Quranic Meaning of Patience (Sabr)


The Qur’an says to believers: (يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْغَيْبِ (2:3 –   They believe in the unseen. This belief in the unseen is for every effort.

Obviously, the result of any effort does not appear right away. It takes time. One has to toil and struggle persistently. The result does appear – but only after some time. The people who have faith in the efficacy of this law – Allah’s Law of Requital – continue to work hard and continue to believe that the results will appear in due course. They do not get tired. They neither get frustrated nor get disappointed nor resign in the middle of their effort. This is what the Qur’an has called صبر (Sabr) or patience. آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ   (103:3 – those who attain to faith, and do good works, and enjoin upon one another the keeping to truth, and enjoin upon one another patience in adversity [Asad].

The Quranic صبر (Sabr) does not mean that when nothing works; when frustration sets in; when people get disappointed; and when they think that nothing is happening then they are told: So, dear brothers and sisters! Do صبر (Sabr). What can be done?! Whatever was written in the kismet will happen anyway! Nothing can be done now!! This is not the right meaning of صبر (Sabr).

But in the Qur’an صبر (Sabr) is something what a farmer goes through day in and day out for months at a time with perseverance and steadfastness. This whole process is what is defined as صبر (Sabr) according to the Qur’an and the one who perseveres through this process is calledصابر  (Saabir).  Qur’an said that this faith in the unseen – بِالْغَيْبِ (Bil-Ghaib) requires صبر (Sabr); that believers must have full faith and conviction in this whole process of صبر (Sabr). When the Qur’an says: إِنَّهُ لاَ يُفْلِحُ الظَّالِمُونَ  (6:21 – But verily the wrong-doers never shall prosper [Yusuf Ali]. This means oppressors and tyrants won’t flourish; that they will eventually fail. This is the Law of Requital that the Qur’an proclaims. And this law is unchangeable (6:34). Tyrants and oppressors must remember that this law is bound to produce its consequence, no matter what. But how it will happen? It will happen according to this Qur’anic law of requital that what you sow is what you reap; that tyrants will fail; and that if others join hands with tyrants then the speed of failure will increase. And it must be borne in mind with 100% surety that oppression is bound to fail ultimately. In any case, this is the belief (in the unseen results of his actions) that keeps a farmer working hard; and he knows that each seed when nourished properly and taken care of will produce hundreds of grains.

No Action Produces Quick Result

Whatever laws the Qur’an has given regarding humans, they also have this characteristic that they do not produce results quickly. The complaints we keep hearing are: that Allah is just; that He does justice to everyone; that He won’t let tyrants succeed. But we observe daily that tyrants flourish; that dishonest keep on piling wealth upon wealth; that no business succeeds if done honestly. Then what is this?! Why the laws of Allah are not working? Actually, they are working but we do not have faith in them. We are not like the farmer who works hard and perseveres months after months, follows the laws of farming; then only he gets the fruits of his labor after a long time. We, on the other hand, sit at home and say: Since Allah’s law is that from one seed will grow hundreds of grains then the day when hundreds of grains grow we will go and get them. This is not يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْغَيْبِ  (2:3 – the faith in the unseen. According to the Qur’an the faith in the unseen means: that every worker; every laborer; every technician who has the conviction that whatever I am working on – maybe it may take one month or six months or a year, but one day it will work; that one day the result of the effort will bear fruit for which the worker is persevering day and night even while suffering hardships and hunger. This is the steadfast belief in the mission’s objective followed by continuous action and 100% conviction in the unchangeable law of requital of the Qur’an that the result is bound to come out for sure – at the proper time. We have belied this belief. The truth is that people do not have faith in the law of requital. People may say: Allah’s law of requital does not work; that we see that dishonest succeed; that dishonest businessmen flourish. When this situation becomes common in society; when fear and anxiety abound – then how would people be motivated to work honestly?!

Fear and Anxiety

The Quran says: “إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَخْشَوْنَ رَبَّهُم” (67:12, which is normally translated as “those who are afraid of their Lord”. What is this “fear” and what is meant by being “afraid of”?

The Qur’an says that a nation raised on the basis of its laws as well as its followers will have no fear nor suffer from any anxiety (2:112; 2:62; 2:274; 2:277). We, on the hand, right from childhood, sow fear of Allah in the hearts of children. To children then Allah becomes a symbol of fear and trepidation. In fact, humanity gets crushed with fear. Let us take the meaning of: يَخْشَوْنَ, خَشِيَ – there is nothing in this to fear Allah. Whenever, the Qur’an uses for example: “هُم مِّنْ خَشْيَةِ رَبِّهِم” (23:57 – then it means: being careful from the adverse consequences of violating the law of requital, being afraid of the consequences that are bound to occur if one does not follow the message of Allah; that when one violates His laws then one will suffer their destructive consequences. This is what is meant by fear. This is a fear of the unseen destructive results of bad actions which do not appear right away.

Period of Respite is Allah’s Mercy

The Qur’an mentions that those who opposed the Prophet (PBUH) used to taunt him: Why don’t you bring the destruction that you keep on warning us about all the time?! On this, Allah told that they do not recognize His mercy; i.e., they do not realize that He does not punish people right away after committing wrong; that there is a period of respite between the wrong action and its consequence. This respite has been bestowed by Him so that people might realize their mistake and correct themselves and thus be saved from destruction. The Qur’an says that if you correct yourselves then it is good for you only. The period of respite is also an essential part of the law of requital and, indeed, is a mercy from Allah. Because, if we eat unhealthy food and if we get a disease (e.g. cancer) right away then no one will be saved. In this period of respite, small symptoms appear as warning signs. If we pay attention to these symptoms and are able to see a connection between continuing unhealthy food habit and the symptoms, then due to this period of respite embedded in the process, there is hope; there is possibility for treatment and cure. If, on the other hand, there were immediate punishment for wrong action, then no human being in the world would be saved.


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