The Arabic word sabr comes from a root meaning to refrain and stop. Patience is a virtue which helps us to refrain and stop from doing that which is not good. In a spiritual sense, patience means stopping ourselves from complaining, or panicking, or despairing in times of grief. Abu ‘Uthman, may Allah have mercy on him, said, “The one who has patience is the one who has trained himself to handle difficulties.” Amr ibn ‘Uthman al-Makki, may Allah have mercy on him, said, “Patience means to keep close to Allah and to accept calmly the trials He sends, without complaining or feeling sad.” Al-Khawwas, may Allah have mercy on him, said, “Patience means adhering to the rules of the Qur’an and Sunnah.” Ali ibn Abi Talib, may Allah have mercy on him, said, “Patience means to seek Allah’s help.”
Is it better to have patience at a time of difficulty, or to be in a situation which does not require patience?
Abu Muhammad al-Hariri, may Allah have mercy on him, said, “Patience means not seeing any difference between times of ease and times of hardship, and being content at all times.” The author disagrees with this statement, saying that it is too difficult and that Allah has created us in such a way that we feel the difference between ease and hardship. Therefore we cannot be expected not to wish for ease, but we should restrain ourselves from panicking during any times of stress. Patience does not, in the view of ibn al-Qayyim, mean we have to feel the same at both easy and difficult times, this is beyond us as human beings.
The Prophet, peace and blessing of Allah be upon him, said in a well-known dua, “If You are angry with me, then I do not care what happens to me, but still I would rather have Your blessings and favour.” This does contradict the hadith which says, “No-one has ever been given a greater gift than patience” because this refers to the time after a test or trial has befallen a person, and ease is still better.
Patience and Shakwah (complaint)
Shakwah or complaint falls into two categories. The first type means to complain to Allah, all praises and glory be to Him, and this does not contradict patience. It has been demonstrated by several Prophets including Ayyub and Ya’qub, peace and blessings of Allah be upon them both. Allah tells us in the Qur’an that Ya’qub said:
“I only complain of my distraction and anguish to Allah” (Surah Yusuf:86)
The Prophet Ayyub, peace be upon him said:
“And (remember) Ayyub (Job), when he cried to his Lord, ‘Truly distress has seized me…” (Surah al-Anbiya:83)
The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessing of Allah be upon him, prayed to his Lord, “O Allah, I complain to You of my weakness and helplessness.” Prophet Musa, peace be upon him, said in a beautiful dua, “O Allah, all praise is due to You, and complaint is made only to You, and You are the One from Whom we seek help and in Whom we put our trust, and there is no power except by Your help.”
The second type of complaining involves complaining to other people, either directly through words, or indirectly through the way we look or behave. This type of complaining is contradictory to patience.
In terms of psychology, we all have two forces inside of us. One is the ‘driving force’ which pushes us forward to act, and the other is a ‘restraining force’ which holds us back. Patience utilises the driving force to push ourselves towards good deeds, and the restraining force to prevent ourselves from doing bad deeds.
Some people have strong patience when doing what is good for them, but are weak when it comes to restraint from bad. This person performs salah, sawm and Hajj and so forth, but has no patience in controlling themselves from following their whims and desires. Others, may have strong patience when it comes to abstaining from forbidden deeds, but are weak when it comes to performing salah and other acts of ibadah. Then there are those who no patience in either case! May Allah save us from being one of them. Ameen.
Needless to say, the best are those who have both types of patience.
Further Definition of Patience
A scholar once said, “To have patience means that one’s common sense and religious motives are stronger than one’s whims and desires.” We are naturally inclined towards our desires, but common sense and religious conviction should help us to overcome these desires.
There are two forces at war: sometimes reason and religion win, and sometimes whims and desires prevail. The battlefield is the heart of man.
Patience has many other names, according to the situation. Restraining sexual desire is called honour; restraining greed is self-control; restraining the tongue is discretion; restraining anger is forbearance; refraining from haste is called gracefulness; refraining from running away is called courage; refraining from taking revenge is called forgiveness; refraining from stinginess is generosity and so forth. Different names apply in different situations but they are all based on patience, which shows that Islam in its totality is based on patience.
Is it possible to obtain the quality of patience?
If a person does not naturally possess the quality of patience, it is possible to cultivate it. One can do this by acting as if one has patience, until eventually it becomes second nature. The Prophet, peace and blessing of Allah be upon him, told us in a hadith, “Whoever tries to be patient, then Allah will help him to be patient.”