Names of Allah Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII | Part XXIX | Part XXX
I’m sure we’ve all felt this at some point: the frustration that comes with not being able to get something right. Or the anxiety that is felt as a result of lost time. Maybe even the despair because it seems too late. Why can’t we ever get it right? If only there was someone to take us by the hand—someone who would be patient with us, understand our difficulties, and pick us up when we fall, yet encourage us to continue. If we’ve felt this, we probably do not have patience with our own selves. We give up or numb ourselves so as not to deal with ‘it’ (whatever ‘it’ may be), hoping things will fix themselves. But we should have patience. Because Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) certainly does—He is al-Sabur (the Patient).
This Name is related to al-Haleem: the Forbearing. We said that al-Haleem is the One who sees the wrong of what people do, but does not hasten to punish. This meaning is present in His Name al-Sabur as well. Al-Haleem then also forgives. Allah (swt) says:
“And if Allah were to impose blame on the people for what they have earned, He would not leave upon the earth any creature. But He defers them for a specified term. And when their time comes, then indeed Allah has ever been, of His servants, Seeing.” [Qur'an, 35:45]
This deferring is a manifestation of Allah’s Name al-Sabur and His attribute of patience. As al-Ghazali says: “Al-Sabur—the Patient—is the one that does not let haste move him to carry out an action before its time, but rather decides matters according to a definite plan, and brings them about in delineated ways.” Sabur comes from sabr (patience)(ص-ب-ر), and the root means to confine or contain (الحبس). So to have sabr is to contain oneself from acting rashly. Al-Ghazali also says that when Allah (swt) brings about an action, He does not delay it out of procrastination like a lazy person would, nor does He speed it up out of haste.
Yet the other dimension of Allah’s patience with us is His appreciation for and patience with our baby steps. A mother carries her child all the time until he starts to walk. When he takes two steps, his parents are excited, cheering him on, even though he falls after those two steps. It might take him months to walk properly. But they are by his side, helping him. Very few parents would give up on their child because he falls after taking every few steps. Most parents are lovingly patient even when their child is slow to walk. Allah (swt) is far above any analogy, but to bring the message home, this is Allah (swt) with us. He is al-Sabur. He is not quick to punish the heedless or even the sinful, and He is not impatient with those of us who are slowly but surely on the path. He is patient when we stray, and makes the path still open to us when we come back. There is a beautiful wisdom in the statement of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) ﷺ: “The best actions are those which are small and consistent,” [Bukhari & Muslim]. It is better than what is grand yet inconsistent, and eventually fades away.
To me, this epitomizes Allah’s attribute of patience. He is not asking you to be super Muslim in a day and a night. He does not mind that you take small steps to build yourself. We know the opposite: You take one step and He comes to you at speed. The Prophet ﷺ reminds us to “Do those deeds which you can do easily, as Allah (swt) will not get tired (of giving rewards) till you get bored and tired (of performing religious deeds),” [Bukhari]. He does not get bored with waiting for us to get our acts together. He is patient. The frustration that you feel with yourself that makes you give up is from Shaytan (Satan)—he makes you impatient with yourself, whereas Allah (swt) is patient with you. We should remain steadfast with the obligatory, and then add from the voluntary what we can.
Take the example of Suhayl bin Amr. Suhayl bin Amr was one of the aristocrats of Quraysh. And he hated the Prophet ﷺ with a passion—so much so that when his sons and daughter accepted Islam, he tortured them in terrible ways. He was eloquent and would say horrible things about our Beloved ﷺ. During the battle of Badr, Suhayl was captured. Umar radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) asked the Prophet ﷺ if he could punch his teeth out so he would never say anything bad about the Prophet ﷺ again! But the Prophet ﷺ shook his head and told Umar (ra): “No, O Umar. Perhaps you will see in him something that you will praise him for.” The Prophet ﷺ was patient. He believed that people could change. Yet after Suhayl was released, he did not change. On the contrary, he joined in all of the battles against the Muslims. And it was Suhayl bin Amr who concluded the treaty with the Muslims in which he refused to accept “Muhammad the Messenger of Allah”, and made Ali (ra) write only “Muhammad, son of Abdullah.”
Could you be patient with such a person? Allah (swt) was patient with him. Suhayl bin Amr (ra) accepted Islam after the conquest of Makkah, when he was over 70 years old. Slowly, he started to change. He started praying and fasting more. He started learning from Muadh bin Jabal, even though he was young and not from Quraysh. People even said to Suhayl, “You are going to him to learn?” Meaning, at least go to someone with more status like Ali bin Abi Talib (ra) or Abu Bakr (ra). And Suhayl was angry with that. He said, “This is what made us fall behind the people [who accepted Islam before us]! I will learn from him.” He finally recognized that our value does not come from status, money or family, but from being servants of the Most Merciful. He was grateful that he did not end up like Abu Jahal and Abu Lahab.
If Allah (swt) is patient with someone like Suhayl, do you think that Allah (swt) is not patient with you? Do you think that when you sincerely intend to become better and you take the steps, no matter how small, that He gets bored or tired of you?
So do not let the fact that the road seems long deter you. There will always be something to improve, and that is a good thing, because it means we are constantly growing. The companions were always evolving. They slipped up, but they never despaired. Moreover, they were not complacent. They knew their own selves. If it was anger they needed to work on, then that’s what they worked on. If it was prayer, then they focused on that. If it was laziness, then that.
And do not be so hard on yourself when you cannot get something right. Do not be frustrated because you feel you have squandered all of your life in play, and now have no time to make up for it. Suhayl was 70 when he accepted Islam. He was so grateful for that gift that he took the steps. The past only matters inasmuch as you can learn from it and from your mistakes. But that is it. What matters is this moment now. What can you do now to improve your relationship with God, to improve yourself, to achieve your goals?
One final note: Just because Allah (swt) is al-Sabur, it does not mean that we should just be wishful thinkers. Wishful thinking is one of the diseases of the heart (طول الأمل). A wishful thinker is one who delays and defers for no reason, simply out of laziness and ostensibly because he hopes in Allah’s Mercy. This is actually punishable. The true fruit of hope is effort.
Being with al-Sabur
1- Make a specific goal.
Been missing out on your prayers? Always wanted to memorize Qur’an? Parts of your character that need improving? Maybe your relationship with your loved ones needs to be fixed?
Make the intention, formulate a specific and achievable goal, and then take the steps towards it. You should be able to visualize it. Start really small if you need to. If you get bored or simply tired and want to give up, remind yourself that Allah (swt) is patient with you. If you are sincerely working, He will not rush you, because you are doing what you can and your goal is consistency. An extra day of life that Allah (swt) gives you is to push through, insha’ Allah (God wiling). So persevere a little more.
2- Know yourself.
It may seem odd to have this as a point in knowing Allah (swt). But in order to set the right goals and in order to see Allah’s manifestation of His attributes, we need to know ourselves. When you know yourself, you will actually be able to see how patient Allah (swt) has been with your throughout your life, and truly appreciate His patience and forbearance with you. You will be able to go to the root of why you do things and make the decision to become better, insha’ Allah.
3- Be patient with other people.
Patience is an internal state that has outward implications. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ tells us: “Whoever curbs his anger, while being able to act, Allah will fill his heart with certainty of faith,” [Bukhari]. If Allah (swt) can be patient with us despite all that we do, who are we not to be patient?
4- Be patient with yourself. Be patient with results.
Remember that the things that are truly of worth can sometimes be the most difficult to achieve, and this why patience is so crucial. Patience is to persevere with God-consciousness despite the odds. As the Prophet ﷺ tells us, “Whoever persists in being patient, God will make him patient. Nobody can be given a blessing better and greater than patience,” [Bukhari]. Patience is the key to that long road to a result that is noble. The Prophet ﷺ also tells us, “And know that victory comes with patience, relief with affliction, and ease with hardship,” (Tirmidhi).