Ghazali on sabr (patience) part 1
Sabr: Difficult but not impossible
Ghazali lived in 5th century Hijri and his book, Kitaab Al-Arba’in Fi Usul ad-Din, ‘The Forty Principles of the Religion,’ which he wrote before his death, is a summary of Ihya Ulumuddin, and his life’s works and thoughts.
In the last ten principles of the forty, he looks at good traits. The first is tawbah. The second is khawf and the third is Zuhd. The fourth quality is sabr. Sabr helps us navigate our journey to Allah safely.
وَٱصْبِرُوٓا۟ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ مَعَ ٱلصَّـٰبِرِينَ
be patient. Indeed, Allah is with the patient. (8:46)
Ghazali, in his Forty Principles of the Deen quotes from the Quran, showing the importance of the quality of sabr. Allah has mentioned sabr in the Quran almost 70 times so it appears in the long surahs, short surahs and throughout, because it is a quality everyone requires.
Writings about patience
Many books have been written on sabr, including a lengthy chapter in Ihya al Ulum ad Din. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya wrote Patience and Gratitude and in each era this topic has generated a great deal of scholarship.
Those who have sabr are rightly guided
In Surat al Baqarah, Allah Almighty mentions the sabireen (patient):
أُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ عَلَيْهِمْ صَلَوَٰتٌ مِّن رَّبِّهِمْ وَرَحْمَةٌ ۖ وَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ هُمُ ٱلْمُهْتَدُونَ
They are the ones who will receive Allah’s blessings and mercy. And it is they who are ˹rightly˺ guided. (2:157)
In this ayah, Allah Almighty has showered those who show patience with His mercy and blessings and describes them as those who are guided. The opposite scenario for those who do not practice sabr, is that they do not have Allah’s mercy, blessings and guidance, because they became victims to their own anger, desire and whims as well as Shaytan. They did not listen to the call of Allah, which would have elicited His support.
The best leaders have sabr
وَجَعَلْنَا مِنْهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا لَمَّا صَبَرُوا۟ ۖ وَكَانُوا۟ بِـَٔايَـٰتِنَا يُوقِنُونَ
We raised from among them leaders, guiding by Our command, when they patiently endured and firmly believed in Our signs. (32:24)
Patience is one of the best qualities a leader can have.
Those with patience are rewarded beyond measure
In another verse, Allah Almighty says:
مَا عِندَكُمْ يَنفَدُ ۖ وَمَا عِندَ ٱللَّهِ بَاقٍ ۗ وَلَنَجْزِيَنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ صَبَرُوٓا۟ أَجْرَهُم بِأَحْسَنِ مَا كَانُوا۟ يَعْمَلُونَ
And We will certainly reward the patient according to the best of their deeds. (16:96)
إِنَّمَا يُوَفَّى ٱلصَّـٰبِرُونَ أَجْرَهُم بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ
Indeed those who endure patiently will be given their reward without limit. (39:10)
Every good deed is multiplied by ten, except sabr which has unlimited reward. If you put sabr in the scale it outweighs the other actions due to its reward. The reason is that sabr is not easy. Not everyone can master it or practice it. Ghazali will show us the different stations of sabr.
In Surat Ash-Shurah:
وَلَمَن صَبَرَ وَغَفَرَ إِنَّ ذَٰلِكَ لَمِنْ عَزْمِ ٱلْأُمُورِ
And whoever is patient and forgives – indeed, that is of the matters [requiring] determination. (42:43)
Sabr is half of faith
Ghazali quotes that ‘sabr is half of faith’ which is part of a hadith narrated by Imam Tabarani, Bayhaqi and others. It is a mawquf hadith, meaning that it is a statement of ibn Masoud who is the narrator of the hadith, rather than the Prophet (peace be on him). It does not go against the main teachings of the Quran about the importance of sabr.
Be patient and practice patience.
It is difficult to achieve sabr, but not impossible. In a hadith narrated by Abu Sai’d al Khudri, the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
Whoever remains patient, Allah makes him patient. (Bukhari and Muslim)
This is called tasabur, as Allah commands in the Quran, train yourself to be patient.
O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer.
Indeed, Allah is with the patient. (2:153)
The Prophet (peace be on him) said:
No one can be given a gift or blessing greater than patience.
No one can be given a greater blessing than patience. Abu Said Al Khudri narrated:
Some Ansari persons asked for (money) from Allah’s Apostle and he gave them. They again asked him for (something) and he again gave them. And then they asked him and he gave them again till all that was with him finished. And then he said “If I had anything, I would not keep it away from you. (Remember,) whoever abstains from asking others, Allah will make him contented, and whoever tries to make himself self-sufficient, Allah will make him self-sufficient. And whoever remains patient, Allah will make him patient. Nobody can be given a blessing better and greater than patience.” (Bukhari)
Why is sabr the greatest gift? With sabr, you can respond to the call of Allah Almighty, you can refrain from prohibitions and if you do so, you secure Jannah. This is the best prize.
Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) used to say:
“Verily, Sabr is to faith what the head is to the body. The body perishes without the head, and so also when Sabr goes, faith also disappears.”
The Prophet (peace be on him) said:
He who has no patience has no imaan. (Ibn Abi Shaybah, Bayhaqi in Shu’ab al Imaan)
Sabr is a gift to humans
Sabr is a quality Allah gave to humans exclusively.
Ghazali, as usual, is very organised and methodical in his analysis and dissection of the quality of sabr.
Sabr is when the angelic forces overcome the animalistic forces within you.
The human being under both of these conflicting influences – the first being the party of Allah and His angels which is governed by reason, and the other is the party of Shaytan which is driven by desire.
These two forces – desire on one hand and religion, which controls desire, on the other – are at loggerheads with each other.
Religious and rational motivation appear after puberty and one begins to fight desire and Shaytan by being aware of the final outcome. When one can control desire, after weighing up the benefits of being obedient to Allah, then one attains the station of patience.
When you think logically, and appreciate the consequences of your actions and train yourself to choose what will be better for you in the long run, you become a person of patience. There would be no need for sabr, if there was no desire. Therefore sabr can only be attained when there is something that you are resisting – you have to have a choice so that you can exercise sabr. If you are firm, you achieve sabr against your desire, and win the battle. If you do not, you are weak.
Whoever is beaten by desire has lost patience. Whoever controls desire attains patience. We know now, as studies have shown, that those who can resist short term pleasure for longer term gain have a higher IQ.
Fasting – controls desire and anger
This is why sabr is half of imaan, as imaan comprises actions as well as belief. Hence, the Prophet (peace be on him) said:
Fasting is half of sabr. (Tirmidhi, Darimi in a good narration when you collect the narrations together.)
In fasting, you are fighting desire and fighting anger. Fasting is about breaking the desires you have and training you to control them and to get a grip on your anger.
Levels of patience
There are three levels of patience.
1. The patience of a saint
This is the highest level and is the one who attains full control over their desire through continuous struggle (mujahada). Ghazali wrote a full chapter on training yourself against your nafs (lower self) in Ihya Ulum ad Din. He also quotes the ayah:
إِنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ قَالُوا۟ رَبُّنَا ٱللَّهُ ثُمَّ ٱسْتَقَـٰمُوا۟ فَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ
Indeed, those who have said, “Our Lord is Allah,” and then remained on a right course – there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve. (46:13)
وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا ۚ وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَمَعَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
As for those who strive for Us—We will guide them in Our ways. God is with the doers of good. (29:69)
If you keep practicing and supplicating you can get there, but you can not get there with a half hearted. This is the trait of prophets, messengers, and their heirs (the scholars) and the awliya (those close to Allah), but even they are not immune from desire. We see this in the story of Yusuf (peace be on him) who as a teenager was accosted by Zulekha with all her charm and beauty but he fought his desire and won the battle with Allah’s support. This is not easy by any means and this why anyone who fights their desire in the face of this temptation will get the shade of Allah’s throne on the day of Judgment.
This is why Allah says:
give good news (to) the patient ones. (2:155)
Fake it til you make it
One may say, I am not a patient person, particularly when faced with difficult tests. However patience comes with trying. The Prophet (peace be on him) taught us, that even when you lack patience, then pretend you are a patient person and act as if you are a patient person (saabir). In Surat al Imran, Allah Almighty says is isbiru was sabiru
يَٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ ٱصْبِرُوا۟ وَصَابِرُوا۟ وَرَابِطُوا۟ وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
O you who believe[d]! Be steadfast and [be] patient and [be] constant and fear Allah so that you may (be) successful. (3:200)
This is why the Prophet (peace be on him) said that if we keep trying we can achieve it.
And whoever remains patient, Allah will make him patient. (Bukhari)
Deep down we are not patient, but we can ask Allah to give us the power not to lose it, rather than give up and say we can’t do anything we lack control or are angry by nature.
Mind over matter
We have to give ourselves positive messages and psyche ourselves up to the task, rather than accept failure before trying. Do not confirm to yourself that you will not be able to do it. Otherwise you will always be the loser. We have to make supplication for it, re-visit our intention and we will have ups and downs, but it takes training and perseverance and Allah wants to see that you really want it.
We lose patience many times during the day, let alone in the week. When we miss our bus or train, when we are forced to wait on line to speak to someone at the bank or GP we are tested.
The lowest level of patience – none
The lowest level is to have no control over your desire. Your desire rules you and you surrender to Shaytan. How do you know you are at this level. This is the one who says they are yearning for tawbah (repentance) but it’s too difficult. Such a person is perished. This is surrendering to the Shaytan. Alternatively this person says, ‘Allah is so generous, He doesn’t need my tawbah and Jannah is so vast, it can accommodate me and Allah will forgive me.’ This person is a loser and is deluding himself.
The middle level – the one who is trying
This person is in a continuous battle with his desire. He wins some and loses some. Sometimes he has the upper hand and sometimes he does not, like the mujahid (warrior). His deeds are mixed – good and bad. He can control weak desires but big desires are a struggle and he regrets what he is doing, yet he keeps trying and he keeps falling. This is the majority of us and inshallah Allah will facilitate for us despite our shortcoming to be among people of Jannah.
What should you do if you lost patience?
If you sin, then you should do tawbah (repentance) – regret what you did, intend not to do it again, and ask Allah for forgiveness, and protection and resilience. If it involves another person, you have to apologise to them and make amends.
Is there a correlation between sabr and laziness?
There is no correlation between laziness and sabr. If you are in a queue it is not a lack of sabr to leave if you have more productive things to do with your time.
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