Patience is mentioned in the Quran as one of the qualities of someone who will go to Paradise. For example, “I have rewarded them this Day [with Paradise] for what they have endured patiently; they are indeed the ones that are truly triumphant!” (23:111)
Doesn’t everyone have patience? We have to be patient to meet the requirements of our survival, to get along with people, to continue in our daily routines of work, chores and responsibilities, to carry out our duties to family and community, to restrain from indulging in things that we know will eventually harm us, and to face illness, aging and certain death, as well as occasional injury, loss, and calamity. Aren’t we all compelled to be patient, whether we intend to or not? Is all patience the same? And what kind of patience merits Paradise?
First of all, we are not all compelled to be patient. We are free to choose patience or not. If we choose patience, then we are accepting to be governed by the requirements of success, tolerance, cooperation, moderation, balance and common sense. To be governed by these principles means we must learn the rules of life and how to succeed in its different aspects. It takes a lot of hard work, but the eventual outcome usually includes a degree of physical comfort and enjoyment, fulfilling relationships, health, order and beauty in our surroundings, optimism and mental health. Patience in life leads to good results.
If we don’t adopt the kind of patience described above, we will endure (patiently or not) a life that is full of unpleasant consequences. If we are too lazy to work for a comfortable standard of living, our patience will be in the form of suffering a miserable existence. If we can’t tolerate people who are different from us, we will have to be patient through contempt from others and isolation. If we indulge in unhealthy lifestyles, we should expect to suffer with disease. If we can’t face our physical vulnerability and mortality, we trade patience for anxiety and depression. If we can’t accept tragedy patiently, our losses will be replaced with panic, anger and grief. Instead of our life being filled with the fruits of proactive patience, it will be one of deprivation and despair.
These are the basic, common-sense facts about patience. It shows that all patience is not the same. One kind involves working for a goal, the other is suffering through the consequences of irresponsibility. And because we are not perfect, we have experienced both types. But is it enough? What kind of patience do the inhabitants of Paradise have?
As success in earthly life requires certain kinds of patience, so does Paradise. In fact, Paradise requires two kinds of patience: one is proactive and the other reactive. The proactive type is striving to adopt a way of life sanctioned by God. It means making the effort to learn what God wants from us and then applying it in our lives. The Quran, which is God’s final message to mankind, tells us exactly what God expects from us, and Prophet Muhammad demonstrated practically its teachings, making it easier to understand. As it is a lifelong process of study coupled with conformance to God’s teachings and to the example of Muhammad, it will take determination and patience. But the reward is worth the effort, according to the Quran: “The ones who fulfill the covenant with God and do not break its solemn pledge to Him, who keep joined all the relations and obligations that God has commanded to be joined and stand in awe of their Lord, and fear an evil reckoning, who endure with patience seeking the countenance of their Lord, who establish the prayer and spend charitably from what We have provided them, secretly and openly, and who avert what is evil with what is good… the angels will say, ‘Peace unto you for that you persevered in patience! Now how excellent is the final Home!’” (13:20-24) Those who repent, believe, do not bear false witness, pass by vile talk with honor, and heed the verses of God… “those are the ones who will be rewarded with the highest place in heaven, because of their patient constancy.” (25:75) “Those who believe in the unseen, establish prayer and spend out of what We have provided for them, and who believe in what has been revealed to you [Muhammad] and what was revealed before you, and of the Hereafter they are certain – those are upon guidance from their Lord and it is those who are the successful” (2:2-5). The patience required for Paradise needs a level of commitment and effort beyond the everyday patience of the common man.
The second kind of patience required for Paradise is reactive, and it is demonstrated by our reaction to things outside of our control, such as illness, injury, loss, calamity and all circumstances related to our physical vulnerability and mortality. The Quran guarantees us that “And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and crops, but give good tidings to the patient who, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘Indeed, we belong to God, and indeed to Him we are returning’” (2:155-156). Our reaction in adverse circumstances beyond our control should be to turn our thoughts to God, who describes Himself as wise, merciful and caring. We should not disagree or be dissatisfied with what He does. As the Quran reminds us, “He cannot be questioned as to what He does, while they will be questioned” (21:23). Instead, we should believe that God allowed such circumstances for our ultimate benefit. The Quran reminds us that “perhaps you dislike something and it is good for you and perhaps you like something and it is bad for you. And God knows, while you know not” (2:216). We must trust in God and His knowledge of the “big picture.”
Both kinds of patience – making the effort to follow to the way of life God envisions for us, and then truly submitting to God and His management of our lives – should have the characteristic of beauty. The Quran describes real patience as beautiful. “Therefore, be patient with beautiful patience” (70:5). Beautiful patience is one of contentment and absolute conviction of God’s goodness and care.
The requirements of patience for success in the mundane world are hard work and common sense, and the requirements of patience deserving of Paradise are striving for and submitting to God. However, even with this knowledge, some people will choose not to adopt patience. They will not wonder what God wants from them, nor will they care. They have no patience for things that disrupt their enjoyment of life and take a stance with God that is ungrateful and resentful. They risk facing God’s censure, punishment and exclusion from His mercy. The Quran exclaims about those who exchange guidance for error and forgiveness for punishment, “How patient they are for the fire!” (2:175)
The encouragement we need is in the Quran itself: “Indeed, mankind is in loss, except those who believe and do righteous deeds, and exhort one another to uphold truth and exhort one another to persevere with patience.” (103:2-3) “Those who show patience and work righteousness – for them is forgiveness and a great reward” (11:11). “So persevere in patience, for the Promise of God is true.” (40:77)