By Umarrah Javed Al Hadi

إِنَّ ٱلۡمُسۡلِمِینَ وَٱلۡمُسۡلِمَـٰتِ وَٱلۡمُؤۡمِنِینَ وَٱلۡمُؤۡمِنَـٰتِ وَٱلۡقَـٰنِتِینَ وَٱلۡقَـٰنِتَـٰتِ وَٱلصَّـٰدِقِینَ وَٱلصَّـٰدِقَـٰتِ وَٱلصَّـٰبِرِینَ وَٱلصَّـٰبِرَ ٰ⁠تِ وَٱلۡخَـٰشِعِینَ وَٱلۡخَـٰشِعَـٰتِ وَٱلۡمُتَصَدِّقِینَ وَٱلۡمُتَصَدِّقَـٰتِ وَٱلصَّـٰۤىِٕمِینَ وَٱلصَّـٰۤىِٕمَـٰتِ وَٱلۡحَـٰفِظِینَ فُرُوجَهُمۡ وَٱلۡحَـٰفِظَـٰتِ وَٱلذَّ ٰ⁠كِرِینَ ٱللَّهَ كَثِیرࣰا وَٱلذَّ ٰ⁠كِرَ ٰ⁠تِ أَعَدَّ ٱللَّهُ لَهُم مَّغۡفِرَةࣰ وَأَجۡرًا عَظِیمࣰا 

Indeed, the Muslim men and Muslim women, the believing men and believing women, the obedient men and obedient women, the truthful men and truthful women, the patient men and patient women, the humble men and humble women, the charitable men and charitable women, the fasting men and fasting women, the men who guard their private parts and the women who do so, and the men who remember Allāh often and the women who do so – for them Allāh has prepared forgiveness and a great reward. [The Noble Qurān, 33:35]

When reflecting on this remarkable verse from Surah Al-Ahzab, it is truly significant to note how after the qualities of being believers, being obedient and being truthful, the quality of being patient is mentioned. From this, we are also able to learn that one is only truly able to attain excellent patience after one has become a believing, obedient and truthful person. 

Meanings of sabr

A word that encompasses many emotions and many states. Sabr is frequently used interchangeably with patience, but in its truer meaning it also represents endurance and restraint. It is also acceptance, it is sincerity in obedience and it is submission to the plans of The Most Loving with knowledge that the lives we live are by His design. There is an association between sabr and practicing it during challenging times. While there is absolute truth to the spiritual, mental and emotional benefits of being patient in times of difficulty, sabr is a quality that ought to be present even in the times of good fortune and abundant blessings. The sabr we should strive to cultivate in positive situations is another meaning of the term sabr: steadfastness. To increase in gratitude and remain disciplined and connected to Allāh during times of ease as well as difficulty. 

Types of sabr

Sabr has often been categorized into two groups: physical sabr and spiritual sabr. While the former refers to being patient in times of pain, illness or physical infliction, the latter refers to exercising patience through actively fighting against one’s nafs or impulses of the ego. The dissatisfaction and frustration that humans can feel with life events can stem from their lived experiences not being parallel with the timelines that they had conceptualized mentally. In these moments, the human condition tends to forget that Allāh controls the timing of everything. He chooses when each leaf turns, when each rainfall soaks the earth and He alone decides when to test His servants with abundance or restriction. In light of this understanding, we come to know that we must strive to remain in a state of sabr at all times. 

With this in mind, sabr becomes more comprehensive as a concept and state. It can generally be placed into three different types: 

1. Patience in showing obedience for the commands of Allāh 

2. Patience i.e. restraining oneself in order to not disobey the commands of Allāh 

3. Patience when accepting the decree, fate or destiny written by Allāh 

Sabr in the Quran

These tranquil states can be difficult to achieve consistently as the nafs rebels against the soul, Shaitan sets his traps, and other factors that alter one’s condition can prevail. That being said, Allāh knows His creation better than the creation knows itself. Allāh has promised that a soul shall not be tested more than it can bear and the guidance for how to be patient has been given to us by Allāh Almighty. Alongside it, the reward for those that exert themselves in practicing all states of patience is also mentioned prolifically. In fact, Allāh mentions sabr over 90 times in the Qurān. A few examples of conjugations of sabr in the Qurān are: 

الصَّابِرِينَ → the steadfast, the patient

صَبَرُ → patience, patiently

صَابِرُ → persevere, endure, patient

صَابِرٍ → patient ones 

These are a few mentions of the promise of reward from Allāh for those that practice patience and surely reading these allows for us to manifest a desire to be among those that turn to patience as a natural inclination. When we realize that nothing can be more truer than a promise from Our Lord and what reward can be greater than the reward He promises: 

إِلَّا ٱلَّذِینَ صَبَرُوا۟ وَعَمِلُوا۟ ٱلصَّـٰلِحَـٰتِ أُو۟لَـٰۤىِٕكَ لَهُم مَّغۡفِرَةࣱ وَأَجۡرࣱ كَبِیرࣱ

Except for those who are patient and do righteous deeds; those will have forgiveness and great reward [11:11]

مَا عِندَكُمۡ یَنفَدُ وَمَا عِندَ ٱللَّهِ بَاقࣲۗ وَلَنَجۡزِیَنَّ ٱلَّذِینَ صَبَرُوۤا۟ أَجۡرَهُم بِأَحۡسَنِ مَا كَانُوا۟ یَعۡمَلُونَ

Whatever you have will end, but what Allāh has is lasting. And We will surely give those who were patient their reward according to the best of what they used to do [16:96]

قُلۡ یَـٰعِبَادِ ٱلَّذِینَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱتَّقُوا۟ رَبَّكُمۡۚ لِلَّذِینَ أَحۡسَنُوا۟ فِی هَـٰذِهِ ٱلدُّنۡیَا حَسَنَةࣱۗ وَأَرۡضُ ٱللَّهِ وَ ٰ⁠سِعَةٌۗ إِنَّمَا یُوَفَّى ٱلصَّـٰبِرُونَ أَجۡرَهُم بِغَیۡرِ حِسَابࣲ  

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]

وَٱصۡبِرۡ لِحُكۡمِ رَبِّكَ فَإِنَّكَ بِأَعۡیُنِنَاۖ وَسَبِّحۡ بِحَمۡدِ رَبِّكَ حِینَ تَقُومُ 

And be patient, [O Muhammad], for the decision of your Lord, for indeed, you are in Our eyes. And exalt [Allāh] with praise of your Lord when you arise [52:48]

وَجَزَىٰهُم بِمَا صَبَرُوا۟ جَنَّةࣰ وَحَرِیرࣰا

And will reward them for what they patiently endured [with] a garden [in Paradise] and silk [garments] [76:12]    

By the mercy of Allāh, He has made patience a beautiful thing for the believer. The promise of an everlasting reward for creation that is able to look beyond itself and rely entirely on the judgment of its Maker is declared repeatedly. Alongside that, Allāh gives the command of being patient to the best of His creation, our Beloved Prophet ﷺ. From this we are able to find inspiration and feel closeness to the Prophet ﷺ and Allāh as this is something commanded by our Rabb and practiced by His Messenger ﷺ.  

As we learn the superiority of character, imaan and the elevated rank of the ones that are patient, Allāh Almighty tells us that He is near to those that are near to this righteous virtue. 

یَـٰۤأَیُّهَا ٱلَّذِینَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱسۡتَعِینُوا۟ بِٱلصَّبۡرِ وَٱلصَّلَوٰةِۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ مَعَ ٱلصَّـٰبِرِینَ

O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient [2:153]

وَأَطِیعُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُۥ وَلَا تَنَـٰزَعُوا۟ فَتَفۡشَلُوا۟ وَتَذۡهَبَ رِیحُكُمۡۖ وَٱصۡبِرُوۤا۟ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ مَعَ ٱلصَّـٰبِرِینَ

And obey Allāh and His Messenger, and do not dispute and [thus] lose courage and [then] your strength would depart; and be patient. Indeed, Allāh  is with the patient [8:46]

We also learn that the ones closest to Allāh embodied sabr at all times: 

وَمَا كَانَ ٱسۡتِغۡفَارُ إِبۡرَ ٰ⁠هِیمَ لِأَبِیهِ إِلَّا عَن مَّوۡعِدَةࣲ وَعَدَهَاۤ إِیَّاهُ فَلَمَّا تَبَیَّنَ لَهُۥۤ أَنَّهُۥ عَدُوࣱّ لِّلَّهِ تَبَرَّأَ مِنۡهُۚ إِنَّ إِبۡرَ ٰ⁠هِیمَ لَأَوَّ ٰ⁠هٌ حَلِیمࣱ

And the request of forgiveness of Abraham for his father was only because of a promise he had made to him. But when it became apparent to Abraham that his father was an enemy to Allāh he disassociated himself from him. Indeed was Abraham compassionate and patient [9:114]

وَقَالَ ٱلَّذِینَ أُوتُوا۟ ٱلۡعِلۡمَ وَیۡلَكُمۡ ثَوَابُ ٱللَّهِ خَیۡرࣱ لِّمَنۡ ءَامَنَ وَعَمِلَ صَـٰلِحࣰاۚ وَلَا یُلَقَّىٰهَاۤ إِلَّا ٱلصَّـٰبِرُونَ

But those who had been given knowledge said, “Woe to you! The reward of Allāh is better for he who believes and does righteousness. And none are granted it except the patient [28:80]

وَإِسۡمَـٰعِیلَ وَإِدۡرِیسَ وَذَا ٱلۡكِفۡلِۖ كُلࣱّ مِّنَ ٱلصَّـٰبِرِینَ

And [mention] Ishmael and Idrees and Dhul-Kifl; all were of the patient [Surah Al-Anbiya, 21:85]

Further to this, we learn about sabr in the form of perseverance and acceptance when we learn about the life of The Beloved Prophet ﷺ. We find that although he faced more trials and hostility than we can truly know, he chose to continuously exercise patience, gratitude, hope and acceptance. 

Abu Malik Al-Harith bin Asim Al-Ash’ari (May Allāh be pleased with him) reported that: The Messenger of Allāh (ﷺ) said:

Purity is half of faith, and the praise of Allāh fills the scale. Glorification and praise fill up what is between the heavens and the earth. Prayer is a light, charity is proof, and patience is illumination. The Qurān is a proof for you or against you. All people go out early in the morning and sell themselves, either setting themselves free or ruining themselves.” [Muslim]

Ways to increase sabr

To achieve greater ranks in the afterlife and to attain contentment and illumination in this world, there are ways to increase in sabr in all situations:

  • Increase in remembrance: The one that is occupied mentally, spiritually and physically with the remembrance of Allāh Almighty will unlock levels of perseverance in the face of calamities. All strength and enlightenment comes from our Rabb and by keeping Him at the forefront of our lives, we are able to increase in sabr. This can be in the form of dhikr, studying, listening to or reciting the Qurān, improving salah, fasting for the sake of Allāh or engaging with other activities of khayr.
  • Keep perspective: There is a negative spiral that can ensue when one becomes fixated on, overthinks or misreads a situation that may not be worthy of energy or time. It is important to remind oneself that life changes, truly no good or bad will last and there is a final place of return. We learn from the Qurān about nations that have passed, situations that have been overcome and the inevitable reward of patience with Allāh. Reflect on the dynamic nature of our existence in order to increase in acceptance.

رَبَّنَا أَفْرِغْ عَلَيْنَا صَبْرًا وَتَوَفَّنَا مُسْلِمِينَ 

[Our Lord! pour out on us patience, and cause us to die as Muslims]

  • A grateful state of mind: Reflect on the blessings around you, find good in the simplest things and focus on what you can control. Being able to bow in prayer, breathe and blink are all incredible blessings. Start by thinking about the things you use in everyday life and how valuable every small thing that Allāh Almighty has bestowed upon us is.
  • Adopt a growth mindset: You may have heard this before but some people go through trials while others grow through trials. Cultivating an ability to ask yourself ‘what is this trying to teach me’ during a situation that requires patience will give you fuel to grow and develop rather than succumb or doubt.  
  • Study the lives of Prophets and companions: When we learn about trials that were faced by those that were devoted to Allāh and His Prophet ﷺ, we truly begin to know that Allāh tests us in order to see which of His servants will remain grateful, steadfast and who will overcome the fleeting trials of this life for eternal serenity. We have been blessed with exemplary role models in our deen, learning about how they conducted their lives can give us inspiration, hope and guidance for our own situations.

On a final note, ponder the concept of beautiful patience. A patience that is excellent and devoid of strain because gratitude, growth and complete reliance on Allāh has overtaken any difficulty that may present itself. 

فَٱصۡبِرۡ صَبۡرࣰا جَمِیلًا  

So be patient with beautiful patience [70:5]

May Allāh SWT make it easy. 

What do you think? Share your reflections below!

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