The beauty of the Arabic language is that many Arabic words, such as sabr, ihsan, taqwa, and more, have such a large scope that there is no one phrase in the English language that correlates to them. For many Muslims, the term sabr has become synonymous with the word “patience.” Focusing on the concept of sabr, the phrase has a much larger meaning than patience.
As Muslims, we are aware of the significance of embodying sabr in our daily lives. In addition to having this quality as part of one of Allah’s 99 names (A-Sabr), Allah has commanded the believers to exhibit it. The Qur’anic verse that follows demonstrates this:
You who believe, come! Ask for assistance through prayer and patient perseverance (sabr), for God is with those who do so (2:153)
The word “patience” is viewed as a reactive word with a negative connotation in the English language, denoting that you are patient after a trial or test. Some even assert that exercising patience entails taking a back seat while praying for a miracle to resolve the issue. But this is not genuine Islamic patience. True sabr is an active and virtuous quality, similar to tawwakul.
The literal meaning of the term (depending on how it is used) is perseverance or steadfastness. The linguistic definition of sabr is to constrain or stop. In this context, one definition offered by academics for sabr is the resolve to remain unwavering in the face of challenges.
When we delve deeper than the superficial definition of sabr, we find that several academics have noted that sabr can be divided into three groups or forms:
1. OBEY ALLAH (SWT) WITH PATIENCE (SABR ‘ALA AL-TA’A)
This definition of sabr refers to doing as Allah commands, even when it is difficult or inconvenient. For instance, Allah orders us to control our anger in Surah Al-Imran verse 134. Humans naturally experience anger, and we will all encounter situations where we feel inclined to let our emotions get the better of us. Although none of us will be flawless, the efforts we make to control our anger when we feel the want to lose control are an act of sabr.
2. RESISTANCE TO THE FORBIDDEN WITH PATIENCE (SABR ‘AN AL-MA’SIYYAH)
Numerous practices that are widely accepted in our contemporary culture contradict the laws of Allah and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). For instance, it is common practice in contemporary culture to use profanity, although the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) often cautions us in genuine hadiths about the seriousness of this transgression. Even Allah forbids us from using vulgar language in Surah Hujurat’s eleventh verse.
In this case, sabr means putting Allah’s laws and the guidance of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) before what society or the outside world says us is acceptable. In other words, sabr here denotes that we put up the effort to remain firm in our endeavors and that we follow Allah’s decrees over societal rules or established customs.
3. RESISTANCE TO ADVERSITY WITH PATIENCE (SABR ‘ALA AL-IBTILA).
Everyone of us will have periods when we are challenged. Different types of adversity may exist. It could be a difficulty with money, health, family, or personal. In this context, sabr refers to maintaining our faith in the face of difficulty and persevering in our efforts to go through the challenge.
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), who spent the first thirteen years of his mission teaching Islam in Mecca, is the best example of this type of sabr. He endured all manner of trials, hardships, and abuse for thirteen years. But despite everything, he maintained consistency in his efforts, prayers, aspirations, and good outlook toward Allah. Because Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was the pinnacle of mankind, none of us can possibly attain his level of faith. However, his use of sabr should serve as an example for us on how to incorporate sabr into our everyday life.
We can learn from his example that there are three qualities we should strive to exhibit when dealing with difficulty. These qualities include:
1. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) stated, “The real patience is at the first strike of a misfortune,” therefore don’t whine (Bukhari). This indicates that our initial response to a challenge demonstrates our genuine confidence in Allah. Is the first thing we say after experiencing or learning about a problem a swear word or a complaint, or is it “Alhumdulillah? “The response to this query proves our belief in Allah. After all, Shaytan enters through the door of complaint.
2. Maintaining efforts: sabr and is demonstrated in our efforts. Allah says in the Qur’an: “Truly, Allah will not improve a people’s condition until they change what is in themselves” (13:11). This demonstrates that although while Allah is always in control of the outcome, we still need to exert some effort when dealing with hardship or a challenge.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) never wavered in his efforts while preaching in Mecca. He didn’t just ask Allah for a miracle and wait for it to happen. He was active in his attempts to spread Islam, nevertheless. Regardless of whether his efforts were bearing fruit or not, he did everything in his power to spread the word about Islam.
3. Not giving up in prayer: Difficult times are when true faith is displayed. As a result, we must strengthen our bond with Allah while we are experiencing hardship since only He has the power to turn things around.
Whatever the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) experienced during his thirteen years in Mecca, he never wavered in his prayer to Allah, and his circumstances had no bearing on his attitude toward Allah. He kept returning to Allah even after losing his cherished wife Khadijah (RA) and cherished uncle Abu Talib in the Year of Sorrow. Although we can’t always control our circumstances, we can control our attitude and how we respond to them.
PAYOUT FOR SABR
Numerous benefits are offered for those who live their lives with sabr. Let’s discuss one reward from the Qur’an in order to keep this short:
(Qur’an, 3:146) Allah “loves those who have sabr.”
In contrast to many other gifts Allah provides, Allah’s love cannot be measured in numerical terms. However, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) emphasized the benefits we obtain when Allah loves us in one renowned Hadith, Al-Qudsi:
Allah (SWT) declared in a statement attributed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH): “When I love [my servant], I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks. If he asked for [anything], I would give it to him without a doubt, and if he asked for sanctuary, I would give it to him without a doubt (Bukhari).