'Sabr' - Credit: dawatussalafiyyah
So it is Ramadan and once again Muslims all over the world are familiarizing themselves with grumbly stomachs, headaches and bad breath as they go about their business and daily lives. A new routine is established, getting up before dawn to eat a meal and then breaking a day-long fast with family, friends or both at the end of the day as the sun sets.
During this time, I often hear Muslims talking about the need for patience in dealing with the travails of the fast. They sometimes use the Arabic word “sabr,” sometimes spelled “sabır,” to describe the need for patience in the face of fasting and/or any other hardship.
But sabr means much more then just patience and the full meaning is important for Muslims to understand, not only during Ramadan, but in their everyday lives. A true interpretation of the word sabr reveals that it means both patience and perseverance as well.
Patience implies a passive situation. Perhaps you have encountered hardship or suffering. In this situation, patience means remaining calm, dignified and requires you to wait for the hardship or trial in your life to come to a close so you can move on. The Qur’an teaches us that passivity in the face of hardship or suffering is important, but that a Muslim must also actively struggle against these situations and that is where the perseverance aspect of sabr comes in. A Muslim should work to actively change the situation they find themselves in, or adapt to it.
So a Muslim in the month of Ramadan needs to have patience, but they also must exhibit perseverance. In the context of Ramadan it means struggling against torpor and actively completing extra prayers during the month. Not just waiting for Eid, but also reading Qur’an and inviting friends or family to your home for iftars. For Muslim women especially, perseverance plays a major role as in many cases the duty falls to them to prepare meals, even while fasting themselves. I would argue that perseverance should dictate that their husbands also actively assist with meal preparation and other tasks.
If we learn to marry patience and perseverance together in our lives – integrating the true meaning of sabr, then there is a great chance of dealing with or surviving very real hardship or suffering. Beyond Ramadan there will be trials and tests for each of us in our lives. Many of us deal with multiple hardships at the same time. Do not sit down and feel sorry for yourself, do not passively wait for the bad times to simply go away. Persevere! Get up; figure out something you can do. It does not matter how small it is, you can change the situation you have through the application of sabr.
This Ramadan as we meet each other at our mosques and eat delicious iftars together. Remember to push through this holy month, actively doing things both for yourself and for others. Invite members of other faith communities to your home for iftar. Invite them to your mosque to learn or listen to positive messages, not just about Islam but also about ways that your community can interact with other faiths. Build bridges during this time. What better way to show perseverance in the face of fasting than to build a bridge to your neighbor or to another religious community in friendship and love?
The global Muslim community would do well to re-apply themselves to the full concept of sabr this Ramadan. Through it good deeds and successes will come to the faith and to your local community.
Alan Howard is an IT professional living in Atlanta GA. He has been engaged in interfaith dialog for over 15 years. He enjoys hiking, kayaking, and global travel.
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