A western commentator, William Patron, has observed: One of the fruits of Islam has been that stubborn durable patience which comes out of the submission to the absolute will of God.
This observation is indeed very apt. Islam attaches great importance to patience. Most of the verses of the Qur’an have a bearing, directly or indirectly, upon this virtue. In truth, patience is an attribute without which the very thought of Islam is unimaginable.
The present world is designed in such a way that here one has repeatedly to face unpleasant experiences, inside as well as outside the home. Now if people were to fall to wrangling on all such occasions, they would fail to advance along the path of human progress. That is why Islam has placed great emphasis on patience, so that by avoiding all unpleasantness, man may continue his onward journey towards the higher goal — God-realization.
The Qur’an repeatedly stresses the need for patience. In chapter 31, we are enjoined to remain patient in these words, “Endure with fortitude whatever befalls you.” (17) In chapter 8, we are told to “have patience. God is with those that are patient.” (46) Chapter 103 says, “Perdition shall be the lot of man except for those who believe and do good works and exhort one another to justice and to fortitude.
Similarly, the traditions have laid great emphasis on the importance of patience. The Prophet once said, ‘Listen and obey and be patient.’ On another occasion he observed: ‘God has commanded man to be patient and forgiving.’ A companion of the Prophet said: ‘The Prophet and his companions always remained patient in the face of persecution at the hands of enemies.’ It is true that patience provides the basic quality for Islamic activism. In this world no one can adhere to the path of Islamic virtue without remaining patient.
Patience is the exercise of restraint in trying situations. It is a virtue, which enables the individual to proceed towards worthy goals, undeflected by adverse circumstances or repeated provocations. If he allows himself to become upset by opposition, taunts or other kinds of unpleasantness, he will never reach his goals. He will simply become enmeshed in irrelevancies.
The only way to deal with the irksome side of daily living is to exercise patience. Patience will ensure that whenever one has some bitter experience, he will opt for the way of tolerance rather than that of reaction to provocation. It will enable one to absorb shocks and to continue, undeterred, on one’s onward journey.
Patience, as well as being a practical solution to the problems faced in the outside world, is also a means of positive character building. One who fails to exercise patience, gives free rein to negative thoughts and feelings, develops a personality which is likewise negative while one who remains patient is so morally bolstered by his own positive thoughts and feelings that he develops a positive personality.
Sabr is no retreat. Sabr only amounts to taking the initiative along the path of wisdom and reason as opposed to the path of the emotions. Sabr gives one the strength to restrain one’s emotions in delicate situations and rather to use one’s brains to find a course of action along result-oriented lines.
The present world is fashioned in such a way that everyone is necessarily confronted with unpleasant matters at one time or another. Things, which are unbearable, have somehow to be borne; harrowing events have to be witnessed and all kinds of pain have to be suffered. In such situations, succumbing to impatience leads to the kind of unnecessary emotional involvement, which is counter-productive, while a demonstration of patience has a healing, beneficial effect, allowing one to tread the path of discreet avoidance. Success in the present world is destined only for those who adopt the path of patience in adverse circumstances.
Patience, the focus of about 200 verses of the Qur’an, and referred to indirectly in many others, may be termed the core subject of the scriptures.
The verses directly relating to patience are quite explicit in their content. For instance,
And seek (God’s) help with patience and prayer. (2:45)
And endure patiently whatever may befall thee. (31:17)
And exhort one another to be patient. (103:3)
And heed not their annoyance, but put thy trust in God. (33:48
A very pronounced and direct instruction to behave with patience and endurance is apparent in these verses.
The majority of the other verses are also intensely concerned with patience. The very first verse of the Qur’an begins with “Praise belongs to God.” (al-Fatihah) This shows that God expects mankind to express its gratitude and admiration to Him. But this is a very trying expectation! We know that this world is full of unpleasant experiences and nobody can be insulated from them. According to the Qur’an “Man is born in toil.” Indeed, it is not possible for anyone to create a life of absolute bliss for himself.
How then a person can become grateful and appreciative of God’s grace in the real sense? The only way to be so is through patience. It is only when a man patiently endures worldly problems that it is possible for him to express his feeling of gratefulness to God. It is for this reason that the Qur’an associates gratefulness with patience. (31:31)
Patience makes a person capable of finding a positive and successful solution to any problem. When someone explodes with anger while facing his adversary, he loses the faculty to respond effectively or to think of well-planned action. But when he applies patience and tolerance, he finds himself competent to make a rational move instead of an impulsive reaction. History testifies that one who acts on impulses and emotional reactions, invariably fails; and one who responds rationally, always succeeds.
Patience is undoubtedly the superior solution to all problems. (5.SS/9.95)