It’s all a vivid memory. I remember those sunny afternoons filled with young, bright laughter and the arms that raised me and my cousins through our childhood days. Her gleaming eyes gazed at us as we sprinted across our backyards and recklessly swiveled bikes through the winding streets of our neighborhood. Those eyes became the lens through which we viewed our own world, a world that valued family above anything else. Yet in a moment’s time, the arms that held our perfect world together became like bare winter trees, weakened from age, until they suddenly grew still.
Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un. This common phrase, meaning “to God we belong and to Him we shall return,” is said often by the Muslim community after the death of a loved one. However, that phrase didn’t hit home until that day.
I never thought I’d lose my grandma that way. It was an unexpected turn of events, the first loss in our family, and a time of grief for us all. However, it was also a time of realization. It brought forth a recognition that this life is passing and as much as we would like to grip onto certain memories, with photographs kept near our hearts as if the frames will immortalize all that we fear to lose, we must find the strength to let go and have sabr.
It wasn’t until then that I learned about what sabr truly means. I found that sabr goes beyond just the textbook definition of patience to an enduring persistence despite any difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement that we may face. Ultimately, sabr has many layers to it.
My original idea of sabr was the patience needed when fulfilling our obligations to Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala). I found this to be the sabr of the Prophet (peace be upon him) as he determinedly stood in long prayers until his feet swelled up. When asked why he offered such an unbearable prayer, he responded, “should I not be a thankful slave?” From standing through nights in prayer, to fasting in Ramadan, to following the sunnah, to merely just making the five prayers a day: all of these are struggles that require perseverance as well as patience in knowing that one day we will be rewarded for our efforts.
I also found sabr to be the patience in refraining from sin so as to not disobey our Creator (subhanahu wa ta’ala). Living in the society we do today, there are many things that may not necessarily be encouraged in our deen. When temptations to go down a path that we shouldn’t are thrown at us, how do we refrain? Fasting our eyes from what we should not see, our ears from which we should not hear, and our tongues from what we should not speak; all of these require dedication in what we believe in and each of these acts of sabr will be rewarded for.
However, sabr extends to more than just patience in fulfilling obligations and refraining from sin. I’ve found that although these are important components of sabr, it is also embodied in our patience in what Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) decrees upon us, including our steadfastness in the worst of times. Through our gains and losses, our joyous occasions and hardships, our success and failures, life goes on. But it isn’t what is thrown at us that defines us, but rather, how we react to those situations that defines us.
The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “Strange is the affair of the mu’min (the believer), verily all his affairs are good for him. If something pleasing befalls him he thanks (Allah) and it becomes better for him. And if something harmful befalls him he is patient (Sabir) and it becomes better for him. And this is only for the mu’min.”
I recognized this layer of sabr as when we remain spiritually strong through our hardships and turn to Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) in trust that He will help us get through our challenges, no matter how helpless we ourselves feel. Our losses in life, for instance, are an example. Whether we lose a dear friend, a family member, our wealth, or our health, we can either see it as a punishment or instead, view it as an opportunity. To have those things that bring us joy for even a mere second in our lives are a mercy and a gift from God, even if they are later taken away. People, wealth, and possessions come and go because they were never really ours to begin with. It is through sabr that we can reap this reward of patience.
“Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or fruits, but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere.” (2:155)
Thus, sabr has an encompassing definition and through it, Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) provides many opportunities for us to gain rewards for patience and draw near to Him. Some people approach Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) through constant good deeds and acts of worship. Some have the sense and strength to avoid sin and Allah uses their lack of performing many sins as a means of drawing that person closer to Him. Others may have difficulties sent onto them throughout which they are constantly patient. In this way, Allah purifies and rewards them in a way equivalent to those who do good deeds or refrain from sin. Each of these are tailored through the wisdom and mercy of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala). So what is the ultimate sabr of the believer? That is sabr in this life, for the hereafter. It is in recognizing that this life is passing and that those bounties that we lose in this life will be replaced in the next, do we find the strength to patiently persevere every morning we wake up.
If we can practice sabr now, insha’Allah we will be among those to whom angels will say: “Peace be upon you for the sabr you practiced. Excellent indeed is the final home” (13:24)