The Patience of noble people and the patience of ignoble people
Every person has to exercise patience in order to face difficulties, whether he does so willingly or unwillingly. The noble person exercises patience willingly, because he realizes the benefits of patience, and he knows that he will be rewarded for his patience and will be criticized if he panics. He is aware that if he does not have patience, panicking and impatience will not help him to regain missed opportunities, and will not take away things he dislikes. Whatever is decreed and is qada’ wa qadr cannot be prevented from happening, and whatever is decreed not to happen cannot be made to happen. So an attitude of impatience and panic actually causes harm.
A wise man said: “A man with wisdom as soon as adversity appears does that which a foolish man does after a month (i.e. he resorts to patience).”
The ignoble man exercises patience only when he realizes he has no choice. After wasting a lot of time and energy and panicking and struggling, he realizes that his impatience will not help him. Then he exercises patience in the same way that a person who has been tied up to be whipped exercises patience.
The noble person practices patience in obeying Allah, whilst the ignoble person exercises patience in obeying the Shaytân. So ignoble people have the greatest patience in following their own whims and desires, and have patience in spending in the way of Shaytân and no patience when it comes to spending even a few pennies in the way of Allah. They will endure many difficulties in order to follow their own whims and desires, but cannot bear even the least difficulties in order to please their Lord. They will endure slander for the sake of committing wrong actions, but cannot exercise patience in putting up with slander for the sake of Allah. Such people will avoid enjoining the good and forbidding the evil for fear of what people will say about them for doing so, but they will expose their honour to slander and bear it most patiently for the sake of following their own whims and desires. Similarly, they are not prepared to practise patience in devoting themselves to Allah, but when it comes to devoting themselves to Shaytân and their own whims and desires, they will exercise remarkable patience. Such people will never be noble in the sight of Allah, and on the Day of Resurrection they will not be raised with the people of nobility and decency.
Ways of strengthening patience
As patience is fard (obligatory), Allah has provided us with ways and means of obtaining and strengthening the quality of patience, for He has never instructed us to do something without providing us with help and support to do it, and ways and means of achieving it. He has never created a disease without creating a cure for it, and He has guaranteed cure when medicine is used. Even so, patience is difficult, but it is not impossible to attain. Patience consists of two elements: knowledge and action, and from these two elements are derived the remedies for all spiritual and physical troubles. Knowledge and action, combined, are always essential.
The element of knowledge is necessary in order to realize the benefits of following the commands of Allah and the sense of happiness and fulfilment that one may attain by following them; and to understand what it is in the forbidden things that causes harm, imperfection and evil. When a person realizes that, and adds strong willpower, the desire for spiritual achievement and the wish to live as a complete human being (as opposed to as animal-like existence), then it will become easy for him to attain the quality of patience. The bitterness of patience will become sweet and the pain of patience will become joy.
Patience is a constant battle between the motives of reason and religion on the one hand, and the motive of whims and desires on the other. If a person wants reason and religion to overcome whims and desires, then he has to strengthen the former and weaken the latter, just like promoting good health and reducing the risk of illness.
For example, a person who has a strong desire to commit adultery can take steps to combat it. He may have such a strong sexual urge that he cannot stop committing adultery; or he may not commit the act itself, but is unable to stop looking at women; or he may be able to stop looking at women but he cannot stop thinking of sex, to the extent that all his thoughts are devoted to this subject, and he never gives any thought to things which could benefit him in this life and in the hereafter. If he is really serious about finding a cure for this disease, then he has to follow these steps:
1. He can find out what types of food increase sexual desire, and then he can reduce his intake of them, or avoid them altogether. If this does not work, then he can fast, as fasting reduces sexual desire, especially if the food eaten when he breaks his fast is moderate.
2. He should lower his gaze and avoid looking at women, as looking at women may provoke sexual desire. The Prophet (SAAS) warned us, “Looking (at women) is one of the arrows of the Shaytân.” Shaytân aims his arrows from reaching its target unless one lowers one’s gaze. But if a person keeps looking, he is exposing his heart to these arrows, any one of which may be fatal.
3. He should enjoy permissible sex (i.e. within marriage), because any desire that Allah created in us has a permissible outlet. This is the best cure, as the Prophet (SAAS) has indicated.
4. He should think of the harm and damage that may befall him in this world as a consequence of his fulfilling his sexual desire in a prohibited way. Even if there were no Paradise or Hell, the harm that could be caused in this world by such an action should be enough to stop him from doing it. The damage caused by such actions is so great that it can barely be quantified, but sexual desire makes some people blind.
5. He should think of the ugliness of the person who is tempting him to commit adultery with her, especially if she is known to have other partners. He should feel too proud to drink from the same place as dogs and wolves!
Strengthening the motive of reason and religion
In the battle between reason/religion and whims/desires, we have the following “weapons” at our disposal:
1. We should remember the glory and greatness of Allah, and feel that He is too great to be sinned against as He is all-seeing and all-hearing. Whoever thinks of the greatness of Allah will never be at ease in committing wrong actions.
2. If we claim to love Allah, then we should not disobey Him, because of that love. A person should be obedient to the One he claims to love. Those who refrain from committing wrong actions out of their love for Allah are of the highest status in His sight, as are those who worship Him out of love for Him. There is great difference between the one who obeys Allah and abstains from wrong action out of love, and the one who does so out of fear of punishment.
3. We should think of the blessings and favours of Allah, as a decent and noble person would never act against the one who has been treating him kindly. Only base and ignoble people do such a thing. If we think of the blessings and favours of Allah, we will realize that we should not respond by doing against His commands and committing wrong action.
4. We should think of the wrath and punishment of Allah, as He will be angry with the person who persists in committing wrong action. Nothing can stand in the way of the consequences of His anger, least of all this weak slave of His.
5. We should think of what the person who commits wrong action has to lose, in this world and the next. It should be sufficient to think of the loss of îmân (faith), of which the smallest amount is worth much more than everything in this world. How can anyone be willing to lose his îmân in return for some brief moment of pleasure the consequences of which might last forever? In a sahîh hadîth, the Prophet (SAAS) said: “No adulterer is a believer at the time of when he is committing adultery.” Commenting on this hadîth, one of the Sahâbah said: “His îmân will be dragged out of him until it goes over his head like a cloud. If he repents, then his îmân will return to him.”
6. We should relish the idea of defeating the Shaytân and being victorious over him, because of overcoming him, and our whims and desires, is a thing of joy and carries a great reward. It is like taking medicine and being rewarded with restoration to good health.
7. We should bear in mind the reward and compensation which Allah has promised to those who control their whims and desires, and abstain from that which is haram.
8. We should think of the special companionship of Allah, as He has told us: “Allah is with those who patiently persevere” (al-Baqarah 2:153) “For Allah is with those who restrain themselves and those who do good” (an-Nahl 16:128) “For verily Allah is with those who do right.” (al-‘Ankabût 29:69)
9. We should be ever mindful of death, which could come upon us at any time, suddenly and without warning.
10. We should stop thinking of falsehood and bad ideas. Even if bad thoughts cross our minds, we should not let them stay, otherwise they may become hopes and wishes which we may act upon, and harm ourselves and others in the process.
11. We should gradually strengthen our religious motive in fighting whims and desires. Once we have tasted the joy of defeating those whims and desires, then our determination and willpower will grow stronger.
12. We should direct our thoughts towards contemplation of the signs of Allah which He has encouraged us to think about, whether they are in the Qur’an or in the universe around us. If such thoughts are constantly in our hearts and minds, this will help us to shun the whisperings of the Shaytân. There is no greater loser than the one who, instead of thinking of Allah, His Book, His Prophet and his Sahâbah, dwells on Shaytân and the ideas of Shaytân.
13. We should remember how short is our stay on this earth. No-one would want to feel that all he has achieved in this life is the worst kind of deeds, except a person who has no spiritual ambition, whose heart is dead and who is careless. Such a person will ultimately regret his deeds when he realizes that, far from benefiting him, they will lead to punishment. Even the person who has many good deeds to his credit will feel that sense of regret when he realizes that he could have done even more.
14. We should know that Allah has created us to live an eternal life with no death, a life of pride and ease with no humiliation, a life of security with no fear, a life of richness with no poverty, a life of joy with no pain, a life of perfection with no flaws. Allah is testing us in this world with a life that will end with death, a life of pride which is accompanied by humiliation and degradation, a life that is tainted by fear, where joy and ease are mixed with sorrow and pain. So many people are mistakenly seeking an easy life of power and pleasure in this world, but most of them never manage to achieve it, and those who do, enjoy it only for a brief time before it vanishes. The Prophets called people to an eternal life of plenty, and whoever answers their call will have the best life in this world, better than the life of kings and their followers, for zuhd in this life is true richness. This is something which the Shaytân greatly envies the believers.
Merely knowing the facts that we have outlined above is not enough. We have to strive and do our utmost to achieve our aim and attain perfection. The best way to do so is to put a stop to the habits that are controlling our lives, as these are the main obstacles which prevent us from succeeding. We should avoid places of fitnah and temptation, as the Prophet (SAAS) told us, “Whoever hears of the Dajjâl should keep away from him.” The best way to protect ourselves from wrong is to keep away from anything that could lead to it. One of the favourite tricks of the Shaytân, which deceives everyone except those who are clever enough to see it, is to show a person some goodness in a wrong thing, and call him to go towards what is good; when the person gets close to it, he falls into the trap.
‘uddat as-saabireen wa dhakhiraat ash-shaakireen’ of Ibn Al-Qayyim rahimahullah