“الصبر من كل الصبر أشتك مني”
“From all of (my) patience, Patience complained about me”
This is a lyric from a song that Egyptian singer and actress Laila Mourad performed in the 1948 film Anbar (عنبر), which I watched last night with my mom. The poignant words caught my attention and I immediately made note of them. Laila’s character Anbar begins to sing in a room in the basement of her home, where some relatives are holding her captive as they seek to track down her dying father’s hidden fortune. While a lot of the lyrical richness of rhyme and metaphor inherent to the Arabic language gets lost in translation, essentially Anbar is expressing that patience itself had grown impatient with all of the trials that she had endured while awaiting release from her current turmoil.
This melody unfolded for me in a moment where I could appreciate its poetry. I had been reflecting on the concept of patience a day earlier as I perused the final chapters of the Quran to complete my reading of the holy book for the month of Ramadan.
In verse 5 of Surah 70, Al Miraj (The Ways of Ascent), God advises us to “hold patience, a patience of beautiful contentment.” My thoughts often linger after reading this line. The words are simple and beautiful, and yet attaining patience is often fraught with complexity and difficulty.
According to their wisdom, we should find joy in the trials that demand our patience and perseverance because these events are a test from God of our devotion and endurance. Being patient grudgingly isn’t enough. Instead, we should strive to find happiness in the challenges that God presents us with, understanding that He doesn’t place a burden on any soul greater than it has the ability to bear. Circumstances that we find to be unpleasant often carry great blessings for our souls and should be endured with insight and appreciation.
Accomplishing this is no easy feat. In the four years since I started actively seeking to live in Islam, a state of mind where one surrenders to the Almighty God, I have found honing a consistent state of calm and patience to be my biggest challenge.
It is easy on a daily basis to fall into the trap of feeling sorry for ourselves and complaining about the aspects of our personal and professional lives that aggravate us. Despite my best efforts to be patient, I am often confronted with moments of despair and frustration where I react with great self-pity and seek sympathy rather than express gratitude for my ability to endure. It’s also difficult to resist the urge to lose our tempers in the face of the deep injustices we are witnessing daily in places like Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Nigeria.
This is precisely why attaining true submission, or Islam, is a process that requires constant interaction with God, a meticulous consciousness of our words and actions, and self-reflection. We need to tackle each feeling of anxiety, anger and self-pity at the moment it occurs, and ponder and apply the concept of “beautiful patience” before reacting. This requires an incredible presence of mind that ultimately involves a lifelong journey of trial and error.
I have found that achieving genuine patience is absolutely essential to attaining Islam, a state of mind that is meant to promote tranquility and spiritual freedom. Without it, gestures from daily prayer to regular fasting and the giving of charity would be out of tune.
“If you are wholly perplexed and in straits, have patience, for patience is the key to joy,” writes Jalaluddin Rumi, the 13th century Persian Sufi saint and poet widely regarded as one of the greatest spiritual masters of Islam.
Anbar sang her sombre lyrics without realising that a few steps away, peering through a cleft in the door, was a listener. Anwar, played by actor Anwar Wagdi, took heed to her voice and like many love stories, fell in love with Anbar. In the hours that followed, he succeeded in saving his beloved from clutches of captivity.
The relief we are seeking may not occur quite so elegantly or in the form of someone else coming to the rescue. What’s important to remember in our moments of despair is that patience doesn’t have a time limit; God will answer our prayers at the time, place and manner that He wills. In the meantime, it is up to us to earnestly turn to the Almighty to help us endure and overcome each trial. When I remember to do this, He inspires me with a composure that lessens the burden and gives me the adequate perspective to regard it as a blessing rather than an affliction.
“Patience does not mean to passively endure. It means to be farsighted enough to trust the end result of a process. It means to look at the thorn and see the rose, to look at the night and see the dawn. Impatience means to be shortsighted as to not able to see the outcome. The lovers of God never runs out of patience, for they know that time is needed for the crescent moon to become full” – Rumi