Sabr literally means enduring,
bearing, and resisting pain; suffering and difficulty; and dealing calmly with
problems. In more general terms it means patience, which is one of the most
important actions of the heart mentioned in the Qur’an. Because of its
importance, patience is regarded as half of one’s religious life (the other
half is thankfulness).
The Qur’an orders patience in many verses, such as: Seek
help in patience and prayer (2:45) and: Endure, vie with each other in
endurance (3:199), and prohibits haste in verses like: Show not haste
concerning them (the unbelievers) (46:35) and: When you meet in battle
those who do not believe, turn not your backs to them (8:15). In many Qur’anic
verses, God praises the patient, declares that He loves them, or mentions the
ranks He has bestowed on them: The patient and steadfast, and the truthful
and loyal (3:16); God loves the patient (3:145); and Surely God
is with the patient (2:153).
The Qur’an mentions many other aspects of patience. For
example: If you endure patiently, this is indeed better for those who are
patient (16:126) advises patience as a preferable way in dealing with
unbelievers while communicating God’s Message to them. We will certainly
bestow on those who are patient their reward according to the best of what they
used to do (16:96) consoles the patient with the best of rewards to be
given in the Hereafter. If you have patience and guard yourselves against
evil and disobedience, God will send to your aid five thousand angels having
distinguishing marks, if they [your enemies] suddenly attack you (3:124)
promises the believers Divine aid in return for patience.
How meaningful is the following saying of the master of
humanity concerning patience and thankfulness:
How remarkable a believer’s affair is, for it is always
to his advantage, and such a condition is only for a believer. If something
good happens to him he thanks God, which is to his advantage; if something
bad happens to him he endures it, which is also to his advantage.
The characteristics of patience can be grouped into five
categories: enduring difficulties associated with being a true servant of God
or steadfastness in performing regular acts of worship; resisting temptations
of the carnal self and Satan to commit sins; enduring heavenly or earthly
calamities, which includes resignation to Divine decrees; being steadfast in
following the right path and not allowing worldly attractions to cause
deviation; and showing no haste in realizing hopes or plans that require a
certain length of time to achieve.
With respect to its degrees, patience can be divided into
six categories: showing patience for the sake of God; showing patience and
attributing it to God (being convinced that God enables one to show patience);
enduring patiently whatever comes from God, knowing that He acts from His
Wisdom; being resigned to whatever happens in the way of God; showing patience
by not disclosing the mysteries of one’s achieved spiritual station and to
preserve one’s nearness to God; and resolving to fulfill one’s mission of
communicating God’s Message to people despite one’s deepest desire to die
and meet with God.
There are other definitions of patience as well. For
example, preserving one’s manners in the face of misfortune; being steadfast
when confronted with events, and showing no sign of being deterred; never
giving in to one’s carnal desires and the impulses of one’s temperament;
accepting the commandments of the Qur’an and the Sunna as a sort of
invitation to Paradise; and sacrificing all possessions, including one’s soul
and beloved ones, for the sake of the True, Beloved One.
Those Qur’anic interpreters who were interested in the
text’s secret or esoteric meanings have made the following commentaries on
the verse: Endure, vie with each other in endurance, and continue your
relation with God (3:199):
Be steadfast in performing your religious duties, endure
whatever displeasing thing happens to you, and maintain your love of God and
desire to meet with Him. Or, be steadfast in fulfilling all your
responsibilities for the sake of God and to please Him, and endure the
difficulty of always being aware of His constant supervision of you and feeling
His omnipresence. Or, be steadfast in following the Straight Path without any
deviation, even when Divine bounties pour out onto you. Resolve to endure all
difficulties and hardships, and maintain your connection or adherence to God
whatever happens to you.
Another approach to patience is to attribute to God Almighty
whatever is in the universe and happens therein and, while giving thanks for
what appears pleasing, being resigned to what appears displeasing. When a
believer unburdens himself or herself to God while trying to overcome a
misfortune or hardship, a responsibility that is very hard to fulfill, or sins
that might be committed, this must not be considered a complaint against God.
Rather, it is a believer’s way of asking Him for help and seeking refuge in
Him. In no way can such an action be considered a complaint or a protest
against God or Divine Destiny. In reality, and according to one’s intention,
such an act may even be regarded as a supplication and an entreaty, as putting
one’s trust in Him or as submitting to Him.
The cry of Prophet Job, upon him be peace, to God: Truly
distress (disease, tribulation) has seized me. But You are the Most
Compassionate of the Compassionate (21:83) and the groaning of Prophet
Jacob, upon him be peace: I only complain of my anguish and my sorrow unto
God (12:86) are supplications or entreaties for God's pity and compassion.
God Almighty praised Job, upon him be peace, for being an excellent servant
distinguished with patience and supplications: We found him patient; how
excellent a servant! Truly he was ever turning (to God) with supplications
One of the most distinguishing characteristics of Prophets
and saints is their embodiment of patience in all of its manifold forms and
degrees, and that without deviating from their utmost devotion to God, they do
their best to communicate God’s Message to people and bear all misfortune and
difficulty arising therefrom. The glory of humanity, upon him be peace and
bless-ings, who is a mercy for the whole of creation, declared: Among
mankind, those who are stricken with the most terrible of misfortunes are the
Prophets, and then follow others according to their degree of faith.
Patience is an essential characteristic of those believers
who are the most advanced in belief, spirituality, nearness to God, and who
guide others to the truth. It is, moreover, the source of power for those
advancing toward this final point. Since the most advanced people experience
the most misfortune, they are perfect embodiments of patience, which is the
price they pay for the rank bestowed on them. Others who have been destined to
advance to that final point cross the distances traveled by others through
different and frequent acts of worship, by enduring whatever happens to them.
Of these, God’s Messenger, upon him be peace and blessings, says:
If God Almighty has destined a servant of His to a rank
or position which he cannot reach through his religious actions, He causes
him to suffer from his own self and family, and equips him with patience to
endure all his sufferings. He elevates him through patience to the rank to
which he has destined him.
Thus the suffering to be endured, the difficulty in
fulfilling one’s responsibilities, and the pressure of sin contain potential
mercy, mercy that is attracted by one’s patience. One subjected to such
affliction should not unburden himself or herself to anybody else. How
beautifully Fuduli says:
You say you are a lover, then do not complain of the
affliction of love;
By complaining, do not make others informed of your
Travelers on the path to God should know how to burn and
boil with love or be consumed with affliction, but never complain to others of
such love and affliction. Even if crushed by difficulty or responsibility as
heavy as mountains, they should not complain to others.
Rumi summarizes such a degree of patience as follows:
In order to be sustenance for man, a source of strength
for his knees, a “light” for his eyes, and a substance for the
maintenance of his life, a grain of wheat must be buried in the bosom of the
earth, germinate under it, and grow to emerge into the air. It must come
into the air after a fierce struggle with the earth, and then be sown and
threshed, and ground in a mill. After that, it must be kneaded, baked in an
oven, and, finally, chewed by teeth, sent into the stomach, and digested.
To attain true humanity, each individual must be “sieved”
or “distilled” many times to discover his or her true essence. Otherwise,
the ability to develop one’s potential to its fullest, to be truly human, is
It is expected of God’s servant to suffer,
And of an aloe wood to burn.
Patience is an essential and most important dimension of servanthood
to God, and is crowned with resignation, the highest spiritual
rank in the sight of God, to whatever God has destined.