On the Meaning of Patience: Unlocking the Concept of Sabr

A climber with determination, resilience, and patience reaching the summit and observing the sunset (photo: iStock by Getty Images).

The term Sabr and its derivatives could be found in many places of the Quran, such as in verse three of Chapter 106. The verse is translated as “advise each other to truth and advise each other to patience”. The verse contains the urge for us to advise each other on Sabr or patience. It has been repeatedly recited especially at the end of our gatherings.

Nevertheless, though many are aware that the term Sabr carries the meaning patience, not many know of its precise meaning. In effect, we do not have a full understanding of the concept of Sabr, despite our frequent recitation of the Chapter.

The term Sabr is an Arabic word, literally translated as ‘patience’. The term has been given many definitions, evident in the deliberations made by various scholars of the Quran. Their definitions serve as essential reference in our effort to understand the true meaning of Sabr. Knowing the definitions leads us to discover the essential notions in the concept of Sabr, helping us to develop a complete understanding of the concept.

By and large, the concept of Sabr is linked to the notion of having the ability to uphold perseverance in obeying the commands of Allah; and facing all the difficulties in the efforts to obey Him (Al-Bakri, 2015). Reviewing the definitions of Sabr, as discussed by other scholars, has led to the identification of five main domains for the construct Sabr.

Firstly, Sabr is defined as a set of individuals’ positive reactions to the command of Allah,  by submitting to Allah’s orders, and obeying all of His teachings (Kashim et al., 2020). It is their committed effort to uphold obedience; and accomplish the religious recommended actions (sunnah). This is because many found it to be less easy or even difficult for them to continuously stay positive in the urge to participate in any required or recommended acts of worshipping.

Secondly, Sabr is related to the ability to refrain yourself from committing wrong-doings or indulging in prohibited behaviors. Individuals with Sabr have the ability to restrict themselves from involving in actions that would cause damages and sufferings though they are keen on doing the actions (Al-Jaza'iry, 2001). It involves the acts of abstaining from doing prohibited behaviours, essential in order to adhere to Allah’s command of avoiding the behaviours. They would also refrain from disapproved (makruh) and forbidden (haram) things (Al-Jauziyah, 1989). Stated another way, when an individual restrains him or herself from committing any prohibited behaviours, he or she has practised the concept of Sabr. He or she would leave all prohibitions, and avoid any kinds of disobedience to Allah.

Thirdly, Sabr is the ability to persevere in their efforts to deal with difficulties. An individual with Sabr can endure all life difficulties, handle sufferings, and withstand problems without giving up (Kashim et al., 2020). To them, the state of Sabr would be a source of strength when facing adversity (Abdelzaher et al., 2017). It empowers them to accept any state of instability, troubles, or inconveniences, making them steadfast in their effort to manage any problems faced or difficulties encountered

Fourthly, Sabr is the ability to control emotion when dealing with emotion provoking events or difficult situations. An individual with Sabr characteristics has the ability to remain calm in the face of disappointment, grief, or sadness (Bulbul & Izgar, 2018).

Fifthly, Sabr is the ability to accept any life reality as fated by the will of Allah (Al-Bakri, 2015). The state of Sabr would protect an individual from grumbling, weeping over what had happened, damaging objects, harming others and doing any counterproductive behaviours (Al-Qayyim, 2006). It enables someone to be highly ready when facing traumatic or stressful events; and remain calm in the face of disappointment, grief, or suffering (Bulbul & Izgar, 2018).

The ability to adopt Sabr as an essential characteristic of self is in line with the Prophet’s values which epitomises his efforts in cultivating a culture of upholding patience and avoiding confrontation. One with Sabr characteristics could help manage their anger; solve problems in an effective and systematic manner, and attain a more peaceful life which is free of conflict or issues which disrupt their health, physically and mentally.

In conclusion, based on the above definitions, five domains of the Sabr construct could be identified, namely having positive reaction to Allah’s orders; abstaining from all prohibited behaviours; persevering while facing difficulties (e.g., control-self, resistance to suffering, achieving goals without complaining); being able to control emotion when facing life emotion-provoking life events; and accepting fate and bitterness of life.

Shukran Abd Rahman, Abdul Syabil Nazim Abdul Rashid,  Khairul Aiman Khairuddin, Muhammad Aqlan Amin Abdullah, Muhammad Fiqri Hafizi Yusri, Nik Muhammad Haikhal Rizalman - the authors are from the Department of Psychology, AbdulHamid AbuSulayman Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia. They are currently working on the conceptualisation of the construct Sabr and the development of its measuring tool.


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