Month 4: Patience

Ṣabr (Patience, Steadfastness)

Ṣabr is defined as steadfastness in carrying out one’s duties to God, whether in hardship or ease. When the term is translated as patience, it can give a sense of passiveness and inaction. However, ṣabr is actually a state of equilibrium in the faith of the believer that gives rise to great strength. It is for this reason that the term has been mentioned as a quality that provides the strength to remain resolute and determined against formidable opponents. [8:65]:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ حَرِّضِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ عَلَى الْقِتَالِ ۚ إِنْ يَكُنْ مِنْكُمْ عِشْرُونَ صَابِرُونَ يَغْلِبُوا مِائَتَيْنِ

O Prophet! Urge the believers to war; if there are twenty steadfast ones of you, they shall overcome two hundred…

From this, we learn that ṣabr is a strength that allows us to function in our daily lives as well as encourages our spiritual growth.

Ṣabr is also the strength that allows a person to respond appropriately to every situation, avoiding the dangers of excessive jubilation or undue despondency, as they have recognised the system of God’s creation and are not swayed in their conviction and good opinion of God – no matter what situation they face. In this regard Imam ʿAlī (as) cautions:

Ṣabr is of two types: ṣabr in what you dislike and ṣabr in what you enjoy.[1]

The Prophet (S) has directed that ṣabr should be exercised in three instances: ṣabr in affliction, ṣabr in obedience, and ṣabr against disobedience. Then, he said, “And ṣabr in the third instance is of greater merit than the first two.”[2]

  1. Ṣabr at times of affliction and hardship is finding the strength to continue to carry out one’s duties and responsibilities, despite the difficult situation.
  2. Ṣabr in obedience is having the strength to follow God’s laws without resentment and lethargy.
  3. Ṣabr against disobedience is to have the strength to stay away from forbidden and sinful acts.

The Qurʾan instructs believers to not only be steadfast themselves, but to counsel their fellow believers to adopt steadfastness as well [103:2-3]:

إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَفِي خُسْرٍ. إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ

Indeed, human beings are certainly in loss. Except for those who believe, and do good, and exhort one another to the truth, and exhort one another to steadfastness.

By making ṣabr a common quality in ourselves, our families, and our communities, we will InshAllah receives the glad tidings mentioned in [12:24]:

سَلَامٌ عَلَيْكُم بِمَا صَبَرْتُمْ ۚ فَنِعْمَ عُقْبَى الدَّارِ

Peace be on you, because of your steadfastness. And how excellent is the final abode!

The question, then, is how do I practice ṣabr? Below are some ideas, using the easy-to-remember acronym IMAM!

The Qurʾan directs us to seek assistance through ṣabr and ṣalāt [2:153]:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اسْتَعِينُوا بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلَاةِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ

O you who believe! seek assistance through patience and prayer; surely Allah is with the patient.

But we will only seek assistance through something we feel will help; something of value. The Holy Prophet (s) has stated that ‘Ṣabr is half of faith (īmān).’[3] And in order for us to strengthen our reserves of ṣabr, Allah creates situations where we would require ṣabr; however, He gives it to us before He puts us in that position. All I have to do is use the tool (ṣabr) that He has given me to traverse through that particular life situation.

If I use the ṣabr Allah gives me, then I move from weakness to strength: physical, mental and spiritual strength. As shown in the examples below:

  1. The army of Talut, when they saw the formidable Jalut, knew the strength required to win the battle would come from ṣabr [2:250]:

وَلَمَّا بَرَزُوا لِجَالُوتَ وَجُنُودِهِ قَالُوا رَبَّنَا أَفْرِغْ عَلَيْنَا صَبْرًا …

And when they went out against Jalut and his forces they said: Our Lord, pour down upon us ṣabr …

  1. Allah tells us in the Holy Qur’an that each believer who has ṣabr has the strength to overcome ten disbelievers [8:65]:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ حَرِّضِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ عَلَى الْقِتَالِ ۚ إِنْ يَكُنْ مِنْكُمْ عِشْرُونَ صَابِرُونَ يَغْلِبُوا مِائَتَيْنِ

O Prophet! Urge the believers to war; if there are twenty steadfast ones of you they shall overcome two hundred…

  1. Prophet Ayyūb (as) lost his wealth, health, children, home, and community and the only way he managed to have the strength to cope with all this loss was to have ṣabr [38:44]:

…إِنَّا وَجَدْنَاهُ صَابِرًا ۚ نِعْمَ الْعَبْدُ …

surely We found him patient; most excellent the servant! …

  1. Having just commemorated the shahādah day of Lady Zaynab (as), who was known as Ṣābirah, we see that it was ṣabr that gave her the strength to carry out her duties despite the tribulations she faced.

The salient feature that qualified the Divinely appointed leaders of Islam was their ṣabr [32:24]:

وَجَعَلْنَا مِنْهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا لَمَّا صَبَرُوا …

And we appointed from them Imams, guiding by Our command, when they were steadfast…

It is this Akhlāqī trait that we have to strengthen within ourselves in order to be with the Imam (af) when he comes.

In Surah Āl ʿImrān (3:200), Allah says:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اصْبِرُوا وَصَابِرُوا وَرَابِطُوا وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

‘O you who believe! Be patient and excel in patience and maintain connection, and have Taqwa of Allah, that you may be successful.’

Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (as) explains the tafsīr of this verse as follows:[4]

  • Be patient (اصْبِرُوا) in fulfilling the religious obligations.
  • Excel in patience (صَابِرُوا) in setting aside our own desires and loving or disliking for the pleasure of Allah.
  • Maintain connection (رَابِطُوا) with your Imam who is awaited.

This ayah teaches us that in order to maintain a connection with the Imam (af), we need to not only inculcate ṣabr, but go further and excel in ṣabr.

 

[1] Rayshahrī, Mīzān al-Ḥikmah, Hadith 10099.

[2] al-Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, 2/91.

[3] al-Nūrī, Mustadrak al-Wasāʾil, 2/425.

[4] Nuʿmānī, Kitāb al-Ghaybah, p.199

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