second call: seeking help in patience and prayer
almighty allah says (what can be translated as): “o you who have believed, seek help in patience and prayer; surely allah is with the patient. and do not say of whomever are killed in the way of allah, “(they are) dead.” no indeed, they are alive but you are not aware. and indeed we will definitely try you with something of fear and hunger, and diminution of riches, and selves, and products; and give glad tidings to the patient, who, when an affliction afflicts them, say, “surely we belong to allah, and surely to him we are returning.” upon those are the prayers from their lord, and mercy; and those are they (who) are the right-guided.” (al-baqarah: 153-157)
in the verses, allah (swt)1 clarifies to people that the best mean to establish islam in their hearts and on earth, defend the religion and overcome any kind of tribulations they might face is to have patience and forbearance, habituate the spirit to endure afflictions and establish prayer the best way they can. patience is the hardest internal labor for the spirit, while prayers are the hardest external labor for the body, and this is why allah is the sponsor of the patient people and he (awj)2 answers their supplications and prayers.
almighty allah informs believers of the high reward of martyrdom by telling them that the martyrs who die while fighting in the path of allah (awj) are alive in the providence of their lord, by him they are provided without limitation. but, those who are still alive on earth do not feel it because they cannot perceive or sense this world in which martyrs are alive, sustained and nourished by allah (awj).
allah (swt) tells the believers that he will try them with something of fear, hunger, decrease of money, fortunes, products and corps and death of friends, relatives and dear ones, yet he promises glad tidings to the patient. whoever acts patiently and accepts the ruling of allah, his commands and judgment, then he will be greatly rewarded. on the other hand, who despairs and resents upon facing afflictions, he will not be rewarded but rather punished. allah (swt) promises rewards, mercy and blessings to the patient believers, in the present life and in the hereafter. those have been appropriated with glad tidings because they believe that goodness and badness both come as tests from allah, so if a tribulation befalls them they stay steadfast and they say, “surely we belong to allah, and surely to him we are returning.” that means we are the servants of allah, we belong to him and we will return to him in the hereafter. indeed, those are the right-guided and the blessed. ibn abbas narrated that the prophet (peace be upon him) said: “who say ‘surely we belong to allah and to him shall we return’ when an affliction befalls him, allah will relieve him from the affliction, compensate him with reward and better substitute that he will be content with.” [classified by al-tabarani]
almighty allah praises the patient people and tells them that they are included in his mercy which they would feel and experience at the same moment they receive the calamity, they would feel his mercy at those difficult times in the coolness of their hearts. they are the right-guided to the path of goodness, righteousness and truthfulness. they yielded to the divine decree and what allah ordains upon them, and this is why distress did not dominate or destroy them.
patience is repeatedly mentioned in the qur’an because allah (swt) knows the greatness of the efforts needed to stick to the straight path and fight all the inclinations and urges that humans encounter. this effort is also needed to achieve the call to believe in allah on earth amid many struggles and obstacles. this requires the spirit to be attentive, alert and watchful for any kind of seductions or tribulations. we have to be patient while facing all this, we have to be forbearing in performing acts of worship, avoiding sins, dealing with those who oppose allah and islam, staying patient before machination and treacherous schemes, the slowness of attaining victory, the long distance till we reach the goals, the spread of delusions and deceptions, the lack of supporters, the thorny roads we have to walk, the crooked spirits we have to deal with, deception of hearts, heaviness of obduracy and finally bitterness of rejection and denial of crystal-clear facts.
when the road extends and seems long and when it gets harder and harder, patience might weaken or fade if there is no enough provision and support and this is why almighty allah pairs patience with prayer, because it is the endless sustenance and infinite nourishment. prayer is the recharger of the heart and spirit, it prolongs patience making it unbreakable, then it adds to patience other blessed qualities such as contentment, serenity, tranquility, trust and certainty. all this helps the believers and people of faith to reach their goal in life and finally in the hereafter they will receive the ultimate blessing and the great victory, namely paradise.
humans are mortals with limited powers so they have to connect to the higher power, to seek support because the effort they have to exert is sometimes beyond their abilities, but when they resort to their lord, they will become stronger to face internal and external evils. the son of adam should seek allah to get help when it is becoming tough to stick to the road of righteousness upon facing desires and greed, when it is difficult to strive against oppression and corruption that are many, when the road looks very long and when the lifetime is limited. when he looks back and finds he has not achieved a thing and his life is about to end, when the sun of life is about to fade and when evil becomes stronger and goodness weaker with no beam in the horizon or a lead on the road, at these tough times the value of praying shines. prayers are the immediate link between the mortal humans and the everlasting power. prayers are the set date when the lonely drop meets the never-ending spring, it is the key to the treasure that enriches, nourishes and overflows to everyone and everywhere.
prayers are the breakthrough from the limits of the small earthly confinement to the broad cosmic infinite domain. it is the soul, dew drop and shade in the dry hot desert. prayers are the soft touch on the tired exhausted heart. this is why when the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) was facing afflictions and hardships, he would call on bilal (ra)3 saying, “relieve us with it (prayers), o bilal.” he would pray a lot if he was in a difficulty to spend a lot of time prostrating to his lord.
the islamic methodology is a worship methodology; the worship has secrets or values such as being the provision for the long road, sustenance for the spirit and clearance to the heart. whenever there is a command on a muslim, he would find that worship is the key of the heart to taste the sweetness and easiness of this worship. when allah (swt) delegated prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) to undertake the great hard task that he had to fulfill which is calling to believe in allah, the only one and the everlasting sovereign, he (swt) said to him: “o you enwrapped (in your raiment). rise up (to pray during) the night, except a little, a half of it, or diminish a little thereof, or increase thereto; and recite the qur’an (in a distinct) recitation. surely we will soon cast upon you a weighty saying.” (al-muzzammil [enrapped]: 1-5). so, the preparation to the weighty saying, the difficult obligation and the great role is qiyam al-layel4 and recitation of the qur’an. it is the worship that opens the heart, strengthens the link between the creator and his servants, eases matters, lightens the spirit and overflows with consolation, comfort and contentment.
thus, almighty allah directs believers upon facing weighty afflictions to patience and prayer, then after this direction comes the consequence: “surely allah is with the patient”. he (swt) is with them to sponsor, support, strengthen and accompany them along their hard road. he (awj) does not leave them on their own depending on their limited abilities, as he sustains when their sustenance ends and renews their perseverance when the road extends and gets more difficult. he addresses them at the beginning of the verse with this amazing call “o you who have believed” and then he, the all-merciful, the ever-merciful concludes the call with this outstanding encouragement “surely allah is with the patient”.
the ahadith (prophetic sayings) about patience are many, we will mention some of them because they agree with the verses to prepare the muslim community to bear the responsibility and fulfill the mission:
narrated khabab bin al-art: we complained to allah's apostle (peace be upon him) about our state while he was leaning against his sheet cloak in the shade of the kaba. we said, "will you ask allah to help us? will you invoke allah for us?" he said, "among those who were before you a (believer) used to be seized and, a pit used to be dug for him and then he used to be placed in it. then a saw used to be brought and put on his head which would be split into two halves. his flesh might be combed with iron combs and removed from his bones, yet, all that did not cause him to revert from his religion by allah! this religion (islam) will be completed (and triumph) till a rider (traveler) goes from sana (the capital of yemen) to hadramout fearing nobody except allah and the wolf lest it should trouble his sheep, but you are impatient" [bukhari 9: 62, hadith no. 76]
abdullah ibn mas’ud (ra) reported: i can see the messenger of allah (peace be upon him) look like one of the prophets of allah (pbuh) whose people beat and made him bleed while he was wiping the blood from his face and supplicating: "o allah, forgive my people because they know not.'' [al-bukhari and muslim].
narrated ibn omar that the prophet (peace be upon him) said: "the muslim who mixes with people and is patient upon their harm is better than the muslim who avoids the people and is not patient upon their harm." [reported by at-tirmidhi (2507), ahmad (5/365), and ibn majah (4032) and it is an authentic hadith]
(1) swt: subhanahu wa ta'ala [glorified and exalted be he]
(2) awj: aza-wa-jal [glorified and sublime be he].
(3) ra: radya allah anhu/anha [may allah be pleased with him/her]
(4) qiyam al-layel (night vigil) spending the night in devotions, especially praying.