The Muslims who were tortured for their faith in the early days of Islam patiently bore the brutality against them because in the midst of their torture, they saw the beauty of Allah's decree. Bilal (RA) managed to smile during when the evil disbelievers laid him out on the scorching desert sand and piled boulders on his chest. Other Muslims looked on fearfully, their tears falling at this pitiful sight. Years later Bilal (RA) recalled that if he were to weigh the physical pain on one scale, and the sweetness of faith in another, the sweetness overrode the pain.
A woman, much earlier in history, bore her torture with laughter because she could already glimpse her home in paradise. She was Aasiyah (AS), the wife of the Pharaoh, who suffered unimaginable torture at the hands of her own abusive and ego ridden husband.
When Imam Hanbal was tortured by his oppressors, his students were crying for him, but he was smiling. He explained that while all they saw was the hand of the torturer, he saw the hand of the Merciful.
Once you reach this status and understanding, then patience becomes beautiful. Whatever the situation, even in our daily lives involving our husbands, wives, children, jobs and money, can be borne with happiness because we know that these were all caused by Allah. We understand that Allah caused certain event to happen to give us a chance to earn our residence in jannah. If our eyes are on jannah, the physical situation does not affect us because the beauty of the reward overrides the condition.
Is patience impossible?
We can be patient if it suits us, but are often patient in the wrong circumstances. We can wait for hours in the stadium for the concert to start. We can skip our meals in order to lose weight. We can be patient and wake up at 2 a.m. to watch a live football match. We smile through gritted teeth when our boss's child spills food all over our carpet. Yet, we are often not willing to be patient with Allah.
Lack of patience with Allah is symptomatic of lack of faith in Him. Once faith in Allah has been rooted in our hearts, the trust blooms naturally. With that comes reliance, surrender and pleasure with His decree. If we can reach this level, nothing of dunia should bother us, except for our passage to jannah.
If our faith is weak, we will be swept away by dunia. This is why we feel suffocated and stressed when something unpleasant occurs. Even the small things will cause us to unravel. We get stressed when the traffic is heavy and are bad tempered if we have a difficult day at work. By the time we get home, we find ourselves venting our anger at our family!
In such circumstances, we should rise above the daily nuisances and dramas (which will never stop anyway) and should remember that our reliance should be on Allah alone. If our faith is powerful, the patience will come easily despite all the seemingly negative conditions around us.
Our patience will be tested without warning. We cannot rehearse for it. In the early days of Islam, an unnamed woman tripped and fell over a nail in the market in Iraq, tearing her flesh. To everyone's amazement, she was looking at the sky, smiling and thanking the One who inflicted the injury to her, even though her wound was bleeding profusely. She understood that her calamities, if faced with patience, would absolve her sins.
Are we worthy of such praiseworthy behaviour? It's time to reflect on how we react on the small issues as well as the big issues.
Patience and dunia
If Allah gives too much of dunia and comfort, be cautious, for it can pave the way to destruction. If Allah hates us He will drown us in ease and forgetfulness. If He loves us He will occasionally snatch our dunia away to test our patience.
Ayyoub (AS) one of the prophets and messengers, used to be wealthy and was blessed with many children. After a lifetime of ease and wealth, Allah descended a severe trial on him. Almost overnight, all his children passed away, his livestock, which used to fill an entire valley, died, and his wealth disappeared. He was then struck with a chronic illness which caused his flesh to putrefy and fall off his bones. The stench of his rotting sores were so offensive to his community that he was exiled to the outer edges of the town, near a rubbish heap. Yet, he bore these conditions for years without once complaining, because he was too shy to ask Allah for a cure. He realised was that he had been granted abundant ease for most of his life that he had no reason to be ungrateful for a few years of hardship.
When we lack iman, we measure our joy from our materialistic accomplishments. This causes us to harbour "long hope" where we plan for the far distant future. When we work to achieve our distant ambitions, planning our five and ten year life goals meticulously, we forget the reality that we might die tomorrow. In fact, no one ever achieves his long term goals, because circumstances are always fluid and things will always take a different turn.
All the prophets used to practise beautiful patience. Yaqub (AS) grieved at the loss of his son, Yusuf (AS), but he believed in the promise of Allah that Allah would honour and elevate his son. This gave him the strength to endure the painful separation from his son – at a time where there was no mass media, social media or any way for him to discover his son's whereabouts after his other sons plotted to make him vanish. This separation lasted for decades, and the Qur'an mentions "beautiful patience" (sabran jameelan) twice in the context of Yaqub (AS)(Yusuf 12:18 and 12:83).
What if you have spent the day in a religious circle studying about patience, and when you leave, the first thing you do is to complain about muscular cramps from all that sitting down? What if you claim that you are patient with what Allah has chosen for you, and get a single 'A' in your final exam? If you can't even bear these light trials, how will you react when something of a grave and life-changing magnitude occur?