, vol. XXII, page 151)
I have said that you should not make excessive lamentations at the death of your near ones and neither utter indecent or objectionable words, nor tear your dress out of too much grief.” (Seerah-i Halabi, vol. III, page 348)
The mourning of the Prophet for his son was an indication of his human sentiments, which continued even after the death of his child. And the manifestation of sentiments and expressions of grief were signs of his kind nature, which showed itself involuntarily throughout his life. As regards his not uttering anything against the pleasure of Allah, this was an indicator of his faith and of his resignation to the Divine Will, which none can escape.
Allah says in the Holy Quran,
“Give [O Muhammad] good tidings to the patient (al-ṣâbir-în), who —when disaster strikes them— say: ‘Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.’ ” [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:155-156]
Allah also says,
“So verily, with the hardship, there is relief. Verily, with the hardship, there is relief.” [Sûrah Al-Inshirâḥ, 94:5-6]
So instead of having us respond in desperation over hardships, Islam encourages us to find shelter in the divine force. It is the cultivation of the “beautiful patience” displayed by Prophet Ya‘qûb (A.S.) that can open that opportunity for us.