By Nikhat Sattar
January 29th, 2016
“BY time! Surely man is in loss, except those who believe and do good, and exhort one another to truth, and exhort one another to patience” (103:1-3).
The quality of Sabr is one that the Quran has emphasised again and again, along with Iman and Shukr. It is difficult to grasp the full meaning of the Arabic Sabr by its English synonym, patience or even perseverance.
It means not only restraint or control over oneself, but also restraining from sinful activities and never giving up hope and belief in God and His support.
‘Sabr’ is the opposite of despair and hopelessness.
This is why whenever the Prophet (PBUH) was faced with difficulties from his enemies, God instructed him to pray and continue his efforts with perseverance. In other words, Sabr is the opposite of despair and hopelessness, for this would mean a denial of the presence of God, who listens to His servants, provided they are sincere in their prayers.
The term Sabr has been cited in the Quran 90 times, in various places and different contexts.
It is mentioned that those who believe and are patient would enter paradise without being held to account: “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” (39:10).
Sabr is not only mentioned as a characteristic that must be inculcated to deal with pain and suffering in life. It is also referred to when encountering enemies who have harmed one severely. Although it is allowed to give them similar treatment, Muslims have been told that it is better to exercise Sabr. They have been told that it is a measure of their courage and determination and that those who develop it are eligible for God’s love.
Perseverance and gratitude are often mentioned in the Quran together. If one is grateful to one’s Creator and gives thanks for every blessing and every suffering, one is also recognising that whatever one has is by God’s will.
One must act in the way one has been instructed, i.e. be humble if blessed, and handle one’s misfortunes as best as one can, leaving the result to God.
Perseverance does not mean accepting wrongs committed by others and not taking any action to improve one’s lot. God requires humankind to take action and rise to the challenges of life. At the same time, people must neither become arrogant if they succeed, nor give up if they fail.
Sabr is also the key to controlling one’s desires which, if they get out of hand, can cause great moral, social and economic damage. It means preventing oneself from taking hasty actions. Haste, without due deliberation, can be devastating.
Sabr and Shukr are weapons for life, both emboldened by Salah (prayer). The three provide the strength to meet the trials and tribulations faced by each one of us in this world.
The first two do not come naturally; they are deepened in one’s soul through continuous practice and self-accountability. There will always be instances when one will utter words of pain, sighs of suffering, even despair. But as long as these periods are short-lived and one asks God for forgiveness and support, one is bound to recover and be able to face the world with renewed strength.
People who will be given their accounts in their right hand (and hence will be eligible to enter paradise) will be those who demonstrated Sabr and compassion.
“And then being among those who believed and advised one another to patience and advised one another to compassion. Those are the companions of the right” (90:17-18) Here, God has combined the qualities of Sabr and compassion, because how is it possible that those who control their anger, rage and other negative feelings, not show kindness and love for others, however much they might have hurt them?
How would one develop these qualities? They are not developed overnight, nor are they a miracle that could happen to only a few individuals.
We can all become more patient, grateful and humble and face our troubles by constantly remembering God, reading and trying to understand His book, being vigilant with our prayers and keeping away from depressing thoughts.
A positive attitude and accepting the fact that while we must take responsibility for our actions and our lives, we must also place our full faith and confidence in God is the key.
We are unhappy about many things in our lives, but it is God’s wisdom which we, as mortals, cannot grasp. In the long run, God will do what is best for us. And there will be rewards and blessings for us if we bow to His knowledge and His mercy. n
Nikhat Sattar is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.