The science of patience (I)

I remember it as if it were yesterday. Sitting at the feet of my father as a little boy ready to receive the wisdom of the day in his living room.

“Read it,” my dad would say, “you know how to read, so read it yourself.“


It might be an Arabic book, or a book of Hadith. Sometimes, he would read to me from a Hausa story book.

Whether I or he read, there would come the time to explain, the time to slide in whatever message he wanted to drive home that day.


The lesson of the day maybe on honesty or respect for women. But what lingered around all of them was the need for me to be patient.

“Don’t shout at the little ones,” he would call out to me, “instead, teach them, because they don’t know.”

My father knew that impatience was my chief problem.  Why wouldn’t he, when we have the same constitution, share the same genes?

Except that he had already defeated his impatience. Which means that his symptoms only slip out about once every decade. I on the other hand lost it about ten times a day.

Telling off an armed robber

And his fears were quite real. Because I have lost many opportunities due to impatience and put myself in dangerous situations.

For example, have you ever argued with an armed robber at 2 A.M.?

I did it in the middle of nowhere after our car tires had been destroyed and windscreen shattered by the obstacles armed robbers used to waylay us. To say nothing of the escape into the bush by the soldier who was driving the car.

Individual members of the robbery gang kept coming at me,  asking for money, threatening to shoot.

I emptied my pockets yet they kept coming asking “where is the money?”

Then I lost it. “I’ve given all the money to your friend over there!”

I thought their thinking was sloppy. “How can you ask me for what I had already given? How many pockets do I have?”

Sloppy thinking. That is the first thing that easily gets on my nerves. The other one is injustice. But in a society like ours, you see both everywhere, everyday.  Only a moron will allow them to get on his nerves.

“Having patience means being able to wait calmly in the face of frustration or adversity, so anywhere there is frustration or adversity-i.e., nearly everywhere-we have the opportunity to practice it,” Kira M. Newman wrote for UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine.

In the case of these armed robbers, they simply didn’t care about my scruples.

They had their own concerns, because I was so close to them I could feel their anxiety.

“The soldier you came with ran into the bush with a gun, right?” They asked me.

That’s one example of how I put myself in harm’s way; because that robber became united with me in anger and readied his gun: “I’m going to shoot you now,” he announced.

One type of patience is interpersonal patience which doesn’t involve waiting but dealing with annoying people with calmness. The story above showed that I didn’t have that.

Therefore, more than anything, I wrote this chapter for myself, praying that it would salve my own impatience. Although still struggling, I’m getting wiser, I’m getting calmer.

We’ve now discovered that it’s not only philosophy and religion that encourage patience, science too has joined the call.

But first, let’s examine why patience is the single most important non cognitive pillar the Qur’an commends and why everyone  (from the individual to the United Nations) should consider the Qur’an’s perspective on patience.

By far, my favorite verses in the Qur’an are contained in chapter 25. So let us see how they will affect us – if everyone answered the call of the verses.

These magnificent words, which flow from verse 63 to the end of the chapter, when put to use, would give the world absolute peace. We would be happy and stroll like angels on earth.

Except that the words do not invite us to enact any angelic sacrifice. Rather, Allah commands us to do simple things such as: praying for our offspring (verse 74) and when we meet naysayers, hecklers and the ignorant, we should say something peaceful to them -not engage them (verse 63).

But the most important thing I want to point out here is that toward the end of these verses Allah says: “Those will be awarded the Chamber for what they PATIENTLY endured, and they will be received therein with greetings and [words of] peace.”

We can learn two things here: one, you can’t be a good servant of Allah without having patience; two, the reward for patience is eternal peace.

Remember at the beginning of the description of the ibadurrahman (servants of the Most Merciful), Allah said when they meet the ignorant, they bear them with a patient shrug and say words of peace?

“And the servants of the Most Merciful are those who walk upon the earth easily, and when the ignorant address them [harshly], they say [words of] peace.”

At the end of the description, Allah says words of peace would also be said to the patient fellows in Heaven, because they themselves used to say them on earth.

Science, however, is beginning to demonstrate that the patient will not only be rewarded in the hereafter, but also in this world.

In a 2007 study, Sarah A. Schnitker  and Robert Emmons demonstrated that patient individuals had better mental health because they felt more abundance, experienced less depression, fewer negative emotions, are more mindful and more connected to mankind.

Professor Terrie E. Moffitt,  a psychological scientist at the Duke University  believes that the developed world needs patience now as they needed education at the dawn of the 20th Century. She said this during her keynote at the inaugural International Convention of Psychological Science in Amsterdam.

In an ongoing longitudinal research since the 1970s, Moffitt and her colleagues measure different life outcomes of over 1,000 people from childhood (beginning at age 3) in the city of Dunedin in New Zealand.

Commenting on her study, reported:

“According to results, the participants who had measured the lowest on self-control [a measure of patience]in childhood scored the highest on various health problems by age 38, Moffitt reported.”

She also said that based on their biomarkers, those scoring lowest on self-control measure were one year older than their chronological age, while those with self-control were one year younger.

“So the two groups are about one-and-a-half years apart,” Moffitt said. “And we predict that this difference between them will widen as they continue to age.”

Moffitt also analyzed data on fraternal (not identical) twins from the U.K. and found that the twin who scored low on self-control as a child, had more behavioral, academic and occupational problems in secondary school.

“And that’s despite having grown up in the same home with the same parents, in the same neighborhood, in the same school, and in most cases in the same classroom,” Moffitt said. “So for this analysis it’s not merely the family into which you’re born that matters. It’s whether you’re able to develop self-control skills that counts, as well.”

The second kind of patience is the strength to bear daily hassles – such as traffic gridlock – without losing your head.

Moffitt concluded by saying that “self-control has come to mean more today than it did in the past, and a person’s level of health [and] wealth now follows in part from the self-control skills they’re able to master as children.”

(This is a chapter in the book “Social Science of Prophet Muhammad (SAW)” by Ibraheem Dooba)


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