I used to become frustrated easily, especially when I felt my time was being wasted.
It seemed as if slow drivers and traffic jams only existed to aggravate me.
There was the time an elderly man crashed into the side of my beloved ’87 Monte Carlo. Fuming, I jumped out of my car in a tirade. The poor man was shocked, first by the crash, and then by me. This wildly agitated teenager, flailing her arms, and disrespectfully screaming, red in the face.
I remember now in disgrace, how I huffed and puffed, when my sweet, elderly grandmother could no longer keep up with my youthful stride, annoyed at how she walked so slowly as I magnanimously gave her a tour of my school as a freshman.
I am most ashamed of that day, a day that might haunt me for the rest of my life.
You probably think I must have been a pretty horrible person. In fact, my patience before I found Islam, was less than exemplary.
Alhumdulillah, I can now say with confidence and immense gratitude to Allah, that by His Mercy, my character and demeanor, has improved by leaps and bounds. Through knowledge and His guidance, I have gradually transformed. Day-by-day, test-by-test, ayah-by-ayah.
Within the first year after having chosen Islam, I worked in a print shop in the heart of Midtown Manhattan. In that job, I often had to deal with angry, short-tempered customers who would treat me in humiliating ways, often hurling demeaning words at me. It reminds me now, of the way I had behaved towards that elderly man the day of the accident.
But instead of lashing out, I remained calm and polite. As a result, many of those same indignant, insulting customers, when faced with the stark contrast between their behavior and my serene kindness, would then themselves calm down.
My composure and patient demeanor became a mirror, enabling them to recognize their own misconduct, sometimes even offering an unsolicited apology and leaving the store, subdued.
During the time before I was readily identifiable as a Muslim, [I had not yet begun covering] I would receive compliments from people awestruck by my self-control in the face of difficult and often intolerable adversity, often being asked how I could remain so even-tempered with someone quite literally screaming in my face.
I always responded with a big smile: “I’m Muslim”.
That answer either left them speechless; eyes wide – mouth agape, their faces contorted in thoughtful confusion, or nodding their heads in contemplation.
I was well aware that Allah’s mercy, the guidance of Islam, was the only reason I was now able to display such a self-possessed, unflappable calm as opposed to the transgressions of my impatient past. Not only had Islam satisfied my soul, it had instilled in me the clear and unwavering understanding that nothing in this world is without purpose.
I had to learn that with every difficulty I faced was a test, and a lesson, challenging me to implement all that I had been taught. As a Muslim, my top priority became fulfilling the purpose I was made for, and attaining the prize that never expires – life in Jannah.
Lessons from the Prophets’ Patience
The Quran changed me. Inspired me to look within instead of demanding from others.
I often reflected and thought about how Adam and his wife, Hawa (Eve) must have felt, having been removed from the felicity and ease of the Garden and then placed on this volatile Earth – where they had to endure hunger, thirst, pain, illness and struggles beyond imagination. They had to have true trust in Allah and steadfastness upon following His guidance. Remembering what He told them:
We said, “Go down from it, all of you. And when guidance comes to you from Me, whoever follows My guidance – there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve. (Quran 2:38)
I had been astounded by the Prophet Noah, and how he persisted in calling his people to the forgiveness and mercy of their Creator for so many long years, even though they despised both him and his message to the point they were willing to kill him to eliminate his voice from their midst. He was mercilessly mocked and ridiculed as he constructed the ship he was commanded to build; yet he responded with matter-of-fact calm.
The Prophet Moses amazed me – He was sent back to the same place he had fled, fearing for his life. He and the Children of Israel finally escaped, traversing the sea floor – while Walls of powerful water, parted by Allah’s command helping them finally flee from the tyranny of Pharaoh. Allah blessed the Children of Israel, causing them to inherit the land in which they had been persecuted for so long.
But, in spite of the many miracles they witnessed, they were ungrateful. They treated Moses with resentment, often second-guessing him, berating him for all the difficulty they faced. Yet, Moses remained patient, forbearing and humble, committed to guiding them.
The Prophet Joseph also faced many hardships. Discarded by his own brothers, made into a slave, then thrown into jail despite his innocence, where he remained for several extra years.
It is difficult to imagine being forced to sit in a prison for years, having committed no crime, but he did… humbly and with neither anger nor contempt. And when he was reunited with his family, he openly forgave his brothers and wished Allah’s forgiveness upon them.
All of the prophets and messengers were clear examples of patience, perseverance, certainty and humility. These are the examples I want to emulate.
But, I have learned over the years, it is difficult. Patience tends to wax and wane, along with iman.
In order to be more like the Prophets, and effectively pass the test of life, we require the Help of the One who is able over all things. This is why we say several times in our prayers, “You alone we ask for help”.
But is simply asking, enough?
Allah has said:
And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah]. Who are certain that they will meet their Lord and that they will return to Him. (Quran 2:45-6)
We are instructed to seek help through sabr (patience) and salah (prayer). But, we are also cautioned that this will not be easy to attain, unless we are of the khashi’een, the humbly submissive, and have certainty about returning to Allah after death; being held accountable. Based on this, there are four qualities we should work to excel in:
Indeed, Allah is with the patient. (Quran 2:153)
If we want Allah to be with us, we must understand the meaning of sabr, which has three types: Perseverance upon following the guidance and doing good deeds, Patience during calamities and when faced with difficulties, and forbearance in refraining from sin and bad actions.
Regular prayers performed with khushu’ (attentiveness and humility): We have detailed accounts regarding the prayer of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Read about the Prophet’s prayer, and be prepared to be awestruck by his dedication, humility and fortitude.
Humble submission in and out of our prayers: Living without arrogance. Remaining humble and aware of Allah’s complete power over everything, and our need of Him, while He is free of need.
Certainty of the meeting with Allah: There is no doubt that there will come a time, when our lives will end, and we will then face Allah. Our deeds will be evident and even small issues and indiscretions that were hidden will be exposed. We will be judged without the slightest injustice.
All of the examples within the Quran are there for our assistance, as a mercy from our Bountiful Lord; instructing each and every one of us how to make seeking and attaining His help easier – How we can have Allah with us, on our side, as He promised.
While it may appear to be easier to seek help by other means, there is no help like the help of Allah. We would all do better to remember this.
(From Discovering Islam’s archive)