The Value of Patience and Righteous Deeds in Islam

Letter to Prisoners (Pt VI)

Dear Believers: as-Salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatu Llahi wa barakatuh.

In the Name of Allah Most Merciful and Compassionate: All praise to Allah Most High, and blessings and peace upon His beloved Prophet Muhammad, His mercy to all worlds of beings.
To commence: Allah’s guidance in the Quran is best for us in this world and the next.

He says in Surat al-Nahl 16.96:

مَا عِندَكُمْ يَنفَدُ ۖ وَمَا عِندَ ٱللَّهِ بَاقٍۢ ۗ وَلَنَجْزِيَنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ صَبَرُوٓا۟ أَجْرَهُم بِأَحْسَنِ مَا كَانُوا۟ يَعْمَلُونَ

What you have ever vanishes, and that with Allah ever lasts.
And We shall certainly requite the steadfast their wage,
as if their every deed
were the best one they ever did.

Here, the first two lines are a ta‘leel wa madmun or ‘the reason and content’ of the last words of the previous verse just above it “Verily what is with Allah is better for you, if you only knew”—Why? Because ma ‘indakum yanfadu wa ma ‘inda Llahi baaq or “what you have ever vanishes, and that with Allah ever lasts.” The words ma ‘inda Llahi or “that with Allah” mean everything we send ahead for ourselves of immortal good deeds, whether dhikr (remembrance of Allah), the prayer (salat), or hajj, or anything else that is performed for Allah that He accepts. What you have, by way of contrast, ever vanishes. The verb yanfadu in the phrase ma ‘indakum yanfadu or “what you have ever vanishes” means nafaad, or ‘to disappear little by little until it is gone,’ such as wealth, rank, position, good looks, strength, and finally life itself. All of it “ever vanishes,” which is why Allah uses the mudari‘ or ‘imperfect tense’ of the verb yanfadu, to mean always, continually, and by degrees: something is always disappearing out of our lives bit by bit until nothing remains of it, while spiritual works alone are what we ultimately have at the end of the day. Notice that in the second line, when Allah says, wa ma ‘inda Llahi baaq(in), “and that with Allah ever lasts,” for lasts, Allah uses the word baaq(in), the pausal, indefinite form of the word baaqi, which is an active participle (name of the doer), literally meaning here the laster or the remainer, to emphasize its thubut or ‘sureness, certainty, permanence, and immutability’—for unlike what we have, it will never disappear.

Then Allah says, Wa lanajziyanna lladhina sabaru ajrahum, “And We shall certainly requite the steadfast their wage,” for this sura was revealed in Mecca before the Hijra, when the Muslims still numbered less than sixty or seventy people, and if a person entered Islam, he might face persecution, lose social position (mansab) or other worldly advantages, and have to practice his din in the face of some very real opposition. This would take considerable sabr, meaning ‘fortitude, patience, or undaunted steadfastness.’ This is why Allah uses a number of powerful emphatics in this verse to assure the patient to hold fast to their din. For example in the word lanajziyanna or “We shall certainly requite,” the first lam (letter L) is lam al-qasam or ‘the lam of swearing an oath,’ meaning here Wa Llahi or ‘By Allah’—that is, Allah swearing by His very Self that He shall requite them or ‘give them in full’ everything He has promised them. This verb is also forcefully energized by the iltifat or ‘turn to a different name for the subject of the sentence,’ namely the word We in this third line of the above verse, from the word Allah in its second line. Too, the marker in Arabic of nahnu or “We” is the first nun or ‘letter N’ in the verb lanajziyanna, and this pronoun marker by which Allah refers to Himself is called nun al-‘adhama, or ‘the letter N (denoting We) of insuperable greatness’—just as we say in English “the royal We” which kings and queens once used for themselves. Notice too that Allah has appended to the end of this verb lanajziyanna—whose core is najziy (“We shall requite”)—the doubled nun al-tawkeed or ‘letter N of intensive emphasis’ to indicate certainty of occurrence, often seen in verbs used in oaths. All of these strengthen the patient in their complete certitude that Allah will fulfill His sworn word to those who fulfill their din. It applies to all who remain steadfast under pressure to give up, lessen, or compromise their din, till the end of time.

The word sabr or ‘patience’ is defined in Arabic as habsu l-nafs ‘ala makruh, or ‘making oneself put up with the disliked.’ It includes fortitude and patience to (1) do what Allah says, (2) leave what He forbids, and (3) put up with other people. The third of these is often the hardest, and the Prophet in particular (Allah bless him and give him peace) had to bear up under great abuse, harassment, and threats of all kinds from the idolators of Mecca. The troubles we Muslims find in life with situations, things, and people, are all part of Allah’s plan to either bring us close to Him if we prove steadfast and undaunted; or else put us far from Him—if we are dismayed, or despair, or give in to what we are supposed to hold out against. Here, as in everything else, the secret of tawfiqor ‘success from Allah’ is always al-isti‘ana bi Llah or ‘asking Allah’s help.’ It could be as simple as the prayer “My Lord, help me” (Rabbi a‘inni) at one’s moment of need.

Then Allah says bi ahsani ma kanu ya‘malun(a) or “as if their every deed were the best one they ever did.” What it means according to the ulema of tafsir—and some people may be surprised here by Allah’s incredible generosity to the sabirin or ‘those of undaunted patience’—is that “Allah looks at their works and requites them the like of the reward of the very best one.” That is, if one salat (prayer) deserves the reward of fifty good deeds, while a better one they prayed deserves a hundred, Allah will reward them a hundred for each of the two prayers, the reward of the best of them. This is mentioned by Biqa‘i, Alusi in Surat al-Zumar as the strongest position, Habannaka, Ibn Kathir, and by Abu Su‘ud as one of two positions, though it is the best interpretation because it preserves the original meaning of the word ahsan or ‘best.’ As Biqa‘i explains this expression, “Since the most generous among kings give rewards according to works, ranging from the best down to the less than the best, He informs us [here] that He turns to the very best [of our works] and raises all the others [of them] up to it, and makes those lower than it equal to it” (Nadhm al-durar, 11.248). The ulema differ about the implications of this. Some say it applies to works of the same type, meaning that all of one’s salats will be judged according to the best of them; one’s every hajj will be judged according to one’s best hajj; one’s instances of patience in the face of pressures to be impatient will be judged according to the most patient and steadfast one ever was—and so forth. Others differentiate within these kinds of works between the wajib or ‘obligatory’ on the one hand, and the nafila or ‘non-obligatory’ on the other, one’s prescribed prayers for example rewarded according to the best of them, and one’s sunna prayers rewarded according to one’s best sunna prayer. Others say it applies to all good works whatever, regardless of their kind, meaning that one’s very best single work of one’s lifetime, whether dhikr, shukr (gratitude), zakat, salat, hajj, or whatever, will become the standard of reward for all the other good works in one’s life. And Allah knows best.

Moreover, Allah uses this same identical expression in the next verse, 16.97 of Surat al-Nahl, generalizing it beyond just those who are patient—or perhaps telling us who the patient really are—to all believers who work righteousness. He says in it: “Whoever works righteousness, whether man or woman, being a believer, We shall bestow them a life wondrous fair, and requite them their wage hereafter as if their every deed were the best they ever did.” But we have to remember that first, this is for those whose works are accepted, and second, it does not in itself mean that all our sins are forgiven, for that requires tawba or ‘sincere repentance,’ which means (1) to have regret, (2) to ask Allah’s forgiveness, (3) to resolve never to go back to the sin, and (4) if one wronged others financially or otherwise by it, then one must get them to forgive one, and either pay them back or have them waive the damages. The sign that one’s tawba is accepted is that Allah out of His mercy keeps one from ever going back to it. Finally, the above verses are a tremendous reason to keep trying to make all of our works better and better, so as to keep improving the level of the standard at which all of them will be rewarded by Allah when He judges us. May He show us His favor and mercy always and forever. Amin.

Regarding good works, I remember a sheikh in Turkey, some years ago now, who had all his murids (disciples) recite the Quran in khatmas or ‘from beginning to end’ and donate the reward of each khatma to the mujahidin or ‘fighters in the path of Allah’ battling in Afghanistan against the Russians who invaded their country. He told his murids the Russians would lose. I found this a bit remarkable, since Russia was a superpower with a massive war machine, while Afghanistan had the lowest per-capita income of anywhere in the world. But he and his murids kept it up over the next years, Allah helped the mujahidin keep up the jihad, and Russia did lose. The ulema of fiqh or ‘details of Sacred Law’ affirm that one can donate mithla thawab al-‘aml or ‘the like of the reward of one’s works’ to others, and that Allah gives them the reward, without this lessening one’ own reward as the person who first did the work and donated the like of it to them. For the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) slaughtered a ram for himself and family, and for his whole Umma or nation, showing that one candonate the reward for works to others (Muslim, 3.1557 (1967). S). Now, good works are a reason for tawfiq, and there is no reason to suppose that all the works that were donated to the Afghani mujahidin were not part of the reason for their success against the Russians. So as Muslims are now wondering what they can do to help downtrodden Muslims fighting enemies who are bombing them, starving them, and trying to kill them by thirst, we can not only make du‘a or prayers for them, but also ask Allah to help them in every way through the good works of our own that we donate the reward of to them.

Question of the Month:

If I am confronted aggressively, verbally or physically, and find it necessary to respond a bit more aggressively in order to deal resolutely with the confrontation from another inmate, whether Muslim or not—is this sinful, or will it harm my spiritual progress and growth in Islam?


Allah judges each particular instance of confrontation individually and justly, so no single answer can cover every situation. But first, the Prophet has said, “There is no harming, or harming back: whoever really harms someone, Allah will really harm him; and whoever makes things really hard for someone, Allah will make things really hard for him” (al-Mustadrak, 2.58. H). Self-defense is acceptable, but the rules for it are longer than can be spelled out here, and are found in fiqh books in Bab al-siyal or ‘Chapter on Warding Off Aggressors,’ translated in Reliance of the Traveller at (o7), 594–95. In brief though, one’s own needs do not nullify others’ rights to personal safety, property, or reputation; and if there is conflict, one must use the minimum amount of force possible to stop the threatener. I have noticed that when one is strong, bold, confident, and prepared to fight, then menacing animals and humans tend to shy away—while al-‘Arabi al-Darqawi used to say, Al-sa‘iqa la tusibu l-dhakirin, or “Not even a lightning blast can hit those making dhikr.” Be with Allah, read Ayat al-Kursi, and ask Allah’s aid before tough situations, and In Sha Allah, Allah will help.

Till next month and next letter, Allah willing, greetings of peace and felicity to everyone; was-Salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatu Llahi wa barakatuh.

Amman, Jordan

How to embrace trials with Faith and Patience?

The Importance of Saying Salaam in Islam and Its Meaning

The Difference Between Striving for This World and the Afterlife

Embracing Daily Acts of Worship & the Path to Divine Love

Surah al-Kahf and Pursuing Excellence in Deeds

Lessons from Surah al-Ahzab on Steadfastness and Remembrance

Surah al-Ahzab & Invoking Blessings on the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ)

The Eternal Rewards of Charity and Giving in the Path of Allah

The Value of Patience and Righteous Deeds in Islam

How Does One Become Beloved to Allah?

What Surah al-Nisa Says About Choosing Between Good and Evil

What Happens When We Choose to Live for Allah?

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