Sabr is both patience and perseverance. That covers a lot of ground. In fact, Imam Abu Talib Al-Makky, in his book, Qoot ul-Quloob, writes that most people sin because of two things: lack of sabr with regard to pursuing what they love or aspire to; or lack of sabr with regard to what they detest (such as pain, poverty, illness, etc). In fact, sabr is the key to the inner power that enables us to respond with intention and purpose to life’s challenges. One of the great scholars, Imam ibn Qayyim, stated: “When a man controls his tempers and desires and yields to religious incentives, he finds the true kingdom; for then he attains freedom. On the other hand, a king who gives himself up to his desires and tempers becomes their servant, driven by them both. Only the fool mistakenly concentrates on outward sovereignty, while its reality is servitude.”
It is enlightening to consider some of the immense and innumerable blessings of sabr as evidenced by the Qur’an and sunnah:
- Sabr is a way of being successful in this life and in the Hereafter —”O you who believe, practice sabr and hold together firmly and love and fear Allah, so that you may be successful” (Qur’an 3:200).
- Sabr is a way of being close to Allah SWT and earning His love — “…and Allah loves the those with sabr” (Qur’an 3:146).
- Sabr makes an individual qualified for leadership — “And We made of them leaders guiding by Our command, when they were patient and certain of Our Signs…” (Qur’an 32:24).
- Those who have sabr are rewarded without measure — “…those who patiently persevere will truly receive a reward without measure” (Qur’an 39:10).
- Sabr is a way of attaining taqwa (righteousness, love and fear of Allah SWT, God-consciousness) — “…So persevere patiently, for the end is for those who have taqwa” (Qur’an 11:49).
- Sabr is a far-reaching quality to have — Prophet Muhammad (s) said, “…No one is given that which is better and more comprehensive than sabr” (Saheeh Muslim).
- Sabr is illumination of the mind and heart — the Prophet (s) said, “…Sabr is illumination…” (Saheeh Muslim).
Unfortunately, many people equate sabr with resignation: inactive waiting, passively enduring difficult situations, or giving up. Far from that, sabr is mental and emotional diligence; it is active endurance of hardship while diligently working on changing a situation to the best of our abilities.
Sabr Is Extremely Important in Marriage
It is easy to understand why sabr is so important in marriage. Don’t we all want a spouse who is successful, close to Allah SWT, possessing good leadership qualities, imbued with taqwa, and whose mind and heart are filled with spiritual light? Sabr is also an important ingredient to a successful marriage because despite all the efforts made before marriage to guarantee the perfect match, there will always be differences. We are multi-dimensional beings and our outlooks on life are shaped by numerous factors related to genes, upbringing, life experiences, temperament, etc. It is a truism that a degree of mismatch exists in most, if not all, marriages. The question is: how should spouses deal with such inevitable differences? First, both spouses must be willing to accept feedback and make changes in their behavior. Each must also adapt to, and accommodate as much as possible, the personality and mindset of the life-long partner.
Yet, after doing all that is humanly possible to create harmony in a relationship, there will often remain some points of contention between spouses. One very important tool in dealing with this reality is the trait of sabr. In fact, spouses can exercise sabr concerning what is perceived as unchangeable shortcomings or weaknesses in the other. But how much easier and more fulfilling it is to exercise sabr with regard to the spouse when knowing all the Islamic benefits and blessings (listed above) found in practicing this trait.
The Practice of Sabr in Daily Life
Sabr is also needed when dealing with the countless contingencies of life such as disappointment, sickness, or joblessness. Regardless of the challenge faced, one cannot truly succeed without the daily practice of sabr with oneself, in our relationship with Allah SWT, with our spouses, in our extended family, and in community relationships.
The practice of sabr actually enables other skills to be developed. One such skill is utilizing the pause. The pause is the space between the stimulus and the response. Someone says something that triggers anger in you, for example. The pause is the space you allow before replying. Whether it is 30 seconds or waiting until one cools off, it requires sabr. If we are patient, we are more than likely to fully experience the pause, giving ourselves time to take in the information in order to accurately perceive and interpret what is happening or being conveyed. In this pause we purify the intention and then choose how to respond, having contemplated the consequences of any action. The other option would be to react with habitual impulse or base egotistic desire. Then we are forced to live with the destructive ramifications of less than truly conscious choice.
How Can We Acquire Sabr?
Acquiring sabr entails thinking and acting with sabr even when we don’t initially feel it. The Prophet (s) said, “…Whoever practices sabr, Allah gives him sabr…” (Bukhari). So, we can say that sabr comes with practice and, in the beginning, it may feel unnatural and difficult. But with time the practice becomes easier and easier. Acquiring and maintaining sabr includes formulating the intention to acquire sabr; reflecting on one’s purposes for acquiring sabr; and taking action.
It helps to ask ourselves questions such as “Am I already practicing sabr?” or “What areas of my life reflect a lack of sabr?” Making du’a to Allah (SWT) to help us realize sabr in whatever we do is also essential. We can also use a “disciplining the thoughts” technique by becoming aware of our inner chatter and determine if our thoughts support and enhance the practice of sabr or not. We can then increase our fluency in positive inner thoughts that support the habit of sabr and make a resolution to go through one entire day with no thoughts that defeat acting with sabr.
We can also seek knowledge from the Qur’an and sunnah and record in a journal whatever material we find about sabr. Then we can reflect on the knowledge we have compiled. By reflecting on the rewards we can gain by practicing sabr, or the painful consequences of not practicing sabr, we reinforce our intention to continue practicing, looking for opportunities in everyday living to practice sabr. There are endless opportunities — waiting in line at a store, dealing with the shortcomings of people we work with, encountering adversity, illness, financial difficulties, disappointment, inconvenience — the list goes on and on.
The Prophet (s) said, “Sabr is half of eman” (Abu Na’eem and Al-Khateeb). That makes perfect sense as it encompasses so much — restraining the self from any harmful influence or temptation; and directing the self toward goodness and everything beneficial. To do this with unwavering purpose and dedication, one begins to feel the will power, like a muscle, being strengthened day by day. Each time we catch the opportunity to pause and reach down into the primal core of our being and connect to the meaning and purpose of our lives, we take a further step on our journey of transformation. Behaving only in ways that serve our intentions and goals, we are well established on our journey toward success in this life and in the Hereafter.