The Three Categories of Patience
For this reason, patience is divided into three categories:
- Patience upon the obedience of Allah.
- Patience with staying away from disobedience to Allah.
- Patience upon the pre-decree of Allah.
Sheikh al-’Uthaymeen (rahimahullah) wrote in his explanation of Riyadh us-Sāliheen:
“Sabr, in the language, means to hold back and restrain oneself. As for its intent in the Sharee’ah, it is to restrain the soul with respect to 3 matters:
- Upon obedience to Allah.
- Upon the prohibitions of Allah.
- Upon the unpleasant and agonising decrees of Allah.
These are the 3 types of sabr that the people of knowledge have mentioned:
The first type is that a person is patient upon the obedience of Allah, because obedience is heavy upon the soul and some aspects of it are difficult upon a person, and it can be difficult upon the body such that a person experiences inability and fatigue. A person may even experience financial difficulty such as when paying Zakah or making Hajj, and all of these hardships necessitate patience, just As Allah the Most High says:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اصْبِرُوا وَصَابِرُوا وَرَابِطُوا وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
“O you who believe, endure patiently, and be more patient (than your enemy) and guard your territory, and fear Allah so that you may be successful.” (Surah Aali ‘Imrān 3:200).
The second type is to be patient with regard to staying away from the prohibitions, and that is because the soul incites a person towards evil so he must show patience against his soul by restraining himself from lying, cheating, consuming the wealth of others, dealing with interest, fornication, drinking wine, theft and other prohibited acts. So, a person must restrain himself so that he does not commit these sins—and this also requires patience and perseverance.
The third type is being patient upon the painful decree (Qadar) of Allah. The decree of Allah is of two types:
- Agreeable and pleasing. 2. Painful and unpleasant.
That which is pleasing requires being thankful to Allah by obeying Him. That which is unpleasant and painful may be that a person is put to trial in his body, or that he loses his wealth, or has family problems—the types of calamities are numerous and all of them require patience and perseverance, and a person is patient by restraining himself from expressing his displeasure on his tongue or heart or limbs. This is because when a person is afflicted with a calamity, he is in one of four states:
The Four States that People Fall Into When Afflicted with Calamity
- A person is angry and resentful—this is sinful.
- He is patient.
- He is pleased.
- He is thankful—this is the highest level.
As for the first state (being angry and resentful), the person shows his displeasure either in his heart, or upon his tongue or upon his limbs. As for his displeasure in the heart, then it is that he shows his displeasure and even resentfulness to his Lord, or he feels that Allah has given him a loss, as if Allah had no right to take away what the servant had—and we seek refuge in Allah from this. He may even feel that Allah has oppressed him through this calamity.
Showing displeasure on the tongue is that he calls out by saying ‘Woe to me! Ruin to me!’ and the likes. Or that he curses time, or he utters other forbidden statements, such as, ‘Why did this happen to me!’ We cannot question Allah in these matters (as if you are questioning His judgement).
Displeasure with the limbs involves slapping the cheeks, tearing the clothes, striking the head, etc., thus resulting in them being afflicted with two calamities: a calamity in their religion due to their discontentment and displeasure, and a calamity in their worldly life due to the original calamity that afflicted them.
The second state is the state of being patient such that the person restrains and controls his soul—he dislikes the calamity, but he is patient and does not say anything on his tongue to displease Allah—and he does not do anything with his limbs that would earn the anger of Allah and he does not think badly of Allah at all in his heart. He does not have any bad suspicions towards Allah. So, he is patient though he dislikes the unpleasantness of that which was decreed for him.
The third state is that of having pleasure with the calamity such that his chest is expanded and opened due to the calamity. He is in complete satisfaction—he is pleased with it with a pleasure that is complete, almost, if not as if he was not afflicted in the first place.
The fourth and highest state is that of being thankful such that the afflicted person thanks Allah for the calamity. When the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) used to see something that caused him displeasure, he would say الحمد لله على كل حال – ‘All praise is for Allah in every condition’.
Such a person is thankful to Allah because he knows that Allah will reward him as a result of that calamity. It is mentioned from one of the pious female worshippers that she was afflicted with something in her finger, so she praised Allah for allowing that affliction to occur. So, she was asked, ‘How are you praising Allah whilst you are being afflicted?’ She replied, ‘Indeed the sweetness of its reward gives me comfort from its agony, so I am patient with it.’
The first of the above four states (that of being angry and resentful) is harām.
So, we must have patience in obedience to Allah, even if it involves hardship upon the souls because the end result of that is praiseworthy. And we must have patience from disobeying Allah, even if the souls incline towards it because the end result of falling into sin is harmful.