The Essence of Sabr (Patience) – ibn al-Qayyim


ibn al-Qayyim


The Reality of Ṣabr

It is a noble mannerism of the soul that prevents it from doing that which is not good or pleasing; it is a quality of the soul which leads to its correction and rectification.


al-Junayd ibn Muḥammad was asked about it to which he replied, ‘It means swallowing gall without a frown.’ Dhū’l-Nūn said, ‘Patience is to keep your distance from opposing (the commands of Allāh), to remain silent and composed while swallowing hefty portions of tribulation, and to show independence although poverty strikes you in every field of life.’ It is also said, ‘Patience is to meet tribulation with fine conduct.’ It is also said, ‘Patience is to vanish in tribulation without manifesting complaint.’ Abū ʿUthmān said, ‘The continuously patient is one who has accustomed his soul to meet the onslaught of difficult circumstances.’


It is also said, ‘Patience is to face tribulation with fine fellowship just as one would face times of ease and well-being.’ The meaning of this is that servitude is due to Allāh in times of ease and hardship, as such he must accompany well-being with gratitude and tribulation with patience.


ʿAmr ibn ʿUthmān al-Makkī said, ‘Patience is to stand firm with Allāh and to meet His tribulations with composure and welcome.’ The meaning of this is that one meets tribulation with an equanimity that contains no constriction, anger, or complaint.


al-Khawwāṣ said, ‘Patience is to remain firm to the regulations of the Book and Sunnah.’ Ruwaym said, ‘Patience is to abandon complaint.’ Hence he explained it by its outcome.


Other said, ‘Patience is to seek help from Allāh.’ Abū ʿAlī said, ‘Patience is like its name.’[1]


ʿAlī ibn Ṭālib, may Allāh be well pleased with him, said, ‘Patience is a stead that does not stumble or falter.’


Abū Muḥammad al-Jarīrī said, ‘Patience is to not differentiate between a state of blessing and a state of trial, with peace of mind in both.’ I say: neither is this possible nor is it required for Allāh has created us in a way that out very nature distinguishes between the two states. What is required, however, is to restrain the soul from despair and complaint. The arena of well-being is easier than the arena of patience as the Prophet (SAW) in his famous supplication, “As long as You are not angry with me, I care not, but I would prefer Your state of well-being.”[2]


This does not contradict his (SAW) saying, “None has been granted a gift better and greater than patience,”[3] for after the occurrence of tribulation, the servant has nothing at his disposal that is better or greater than patience. However, before the occurrence of tribulation, well-being is better for him.


Abū ʿAlī al-Daqqāq said, ‘The definition of patience is that you not object to the decree. However, allowing the effects of tribulation to show, without complaining, does not go against patience. Allāh, Exalted is He says concerning Ayyūb, “We found him patient,”[4] despite the fact that he said, “Great harm has afflicted me.”[5]


I say: he explained the word by its consequences. With regards his saying, ‘without complaining,’ complaint is of two types:


The first: complaining to Allāh, this does not go against patience. Yaʿqūb said, “I make complaint about my grief and sorrow to Allāh Alone,”[6] despite his already having said, “beauty lies in showing patience,”[7] and Allāh having described him as a patient person.


The Master of the Patient (SAW) said, “Allāh! It is to You that I complain of my weakness and lack of resources…”[8]


Mūsā (SAW) said, “Allāh, to You belongs all praise and to You does one complain. You are the One who aids, through You does one seek relief, upon You does one rely, and there is no power or strength except through You.”


The second: that the one undergoing affliction complains either verbally or in some other more indirect way, this cannot co-exist with patience, rather it goes against it. There is a clear distinction between complaining to Him and complaining about the tribulation. We shall analyse this in detail later.


It is said, ‘Patience is courage of the soul.’ It is from this statement that the phrase, ‘Courage is to show patience for an hour,’ derives. It is said, ‘Patience is the heart remaining calm at restless times.’


Patience and despair are two opposites and they are mentioned in contrasting contexts. Allāh, Exalted is He says, “It makes no difference whether we cannot stand it or bear patiently, we have no way of escape.”[9]


Despair is the partner of inability and inadequacy whereas patience is the partner of intelligence and sagacity. Were despair to be asked, ‘Who is you father?’ it would reply, ‘Inability’; and were patience to be asked, ‘Who is your father?’ it would reply, ‘Sagacity.’


The soul is the mount of the servant upon which he embarks either to Paradise or Hell. Patience is like the rein of that mount, and were there to be no rein, the mount would bolt here and there, directionless.


In one of his sermons, al-Ḥajjāj said, ‘Restrain these souls for they plunge into every evil. May Allāh have mercy upon a person who places a rein around his soul and guides it to the obedience of Allāh and turns it away from disobedience. Know that patiently staying away from what Allāh has prohibited is easier than bearing His punishment!’


I say: the soul has the ability of driving and daring, and the ability of restraint and desistance. The reality of patience is that one directs its driving force towards that which would benefit him and directs its desistance towards that which would harm him.


Some people find that their ability to patiently persevere in doing that which will benefit them is greater than their ability to patiently refrain from that which will harm them. As such they are able to persevere in fulfilling the commandments but are unable to restrain their desires such that they stay away from the prohibitions. Other people find that their ability to patiently refrain from opposition is greater than their ability to patiently persevere in obedience. Yet others are unable to do either of the two.


The best person is the one who has most patience in both matters. Many people are able to persevere in praying by night, be it hot or cold, and fast by day, but are unable to lower their gazes. Many people are able to lower their gaze but are unable to enjoin the good and forbid evil or undertake Jihād. The majority of people are unable to show patience in both matters and a minority are able to show befitting patience in both cases.


It is said, ‘Patience is that intellect and religion stand firm when faced with lusts and desires.’ The meaning of this is that human nature runs after that which it loves, but intellect and religion prevent it. As such the two are at continuous war with each other, and this war has its ups and downs. The battlefield is the heart, patience, courage, and firmness.



[1] The author, may Allāh have mercy upon him, has already mentioned in the previous chapter that ṣabr is also the name of a very bitter medicine.

[2] ḍaʿīf. Recorded by at-Ṭabarānī [13/73/181]. This is the famous supplication that he said after returning from Ṭāʾif.

[3] Bukhārī [#1469] and Muslim [#1053]

[4] Ṣād (38): 44

[5] al-Anbiyāʾ (21): 83

[6] Yūsuf (12): 86

[7] Yūsuf (12): 13, 83

[8] A part of the supplication after Ṭāʿif. Refer to fn. #27. The full text of the supplication reads, “Allāh, I complain to You about my weakness and lack of resources. O You, most Merciful of all, You who are the Lord of the oppressed, You are my Lord, to whom would You entrust me, to those far away who greet me with displeasure, or to some enemy? As long as You are not angry with me, I care not, but I would prefer Your state of well-being. I take refuge with the light of Your face that brightens shadows, repairs the troubles of this world and the Hereafter, ensuring that Your anger or discontent not alight upon me. May You be content and be pleased; all power and strength stems from You.”

[9] Ibrāhīm (14): 21


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