Sabr – Most Precious Gift to a Mu’min
One of the great results and precious fruits of our freedom and emancipation from servitude to our carnal self is patience in calamities and misfortunes. In other words, Sabr means restraining ourselves from complaining about hidden anguish. Sabr produces many excellent results, among which is the soul’s training and discipline. Sabr in regard to obedience [ta’at] is the source of intimacy with Almighty Allah Jallah Wa’ala. And Sabr in misfortunes is the source of rida or contentment with Divine destiny and decrees. These are the stations of the faithful [ahl-al-Imaan] or rather those of the Gnostics [ahl-al-Irfan]. It is said that Sabr is to faith what the head is to the body. The body perishes without the head, and so when Sabr goes faith also disappears.
The accounts of the lives of the Ambiya Alayhim Salaam from Nabee Adam Alayhis Salaam to our Beloved Nabee Muhammad Sallallahoo Alayhi Wasallam reveal that although their stations were over and above the stations of Sabr, rida and taslim [surrender], they never stopped supplicating, lamenting and confessing their needs to Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala and this is not contrary to their spiritual stations. Remembering Almighty Allah Azza Wajjal, cherishing the intimacy of solitude with the Exalted Beloved, and expression of servitude and humility in front of His absolute perfection and greatness is the ultimate end of the hopes of the mystics [arifun] and the final destination of the journey of the wayfarers [salikun].
Sabr is the key to the gates of felicity and the main means of deliverance from the mortal perils. Sabr makes a human being bear calamities with ease and face difficulties with composure. Sabr strengthens the will and the power of resolution. Sabr brings independence to the dominion of the soul. Anguish and anxiety on the other hand, aside from their shameful character, are symptoms of the soul’s weakness. They deprive one’s being of its stability, weaken the determination, and enfeeble the intellect. “Sabr restrains the inner being from anguish, the tongue from complaint and the bodily members from untoward movements.” There are various degrees and levels of Sabr, and its reward and merit vary in accordance with its degree and level. This is revealed by the following tradition as narrated by Hazrat Ali Radhiallahu Ta’ala Anhu:
Hazrat Ali (Radhiallaahu Anhu) said:
“The Messenger of Almighty Allah Azza Wajjal said, Sabr is of three kinds: Sabr in regard to disobedience. One who bears patiently with affliction, resisting it with a fair consolation, Allah writes for him or her three hundred degrees [of sublimity], the elevation of one degree over another being like the distance between the earth and heavens. And one who is patient in regard to obedience, Allah writes for him or her six hundred degrees [of sublimity], the elevation of one degree over another being like the distance between the earth’s depths and the Throne [al-Arsh]. And one who is patient in regard to disobedience, Allah writes for him or her nine hundred degrees [of sublimity], the elevation of one degree over another being like the distance between the earth’s depths and the furthest frontiers of the Arsh [Throne].”
This noble tradition reveals that Sabr in regard to disobedience is superior to the other levels of Sabr, for it not only possesses greater number of degrees but also the range between its degrees is greater than those of the other kinds. It also shows that the extent of Paradise is much greater than what can come into our imagination, for our vision is limited and confined. That which has been said as a description of Paradise that: [part of verse 21 of Surah Al-Hadid]
“And a Garden the breadth whereof is as the breadth of heaven and earth.”
perhaps refers to the Paradise of deeds. That which has been referred to here in this most beautiful verse is the Paradise of character and the criterion in the Paradise of character is the strength and perfection of will. Hence its extent should not be confined within any limits. Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala informs us with words of wisdom and with the expression of truth in verse 45 of Surah Al-Baqara:
“Nay, seek Allah’s help with patient perseverance and prayer;
It is indeed hard, except to those who bring a lowly spirit.”
The Arabic word Sabr implies many shades of meaning, which is impossible to comprehend in one English word. It implies:
(1) patience in the sense of being thorough, not hasty;
(2) patient perseverance, constancy, steadfastness, firmness of purpose;
(3) systematic as opposed to spasmodic or chance action;
(4) a cheerful attitude of resignation and understanding in sorrow, defeat, or suffering, as opposed to murmuring or rebellion, but saved from mere passivity or listlessness, by the element of constancy or steadfastness. Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala then informs us in Verse 153 of Surah Al-Baqara of the reward awaiting those who display Sabr:
“O you who believe! Seek help with patient perseverance
and Prayer: for Allah is with those who patiently persevere.”
What then can be a greater reward for patience, perseverance, self-restraint and constancy than that Almighty Rabbul Ala’meen should be with us? For this promise opens the door to every kind of spiritual wellbeing. The “patient perseverance and prayer” mentioned is not mere passivity. It is active striving in the way of truth, which is the way of Almighty Allah Jallah Wa’ala. If a Mu’min bears patiently with misfortunes and calamities and seriously endures the hardships entailed by worship and rites and the bitterness arising from the renunciation of carnal pleasures, and if he or she does all this for the Pleasure of Almighty Allah Jallah Wa’ala, his or her soul gradually becomes accustomed to these things. The Righteous are patient in Constant Devotion: Almighty Allah’s Way is open to all: whosoever has the Will may attain to the Perfect Goal as promised by Almighty Rabbul Ala’meen in verse 12 of Surah Al-Insan:
“And because they were Patient and constant, He will
reward them with a Garden and (garments) of silk.”
Almighty Allah Azza Wajjal tells us with words of wisdom in verses 155 – 157 of Surah Al-Baqara:
“And surely We shall try you with something of fear and hunger and
loss of wealth and lives and crops; but give good tidings to the steadfast.
Those who say, when a misfortune striketh them: Lo! We are Allah’s and lo! unto
Him we are returning, such are they on whom there are blessings from their Lord,
and mercy, such are the rightly guided.”
When something unpalatable happens or we come across troubles or deprivations, we are naturally inclined to resist the onslaught of the happenings, and when resistance be of no avail, we may lose heart. On such occasions Sabr (patience) comes in as a handy remedy prescribed by Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala, to act as an anti-toxin to the poisons of mishaps. The ordeal is not so afflicting as the sense of it. But when one is accustomed to bear things with Sabr and surrenders oneself to the Will of Almighty Allah Jallah Wa’ala, a great deal of the adverse effect of tribulation vanishes away.
“O ye who believe! Seek help in steadfastness
and prayer. Lo! Allah is with the steadfast.”
[Surah Al-Baqara Verse 11].
When one mediates over the significance of the above verses that for such unhappy occasions, Almighty Rabbul Ala’meen has prescribed Sabr (patience) as the most handy weapon to ward off evil effects of the mishaps etc; it acts as a neutralizing agent to the poisonous reactions of adverse circumstances. The affliction is not so grueling as the sense of it. But when one cultivates the habit of patience and steadfastly bears things resigning to the Will of Almighty Allah Azza Wajjal, his or her whole psychological set up of mind undergoes a great change. It is a sublime philosophical teaching of Islam that teaches one to resign and surrender oneself to the Will of Almighty Allah Azza Wajjal. When a Mu’min is convinced that “Rabbul Ala’meen – Exalted is with the steadfast”, it gives him or her great consolation and comfort. Such contemplation no doubt mitigates his or her sufferings. Thus Sabr is the elixir of all ills and an anti-toxin of all mishaps, hardships and failures etc.
The full meaning of Sabr is to be understood here viz.: Patience, perseverance, constancy, self-restraint, refusing to be cowed down. These virtues we are to exercise for ourselves and in relation to others; we are to set an example, so that others may vie with us, and we are to vie with them, lest we fall short; in this way we strengthen each other and bind our mutual relations closer, in our common service to our Glorious and Exalted Creator as shown to us in verse 200 of Surah Al-Imran:
“O you who believe! Persevere in patience
and constancy; vie in such perseverance; Strengthen
each other; And fear Allah; That you may prosper.”
Prosperity [Falah} in this verse is to be understood in a wide sense, including prosperity in our mundane affairs as well as in spiritual progress. In both cases it implies happiness and the attainment of our wishes, purified by the love of Almighty Allah Subhanahu Wata’ala. Almighty Allah Jallah Wa’ala declares to us in verse 115 of Surah Hud:
“And be steadfast in patience; For verily Allah will
not suffer the reward of the righteous to perish.”
A Mu’min must be patient with what seems to be evil all around. That does not mean that we should sit still and do nothing to destroy evil; for the fight against evil is one of the cardinal points of Islam. What we are told is that we must not be impatient. We must pray to our Glorious and Exalted Creator and commune with Him, so that our patience and faith may be strengthened.
“Almighty Allah’s Grace and Help are ever ready for His servants who patiently persevere. Let not arrogance blind the souls of men. The Hour of Judgement is bound to come. The keys of Life and Death Are in the Hands of Allah. Dispute not the Signs of Allah, but learn from history And the world around you. Science and skill avail you not if the soul is dead.”[Synopsis of Surah Ghafir Verses 51 to 85].
What then can we do to make Almighty Allah’s Light shine forth through the darkness around us? We must first let it shine in our own true selves with that Light in the niche of our inmost hearts we can walk with steps both firm and sure: We can humbly visit the comfortless and guide their steps. Not we but the Light will guide. But oh! The joy of being found worthy to bear the Torch, and to say To our brethren:
“I too was in Darkness, Comfortless, and behold,
I have found Comfort and Joy in the Grace Divine.”