“Just have sabr (patience), things will change eventually on their own.” This is a sentence I have heard so many times, and in some cases hearing these words helps, BUT in other cases it simply makes a situation WORSE.
Consider these two situations below:
Scenario A. Your friend is being emotionally abused by her husband, he constantly tells her that she is not good enough, that she is “stupid” and not attractive. Her husband also tells her that she is fortunate to have him and that no one loves her but him. The only friend she has is you, for her husband forbids her to see anyone else, including her family. She doesn’t even tell her husband that she chats with you on WhatsApp and deletes your conversations right away. She desperately reaches out to you, but you tell her to have patience, have sabr, and stay in the relationship, and that her husband might change.
Scenario B. Your co-worker is being bullied at work by the manager, but he is afraid to speak up in fear of losing his job. The manager has spread rumours about your co-worker, she gives him an overload of work with an unrealistic deadline to complete it all. Your co-worker confides in you, but you tell him to have patience, have sabr, and do nothing else, and that maybe one day the bullying will stop.
In both cases, the bullying does not stop and will not stop without taking any actions. Here, in the above situations, the word sabr is being used in a cultural context rather than a religious one, where the meaning of sabr has become a word that means to take no further action. With that said, it is important to note the true meaning of sabr in Islam:
“Far from being a negative moral virtue, (sabr) is an active, determined and dynamic quality which Islam encourages for all believers. It therefore requires that Muslims fight for justice and freedom against human tyranny and it also requires Muslims to be steadfast in the face of calamity.” (source http://islamqa.org/)
If we think about how the word sabr is used commonly today, than having sabr alone is not the answer. More specifically, sabr without action, is not the answer. Having patience and staying in a harmful situation is not the answer. If the people being bullied are staying quiet and not taking action, then the bullies think they can continue on with the negative behaviour, which is what they want, for it gives them control.
The only time having patience and doing nothing else will help, is when you have no control over the situation, however, in the cases above, there is a chance for the situation to change if the individuals being affected take action; if they gain the strength to speak up and defend themselves. What would be more effective is telling them to have strength to speak up and confront the person that is being the bully or telling them to have strength to reach out to someone who can help correct the situation.
Likewise, we must have faith in God, that His plans are the best of plans, but at the same time we must take action:
“But relying on Allah and entrusting one’s affairs to Him in the correct sense must be accompanied by taking permissible measures, as is indicated in the hadith of Anas ibn Maalik, who said: A man said: O Messenger of Allah, should I tie up [my camel] and rely on Allah, or should I leave it loose and rely on Him? He said: “Tie it up and rely [on Allah].” Narrated by at-Tirmidhi (2517); classed as hasan by al-Albaani in Saheeh Sunan at-Tirmidhi [(2/610]. (source, islamqa.info)
Here are some better responses to the situations mentioned above:
Scenario A- “Have strength to reach out to your parents and get them involved. Have strength to seek counselling, and if things don’t change then have strength to leave the relationship.”
Scenario B- “Have strength to discuss matters with your manager and tell her she is being unfair. If she doesn’t change her behaviour, then have the strength to reach out to the Human Resources department and inform them of your situation, so that they can help resolve this issue.”
10 tips to help someone who is struggling in life:
- Be there and listen to the problems others have, let them know that they can come to you with anything.
- Validate feelings of others and tell them that they have the right to feel the way they do.
- Encourage others to communicate with the person they are having issues with
- Suggest that the person seek assistance (i.e go to a therapist, counselling, or reach out to an unbiased family member or neutral 3rd party) to get further help with the situation.
- Do not judge others for the situation they are in. In most cases, it is not their fault.
- Give people time and space to think things through.
- Don’t take offense if people don’t take your advice. It’s difficult for individuals to take action, especially right away, for they have been living a certain way for so long. It’s unrealistic to think a pep talk from you will make them change instantly.
- Keep the conversation confidential. If individuals are trusting you with their private life, then make sure you keep it private. The only exception would be if you think a person is in danger, then you need to contact authorities.
- Check up on whoever reached out to you to make sure they are doing well and to see if there is anything you can do for them.
- Don’t downplay situations and tell people their issue is nothing in comparison to the problems of others and that they are “too blessed to be stressed,” or that everyone goes through what they are going through so they should “suck it up and stop complaining.”
Moving forward, I hope we can help others by not telling them to “just have patience” and stay in a situation that is causing them hurt and pain, but by helping them to gain strength so that they can be in a better place overall. I also hope we can go back to the true meaning of sabr and use this word in a more positive way that conveys we take action against injustice!
Let’s move FORWARD together,
[This post was edited to include the difference between the word sabr being used in a cultural context (most commonly used today in some cultures, i.e in a passive sense) vs. a religious context]