Enduring the misfortunes and illnesses, withstanding the desires of the lower self and being steadfast in worshipping are kinds of sabr (patience) that will lead us to the Paradise.
Sabr is the ability to hold back, remain calm, maintain one’s cool, restrain oneself and wait and see despite the urge to jump on, barge in, respond, and do something in the situations of heat, pressure, anxiety, curiosity, anger, confrontation, etc.
It is also the patience exercised during the hardships people face in their lives such as illnesses and diseases, death of loved ones, natural calamities and disasters, and problems or setbacks emanating from the situations and circumstances beyond one’s control.
Knowing that all these things are part of our test for which we have been put on the earth and knowing that our success lies in how well we react and handle such situations help a believer endure these hardships without panicking, complaining or being frustrated.
Our prophet Muhammad (saw) said, “Iman (faith) is divided into two equal parts. One half is the sabr and the other half is the shukr (gratitude).” (Şuabu’l-Iman, 123/7; Feyzu’l-Kadîr, 188/3)
Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an, “Say, ‘O My servants who have believed, fear your Lord. For those who do good in this world is good, and the earth of Allah is spacious. Indeed, the patient will be given their reward without account.’” (Zumar, 39:10)
The one who practices sabr will never be deprived of success even though it may take a long time. The secret of success in this worldly life and for the hereafter is to have patience with sequence of calamities for the sake of Allah (swt).
Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (ra) said, “Verily, sabr is to the faith what the head is to the body. The body perishes without the head, and so also when sabr goes, faith also disappears.” (Al-Kulayni, al Kafi, vol. 2, bab al Sabr, p. 128, hadith 2)
When Imam Ali (ra) was asked about faith, he replied, “The structure of faith is supported by four pillars: patience (sabr), conviction (yaqin), justice (`adl) and struggle (jihad).” Then he explained further, “Patience comprises of four attributes: eagerness, fear, piety and anticipation (of death). So, whoever is eager for Paradise will ignore evil temptations; whoever fears the fire of Hell will abstain from sins; whoever practices piety will easily bear the difficulties and hardships of the life of this world and whoever anticipates death will hasten to perform good deeds.” (Al-Amidi, Ghurar ul Hikam wa Durar ul Kalim, hadith 2897)
We need to consider three simple but vital levels of being patient. These subjects are very detailed and can be listed under separate topics but we will try to give some brief explanations.
The First Level: Patience on worship
We give up practicing our duties like performing salah (five daily prayers) saying that “we work very hard, we are very busy, we are very tired;” giving zakah (charity) thinking that our savings will be diminished; fasting in Ramadan complaining about the temperature outside, or performing Hajj thinking about the difficulties that we will confront in Hajj duties.
This is extremely dangerous. There is actually a sort of anger which is directed toward Allah (swt). We feel angry at what Allah (swt) has decreed for us, and this is haram (forbidden). And it is possible that this could lead to kufr (disbelief). Allah said: “And among mankind is he who worships Allah upon the very edge (i.e. in doubt); if good befalls him, he is content therewith; but if a trial befalls him, he turns back on his face (i.e. reverts back to disbelief after embracing Islam). He loses both this world and the Hereafter. That is the evident loss.” (Hajj, 22:11) May Allah (swt) protect us from this grave danger!
We must remember that our duty in this life is to worship Allah (swt) alone. Going after the worldly affairs and forgetting our real responsibility as the servants of Allah (swt) is a big mistake. What’s more, the things that our Lord wants from us in return for His countless blessings on us are very few. Wouldn’t it be such ingratitude not to do what He wants from us?
The Second Level: Patience in the form of thankfulness and being grateful
This is the highest level. This is what the person thanks Allah (swt) for the affliction which has struck him that he knows that affliction is expiation for his sins and perhaps a cause for an increase in his good deeds. The Prophet Sallallahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam said, “There is no affliction which strikes the Muslim except that Allah expiates with (sins), even with a thorn that may poke him.” (Bukhari & Muslim) And it is said in the Qur’an, “And be patient, indeed Allah is with the patient ones.” (Anfal; 8:46)
If we become sick, our illnesses may transform each of the minutes of our life into the equivalent of hours’ worship. Because worship is of two kinds; one is positive like supplication and five daily prayers; the other is negative forms of worship like enduring illness and calamities. By means of this second kind, when we are afflicted with illness, we realize our weakness; we take refuge in Allah (swt) and pray in sincerity. For this reason, we should, let alone complaining, offer thanks when we get sick which transforms or transient moments of this life into eternal gains in the hereafter.
The Third Level: Patience with our lower self (nafs)
Human body is like a town and the intellect of the mature human being is like a king ruling that town. All the forces of the external and internal senses he can muster are like his soldiers and his aides. The lower self that enjoins evil (nafs al-ammara), that is, lust and anger, is like an enemy that challenges him in his kingdom and strives to slaughter his people. The body thus becomes like a garrison-town or sea-outpost, and the soul like its custodian posted in it. If he fights against his enemies and defeats them and compels them to do what he likes, he will be praised when he returns to Allah’s presence, as Allah (swt) said: “Those who strive in the way of Allah with their wealth and lives. Allah has conferred on those who strive with their wealth and lives a rank above the sedentary.” (Nisa, 4:95).
When a person firmly believes that what he is going to obtain in the other world after death is a form of his own deeds performed in this worldly life, he will have no distress while going through hardships and hostile situations. Rather, such a person becomes happy with the difficulties encountered in the fulfilment of divine duties. His joy will be more than the anguish of a normal person over such difficulties. His attachment to Allah (swt) increases during adverse circumstances.
This world is a prison for a believer (when compared to the life in Paradise, that is). Gather all the strength at your command and be patient and forbearing throughout its ups and downs. With courage and fortitude, stand against adversities and calamities. Make yourself understand that the agitation and anguish inside you, aside from involving a great disgrace by themselves, are futile in confrontation with sufferings and calamities.
Be happy with Allah (swt) and do not complain about His decrees and inevitable ordeals to the other creatures. During the times of hardships, turn your heart’s attention to the focal point of Absolute Perfection, Allah (swt), and you will witness its effects in this world itself and your heart will attain such an expanse that it will become the realm of the manifestation of Allah’s sovereignty. Richness and contentment will then pervade your heart such that everything related to this world will become worthless in your eyes.
Sabr, forbearance and restraint bring fair and plentiful rewards and have sublime and beautiful forms in the world of Barzakh (intermediate realm).
“Nay, seek (Allah’s) help with patient perseverance and prayer; it is indeed hard, except to those who bring a lowly spirit, who bear in mind the certainty that they are to meet their Lord, and that they are to return to Him.” (Baqarah, 2:45-46)
O Allah, make us among those who have patience with hardships and those who are thankful for Your blessings.