By Shaykh Abdul Qayum, Head Imam at the East London Mosque & London Muslim Centre

There is no quality in a person that is more beloved to the people than Sabr – patience. Amongst the many objectives of Ramadan, undoubtedly one of the main goals is to improve our Sabr. Sabr is a virtue highly emphasised both in the Qur’an and in the sunnah (prophetic tradition), but it is often a difficult trait to exercise during Ramadan – particularly when the weather is hot and the fasts are long. Ramadan is a month of Sabr, as named by the Prophet ﷺ who said “[Fasting during] the month of patience (Ramadan) and three days of each month is [equivalent] to fasting for a lifetime.” [Sunan Nasai].

The root of the word Sabr in Arabic literally means to shackle. This relates to shackling or restraining oneself in times of calamity, strife and difficulty, i.e. the times we are most likely to lose composure. It is in times of difficulty that our emotions are most volatile, and it is especially in those times that we are supposed to exercise patience. Think of how hunger during a long, tiring day at work affects your mood or how thirst during the hot, summer days can bring out the worst in us. It is for instances like these that we are commanded to bear patiently with and not let the hardship get to us.

Sabr is of three types; through fasting in Ramadan, all three types of Sabr are exercised:

  1. Sabr of Qadr (Divine decree) – this type of patience is to be patient with what Allah has decreed, including His commands as well as individual tests someone may face. The person who exhibits this type of patience is content whether he is in a state of good or bad, he turns to Allah in full submission and acceptance of his state, and his heart is at peace with what Allah has decreed.

In Ramadan, this form of patience is exercised by abstaining from food, drink and intimacy with one’s spouse, as has been ordained by Allah. Believers are commanded to be patient and abstain from all of these until Maghrib (sunset).

  1. Sabr in abstaining from the Haram (the forbidden) – this type of patience is heavily emphasised in the abstaining from forbidden deeds, both big and small, especially while in the state of fasting in Ramadan. Many Muslims engage in acts forbidden by Allah throughout the year, such as lying, gossiping, not lowering one’s gaze when they’re supposed to, etc.

It is in the state of fasting that one should be even more conscious of committing acts displeasing to our Creator. In one of his sermons, al-Hajjaj said, “Restrain these souls for they plunge into every evil. May Allah have mercy upon a person who places a rein around his soul, and guides it to the obedience of Allah, and turns it away from disobedience. Know that patiently staying away from what Allah has prohibited is easier than bearing His punishment!”

The Prophet ﷺ said, “It may be that all a fasting person gets from his fast is hunger and thirst, and it may be that all a person who prays at night gets from his prayer is sleeplessness.” [Ahmad]. ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab said, “Fasting does not mean abstaining from food and drink only, rather it is also abstaining from lying, falsehood and idle speech.” Ultimately it is Allah that rewards our actions; if our actions are insincere then He may or may not accept them, in which case for the person who continues sinning while fasting – as the hadith says – all he gains from his fast is thirst and hunger.

  1. Sabr in practising righteous deeds – It is not always easy to do good deeds. Sometimes they require effort that may internally be difficult for us. For the one who loves his wealth, it may be hard to part with it for the sake of charity, for the one who loves sleep, it may be hard to stand for Tahajjud (night prayer). However, with the heavy emphasis of doing good deeds during Ramadan due to the multiplied reward, one must strive to have patience while engaging in ibaadah (worship), such as giving extra sadaqah (charity), making an extra effort to pray the five prayers in congregation, standing for Taraweeh (late night prayers) in the Mosque – or as is more appropriate in our current situation due to COVID-19, praying Tahajjud at home instead.

Together, these three types of Sabr serve to increase our overall patience and ultimately increase our Taqwa (God-consciousness), which is the main point of Ramadan. Allah says, “O you who have believed! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might attain Taqwa.” [2:183]

We know as Muslims that life is full of tests, some of which are harder to bear than others; it is ultimately our reaction to these tests that determines our outcome and our reward from Allah. It is indeed through Sabr that we can become more content through the ups and downs in life, it allows us to think carefully and act with wisdom; and in the next life, it is rewarded by Allah, as He says “Indeed, the patient will be given their reward without account.” [39:10]

The Prophet ﷺ said, “No one is ever given anything better and more generous than Sabr.” [Bukhari] He ﷺ also said, “Sabr is light.” [Muslim]

We live in a time of great strife and fitan (tribulations). It is in such times that holding onto our Deen (religion) is difficult; but that is the test, and Allah promises us a great reward. As the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Ahead of you there lie days of Sabr, during which being patient will be like grasping a hot coal. The one who does good deeds then will have a reward like that of fifty men who do such deeds. The companions asked, “O Messenger of Allah, the reward of fifty of them?” He said, “The reward of fifty of you.” [Abu Dawud & al-Tirmidhi]

Sabr is the key to holding firm upon the truth and gaining Allah’s pleasure, it is a foundation that needs no other foundation – whoever believes and has patience has firm faith, and the believer with no patience is one who has weak faith, as “Allah loves al-Saabiroon (the patient).” [3:146] So this Ramadan, let us strive to be from amongst those that Allah loves, let us work on our patience this Ramadan and put it into practice for the rest of the year, and insha'Allah for the rest of our lives.