Different perspectives on patience


Patience may be of two types, either physical or psychological, and both types may either be by choice, or without choice, as follows:

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1. Physical patience by choice, such as doing hard labour willingly.

2. Physical patience without choice, such as patiently bearing illness, beatings and extremes of heat and cold.

3. Psychological patience by choice, such as refraining from things which both the Sharî‘ah and common sense say are wrong.

4. Psychological patience without choice, such as patiently bearing an enforced separation from one whom you love.

Different degrees of patience

As mentioned above, patience is of two types, by choice or without choice. Patience by choice is of a higher status than patience without choice, as the latter is common to all people, but the former is not attainable by all. Therefore the patience of Yûsuf in disobeying the wife of al-‘Azîz, and his patience in bearing the resulting punishment, is of higher status than his patience in response to his brothers’ actions, when they threw him in the well, separated him from his father and sold him as a slave. This superior, voluntary, patience is the patience of the Prophets, of Ibrâhîm, Mûsâ, Nûh, ‘Īsâ and the Seal of the Prophets, Muhammad (SAAS). Their patience was in calling the people to Allâh and in striving against the enemies of Allâh.

The patience of men and the patience of animals

These four types of patience apply only to human beings. Animals share only the two types of patience in which there is no choice, and man is distinguished by having the patience in which there is choice. However, many people have only the types of patience that animals have, i.e. patience without choice.

The patience of jinn

Jinn share the quality of patience with humans, as they are responsible for their actions like humans are. They need patience to fulfil their responsibilities towards Allâh the same way that we do. One might ask: are they responsible in the same way that we are, or in a different way? The answer is that with regard to matters of emotion and feelings they are responsible just as we are, and share the obligation to love for the sake of Allâh and hate for Allâh, to believe and have faith, to take believers for friends and unbelievers for enemies, etc. But as far as physical matters such as ghusl, wudû‘, washing after relieving oneself and circumcision are concerned, they are not the same as us. Their duties in that regard are in accordance with the way they are created.

The patience of the angels

Another question that may arise is: Do angels have patience? The answer is that angels are not tested with whims and desires that contradict their reason and knowledge. For them, worshipping and obeying Allâh are like breathing is for us. Therefore the angels do not need patience, because patience is needed when one has conflicting motives, religion and reason opposite to whims and desires. However, the angels may have some kind of patience which befits them and makes them persevere in doing what they were created for.

The patience of man

If a man’s patience is stronger than his whims and desires, then he is like an angel, but if his whims and desires are stronger than his patience, then he is like a devil. If his desire for food, drink and sex is stronger than his patience, then he is no better than an animal.

Qatâdah said: “Allâh created angels with reason and no desires, animals with desires and no reason, and man with both reason and desires.” So if a man’s reason is stronger than his desire he is like an angel, and if his desires are stronger than his reason, then he is like an animal. A little baby has only the desire for food when he needs it, and his patience is like the patience of animals. Until he reaches an age when he can tell what is what, he has no choice. When he grows a little older and develops a desire to play, then his patience by choice will develop. He will start to know what patience means when his sexual desire develops. At the same time, his power of reasoning is also developing, but between the age when he can tell right from wrong and the age of puberty, all he can see is his own interests in this world, and what might make life good or bad. This limited view will remain until he is guided by Allâh, then he will have the full picture and begin to think of his interests both in this life and the hereafter. He will become aware of where different actions may lead, and will prepare himself for a long struggle with his desires and natural inclinations.

Different degrees of patience

The kinds of patience which relate to resisting whims and desires can be graded according to how strong and effective they are. There are three degrees of patience in this respect:

1. The motive of religion is strongest in controlling and defeating the whims and desires. This level of control can only be achieved through consistent patience, and those who reach this level are victorious in this life and in the hereafter. They are the ones “who say, ‘Our Lord is Allâh’” (Fussilât 41:30). These are the ones to whom, at the moment of death, the angels say,

  “Fear not!…Nor grieve! But receive the Glad Tidings of the Garden (of Bliss), that which you were promised! We are your protectors in this life and the Hereafter.” (Fussilât 41:30-31).

They are the ones who enjoy the companionship of Allâh, and who strive in the way of Allâh. They are the ones whom Allâh has guided to the exclusion of others.

2. When whims and desires prevail, the religious motive is diminished. The doomed person will surrender totally to Shaytân and his forces, who will lead him wherever they want. His relationship with them will be either of two possibilities. Either he will become their follower and a soldier in their army, which is the case of the weak person, or Shaytân will become a weapon for him, and one of his soldiers, which is the case of the strong person who rebels against Allâh. Those people are the ones whose misfortune has overtaken them, as they preferred this world to the Hereafter. The main reason for their sorry fate is that they ran out of patience. The major characteristic of these people is that they lie and cheat, indulge in wishful thinking and self-admiration, delay doing good deeds, and prefer instant gains in this world to lasting gains in the Hereafter. These are the people to whom the Prophet (SAAS) referred when he said:

 “ “The helpless man is the one who follows his whims and desires, and indulges in wishful thinking.”

These unfortunate people are of several types. Some of them declare war against Allâh and His Messenger, trying to destroy what the Prophet (SAAS) brought, pushing people away from the way of Allâh, and spreading corruption on earth. Some are interested solely in their worldly interests. Some are two faced hypocrites who try to ingratiate themselves with everybody and gain something from every situation. Some are promiscuous, and devote their entire life to the pursuit of physical pleasure. Some, if they are warned, say that they would dearly love to repent, find it too difficult and plead they have no chance. Some say that Allâh does not need their prayers and fasting, that they will not attain salvation by virtue of their deed, and that they will rely on the fact that Allâh is Merciful. Some of them claim that refraining from committing wrong actions is like undermining the forgiveness of Allâh. Some will say, “What good could my worship do after all the wrong actions I have committed? What can help a drowning man if his fingers are above water and the rest of his body is submerged?” Some say that they will repent when death approaches…

So many excuses, all because their whims and desires control their reason, and they use their reason, in turn, to find ways of fulfilling those desires. Their reason is held prisoner by the Shaytân, and put to work to serve his evil purposes, just as Muslim prisoners-of-war may be abused by the kâfirûn and forced to look after pigs, make wine or carry the cross. The man who suppresses his reason and puts it under the control of the enemy (Shaytân) is like the one who seizes a Muslim and hands him over to the kâfirûn to imprison him.

3. There is a war that is raging between the motives of reason and religion, and the motives of whims and desires. Sometimes one prevails, sometimes the other gains the upper hand. The pattern of victories for either side varies. This is the situation in the case of most believers, who mix good deeds and bad deeds.

People’s ultimate fate in the Hereafter will correspond to the three situations outlined above. Some people will enter Paradise and never enter Hell, some will enter Hell and never enter Paradise, and some will enter Hell for some time before they are admitted to Paradise.

Different strengths of patience

Some people cannot have patience without struggling and facing many difficulties. Others are able to have patience easily. The first type is like a man who wrestles with a strong man and cannot beat him with the utmost effort. The second type is like a man who wrestles with a weak man and beats him easily. Such is the war between the soldiers of ar-Rahmân and the soldiers of Shaytân. Whoever defeats the soldiers of Shaytân can defeat Shaytân himself. ‘Abdullâh ibn Mas‘ûd narrated:

  “A man wrestled with one of the jinn, and beat him, then asked, ‘Why are you so weak and small?’ The jinn answered, ‘I am very big and strong compared to the rest of the jinn.’” Someone asked ‘Abdullah ibn Mas‘ûd, “Was that man, ‘Umar?” and he replied, “Who else could it have been?”

Some of the Sahâbah said,

  “A believer whips the Shaytân like the way a person whips his camel when he is travelling.”

Ibn Abi’d-Dunyâ narrated from some of the salaf that one shaytân met with another, and asked him why he was so thin. The other shaytân replied,

  “Because I am a with a man who mentions the name of Allâh when he eats, so I cannot eat with him, and he mentions the name of Allâh when he drinks, so I cannot drink with him. When he enters his home he mentions the name of Allâh, so I stay outside.” The first shaytân said, “But I am with a man who does not mention the name of Allâh when he eats, so I eat with him. He does not mention the name of Allâh when he drinks, so I drink with him. When he enters his home he does not mention the name of Allâh, so I enter with him.”

So whoever develops the habit of patience is feared by his enemies, and whoever finds patience difficult is in danger, as his enemy will readily dare to attack him and do him harm.

When patience is needed

Patience is required in the following areas of life:

1. In worshipping Allâh and following His commands,
2. In abstaining from wrong actions,
3. In accepting Allâh’s decree and ruling (qad⒠wa qadr). This is the advice given to Luqmân when he told his son:

  “O my son! establish regular prayer, enjoin what is just and forbid what is wrong; and bear with patient constancy whatever betide you; for this is firmness (of purpose) in (the conduct of) affairs.” (Luqmân 31:17)

Enjoining what is just includes doing good oneself, and forbidding what is wrong includes abstaining from wrong action oneself.

Patience in worshipping Allâh

Patience in worshipping Allâh and carrying out His instructions means that you perform the prescribed acts of worship regularly and do so sincerely and with knowledge. Worship that is not performed regularly is of no value. Even if worship is performed regularly, there are two dangers. Firstly, we risk losing our sincerity, if the motive for performing prayers is not to please Allâh and draw closer to Him.

So to protect our worship we must make sure that we are sincere. Secondly, we must be sure never to deviate from the way of the Prophet (SAAS), so we have to ensure that our worship is done according to the Sunnah.

Patience in abstaining from wrong action

This type of patience can be achieved through the fear of the punishment which follows the wrong action, or through a feeling of hay⒠(shyness or shame) before Allâh for using His blessings in committing wrong actions. That feeling of hay⒠before Allâh can be strengthened through learning more about Allâh and knowing more about His names and attributes. Hay⒠is a characteristic of people who are noble and possess good qualities, so the person who refrains from wrong action because of hay⒠is better than the one who abstains because of fear. Hay⒠indicates that a person is mindful of Allâh and His might. The person whose deterrent is the fear of Allâh has his thoughts focused on the punishment. The fearful person’s main concern is himself and how to save himself from the punishment, whereas the “shy” person’s main concern is Allâh and His Glory. Both have attained the status of îmân, but the “shy” person has attained ihsân, a higher status of îmân, in which he conducts himself as if he can see Allâh, and so his heart is filled with hayâ’.

The reason why it is so important for a believer to abstain from wrong action is because he must protect his îmân, as wrong action decreases îmân or extinguishes it. The Prophet (SAAS) said,

 “ “When the adulterer commits adultery he is not a believer, and when the winebibber drinks alcohol he is not a believer and when the thief steals he is not a believer. The believer should abstain from many permitted actions in case they may lead to that which is forbidden.”

Patience at times of trial and adversity

Patience during difficult times may be achieved by:

1. thinking of the good reward that lies ahead. The more you believe in the rewards that are waiting for you, the easier it becomes to have patience. If it were not for the anticipation of the rewards, no goals or objectives pertaining to this life or the hereafter would have been achieved. Human nature loves instant gratification, but reason and maturity make us think of the long term outcome, which helps to strengthen our patience in enduring whatever faces us, whether there is no choice or otherwise;

2. expecting and hoping for a time of ease. This hope in itself offers a measure of immediate relief;

3. thinking of Allâh’s countless blessings. When we realize that we cannot enumerate the blessings of Allâh, it becomes easier for us to exercise patience in facing the current adversity, because the present troubles are like a raindrop compared to vast ocean of Allâh’s blessings and favours;

4. thinking of previous blessings of Allâh. This will remind us of Allâh’s care, and strengthen our hopes ad expectations of a time of ease to come.

From Patience and Gratitude

An abridgement of his original work entitled, “Uddat as-Sâbireen wa Dhâkirat ash-Shâkireen” © 1997 TA-HA

(NOTE: If you want to build a strong and powerful relationship with Allah, check out Islamia TV, where you can watch Islamic speakers from across the globe deliver inspiring and motivational courses. Learn more at www.islamia.tv.)

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