Sabr: Achieving Closeness to Allah, Spiritual Growth, and Inner Peace

Published August 23, 2023

By Sidra tulMuntaha

In Islam, “sabr” refers to the concept of patience, perseverance, and steadfastness in the face of difficulties, challenges, or hardships. This concept is different than the concept of patience in the traditionally understood sense, where it has a more of a passive connotation. Sabr however emphasizes the importance of regulating oneself while remaining steadfast in one’s faith and trust in Allah, especially during times of adversity (Al-Jawziyyah, 1997). It also involves restraining oneself from impatience, anger, or despair in the face of adversity and, instead, trusting in Allah’s wisdom and plan for one’s life. As Muslims we believe that through sabr we can overcome trials, tribulations, and tests of life and ultimately attain success and reward from Allah (Al-Jawziyyah, 1997). We believe that we can achieve closeness to Allah, spiritual growth, and inner peace.

Anas (r) narrated that The Prophet (s) said, “The real patience is at the first stroke of a calamity” (Sahih Bukhari). When we are faced with the most tragic situation, it is in that moment that we are supposed to emotionally and cognitively regulate ourselves and practice sabr.

Mufassir Yusuf Ali comments on two verses (2:153-154) in surah Baqarah: “The Arabic word sabr implies many shades of meaning, which it is impossible to comprehend in one English word. It implies: (1) patience in the sense of being thorough, not hasty; (2) patient perseverance, constancy, steadfastness, and firmness of purpose; (3) systematic as opposed to spasmodic or chance action; (4) a cheerful attitude of resignation and understanding in sorrow, defeat, or suffering, as opposed to murmuring or rebellion, but saved from mere passivity or listlessness, by the element of constancy or steadfastness.”

Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah states in his book Patience and Gratitude (abridged version Uddat As Sabirin Wa Dhakirat Ash-Shakirin): “Patience (sabr), or patient perseverance, is obligatory, according to the consensus of the scholars, and it is half of faith (îmân), the other half of which is gratitude (shukr). Patience is mentioned in the Qur’ân around ninety times. The relation of patience to îmân is like the relation of the head to the body, and the one who has no patience has no îmân. Allâh has commanded patience for the Believers in the following âyah: ‘O you who believe! seek help with patient perseverance (sabr) and prayer…’ (Al-Baqarah, 2:153).”

Ibn al-Qayyim eloquently states in the passage above that sabr is obligatory, and it is half of the faith of a believer. He goes on to illustrate the vital importance of sabr to faith and emphasizes the connection between faith and sabr. This highlights the importance of understanding the obligatory concept of sabr in order to internalize it within us to its maximum capacity which has influence on our eman as well. According to Ibn Al-Qayyim in his work Uddat al-Ṣābirīn, patience is divided into three components:

1. Patience in worshiping Allah and adhering to His commands
2. Patience in avoiding sins and acts of disobedience
3. Patience with the decree of Allah and calamities

The Magnitude and Pervasiveness of Sabr in Our Lives

The three above components illustrate not only the magnitude but the pervasiveness of sabr when properly applied to the life of a Muslim. We express the quality of patience by fighting against Shaytan and following Allah’s commands. We demonstrate patience by resisting our lower nafs and restraining ourselves from committing sins. We illustrate patience by having eman bil qadr, or belief in destiny and fate. Everything that happens to us is meant for us, so we take comfort and have sabr in all our matters. The following hadith captures sabr in the most beautiful manner. The Prophet (s) said, “Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him” (Sahih Muslim).

If you have sabr, in all of its entirety and glory, alongside with shukr, the Prophet essentially guarantees that not only will there be good for you, but you will only be able to see your life as good no matter what befalls you. What is more beautiful than being content with the decree of your Lord. Sabr then can be understood as an active concept. Sabr is not limited to stopping our impulses and controlling our actions, it is also about what we choose to do and choose to think at that moment, taking a more active approach rather than an inhibiting approach.

Ibn al-Qayyim further explains in Uddat al-Sabirin that sabr is not just about enduring difficulties, but it is also a means of attaining closeness to Allah and increasing one’s faith. He emphasizes that through sabr, a person can develop greater trust in Allah, increase their reliance on Him, and improve their character and behavior. Additionally, Ibn al-Qayyim explains how sabr can lead to a successful and rewarding life in the Hereafter. The purpose of life for a Muslim is to worship Allah. Allah says in the Qur’an, “And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me” (51:56). This ayah emphasizes that the primary purpose of human existence is to worship Allah. Worshipping Allah includes obeying His commands, following His guidance, and striving to please Him in all aspects of life. Hence, as Muslims we believe that by fulfilling this purpose, we can attain closeness to Allah and ultimately achieve success in the Hereafter. And truly sabr is one of the pathways towards this goal. May Allah grant us all sabr, especially in our most difficult of trials. Ameen.

Sidra tulMuntahaAuthor Sidra tulMuntaha completed her BA in Psychology, Communication, and Sociology and also holds a diploma in Arabic and Islamic studies. She is certified in MHFA, PFA, and as a Life Coach. Her MA, from IIUM Malaysia, is in Developmental Psychology through the Islamic perspective. She is currently pursuing her Alimiyah Degree and Muslim Chaplaincy and Islamic Counseling from Al Balagh. She works as a Communication Interventionist and Spiritual Advisor at Cornerstone Counseling.

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