In the intricate path of life, when difficulties and hardships confront a person, it is patience that acts as a light for Muslims, that keeps them safe from wandering, and saves them from the muddy mire of disappointment, desperation, and frustration. Patience is such a basic quality that Muslims require it to shape their life in this world. Only when armed with patience should they attend to work. They should make it a torchlight for guiding their way, else they will suffer defeat in the field of life. They should prepare themselves to tolerate hardships and difficulties, and should not complain unduly. They should not sit idly. They should not run away from responsibilities, whatever they may be. No doubts and misgivings, no hardship or trouble should prompt their intellect to indulge in violence. They should have plenty of self-confidence. They should not be frightened by the dark clouds appearing on the horizon of life; nay, they should be fully sure that these clouds of adversities and hardships will disappear, and the clear and bright atmosphere of success and glory will appear again. Therefore, the demand of wisdom and farsightedness is that its coming should be awaited with patience, peace, and conviction.
Almighty God stresses the point sufficiently that people cannot escape tests and trials, so that they may remain alert and ready at the time when these hardships and difficulties descend on them. They should not be frightened by these tribulations, and need not be disappointed and disheartened: "And verily We shall try you till We know those of you who strive hard (in the cause of Allah) and the steadfast, and till We test your record." (Q 47: 31)
An Arab poet has echoed the same idea in these words: "We had anticipated the hardships of the night before their coming. So when they descended, there was no addition to our knowledge." Undoubtedly, if people face accidents and debacles with clear sight and full preparation, they will stabilize their conditions and consolidate their positions.
The Two Pillars of Patience
Patience relies on two important realities. The first reality is concerned with the nature of this worldly life. Its details are: Allah has not made this world a house of peace and satisfaction or of rewards and recompense, but He has made it a house of trials. The time that people spend in this world is really a time for unending experience. They come out of one trial in order to undergo another which is harder; that is, people are tested once by one thing and again by its opposite, as iron is first heated in the fire and then plunged into water. Similarly, people are tested by favorable as well as opposing means.
When Allah blessed Prophet Sulaiman - peace and blessings of God be upon him - with a grand and magnificent empire, he knew about these natural laws of the world. He said : "This is of the bounty of my Lord, that He may try me whether I give thanks or am ungrateful. Whoever gives thanks, he only gives thanks for (the good of) his own soul; and whoever is ungrateful (is ungrateful if only to his own soul's hurt). For surely, my Lord is absolute in independence, bountiful." (Q 16:40)
The causes of trial through sadness and hardship are vague and unfixed. However, we can understand them properly by the example of the soldiers fighting in the battlefield. In the battlefield some groups are made to fight till they have to lose their valuable lives, so that the lives of other groups may be saved. The security of others is dependent on the remaining groups being made to fight in new battles. This strategy is followed for the wider interest of the society and for greater advantages, by the great leadership of the army.
In this fighting the individual life of one person has no importance, because the problem is much wider. So it is with luck or fate. People may be put to different kinds of trials, till they fall down defeated, as there is no other way for them, except that they should greet the hardship that has arrived with patience and submission. Since this life is a testing ground, we should strive hard for success in it.
What is the trial or examination of life ? It consists of the hardships and difficulties that confront people, and which open before them the paths of fright, terror, and frustration. Examination comes in the name of plaguing defects that prompt people to be jealous and to nourish rancor against their sincere friend. Examination is the name of the tyranny in which sometimes a nation occupies the place of God and people offer their blood as sacrifice for retrieving their usurped rights.The history of life on this earth from the first day till today is very sorrowful. The right thing is that people should make their own way in this life, though they can be sure that the way to their destination is full of thorns and murk.
The second reality is concerned with the nature and temperament of faith. Faith is the name of the relationship between human beings and their Lord. As in the relationship of people, true friendship and sincerity can only be judged when it is confronted with unfavorable and bitter conditions, when they have to deal with the hardships brought about by the vagaries of time, and when they are surrounded by various problems. At such a time a person's real worth and sincerity are known. Exactly, similar is the case of faith. To find out the truth and sincerity about faith, it is necessary that Muslims be tried. They should be put in the crucible of fire to see whether they come out glowing like gold or whether they will be burnt away with impurities.
"Do people imagine that they will be left (at ease), because they say We believe and will not be tested with affliction? Verily, We tested those who were before you. Thus, Allah knows those who are sincere and knows those who feign." (Q 29:2-3)
Undoubtedly, Allah's knowledge covers all manifest and concealed matters, and from this examination there will be no addition to His knowledge, because He knows all the conditions from the beginning till the end. Divine knowledge cannot be made a basis for human beings' reckoning. Their reckoning will be on the basis of their own personal deeds. If some criminals deny their crimes, then on the day of judgment sufficient proof can only be brought against them by God's tribunal in which peoples' own body may give evidence against them.
About such people the Quran has this to say: "And on the day We gather them together, We shall say to those who ascribed partners (to Allah), 'Where are (now) those partners of your make believe?'Then they will have no contention except that they will say "By Allah, our Lord, we never were idolaters." See how they lie against themselves, and (how) the thing which they devised has failed them. "(Q 6:22-24)
How can the reckoning of such criminals be taken in the light of divine knowledge? Their justifiable retribution will be proper only when all their misdeeds are placed before them. Their efforts and striving to create corruption and mischief among others and all their misdeeds will be reviewed before them.
On these two bases the foundation of patience has been set. And for this reason religion demands it, but those who shut their eyes from reality by force of their nature are dumfounded when they have to face hardships, and their hands and feet become inactive when they have to fight difficulties. Their rashness dislike waiting and patience, and they are unable to tolerate them. Therefore, when anything untoward happens, or they have to suffer some kind of failure, or when they meet with an accident, the earth with all its great vastness becomes narrow for them, and the conditions become exasperating. They want to come out of these conditions in the twinkling of an eye, but it is obvious that in this effort they will not be successful, for it is against the temperament of the world and religion. It is proper for a Muslim to learn to be patient, to wait, and to wait long.
"Man is made of haste. I shall show you my signs, but ask Me not to hasten." (Q 21:37)
Excerpted from the book “Morals and Manners: An Islamic Perspective” by Aslam Abdullah