CHAPTER XI / Righteousness and Patience in Adversity

Righteousness and Patience in Adversity

Let's Read more

In 106 verses we see a new type of meaning outlining the practical system to be followed by believers.

It gives them details of what is required of them as duty, what is permissible and what is forbidden in different aspects of life, with respect to the individual, the family and the community.

The surah may just start a topic, or it may discuss it in an answer to a question that has been put to the Prophet.

It, thus, gives clear legislation with numerous points of detail.

It is, indeed, very wise to delay the work on the structure until its foundations have been firmly laid down, and to speak about details only after the fundamental concepts and rules have been completed.

However, when we look carefully at these details and consider that they are bricks firmly held together,

or a necklace with superbly arranged pearls, we discern a definite and wise purpose drawn in sharp relief as we compare the earlier summary and the forthcoming details.

It is now time to look at the main areas in this part.

Verse 177 which summed up all aspects of righteousness concludes with a quality given special emphasis, as it is presented in three different forms.

This quality is patience and it is shown here as necessary when facing misfortune or adversity and at times of real danger.

Now that the surah begins to give the details, it takes up this very quality, with its three specified aspect, tackling them in reverse order to that mentioned in the outline.

Thus, it speaks first about patience when facing danger, then patience in adversity and finally patience when facing misfortune.

The same progressive pattern is followed when giving details of each of the qualities of righteousness:

honouring promises and contracts, attending to prayers, payment of zakat, and also financial and physical sacrifice for God’s cause.

Let us now have a quick look at these details:

Patience in times of peril

This does not mean patience when one suffers injuries in war, for this is a negative aspect of patience.

Nor is the main reference here to the type of patience required to inflict defeat on the enemy.

This is definitely a positive type of patience, but it relies on physical strength. Islam, however, emphasises moral strength as being far more important.

The Prophet says:

“A truly strong person is not the one who physically overcome others. The truly strong is a person who maintains self control when angry.”

Likewise, God gives us here the most effective and superior example of patience, which is to remain in control in times of peril.

This provides the best restraining mechanism against pursuing vengeance or killing opponents indiscriminately.

This patience imposes a limit that must not be exceeded, which is to maintain fairness in retaliation (2: 178-179).

As one thought calls up another, the discussion of people that have been killed leads to talking about those about to die.

Thus, the topic concludes with the duty of one who is about to die to be kind to his relatives and to make a will in their favour. (2: 189-182.)

Patience in adversity

Here again God chooses the most difficult type of patience when facing hard times. This is superior to tolerating illness and pain patiently.

It is to be patient when one suffers thirst and hunger willingly, only to obey God’s orders.

This is shown in the discussion of fasting (2: 183-187).

The drift moves on from speaking about temporary abstention from taking lawful things to total and permanent abstention from the unlawful devouring of other people’s property (2: 188).

Patience in misfortune

The same pattern is followed here. What the surah is talking about in this type is not the sort of enforced patience in poverty, or when one experiences a financial hardship or an unexpected crisis.

It is referring to the patience needed on the basis of choice, when one makes a financial sacrifice,

spending one’s money to serve God’s cause.

The example the Qur’an gives here is of a dual nature, combining patience in both misfortune and adversity, combining physical and financial jihad; that is, pilgrimage (2: 189-202).

It is, indeed, a three-pronged example,

because it includes a reference to fighting the enemies of God, which involves patience in times of peril. (2: 190-195).

Perhaps we should not forget to refer here to the easy passage through which the discussion progresses from talking about fasting to talking about pilgrimage.

This is achieved through the references to the new moons, which God has defined as indicators of the periods of both fasting and pilgrimage. (2: 190.)

Perhaps it is appropriate to take a short pause here, to dwell on a particular aspect of the flow of topics in the Qur’an as we have here a vivid example of it.

When pilgrimage is mentioned the first time, it is not followed immediately by a detailed outline of its rules and regulations.

In fact, 6 verses, 190-195, separate the first mention of pilgrimage and the outline of its regulations.

These verses give detailed rules concerning jihad, both physical and financial, in the case of a war with the enemies of Islam.

An ignorant person may claim that this separation is odd.

However, anyone who is aware of the history of Islam and the reasons leading to the revelation of various verses will know that this gap serves an important purpose and occurs in its rightful position.

To start with, there is a time link between the legislation requiring Muslims to offer the pilgrimage and the events at al-Hudaibiyah, near Makkah,

when the Prophet and his Companions were forcibly prevented from entering Makkah to offer the ᶜumrah.

This eventually led to the signing of a peace agreement known as the al-Hudaibiyah treaty in the 6th year of the Islamic calendar.

What is more important is the fact that the performance of the rituals of ᶜumrah at that time remained an unfulfilled intention, frustrating a long entertained hope.

The Muslims were held back and prevented from offering their worship at the Kaᶜbah.

They were keen to strike hard at their enemies, but God commanded them not to be the ones to start fighting,

and not to fight their enemies in the vicinity of the Sacred Mosque, except those who fight them in it.

They submitted to God’s orders and went back home awaiting the fulfilment of God’s promise.

In the same way, let the reader or the listener here wait and consider this intervening passage before he learns the details of the pilgrimage, which he is eager to know.

This parallels the waiting of those Muslims who turned back to Madinah when they were most eager to go to Makkah, postponing that visit for a year.

Thus, these intervening verses serve as a permanent commemoration of those events in the early history of Islam.

The Qur’an provides a clear view of all the facts.

Some of these we learn as they are mentioned specifically and in detail.

Others we get to know implicitly through the style and order of discussion.

This passage, thus, provides a practical example of a student’s patience when his teacher is giving his lesson. The student does not hasten to interrupt him with his questions.

He waits until the teacher decides to discuss the relevant point.

We do not have to wait long for the rules and regulations concerning the pilgrimage and the ᶜumrah for these are shortly given in detail.

They are awaited most eagerly, like a thirsty person waits for his cool drink. (2: 196-203.)

When this is concluded, the first set of legislation is completed, dealing with all aspects of patience in misfortune, adversity and in the face of danger.

A relaxing passage (Verses 204-214)

In His wisdom and kindness, God does not take us straight up to the next stage. He gives us a pause for relaxation, which reinforces our will to obey His orders.

He gives us here a general admonition which consolidates what has already been achieved and eases us into what is yet to come.

This general admonition comes in the most fitting place, with a direct link to the special reminder with which the discussion of pilgrimage is concluded.

This reminder divides people, with respect to their hopes and aspirations, into two types:

those who pursue nothing but the comforts and pleasures of this worldly life, paying little or no attention to the Hereafter,

and those whose aim is happiness in the life to come without forgetting the needs of this present life, (2: 200-202).

Now we see the general admonition dividing people into two broad groups: those who pursue only their own interests, even though that means ruining other people’s lives and spreading corruption in the land,

and those who seek God’s pleasure, ready to sacrifice their lives for that, (2: 204-207).

After this division,

the surah gives a piece of sincere advice to the believers to purge their hearts and souls of any trace of personal desire and to submit themselves completely to God, drawing no distinction between one set of His orders and another.

It warns them against straying away from the path God has marked for them to follow.

It encourages them to remain patient whatever they may have to face of misfortune or adversity,

setting for them examples from earlier communities. (2: 208-214.)


To Honour Promises and Covenants

This general reminder concludes the relaxing passage. Now the surah moves to the second set of laws which comprise more details of...