By Dr. Jasser Auda
A basic virtue and a very important stop in one’s journey to God is patience with tests.
Do not be surprised when difficulties happen in this worldly abode. It is only revealing its true character and identity.
Get Closer to Him
If the servant repents to God, relies on Him, purifies his intention to Him, reflects on Him, and seizes the time, the light of faith will fill his heart and he will start his journey to draw closer to God.
Ibn `Ata’illah says elsewhere: “There is no real distance between you and Him so that you embark upon a journey. And the connection between you and Him is not cut so that you seek to mend it.” But the servant is able to embark upon the journey and to strengthen his connection with God if he changes himself to the better.
At this stage, the following divine hadiths will be applicable to him:
“… And My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks.” (Al-Bukhari)
“And if he draws near to Me a hand’s span, I draw near to him an arm’s length. And if he draws near to Me an arm’s length, I draw near to him a fathom’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
According to God’s universal law, if God loves someone, He will put him to an indispensible trial. God says;
Do men think that on their (mere) saying, “We have attained to faith”, they will be left to themselves, and will not be put to a test?” (AL-`Ankabut 29:2)
And most certainly We shall try you all, so that We might mark out those of you who strive hard (in Our cause) and are patient in adversity: for We shall put to a test (the truth of) all your assertions. (Muhammad 47:31)
And most certainly shall We try you by means of danger, and hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of lives and of (labour’s) fruits. But give glad tidings unto those who are patient in adversity. (Al-Baqarah 2:155)
You shall most certainly be tried in your possessions and in your persons; and indeed you shall hear many hurtful things from those to whom revelation was granted before your time, as well as from those who have come to ascribe divinity to other beings beside God. But if you remain patient in adversity and conscious of Him – this, behold, is something to set one’s heart upon. (Aal `Imran 3:186)
Nature of Worldly Life
God announces that this worldly life is nothing. If He deprives a servant of this worldly life or part of it and guides him to repentance and bestows on him His mercy and paradise instead, then what a great deal and reward! Therefore, the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The most severely tested people are the prophets, then the next best, then the next best. A man will be tested in accordance with his level of religious commitment.” (Ibn Hibban)
For this reason, if life is full of difficulties and challenges, one should not be surprised or asks why. It is as if Ibn `Ata’illah is asking us: what is the name of this dar (abode)? The answer is that its name is “al-dunya, worldly abode” and literally it means inferior or low. Therefore, it is not surprising if bad conditions, unpleasant manners, and fatal consequences reveal themselves, because these things are derived from the word dunya, inferior or low.
Accepting this nature of worldly life helps the servant acquire a basic virtue and cross a very important stop in his journey to God which is that of patience with tests.
Patience is a characteristic that gets the servant into God’s Presence: “God is with those who are patient in adversity” (Al-Baqarah 2:153). The word “with” has a lot of meanings as we explained above. If one is in God’s Presence, then why would he worry?
Types of Patience
Patience is of three types, namely patience in obeying God, patience in avoiding God’s disobedience and patience with God’s tests. Patience in obeying God means that the Muslim should always be obedient to God by doing lots of good deeds without harming himself or torturing it. God says:
… And He has laid no hardship on you in (anything that pertains to religion. (Al-Hajj 22:78)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) saw an old man walking, supported by his two sons, and asked about him. The people informed him that he had vowed to go on foot (to the Ka`bah). He said, “Allah is not in need of this old man’s torturing himself, and ordered him to ride.” (An-Nasa’i)
But patience in obeying God is, for example, to do things such as performing the ablution thoroughly despite odds because the Prophet told us that it is one of the things by which God obliterates the sins and elevates the ranks of a man. If one is afflicted with difficulties in these acts of worship, he should not be surprised. However he should have glad tidings of God’s grace and mercy.
As for patience in avoiding God’s disobedience, it means that the Muslim should stay away from committing what God has forbidden. We read in the Qur’an about prophet Yusuf and the test we was put to, “And (it so happened that) she in whose house he was living (conceived a passion for him and) sought to make him yield himself unto her; and she bolted the doors and said, “Come you unto me!” (But Joseph) answered: “May God preserve me!” (Yusuf 12:23)
There is a great reward for this type of patience. The Prophet (peace be upon him) says that one of the seven persons whom God would give protection with His Shade on the Day when there would be no shade but that of Him is “a man whom a beautiful woman of high rank seduces (for illicit relation), but he (rejects this offer by saying): ”I fear Allah.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Scholars divide patience with God’s tests into some types. All the types bear the meaning of refrainment, i.e. refraining from committing acts of disobedience, refraining from complaining, and refraining from being impatient with God’s Decree.
Refraining from committing sins is a condition for purifying one’s heart. God says about the hypocrites
“And, indeed, We tested them through suffering, but they did not abase themselves before their Sustainer; and they will never humble themselves.” (Al-Mu’minun 23:76)
If you face some problems, then you are at a cross-road. Either you repent to God and humble yourself to Him so that you will pass the test, or you commit sins so that you will fail the test.
Patience with God’s tests requires one to refrain from complaining about the test. This is called the beautiful patience as God tells us in the story of prophet Jacob (peace be upon him) “Patience in adversity is most goodly (in the sight of God)” (Yusuf 12:18) , “He answered: “It is only to God that I complain of my deep grief and my sorrow.” (Yusuf 12:86) The last verse means I complain about my problems only to God not to anyone else.
As for refraining from being impatient with God’s Decree, it is the best type of patience. The servant attains this degree when he does not complain and his heart is always patient. His soul is always at peace even at the peak of crisis. The Prophet said: “Patience is at the first stroke of a calamity.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
If the servant is patient when afflicted with tests, he will reach his destination easily and win God’s Paradise. God says:
Consider the flight of time! Verily, man is bound to lose himself unless he be of those who attain to faith, and do good works, and enjoin upon one another the keeping to truth, and enjoin upon one another patience in adversity. (Al-`Asr 103:1-3)
The article is excerpted from “Some of Al-Hikam Al-Ataiyyah” (The Path to God: A Journey with Ibn `Ata’illah’s Words of Wisdom In the Light of the Quran, the Prophetic Tradition, and Universal Laws of God- By Dr. Jasser Auda