Modern society is keen on imprinting the idea of man as a progressive creature, albeit from a limited framework that only accounts for the material. In this heart-throbbing, fast-paced and sometimes inundated environment we see ourselves overburdened with the problems of the world, with material desires, with meeting social standards and so on. In combatting this common sickness of instant gratification that troubles the common man, we can draw examples from the sabr (patience) of our Aimmah (as) and our religious scholars.
Our conception of sabr is one of waiting, tolerating, of biding time. But interestingly, the tawhidi culture that Islam inherently promotes presents patience as a voracious, moving, strong and balanced trait. In his book Discourses on Patience , Ayatullah Sayyid Ali Khamenei explains this with the diverging stories of Hurr ibn Yazid ar-Riyahi & Omar bin Sa’d. Both soldiers were enlisted in the army of the tyrant caliph Yazid ibn Mua’wiyah, but both found differential paths from one another. Interestingly, the author describes the differentiation as a result of sabr. The author eloquently explains:
“By offering resistance against this violent instinctive passion, and by remaining patient against this great sin, which was tantamount to waging war against the forces representing the total truth for the sake of forces which were the manifestation of total blasphemy, not only did Hurr rescue himself, but jumped into the kingdom of paradise from the very brink of fire.”
Modern Western context would probably find Hurr’s actions heroic, gallant, courageous, a feat to be reckoned with. Intriguingly though, his actions are only representations of sabr – sabr in being aligned with the will of Allah (swt) and sabr against the indulgence of sin. As Muslims, it is important for us to grasp onto this narrative, for it takes us away from the abyss of hopelessness and continued frustrations – which in themselves are forms of impatience, and can result in sins.
The basic premise then, of sabr, is of freeing oneself from the desires of this world. If one were to be enslaved by their carnal appetite, at some point man could choose to neglect obedience to God by fulfilling obedience to desire. At this important crux, man can forgo honor, freedom and dignity in order to fulfill his material needs and welcome false gods and deities into his heart.
In one of his well-known works, Forty Hadith, An Exposition, Imam Ruhullah Khomeini (ra) explains that the method of emancipating oneself from the carnal desires that hold him down, are curative knowledge and action. Curative action requires one to practice religious exercises that oppose the carnal desires so as to free the soul from them as a result of bondage to virtues and moral excellences. With regards to curative knowledge, it is necessary for a person to fully comprehend that every other soul is as needy and dependent as himself and therefore not worthy of worship.
This is not to say that one should not indulge in worldly pleasure. In this context, sabr is a means of relinquishing oneself from the opportunity of sin; it is a mechanism to attain the much-wanted and desired taqwa (obedience to God). While it is easy to speak about sabr, practicing and indulging in it require fortitude and perseverance. Modern day society is crippled with ideologies that try to rationalize change while justifying material progress. Though material progress does have its merits, it has come so rapidly that our spiritual growth has been rendered defunct. The issue at hand is not the failures of materialism, but the lack of prioritization in human culture. A tawhidi culture on the other hand, would promulgate a model centered on spiritual growth that is couched strongly in the very foundations of Islam, which can then easily be complemented with material progression.
In our everyday lives there are many ways we seem to measure progress. In itself, progress is defined as success on a particular scale, one that is measurable empirically. So whether that is the latest phone, the latest game console or the latest emoticons/emojis available for us on social media, we are so easily able to keep up with the latest trends. Its not to say that this form of material maintenance is in of itself immoral, but that when it is coupled with spiritual neglect, it ultimately stunts human growth. Having said that, spiritual development and growth does not require keeping up with anything, but simply continuous cultivation. It cannot be measured on a level of ‘progress’ other than the various levels of communication one has with Allah (swt) on a personal level. Arguably, this model needs to permeate through our sociocultural contexts in order for it to be fully appreciated. On both personal and communal levels therefore, the characteristic of sabr provides us with a much-needed antidote, to slow things down, to reflect, to introspect and produce Godly explanations to our everyday affairs.
And Allah (swt) says: “…And be patient and persevering, for Allah is with those who patiently persevere.” (8:46)