Patience and fortitude

Sabr (patience) is when one remains constant in the face of changes in one’s physical and spiritual states and to preserve one’s composure, to endure trials, deal with pain, meet distress and difficulties with cool-headedness, and to restrain one’s human feelings within the limits of reason and religion.

Matanah (fortitude) is when one meets whatever befalls one with strength of character, firmness, toleration, and steadfastness.

Patience is the foundation of good character. It is half of faith and the key to happiness and bliss. It is a great virtue that reunites one with the bounties of Paradise. Patience is to envelop oneself in peace without destroying one’s balance, in the face of the events that may displease one and cause pain. It is to submit to Allah.

The prophets and the saints have always displayed paramount examples of patience and have been subject to divine help. This is why they should be our models in the matter of patience.

The worldly aspect of patience is pain but the otherworldly aspect is very bright indeed. Those who bear the pain of being patient will be rewarded with Allah’s pleasure and the eternal realm of Paradise.

To reflect on the favours in the commands and prohibitions of Allah, to ponder on their wisdom and the divine reward that is to follow makes being patient easier.

The first condition of patience is that one displays it when one first encounters the event that necessitated it. Patience that is not shown at the time of the event does not have as much reward.

Because patience includes all aspects of good character, it has a very great position in our religion. Patience is mentioned over seventy times in the Holy Qur’an. Patience is recommended to the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and to his entire community:

‘O You who have faith! Seek help in steadfastness and prayer’ (Al-Baqara, 2:153)

‘O You who have faith, be steadfast; be supreme in steadfastness; be firm on the battlefield; and have taqwa of Allah; so that hopefully you will be successful’(Al’i Imran, 3:200).

In a commentary on this verse, Elmalili Muhammad Hamdi Yazir has the following to say:

“One of the divine names of Allah is Al-Sabur, orThe Patient One. Whoever has patience has had manifest Allah’s power within him. And especially if these patient people come together to form a community, then they will be subject to Allah’s help in all situations. Allah is their constant friend and guardian”.[1]

The greatest of rewards always come after one has displayed the greatest of patience and tolerated calamities and trials. The Holy Qur’an states:

‘The steadfast will be paid their wages in full without any reckoning’(Az Zumar, 39:10).

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) has informed us of the varieties of patience and its virtue as follows:

“Patience is three: patience in the face of calamities; patience in serving Allah; and patience in refraining from committing sin”(Suyuti, II, 42; Daylami, II, 416)

Again the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) has informed us that Allah Most High has said:

“Whenever Allah takes back from the world a friend of His that He loves, the reward for the believer who shows patience and awaits his reward from Allah is Paradise” (Bukhari, Rikak, 6)

“If My servant is steadfast when I test him by making his two eyes blind, then I will give him Paradise in return for his eyes”.(Bukhari, Merda, 7; Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 58)

Patience and steadfastness is one of the most important disciplines in our religion. And the test of patience is one of the hardest trials. This is why Abu Bakr  has said:

“It is more accepting to me to be in health and grateful than to be subject to trial and have to be patient”.

Scenes of Virtue

The life of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) is full of beautiful examples of patience. From his childhood to the time of his death he encountered great sorrow, all manner of distress and grief. He lost his father before he even came into this world. He lost his mother at the age of six, his grandfather at the age of eight, and in the tenth year of his prophethood he lost his uncle who had given him protection. Three days after this he lost his greatest supporter, his beloved wife, Khadijah. He farewelled the Master of Martyrs, his uncle Hamza at the Battle of Uhud, and six of his seven children and many of his grandchildren, some at a young age and some as adults. He buried many of his beloved Companions with his own hands. He was subject to torture, insults, slander, hunger and poverty. He was injured in battle and subject to feverish illnesses. However none of these managed to upset his fortitude or his balance. He was a model of patience and acceptance under all circumstances.

How many of us have buried six of our children with our own hands? How many of us have held our little babies and grandchildren in our arms watching them struggle to breathe and then finally pass away? Has anybody had the emaciated body of their uncle ripped apart and his liver bitten into? In short, is there any other person, other than the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), who has been tried with such manner of agony and extreme tribulation and showed such patience and acceptance in each case?

***

In the time of the days of ignorance, and during the season of Hajj, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) would set up a stand from which he would preach Islam. He became subject to much distress, difficulty and torture as a result. However he met each with patience and never complained. One time he invited to Islam the tribe of the sons of Amir ibn Sa’saa as he did with many other tribes. They listened to the Prophet, asked him some questions however they did not become Muslim. When Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) left them and mounted his camel, a pagan by the name of Bayhara provoked his camel. The camel suddenly rose making Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) fall to the ground. A Muslim woman named Dubaa ibnti Amir who saw this insult to the Messenger of Allah cried out:

“O tribe of Amir. Is there not one of you who sees this cruelty to the Messenger of Allah and does nothing to protect him, even for my sake?

Three men who were her uncle’s sons rose and assaulted Bayhara. After this event the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) prayed for them as a sign of his loyalty:

“O Allah. Bestow your blessings upon them”. As a result of the blessings of this prayer, Allah Most High made those brave men become Muslim and they eventually became martyrs. (Ibn Hajar, Al-Isaba, IV, 353).

Tarik ibn Abdullah Al-Muharibi narrates how he witnessed the patience which Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) displayed in the face of the difficulties he encountered in preaching Islam:

“I once saw the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) at the Zulmajaz Stand and he was preaching to the people:

“O people! Say ‘la ilaha illallah (there is no god but Allah) and be saved”. A man there was following him with a rock and screaming:

“O people! Never believe him, do not dare follow him. He is a liar”. He threw the rock at the Prophet and made his ankles bleed. I asked those who were there:

“Who is this man (preaching)?” They replied:

“He is a youth from the sons of Abdulmuttalib”. Then I asked:

“And who is that man who is following him and throwing rocks at him?” They replied:

“That is his uncle, Abu Lahab”.[2]

***

Mudrik Al-Asdi (r.a) narrates another example showing that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was a model of patience:

“I was once with my father performing the hajj (during the days of ignorance). When we came to Mina, we encountered a group of people. I asked my father:

“Why have these people gathered here?” He answered:

“For that person there who has abandoned the religion of his tribe”. When I looked at who he was pointing at, I saw that it was the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and he was saying:

O people! Say ‘la ilaha illallah’ and be saved”.

Some of the people spat in his face while others threw dirt over him and yet others reviled him. This situation continued until midday. Just at that point, a young girl whose shoulders were bare, came carrying a container of water and a handkerchief. She was crying. The Messenger of Allah took the water and drank from it and washed his hands and face. He raised his head and said:

“My dear child! Cover your shoulders with your headscarf. Do not fear that your father will fall into a trap and be killed or be disgraced”.

We asked who this girl was. They answered: “His daughter, Zaynab”. (Haysami, VI, 21)

***

Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (r.a) narrates:

While the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) was distributing the booty from the Battle of Hunayn he gave more of a share to certain people than others.

He gave one hundred camels to Akra ibn Habis (r.a) and the same amount to Uyayna ibn Hisn(r.a). He gave some of the leading Arabs even more. One of the people there said:

“By Allah, there is no justice in this distribution of booty, and Allah’s pleasure was not obtained”.

I said:

“I swear by Allah that I am going to tell the Messenger of Allah what you said”. I went to him and told him what the man had said. The blessed face of the Messenger of Allah turned red from his sadness. He said:

If Allah and His Messenger are not just then who can be just?” Then he continued:

“May Allah have mercy on Mûsa (Moses). He was subject to an even more difficult trial than this and he was patient”.

From then on I decided never again to tell Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) what other people said about him. (Bukhari, Adab 53; Muslim, Zakat, 145)

***

According to a narration by Anas ibn Malik , the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) once passed by a woman weeping and wailing at the grave of her child. He said to her:

“Fear Allah and be patient”.

The woman responded:

“Go away and leave me alone! The calamity that has befallen me has not befallen you”

The woman had not recognised the Prophet. Later they told her that he was the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). As soon as she heard this she ran to his door. Because there was no one there to prevent her, she directly entered the presence of Allah’s Messenger and apologised:

“O Messenger of Allah. I did not recognise you”.

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said:

True patience is at the time the calamity hits” (Bukhari, Janaiz, 32).

***

Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (r.a) narrates:

I once entered the presence of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh). He had contracted malaria. I said to him:

“O Messenger of Allah! You have contracted a very severe degree of malaria”. He replied:

“Yes. I am bearing the pain that two of you can bear”.

“This must be so that you can get twice the reward”, I said. He replied:

Yes, that is true. Allah forgives the sin of the Muslim who pricks his foot or endures greater pain. The sins of that Muslim fall away like leaves fall from a tree” (Bukhari, Marda, 3, 13, 16; Muslim, Birr, 45).

***

Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) once asked the angel Gabriel (r.a):

To what degree did the emotional pain of Yaqub (Jacob) reach after being separated from Yûsuf?”

Gabriel (r.a) replied:

“The emotional pain that seventy mothers who had lost their children would feel.” The Prophet then said:

In that case how much reward did he receive?”

Gabriel (r.a) replied:

“The reward of seventy martyrs. Because not once did he harbour a bad opinion of Allah” (Taberi, XIII, 61; Suyuti, ad Durru al Mansur, IV, 570; Yusuf, 86).

This patience is what is mentioned as being ‘sabrun jamil’ in the Qur’an, or ‘beautiful patience’.

***

Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (r.a) narrates:

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once began to tell us of a prophet who had been sent to his people. His people had beaten him and made his face bleed. That prophet was wiping his face and saying at the same time:

O Allah, forgive my people because they do not know”. I can still see the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) as he was telling us about this prophet. (Bukhari, Anbiya 54; Muslim, Jihad 104).

***

The following event has a lesson for us all in showing that the reward for patience can only be Paradise:

One day Abdullah ibn Abbas (r.a) said to Ata ibn Abi Rabah:

“Shall I show you a woman of Paradise?” He replied:

“Yes, show me”. Ibn Abbas then said:

“Do you see that black woman? That woman once approached the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and said to him:

“I have epilepsy and when a fit comes over me my clothes unveil me. Would you pray to Allah that He heals me?”

The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) replied:

“If you show patience, Paradise is for you. But if you still wish I will pray to Allah to heal you”. Upon this the woman said:

“I will be patient with my illness. However would you pray that my clothes do not reveal me when I have a fit?” The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) prayed to Allah for this. (Bukhari, Marda 6; Muslim, Birr, 54)

Thus this is the elevated value in the sight of Allah of the patience that is shown when one is tried…

***

Abu Said (r.a) narrates:

“I once sat with some poor people from the Emigrants. Because some of them did not have any clothes to cover themselves, they were sitting in the shadow of the others to cover themselves. At that point somebody began to recite from the Qur’an. Allah’s Messenger then appeared and sat with us. When Allah’s Messenger appeared, the person reading Qur’an stopped. The Messenger of Allah greeted us and asked:

“What are you doing?”

We answered:

“O Messenger of Allah! That is our teacher and he is reading from the Qur’an. We are listening to the Book of Allah”.

The Prophet then said:

Praise be to Allah that He has created people amongst my community for whom I have been commanded to be patient with”.[3]

Then Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) sat amongst us as if he was equal to us. He indicated with his hands and said:

“Make a circle”.

The group immediately made a circle around him and turned their faces towards him. Then the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) gave us the following good news:

“O you Emigrants who are poor and needy. Good news for you. On the Day of Judgement you will be surrounded by light and you will enter Paradise half a day earlier than the rich people of this world. This half a day is equal to five hundred years of this world”(Abu Dawud, Ilim, 13/3666)

And this is the reward of poor patient people…

***

According to a narration by Fadala ibn Ubayd (r.a), the following event is a magnificent example of the epic patience and fortitude shown by the special students of the Prophet, His Companions, in the face of the great deprivation and difficulties that they faced:

“Whilst the Prophet was leading the prayer for his Companions, some of them were unable to stand any longer and fainted due to lack of strength resulting from hunger. These were the ‘Ashab-i Suffa[4]’ or the People of the Bench. The Bedouins who came from the desert used to say about them: “They are mad”. When Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) finished praying, he went next to them and consoled them saying:

“If only you knew what Allah had prepared for you, you would desire to be even poorer and more in need than you are now”(Tirmidhi, Zuhd, 39/2368).

***

Abu Huraira (r.a) narrates:

“I saw seventy people from the People of the Bench. None of them had clothes that completely covered their body. They either had a skirt that they wore to cover their thighs or they wore a robe which covered them from their waist up. They would tie their clothes around their neck. Some of them would reach half of their calves, whilst others would reach their heels. They would gather up their clothes so that their private parts could not be seen” (Bukhari, Salat, 58).

As can be seen the Blessed Companions endured all manner of difficulties, including hunger, poverty, war and calamity in order that the religion of Islam could reach us today.

We too must follow in their footsteps in order to be able to carefully transmit this sacred trust to the next generations.

***

Abdurrahman ibn Awf (r.a) has said:

“Islam brought difficult commandments which were hard on the nafs. We found the best of the best to be in these difficult commandments that displeased the nafs. For instance we left Mecca and migrated to Madina with the Messenger of Allah (pbuh). This migration which was hard on our nafs became a means of superiority and victory for us. Allah Most High says in the Qur’an:

Just as your Lord brought you out from your house with truth, even though a group of the believers disliked it, arguing with you about the Truth after it had been made clear as though they were being driven to their death with open eyes’ (Al-Anfal, 8:5-6)

Just as Allah so described we came out at the Battle of Badr, in the company of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and here too Allah Most High gave us victory and the upper hand.

In short, we encountered the greatest good as a result of these hard commandments of our nafs.” (Haysami, VII, 26-27)

***

The following words which are from Muhammad Iqbal express the virtue in showing patience and endurance in the face of difficulties:

“A gazelle was once complaining to another gazelle:

From now on I am going to live in the Ka’bah, the sacred sanctuary. I will sleep there and graze there. Because here in these grassy plains the hunters have set their traps and roam around night and day for us. I want peace from these hunters. And I want peace for my heart…”

The other gazelle who was listening to him said:

“O my clever friend. If you want to live, live in danger. Keep up the struggle and keep yourself sharper than a jewelled sword. Danger tests strength and power. It shows us of what our bodies and souls are capable of”.

***

The essence of the matter is this: patience is a treasure to be found in the depths of the human being.

It is the strongest shield against calamities and misfortunes. It is a virtuous trait with which Allah Most High is most pleased and promises great rewards. In the words of Allah’s Messenger (pbuh):

Patience is light” (Muslim, Taharat, 1). This is because it illuminates one’s world and one’s afterlife.

[1].     See Elmalili M. Hamdi Yazar, “Hak Dini Kur’an Dili,” Istanbul 1971, I, 546

[2].     Darekutni, Sunan, Beirut 1986, III, 44-45)

[3].     With these words the Prophet was referring to the following verse from the Qur’an:’Restrain yourself patiently with those who call on their Lord morning and evening, desiring His face. Do not turn your eyes from them, desiring the attractions of this world. And do not obey someone whose heart We have made neglectful of Our remembrance and who follows his own whims and desires and whose life has transgressed all bounds’ (al Kahf, 18:28). Here Allah Most High commanded the Messenger of Allah e and those poor and needy peole who first entered Islam with him to show patience in the face of distress and to be very sensitive in his dealings with them.

[4].     Literally “the people of the bench”. The Suffa ashabi were a group of early Muslims who had nowhere to live and no means of sustenance. Thus they used to live on a bench outside the Prophet’s mosque (Translator’s note).