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Sabr Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

written by Theresa Corbin

Sabr. If you are new to this site or Islamic thought in general, you might Google this word and find out that it stands for the Society for American Baseball Research. Yes! We Muslims are so very invested in researching American Baseball. It’s alllll we think about.

I am not a sports fan (big shocker), but honestly baseball is the one sport I can tolerate. But I joke. Sabr, the term I have chosen to write about today has nothing to do with baseball at all. So relax, you silly right wing nutters. The Muslims ain’t coming to establish no Shariah on the baseball diamond.

But if we did, I am sure it would make the sport so much more high-stakes. Stealing bases would get you your hand cut off. I joke again. You gals and guys know me-I ain’t for that.

Ehhmem, so sabr, it is an Arabic word that is peppered throughout religious texts. And it is usually translated as “patience”.

And be patient, indeed Allah is with the patient ones. (Quran 8:46)

The problem with this translation, although it can mean patience, is that it makes people think that sabr only means patience. And that leads people to believe that sabr means to just let bad stuff happen and lock it up tight and never talk about it.

The other problem with this understanding of the word “sabr”, since it is such a heavily used religious term, is that it is also used to manipulate people with religion. Shock! Horror! What? People use religion for there own evil gains to manipulate others into doing what they want? How! This is news to me?– you might be thinking.

But you aren’t thinking that because you know people suck. I’ll say that again for the people in the back -PEOPLE. SUCK. <— write it down. remember it. trust in God. not people. because? that’s right! people suck. including me.

Well, that is not at alright. Sabr is so much more than patience. Sabr in fact means steadfastness, perseverance, patience in the path of justice, patience in doing what is right and good even though smacking people seems like so much fun. Sabr does not mean be a patient victim and let people oppress you.

But often this word is thrown around at victims of oppression to convince them that they should put up with and actually enable their oppression. E.G. a woman who is regularly beaten by her husband because he has a small penis and this make him angry. She goes to a dimwitted sheikh (scholar) and he actually tells her to have patience, meaning just put up with it or enable his behavior by doing nothing to stop it.

The thing is that Islam is not a religion that allows people to enable each other and it certainly does not advocate for people to allow oppression. How do we know this? We know this because of the famous prophetic tradition that states:

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Support your brother whether he is an oppressor or is being oppressed.” It was said, “O Messenger of Allah, we help the one being oppressed but how do we help an oppressor?” The Prophet said, “By seizing his hand.”In another narration, the Prophet said, “By restraining him or preventing him from committing injustice, for that is how you support him.”

Recently, I wrote an article about not putting people on pedestals. And as I always do when making a claim, I thought of the opposition’s argument against my claims. One idea that disturbed me while writing this but could not address due to space was that I knew people would take this to mean that the victims of a crime should never have put the perpetrator in the position to hurt them.

NO! This is victim blaming and I don’t stand for it. In this article about not idealizing people, I was addressing people in general, not victims of a crime. In general I absolutely believe that we should not idealize people. As the term “human” or “person” suggests, we as human beings are all weak and fallible pieces of dust on our way out.

But the thing is that if you are a victim of a crime by someone you put on a pedestal, the fact that you put them on a pedestal does not make the crime your fault. You must seek justice. Our religion demands it. Islam does not manufacture victims: 

O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnessing for Allah, even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not [personal] inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort [your testimony] or refuse [to give it], then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, acquainted. (Quran 4:135)

Never ever be complicit in oppression especially if it is your own oppression. Never be silent when you see oppression, especially if you are the victim of a crime, even if the perpetrator is very close to you. The term sabr for the victim means to strive and persevere in seeking justice and stopping oppression. 

And never let anyone tell you any different even if that person calls him/herself a scholar. Scholars are wrong every day. Some scholars are even invested in keeping victims quiet in the name of protecting male supremacy. Don’t put up with it. To God we all are equal. By God we are demanded to stop oppression. By God we are charged with seeking justice. If you prefer to listen to a scholar over Allah then you should know that is worship. 

It is narrated from Adi bin Hatim (May Allah be pleased with him):
I heard the Prophet (May the peace and blessing of Allah be upon him) read this verse:

“They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks to be their lords besides Allah, and Messiah -son of Maryam, while they were commanded to worship none but One Ilah (God Allah) La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshiped but He). Praise and glory be to Him, (far above is He) from having the partners they associate (with Him)”. (Qur’an 9:31)

So I said to him (May Allah be pleased with him)’ “Verily, we did not worship them,” to which he replied, “Did they not make Haram what Allah made Halal so you then made it Haram, and (did they not) make Halal what Allah made Haram and you therefore made it Halal?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “That is worshiping them.” (Ahmad and At- Tirmidhi)

Criminal behavior is haram. Allowing criminal behavior and not witnessing against it is haram. Do not let the sheikhs tell you it is sabr to enable it. This is worship. Sabr when witnessing against evil, injustice, and oppression means perseverance and steadfastness in seeking justice and stopping evil and oppression. 

Sabr sometimes means to be the tree that grows through concrete and tears it up in the process. 

 

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