More often than not the term “patience” with an Arabic equivalent of “al-Sabr” is taken to be an involuntary course of life just decided by circumstances. When a person fails to respond to a situation in a positive way, s/he is “advised” to show patience. The question, however, arises that is it patience to be inactive amid unbearable circumstance which are so hard that cut a person to his real size? The answer should be and it indeed is that neither can hasty reactions be categorized as wit nor can any kind of lethargy be dubbed as patience. This is because patience is not the name of any inaction and sluggishness when action and exertion is needed the most from an individual. No doubt, in such daunting circumstances there should indeed be a calculated response to the situations which arise as a result of multiple psychological, socio-cultural and political factors. So, when one avoids both the haphazard reaction as well as indolent response, what course of action s/he resorts to would be a counted as patience of some degree.
As such, patience in reality is a unique course and mode of life in itself. Because patience is not required only for certain areas of life and it is also not resorted to in particular situations, it thus becomes a way of life in its own right. It is rather required everywhere and on every occasion. There is hardly any escape from this attitude of life if one has to live a wholesome life. One has necessarily to exhibit this attitude of patience while sitting, standing and conversing with others as well as with his own self and soul. One has to be patient while walking and interacting with others. This patience or self control would indeed help an individual to build his capacities and it will give a boost to his physical, mental and moral-spiritual health. This self discipline of the attitude of patience would turn him into a composite human being who would be able to “counter” all eventualities with a confident smiling face. As the saying goes that “your attitude determines your altitude,” the person exhibiting the attitude of patience would indeed be able to lift his morale by dint of his resplendent countenance amid the odd circumstances of any degree. Such a person can indeed prove that “ocean of patience has no waves to drown the ship of life!”
Here, it would not be out of place to mention that Mary (Maryam, the mother of Jesus) “by keeping the fast of conversation” actually resolved, on the advice of her Lord, to convey to her quarrelsome people that she was in no way ready to argue with them “to prove what they were not ready to accept!” And, when she “betrayed patience through her fast” she not only pleased her Lord but she dumfounded these people as well. As such, fasting in its spirit and essence is a course to build the stamina of human beings to tackle the problems of life. This is the reason that fasting has always been observed by almost all the peoples throughout the ages although with difference and variance of details.
As we know that the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had been sent to sanctify (tazkiyya) the peoples’ life etiquettes, therefore, he had to direct their lives in such a way where patience (al-sabr), as the pivotal life etiquette, had to be given central important. How the Prophet (SAW) himself viewed the attitude of patience can be gauged from the fact that when he was offered by his Lord that the valley of Makkah would be turned into gold for him, he, while saying no to this offer, said that he wished that he ate one day and remained hungry on the other; so that the day on which he ate would turn into a day of “glorifying and thanksgiving” of his Lord and the day on which he remained hungry would be celebrated as a day of “humble recollection” of his Lord! (Mishkat al-Masabih) And, when this report is read between the lines, it is the summation of the whole philosophy of the life of a believer, because the life of the true servant of God revolves round the pivot of “thanksgiving” (al-shukr) and “humility” (al-sabr).
Now, the fasting period of some 720 hours during the month of Ramadan is a stringent discipline and regulation of the routine affairs of the life of a believer. This discipline reaches its extreme level when a believer willingly refrains from those things and activities which are lawful in the non-Ramadan period. So the attitude of patience runs like the life blood through the veins of a believer. S/he even has to reschedule his sleep and wakefulness, exertion and rest and talk and silence! Thus, a believer is taught the complete syllabus of patience during the month of Ramadan.
This “short course” (ayyam ma‘dudat) is for learning voluntary patience and perseverance because throughout this period the avenues for not following this discipline are quite open. However, the believer follows the discipline deliberately and voluntarily. The believer, moreover, learns to part with some of his hard-earned fortune(s) for those who have been made less fortune by the Lord. This sense of empathy-cum-sympathy indeed emerges from the patience learnt as a lesson of the fasting of Ramadan because the month has taught him how to be content with a bit little means of sustenance!
Here, a lesson from the illustrious life of ‘Ammar ibn Yasir (RA) would be quite appropriate to quote. Whenever the Prophet (SAW) noticed the family of Yasir being persecuted by the Makkans for their embracing Islam, the Prophet (SAW) would advise them thus: “sabran ya al-i Yasir; mau‘idukum al-Jannah –Patience O family of Yasir; Paradise is your promised abode!” It is clear that patience has been declared as the main door for entering Paradise. And, this door of patience is thrown wide open during the month of Ramadan. That is why it has been said that “Ramadan is the month of patience and there is no reward of patience save Paradise!” (Baihaqi) This is in tune with the general behaviour of a believer who “upholds the Truth and exhorts the Truth and keeps Patience and exhorts others for this attitude of Patience and Constancy.” (Qur’an, 103)
(The author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies at GDC Kokernag. Email: email@example.com)