Properly known as hilm in Islam, forbearance, in a sense, governs the other requisite virtues such as temperance, compassion, and modesty. Forbearance manifests itself throughout a Muslim’s life in every ethical circumstance or dilemma. The character of Muhammad, the messenger of Islam, provides the perfect example of this integral virtue for Muslims.
A Brief Analysis of Hilm
Hilm, as defined in the Quran, Islam’s holy text, and the Hadith, the sayings of Muhammad, conveys a complexity of depth and meaning to the term not fully accounted for when strictly translated as forbearance. According to Islamic scholar, Reza Shah-Kazemi, hilm encompasses the concepts of forbearance, wisdom, patience, composure, self-mastery, imperturbability as well as kindness, mildness and gentleness. Within these parameters, Kazemi’s explanation of hilm is best described as discipline and tolerance suffused with compassion. Hilm, then, compels a Muslim toward greater magnanimity of a situation or a person through kindness and understanding rather than indifference or begrudged acceptance.
Hilm in The Quran
The Quran requires hilm of Muslims. Life and its various struggles, including a Muslim’s dealings with other people, must be approached with this gentle forbearance in mind: "And the servants of (Allah) Most Gracious are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, "Peace!" (25:63). While the Quran acknowledges an individual’s tendency toward anger and impatience in situations of conflict, it provides clear guidance for Muslims by establishing restraint and compassion as virtues most pleasing to God (Ederer): "Nor can goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: Then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate!" (41:34).
Muhammad and Hilm
Muslims consider Muhammad’s character and example the perfect model of virtue. As the messenger of Islam, Muhammad is considered an exemplar of hilm. By many scholarly accounts, his inherently gentle disposition coupled with his sense of tolerance and restraint provide some support to this claim. Though Muhammad suffered persecution and the loss of many loved ones for years at the hands of the Quraish, the most powerful tribe in Mecca, he pardoned them and demanded that his followers follow his example of hilm.
An Incumbent Duty For Muslims
Hilm is an imperative for Muslims. They must strive for compassionate forbearance. The Quran provides direction regarding hilm as does the example of Muhammad. Perhaps Islam’s most famous esoteric and poet, Jalaluddin Rumi, best summarizes hilm and forbearance with the following few verses:
“Tend to your vital heart, and all you worry about will be solved.
“Your donkey is afraid of work. Tie it up, and make it carry many loads of patience, and gratitude for a hundred years, or thirty, or twenty”
The donkey Rumi refers to symbolizes the lower part of our selves known in Islam as nafs. In this sense the nafs is easily led astray by lust, anger, intolerance and so on. These base characteristics stand in opposition to hilm. Muslims must recognize this conflicting nature within their ontological makeup and act accordingly using the Quran and Muhammad as their guides.
- The Spirit of Tolerance in Islam; Reza Shah-Kazemi
- SuhaibWebb.com: Forbearance and Composure by John Ederer
- The Speeches and Table Talk of the Prophet Muhammad; Stanley Lane-Poole
- The Holy Quran; Yusuf Ali.
- Feeling The Shoulder of The Lion: Poetry and Teaching Stories of Rumi; Coleman Barks.
- Heart, Self, & Soul; Robert Frager, Ph.D.
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