A South African Muslimah's Blog

Constructing Identity: Loud Whispers, Lasting Echoes

Sabr July 7, 2015

“Sabr” – I love the way it rolls off the tongue, the gentle and soft “ص” at first followed by the stronger, more pronounced “ب” and “ر” – all the syllables coalescing into each other – hinting at its very meaning … to be composed yet resilient.

I find my reflection difficult because this beautiful spiritual teaching has been far too frequently disfigured, especially when it is relayed as advice to women who are abused (whether physically, emotionally or spiritually) … women whose stories find their way to me, sadly, too often. We need to unlearn that sabr is to tolerate humiliation and degradation of our dignity as the creation of Allahu Ta’ala, because we are each blessed with the sacred Ruh … to banish from our thoughts that women specifically must “make sabr” with vulgar, harsh or abusive men or that we must display unwavering acceptance in the face of injustice around the world without lifting a finger or speaking out … that is Nihilism.

Allah does not expect us to resign ourselves to the horrors that human beings have managed to contrive on this earth. What then would be the purpose of du’a, of charity and compassion, of love, peace and even of (legitimate) war, reward and punishment – all of these concepts and experiences grounded in the Qur’an (42:30-42). Are they not meant to transform us, heal us and bring about reconciliation, to stop strife and injustice? We must turn to the Qu’ran to instead learn afresh, what sabr is and is not, and furthermore look to those Prophetic personalities who personified sabr.

Linguistically, sabr means to “restrict” or “curb” – if we were to fuse together the English words ‘patience’, ‘perseverance’, ‘steadfastness’, ‘constancy’, ‘endurance’, ‘to be present’ and ‘self-discipline’ – we would arrive at sabr. We are to master our actions and reactions, to be in control, especially of the ego/lower self. The most profound statement I have ever heard on this was during a Tafsir of Surah al-Asr by a very dear teacher – in this surah, the first word is ‘time’ and the last is ‘sabr’ … He imparted to us that sabr means to ‘stop time’… to suspend the illusion of time which constantly leaves us at a loss and instead to enter fully into the here and now – the present.

In daily life, controlling our tempers, appetites and desires are forms of patience. Forgiving when revenge is so easy and tempting is patience. Think about our sacred rituals – the best prayer is conducted unhurriedly, harmoniously and with dignified composure; pilgrimage with all its planning, preparation, journeying, crowds and challenges requires tolerance and forbearance. The expression “time heals” should really be “patience heals”, for it is not the actual passing of days, months and years that dull heartache – but persevering through them when faced with loss, pain and suffering – yielding to the will of Allah and moving on – that is why resilience is such a celebrated human characteristic.

“Such as practice sabr in seeking their Lord’s Face and are regular in prayer and spend of that which We send upon them secretly and openly, and overcome evil with good. Theirs is the final attainment of the eternal home.” (13:22)

“And imbibe sabr by being with those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening, seeking His Face. And let not your eyes pass beyond them, desiring adornments of the worldly life, and do not obey one whose heart We have made heedless of Our remembrance and who follows his desire and whose affair is ever in neglect.” (25:31)

“Lord of the heavens and of the earth, and of all that is between them, so worship Him, and practice sabr in His worship: do you know of any who is worthy of the same Name as He?”(19:65)

“And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humble” (2:45)

I am most motivated by these Divine disclosures, for seeking to live in beauty, to be with Allah, to attain His infinite and perpetual giving and ultimately – His Love.

“Sabr is the most beautiful” (12:83)

“Allah is with the Sabireen” (2:249)

“Indeed, the sabirun will be given their reward without account.”

“Allah loves the sabireen”. (3 146)

We are in ‘Shahr as-Sabr’ – the month of Patience – fasting is perhaps the greatest expression of Sabr as the scholars and saints have written. The Beloved (saw) said, “Sabr is Brightness” and we ask Allah with His words,

“Our Lord! Shower on us sabr, and take our souls unto you as Muslims” (7:126)”

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