People can be very different when faced with irritating, bothersome, or offensive situations. Some are easily upset and lose their composure; others can remain calm, gentle and yielding through the toughest of trials. Most of us are somewhere in between. The truth is that many people are predisposed to such characteristics and others acquire these traits from the environments they grew up in. That being said, psychological research suggests that one’s self confidence plays a major role in his or her temperament. Those with low self-confidence tend to have a much shorter fuse and hotter temper then those who feel they have nothing to prove. It takes a person of great precedence and spiritual discipline to overlook people’s shortcomings, make excuses for others and keep composure with forbearance.

This brings us to the next trait of the servants of the Merciful:

وَٱلَّذِینَ یَبِیتُونَ لِرَبِّهِمۡ سُجَّدࣰا وَقِیَـٰمࣰا ﴿٦٤﴾

“…those who walk upon the earth easily and when the ignorant address them harshly, they say words of peace,” (Qur’an, 25:63).

According to the scholars, this verse carries two more noble characteristics. Another meaning for “walk upon the earth hawnan (easily)” is that they have a calm and mild composure. The next part of the verse, “when ignorant people address them harshly, they respond with words of peace,” refers to the characteristic of forbearance. From this verse we learn that the servants of The Merciful are those who are calm, peaceful and do not react to challenging people or situations with anger or impatience; they are slow in responding. We all get angry and annoyed; but the issue is how do we react to a stressful situation.

The scholars tell us that the verse means to react to any form of verbal abuse with something that is better, whether it be good words or a peaceful silence. This is similar to a theme in the Qur’an when Almighty God, the Exalted says,

أَمَّنۡ هُوَ قَـٰنِتٌ ءَانَاۤءَ ٱلَّیۡلِ سَاجِدࣰا وَقَاۤىِٕمࣰا یَحۡذَرُ ٱلۡأَخِرَةَ وَیَرۡجُواْ رَحۡمَةَ رَبِّهِۦۗ قُلۡ هَلۡ یَسۡتَوِی ٱلَّذِینَ یَعۡلَمُونَ وَٱلَّذِینَ لَا یَعۡلَمُونَۗ إِنَّمَا یَتَذَكَّرُ أُوْلُواْ ٱلۡأَلۡبَـٰبِ ﴿٩﴾

“…Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.” (Qur’an, 41:34)

This noble characteristic of forbearance is one that the Prophet perfectly embodied with his wives, children, close friends, neighbors and even enemies from among the disbelievers. The only time that Islam legislates a harsh reaction is when someone is physically attacking you first.

The will of God is clearly a blessing in that this part of the series falls at the doors of the blessed month of patience. The month of Ramadan is a huge lesson in spiritual and physical discipline. It is a time in which we soften our hearts and words through controlling our most basic desires by which we survive. Ramadan is an excellent opportunity to apply the hadith (actions of the Prophet ): “Indeed knowledge comes through studying and learning, and forbearance comes by disciplining oneself.” (Albani’s Authentic Compilation, 2328).

Forbearance is a characteristic which is perfectly personified by The Merciful Himself. He has inspired us with innate knowledge of our purpose in life and reinforced that with many signs as to His existence and bounties upon us. To top all of that off, He sent us prophets with a message and proof. After all of that, we are ungrateful and persistently disobedient; yet God does not immediately destroy us. Instead He continues to surround us with His bounties and favors and leaves the door wide open for those who would repent. When we go to Him and repent, He will accept us and erase all of our past iniquity. We must do everything we can to embody these divine characteristics, as that is why God reveals them to us. Forbearance is a subdivision of mercy and our Prophet said, “God will not be merciful to those who are not merciful with people.” (Bukhari)

Of course, the best place to go to see the practical application of these characteristics is the Prophet Muhammad and His noble companions (may God be pleased with them).

  • In the battle of Uhud when the polytheists cracked the Prophet’s jaw and split open his blessed face, the companions asked him to call upon God to damn them. He responded, “I was not sent to damn people, but as a mercy unto them.”1 According to another narration he then supplicated, “O God, guide my people for they know not what they do.”
  • There is the famous story of the Bedouin who came to the Prophet and yanked on his robe to the extent that it pulled on his neck. The companions were infuriated as the Bedouin commanded the Prophet to give him some of the zakat (charitable tax of 2.5%). The Prophet simply laughed and commanded the companions to give him what he asked.
  • Through 13 years of the Makkan period of revelation, the Muslims endured being mocked, humiliated, slandered, tortured, sanctioned, starved, boycotted and murdered. Then add to that another eight years of war, plotting and treachery at the hands of the polytheists of Makkah. When the Prophet finally won the city of Mecca, he came in with a powerful army of 10,000 strong. If he wanted, he could have taken revenge and massacred these criminals. Instead he came to them and said, “I say as my brother Joseph said: ‘No blame will there be upon you today. Allah will forgive you, and He is the most Merciful of the merciful.’” Then the Prophet told the people of Makkah, “Go back to your homes for you are all free.”
  • This beautiful trait is usually remembered by giving examples of the Prophet’s companion Al-Ahnaf bin Qais (ra). It is narrated that one time a man verbally attacked al-Ahnaf and he didn’t respond and kept walking. So the man walked behind him persisting in his verbal abuse of al-Ahnaf until they came to the village. Then al-Ahnaf turned around and asked him, “If you still have something to say then get it all out now, before the people see how you are acting and it hurts your reputation.” In another situation, a man started shouting insults at al-Ahnaf. He followed him until al-Ahnaf turned to him and said joyfully, “Hey man, the time for lunch has come upon us. How about you join me?”
  • One night the great, rightly guided Caliph ‘Umar ibn Abdul-Aziz went out with one of his guards to walk around the city. They went into the masjid, which was dark, and ‘Umar stumbled over a man. The man quickly arose and asked ‘Umar in a fit of anger, “Are you crazy?” ‘Umar replied, “No.” ‘Umar’s guard was about to beat the man but the Caliph stopped him, saying “Don’t touch him. He just asked me if I was crazy and I said no.” To put this event in perspective, ‘Umar was at this time the ruler of about a third of the civilized world with the power to topple armies. This power and authority did not cause him to lose his character.

Forbearance is a sign of the true strength of a person. It was the Prophet who taught us “The strong man is not the one who can win a physical fight. The strong person is the one who controls himself when angered.”(Bukhari 6114)

It was said that the worldly reward for one who shows forbearance is that people become his supporters.  There is no doubt that disciplining oneself toward this noble characteristic is one of the most valuable achievements. Our Prophet said, “There was not something swallowed more great to Allah than swallowing one’s anger for the sake of God.” (Al-Targheeb, 3/386).

There are two types of anger: praiseworthy and blameworthy. Praiseworthy anger is when someone becomes upset or offended because God, His messenger or His message has been disrespected in some way. Blameworthy anger is when the anger is for some personal issue and it is not for the sake of God. Even though it is praiseworthy to get angry for the sake of God, one must still keep their composure so that it can be characterized by forbearance. Never make a personal attack.

The question is how do we attain these qualities of the true servants of the Merciful and protect ourselves from the terrible disease of rage. According to the Sunnah of the Prophet , we have six easy ways to safeguard ourselves:

  1. Be humble in all our actions and speech, and avoid arrogance.
  2. Always make excuses for others and pardon their mistakes and shortcomings.
  3. Be optimistic and see the good in things instead of focusing on the faults of others.
  4. Sincerely seek refuge with Allah when angered (read the tawwudh).
  5. Immediately make wudhu and pray a Sunnah prayer when angered. Remember that water extinguishes fire.
  6. If angry and in a discussion, sit down to make your point. If even then you are furious, then lay down. Rest, slow down and make dhikr.
  7. God has made the acts of controlling one’s anger and pardoning others key characteristics of those who have God-consciousness and piety (taqwa). It is by these characteristics that we are guaranteed Heaven.

May Allah make it easy on us to attain these characteristics!

by John (Yahya) EdererAugust