Patience is often mentioned with suffering.
When someone is suffering, we say ‘be patient’, not knowing exactly what that means.
To the recipient of this advice, at best it means for them to bear with their misfortune, and at worst it means they have been abandoned and have nothing but ‘patience’.
But patience in Islam is a treasure. Beautiful patience is one without disquietude. It is vast in its meanings. It is a virtue that has been mentioned in the Quran over 90 times. It’s an essential characteristic of the Prophets, as God tells us:
And [mention] Ishmael and Idrees and Dhul-Kifl; all were of the patient. And We admitted them into Our mercy. Indeed, they were of the righteous. (21: 85-6)
And the Prophets were anything but complacent. They were anything but meek. They carried the inner strength of certainty and this was manifested in their behavior. And they are our examples.
So patience cannot simply be one-dimensional. God tells us in the Quran:
And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah ] (2: 45)
Patience is our aid and we are told to seek help through it. This necessarily means that patience will get us through an ordeal or a difficulty. It may not be easy, but those who try also have the help of God. So what exactly is patience?
In the Arabic language, sabr means to confine or contain. According to Ibn Al-Qayyim, it is to contain the soul from despondence and anxiety, and to confine the tongue from complaints.
Patience takes different outward forms, which will be discussed in this series insha Allah. But it is an empowering characteristic because its inward form requires steadfastness and perseverance. And this is rooted in certainty and contentment; certainty in the promise of God and contentment with His decree, whatever that may be.
And these are guided by love for God.
A person who loves finds it much easier to be patient and to persevere. This is because he sees everything as coming from God, and if it comes from God, there must be a reason for it. A person who loves wants the Beloved to see him in the best of states, and so he manifests the best of patience.
A person who loves has a good opinion of the Beloved, and understands that in everything is good. And a person who loves has a strong relationship with the Beloved, and so turns to Him for help.
The inward state of patience helps a person deal with misfortune, persist in opposing evil and continue to do good despite the odds. This is why Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) tells us:
Whoever persists in being patient, God will make him patient. Nobody can be given a blessing better and greater than patience. (Al-Bukhari)
Its reward is immense and elevates the station of a person. Thus, to have the characteristic of patience, or rather to be characterized as being patient, is a great strength.
Patience is Not…
However, there are certain things that patience is not. Patience is not to be defeated. It is not to be weak. It is not to take and accept abuse – but rather patience provides the balance between violent backlash and weak retreat. True patience comes with a mark of dignity.
When the Muslims were in a position of weakness in Makkah, a man (who was not Muslim) came to Prophet Muhammad asking him for help because Abu Jahl had borrowed money from him and was refusing to give it back.
Prophet Muhammad did not tell the man that he should forego his right – what many would understand today as patience. Rather he went with the man to Abu Jahl and demanded that Abu Jahl return the money to the man.
The Rank of Patience
To be of the patient is to be of those whom God is with in His care and whom God loves. God tells us:
Allah is with the patient. (2: 153)
As well as:
And Allah loves the patient. (3: 146)
And this has practical and spiritual implications. If God is with you, then you are in His care, and if God loves you, He will show you that love. Imagine that God tells those who are patient:
Yes, if you remain patient and conscious of Allah and the enemy come upon you [attacking] in rage, your Lord will reinforce you with five thousand angels having marks [of distinction] (3: 125)
The help of God is guaranteed. And to possess this characteristic is to possess a characteristic of the Prophets and the awliya’ (those close to God). As Ibn Al-Qayyim tells us:
“God describes finding Prophet Job (peace be upon him) patient with his afflictions – and immediately after, Prophet Job is praised.”
Moreover, in looking at the internal component of patience, one only needs to look at the story of Prophet Jacob (peace be upon him). Jacob loses his two sons, but he never despairs. On the contrary, he said:
Perhaps Allah will bring them to me all together. Indeed it is He who is the Knowing, the Wise. (12: 83)
His secret was patience that was grounded in hope and a good opinion of God. It was that patience that allowed him to say:
I only complain of my suffering and my grief to Allah, and I know from Allah that which you do not know. (12: 86)
Persevere with Dignity & Certainty
When we manifest the meaning of patience, both internally and externally, we embody perseverance and determination. And for this we are given ultimate victory.
The Prophet Muhammad said:
And know that victory comes with patience. (At-Tirmidhi)
Many of us desire the quick-fix. We look at all the great problems around us and may feel hopeless.
Perhaps in our spiritual journey, we feel that we are not progressing as we like, and so we give up. We may get angry at a bad behavior of people. But any victory must come with patience – and patience means persevering with dignity. And this is where certainty must come in.
Prophet Muhammad is telling us to know that victory will come with a proper manifestation of patience. Know that if you are working on yourself spiritually, you will be elevated if you persevere. Even if it takes years:
… for indeed, Allah does not allow to be lost the reward of those who do good (11: 115)
Know that if you are striving to get rid of drugs in your neighborhood, it will come to fruition. It might mean the patience of two generations, but your job is to plant the seed of certainty and determination. And know that if you apply this patience to whatever good that you do, God will give you victory.
So be patient; indeed, the [best] outcome is for the righteous. (11: 49)
May Allah help us to realize the true meaning of patience in our lives.
(From Discovering Islam’s archive.)