Muslim scholars considered patience as the first maqam or station in the realm of virtues that
a person entered into.
Patience in Islam means patience in the midst of adversity. A person should be patient in
what has harmed or afflicted him. Patience means that you don’t lose your comportment or
your composure. If you look at the life of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and
blessings, you will never ever find him losing his composure.
Patience was a hallmark of his character. He was ‘the unperturbed one’ which is one of
the meanings of halim: wa kaana ahlaman-naas. He was the most unperturbed of humanity.
Nothing phased him either inwardly or outwardly because he was with Allah in all his states.
Patience is a beautiful virtue…the cry of Prophet Yaqub.... "fa sabran jamil." Patience, it
appears, is not an isolated virtue but rather it is connected to a network of virtues. Should
Muslims focus on this virtue at the expense of the other virtues?
The traditional virtues of a human being were four and Qadi Ibn Al-Arabi considered them
to be the foundational virtues or the ummahatul fadaa'il of all of humanity. They are: prudence,
courage, temperance, and justice.
Prudence, or rather practical wisdom, and courage, are defining qualities of the Prophet.
He, upon him be peace and blessings, said that God loves courage even in the killing of a
Temperance is the ability to control oneself. Incontinence, the hallmark of intemperance,
is said to occur when a person is unable to control himself. In modern medicine it is used for
someone who can’t control his urine or feces. But not so long ago the word incontinence
meant a person who was unable to control his temper, appetite or sexual desire. Temperance
is the moral virtue that moderates one’s appetite in accordance with prudence. In early
Muslim scholarship on Islamic ethics, justice was considered impossible without the virtues of
prudence, courage and temperance.
Generosity as a virtue is derived from courage because a generous person is required to be
courageous in the face of poverty. Similarly, humility is a derivative from temperance because
the humble person will often restrain the urge to
brag and be a ‘show-off’ because he or she sees
their talents and achievements as a gift from Allah
and not from themselves.
Patience as a virtue is attached to the virtue of
courage because the patient person has the
courage to endure difficulties. So 'hilm' (from
which you get 'halim'), often translated as forbearance
or meekness if you wish, is frown upon
in our society. Yet it is the virtue we require to
stem the powerful emotion of anger. Unrestrained
anger often leads to rage and rage can lead to violence
in its various shades.
Our predecessors were known for having an
incredible degree of patience while an increasing
number of us are marked with an extreme degree
of anger, resentment, hate, rancor and rage. These
are negative emotions which present themselves as
roadblocks to living a virtuous life.
A patient human being will endure tribulations,
trials, difficulties, hardships, if confronted
with them. The patient person will not be
depressed or distraught and whatever confronts
him will certainly not lead to a loss of comportment
Adab, as you know, is everything.
Allah says in the Quran: ‘Isbiru was-sabiru.'
“Have patience and enjoin each other to patience.”
The beauty of patience is that ‘inallaha ma'assabirin’
Allah is with the patient ones. If God is on
your side you will always be victorious. Allah says in the Quran
"Ista`inu bi-sabiri was-salat.'" Isti'aana is a reflexive of the Arabic verb
`aana which is “to help oneself.” Allah is telling us to help ourselves
with patience and prayer.
This is amazing because the Prophet, peace be upon him, said “if
you take help, take help from God alone.” And so in the Quran Allah
says: ista`inu bi-sabiri was-salaat. This means taking help from
patience and prayer because that is the means by which Allah has
given you to take help from Him alone.
How is it then that a person sees himself as a victim when all
calamities, difficulties and trials, are ultimately tests from Allah. This
does not mean the world is free of aggression and that victims have
suddenly vanished. What I’m talking about is a person’s psychology
in dealing with hardships.
The sacred law has two perspectives when looking at acts of
aggression that are committed by one party against another. When it
is viewed by those in authority the imperative is to seek justice.
However, from the perspective of the wronged, it is not to seek justice
but instead to forgive.
Forgiveness, `afwa, pardon, is not a quality of authority. A court
is not set up to forgive. It’s the plaintiff that’s required to forgive if
there is going to be any forgiveness at all. Forgiveness will not come
from the Qadi or the judge. The court is set up to give justice but
Islam cautions us not to go there in the first place because ‘by the
standard which you judge so too shall you be judged.’ That's the
point. If you want justice, if you want God, the Supreme Judge of all
affairs, to be just to others on your behalf, then you should know that
your Lord will use the same standard with you.
Nobody on the ‘Day of Arafat’ will pray: “Oh God, be just with
me.” Instead you will hear them crying: O Allah, forgive me, have
mercy on me, have compassion on me, overlook my wrongs. Yet,
these same people are not willing to forgive, have compassion and
mercy on other creatures of God.
We are not a people that are required to love
wrong-doers. We must loath wrong actions, but at
the same time we should love for the wrong-doers
guidance because they are creatures of God and they
were put here by the same God that put us here. And
Allah says in the Quran “we made some of you a
tribulation for others, will you then not show
patience.” In other words, God set up the scenario,
and then asked the question: ‘will you then not show
patience?’ Will you subdue the inordinate desire for
vengeance to achieve a higher station that is based
on a conviction that you will be forgiven by God if
only you can bring yourself to forgive others?
Imam Al-Ghazali and earlier Miskawayh in his
Tahdhib al-akhlaq, argued that for these virtues to be
effective they had to be in harmony. Otherwise, they
said, virtues would quickly degenerate into vices. Do
you think that these virtues exist today among
Muslims but that they are out of balance? For example,
the Arabs in the time of the Prophet had courage,
but without justice it was bravado. Prudence without
justice is merely shrewdness. Do you think that
Muslims are clamoring for justice but have subsumed
the virtues of temperance and prudence?
Yes. Muslims want courage and justice but theydon't want temperance and prudence. The fourvirtues relate to the four humors in the body.Physical sickness is related to spiritual sickness andwhen these four are out of balance, spiritual and moral sicknessoccurs. So when courage is the sole virtue, you no longer have prudence.You are acting courageously but imprudently and it's nolonger courage but impetuousness. It appears as courage but it is not.A person who is morally incapable of controlling his appetite hasincontinence and thus he cannot be prudent nor courageous becausepart of courage is to constrain oneself when it is appropriate. Imamal Ghazali says that courage is a mean between impetuousness andcowardice. The same is true for incontinence. The person who has noappetite is not a temperate person but an impotent person and that'salso a disease. Someone may have immense business acumen but usesit to accumulate massive amounts of wealth. That is not a prudentperson but a crafty or clever person. Prudence is a mean between theextremes of stupidity and craftiness or what the Arabs call makr. Themaakir is the one who is afflicted with the same condition that hasafflicted Iblis the maakir, the clever.The interesting point to note about the four virtues is that youeither take them all or you don't take them at all. It's a packaged deal.There is a strong argument among moral ethicists that justice is theresult of the first three being in perfect balance.
Yes, Miskawayh and Aristotle as well.
What I've realized is that people who don't have patience are oftenridden with anxiety and tend to behave as if they can control the outcomeof events in their lives. They even think that destiny is in theirhands. They argue that if you do this and this you will achieve power,as if we have the ability to empower ourselves. Most of the contemporaryIslamic movements seem to think that without state power amoral or an ethical Islamic society is impossible to achieve. Why doyou think that is the case?
I think victimization is the result of powerlessness.The point is that powerlessness is our state.Powerlessness is a good state, not a bad one becauseall power is with God alone and He will make youpowerful or powerless. I'll give you an example. Ifyou go into the Alhambra Palace in Granada youwill see written everywhere al `izu-lillah whichmeans that strength, dignity and power is with Godalone. By the time you get to the end of the last roomit is changed to al` izu li maulana Abi `Abdillah orpower and authority is with the protector AbuAbdallah, the last Caliph of Andalus or what is nowsouthern Spain. So it begins with power and strengthis for God alone and it ends with power, strength,and dignity is for our master Abu Abdillah.The point here is that if you want power, Godwon't give it to you, but if you want to be powerlessfor the sake of God, God will empower you. That'sjust the way it works and here I am talking about thepeople of God.
Allah has divided the world into two types ofpeople - those who are God- focused and those whoare focused on other than God. The people that arefocused on God will always follow certain principlesand God will always give them the same results. Thepeople who think that they are focused on God, butin fact are focused on other than God will never getsuccess from God. The reason is that if they didindeed get success from God they would end up disgracingthe religion of God by claiming to be peopleof God.
There are many outwardly religious people on the planet thatthink they are the people of God and they get frustrated when theyare denied victory. This causes them often to get angry and you seetheir methods becoming more and more desperate. They fail to recognizethat authority is not given to them because they're not trulyfocused on God. They are instead focused on worldly power and theyare self-righteous and self-centered in their arrogance, thinking thatthey are right while everyone else is wrong.The verse in the Quran that sums this up is in Sura Baqarah. Allahsays, "They say no one will enter paradise unless they be a Jew or aChristian, These are vain wishes. Say to them, bring your evidence ifyou are speaking the truth. "Balaa man aslama wajhahu lillahi wahuwa muhsinun." "No, rather the one who resigns his entire being toGod is the one." Ibn Juzay al Kalbi says: aslama wajhahu means hewho submits his entire being to God which is Ihsan or excellence inone's worship.
When the human being is in a state of submission - wa huwamuhsinun - everything that comes from him is beautiful and virtuous.Ihsan - ethics, virtuous, beauty, excellence - indicates that a humanbeing will have his reward from his Lord. This is not from the Godof a religion, but the God of the individual in a state of absolute submission."Upon them there is no fear nor will they grieve."To me, this is the greatest testimony that Islam is not about identitypolitics. Some among us want to reduce Islam to identity politics.They label themselves and point accusing fingers at each other. Allahsays "indeed the one who has resigned his entire being to God and isvirtuous, that is the one whose reward is with his Lord and uponthem shall come no fear nor will they grieve.Replace the Jew and the Christian for some modern-day Muslimsand you end up with the same phenomenon described above. Thehadith says you will follow the Jews and the Christians to the extentthat if they go down a lizard's hole you'll go downwith them. This is an authentic hadith. The hadithsays every child is born with an inherent nature.The Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings,didn't say every child is born a Muslim as a sociologicalidentity. It says every child is born in astate of fitra and it's the parents who determine itssociological category, to give it a modern interpretation.
You have painted a very interesting landscape interms of Muslim behavior in the contemporary period but we are seeing evidence of resentment among some Muslims today which is very strange indeed. I am wondering how this might be related to a sense of victimization?
Of course it is. Look for example at the word
injury. It comes from injuria, a Latin word that
means unjust. So if I perceive my condition as
unjust it is contrary to the message of the Quran.
Whatever circumstances we find ourselves in we
hold ourselves as responsible. It gets tricky to navigate
especially when it comes to the oppressor
and the oppressed.
The Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings,
along with the early Muslim community,
spent 13 years purifying themselves in Mecca.
These were years of oppression and thus serious
self-purification accompanied by an ethic of nonviolence,
forbearance, meekness, and humility.
They were then given permission to migrate and to defend themselves.
At this point they were not a people out to get vengeance and
they were certainly not filled with resentment because they saw everything
as coming from God. I’m not talking about being pleased with
injustice because that's prohibited. At the same time we accept the
world our Lord has put us into and we see everything as being here
purposefully, not without purpose, whether we understand it or not.
We believe evil is from the Qadr (decree) of Allah and it's for a
purpose, but there are two sides to choose from - the side of good and
the side of evil. In order for you not to fall into the Manichean fallacy,
God reminds you that not only is the struggle an external struggle
but evil is an internal struggle as well. Therefore, those very things
that you see on the outside they are also on the inside and to make it
even clearer, the struggle inside is the greater Jihad because if you are
not involved in the internal struggle you are not going to be able to
fight the external one.
Maulana Rumi said whenever you read Pharaoh in the Quran
don’t think that he is some character that lived in the past, but seek
him out in your own heart.
So, if we've got all these negatives, vices, not virtues active in our
hearts, love, it appears is an impossible task.
The modern Christian fundamentalists always talk about Islam as a
religion devoid of love. It’s a very common motif in these religious
fundamentalist books that attack Islam. They say “our religion is the
religion of love and Islam is the religion of hate, animosity, and resentment.”
Unfortunately, many Muslims have adopted it as their religion,
but that doesn’t mean resentment has anything to do with Islam.
Love (Mahabba) is the highest religious virtue in Islam. Imam
Ghazali said that it is the highest maqam or spiritual station. It is so
because trust, zhud (doing with out), fear, and hope are stations of
this world and so long as you are in this world these stations are relevant, but once you die they can no
longer serve you. Love is eternal
because love is the reason you were
created. You were created to adore
God. That’s why in Latin the word
adore which is used for worship in
English is also a word for love, adoration.
You were created to worship
God, in other words, to love Him
because you can't truly adore something
or worship something that you
don't love. If you are worshipping out
of fear, like Imam al Ghazali says, it's
not the highest level of worship, but
In other words, if you are worshipping
God out of fear, if the reason
that you are doings things is because
you are afraid of Him, that he is going to punish you, that’s the lowest
level of worship.
That’s why it was said about the Prophet’s companion Suhaib al
Rumi that had there been no fire or paradise he still would have worshipped
A vast number of young Muslims today who have the energy to run
down the road of hate do so thinking that it is a display of their Iman.
What do you say to help them understand that hating wrongs has to be
balanced with the virtues of mercy, justice, forgiveness, generosity, etc.
I think one has to recognize that there are definitely things out there
to hate but we have to be clear about hating the right things for the
right reasons in the right amount.
The challenge is to get your object of hate right and hate it for the
right reason. In other words, there are things that we should hate for
the sake of God. Oppression is something that you should hate. Its
not haram to hate the oppressor, but don’t hate them to the degree
that it prevents you from being just because that is closer to Taqwa
(awe of Allah). The higher position is to forgive for the sake of God.
God gives you two choices -- the high road or the low road - both of
them will get you to paradise. We should strive for the highest. Anger
is a useful emotion. God created anger in order that we could act and
respond to circumstances that need to be changed. Indignation is a
beautiful word. Righteous indignation is a good quality and even
though it is misused in modern English it’s actually a good thing. It
means to be angry for the right reasons and then it is to be angry to
the right degree because Allah says, “Do not let the loathing of a people
prevent you from being just.”
In other words get angry but don’t let that anger get the best of
you, don’t allow it to overcome you to the point where you want
vengeance because vengeance is God’s alone. Allah is al-Muntaqim,
The Avenger of wrongs. Human beings are not here to avenge wrongs
they are here to redress wrong, not to avenge them.
The ideal of loving those who revile you is the station of the
Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. In the midst of the worst
battle of his career, the battle of Uhud, he prayed, “Oh God guide my
people for they do not know what they are doing.” He could not have
uttered that if he had hatred in his heart. He could not have embraced
Wahshi as his brother, the man who killed his most beloved uncle, if
he had hatred in his heart. He could not have taken the oath of allegiance
from Hind who ordered and paid for the assassination of
Hamza and then bit into his liver to spite the Blessed Prophet if he
had hatred in his heart. He took her oath of allegiance and she
became a sister in faith. The Messenger of Allah is the best example.
He is the paragon who said:
“None of you truly believes until he
loves for his fellow man what he loves
for himself.” And the reason why I
say fellow man is that I think it’s a
very accurate translation because
Imam an Nawawi said that he is your
brother because we are all children of
Adam and Eve. So we should want
for our fellow man guidance, a good
life, and a good afterlife. None of you
truly believes, in other words our
Iman is not complete until we love for
others what we love for ourselves and
that includes the Jews, Christians,
Buddhists and the Hindus.
That breaks down the 'us versus
them' paradigm that tend to inform the way Muslims see the world
and themselves in it. That has been taken to a new level now in some
of our mosques where the kuffar is a degree under and we don't have
to pay attention to anything they say either about us or to us. Did our
Prophet, upon him be peace and blessing, behave like this at all? I
mean was he dismissive of anyone who wasn't from his community?
It seems preposterous to convince anyone that we care about their
welfare when we deride them.
The point is that if you want to guide them then you have to be concerned
with the way they perceive you. You have to be concerned
with how they feel.
The reason the Prophet upon him be peace and blessings, did not
kill hypocrites was because he did not want the non-Muslims to say
Muhammad kills his companions as a way of scaring people from
entering into Islam.
So he preferred an action that will cause non-Muslims to look at
Islam as a religion they would prefer to enter. The Prophet, peace be
upon him was concerned to such an extent with what others thought
that when one of his companions said that the Persians and
Byzantines did not take letters seriously unless they had a seal on
them, he told his companion to make him a seal.
He was concerned about how he presented himself to the people.
Once he was combing his hair and Aisha, his blessed wife, asked him
why he did that before he went out and he said my Lord commanded
me to do this. In other words, to go out looking presentable to
people is not vanity. Some Muslims get caught up in clothes and they
get upset when others wear a tie and suit. They think it’s hypocrisy
and that it is inappropriate. On the contrary, if one’s intention is correct,
it’s actually an act of worship because you are doing it in order
to present Islam, not yourself. You are, like the Prophet, recognizing
that you are an ambassador of a religion and it becomes like the seal
that the Prophet, upon him be peace and blessing, pressed onto the
Many Muslims have divided the world into two groups - us and
them. They will support Saddam Hussein because he’s a Muslim. In
other words, they will support a man who may have killed more
Muslims than any Muslim leader in the history of Islam or perhaps
all of them put together. The argument from this segment of our
Muslim community is that “I will back a mass murderer and go to a
demonstration with his picture because he’s a Muslim and other people
are Kuffar.” On the other hand, many Americans will back unjust
American intervention simply because they believe “my country right
or wrong.” Both sentiments is a form of tribalism and we are people
of faith in God Almighty, not people of tribal allegiance.