All duties and compulsory obligations are accompanied with some headaches and inconveniences, or in other words, they demand some amount of effort and involvement (positive or negative), which are at odds with the easy-going and comfort-loving nature of human beings. Starting from the personal compulsory religious obligations such as prayers and fasting, to the financial obligations such as Khums and Zakat and collective social obligations such as Hajj, the separation from family and loved ones, sacrificing all the comforts and pleasures of life, and sometimes self-sacrifice all become necessary. Of course, all this does not match with the easy-going and comfort-loving nature of man. This holds true for all the laws of the world, whether heavenly or man-made, be they right or wrong.
Although in principle the law itself has been a necessity and for this reason is accepted by mankind, it has generally not been accepted as something convenient, desirable and sweet by man. The same holds true for the most common international laws and regulations, whose benefits and advantages are explicitly clear for everybody, and their violation will result in serious consequences such as is the case with traffic laws.
Passing through a red light results in horrible accidents, sometimes leading to the loss of lives. Although everyone is clearly aware about the consequences of traffic law violations, it is very common that while waiting behind a red light, the inner human nature is not comfortable and feels inconvenient. Similar is the case for not being able to drive through a short-cut route because of a traffic sign; again one feels uncomfortable.
Although compulsory religious obligations are based upon inherent human nature, and without exception to meet its genuine demands, they are in reality means and instruments to lead human beings towards perfection and exaltation. In spite of this, it must be said that in practice it requires efforts and difficulties of some sort. For example, in order to perform the compulsory daily prayers one has to spend some time, perform wudhu, and has to meet other preliminary requirements regarding the dress and place in accordance with the religious guidelines. It is obvious that all of the above are in conflict with the easy-going human nature.
During the daily prayers, to control thoughts and achieve peace of the heart and mind strictly for prayers – rather than getting preoccupied in worldly affairs other than Allah – is very important. In order for the prayers to be meaningful and accepted by Allah, it is very important for the gates which allow all external ideas to be thoroughly closed.
Of course, achieving the above state of mind and heart requires a lot of energy and effort, and is a difficult task.
Fasting too requires toleration of hunger and thirst for long periods of time. To resist and struggle against the appetite for eating and drinking, to restrain the eyes from looking at forbidden things of beauty and to resist sexual passions are difficult tasks requiring tremendous amounts of resistance. In spite of possessing appetizing food and drinks, to be able to impose voluntary self restrictions, to spend a hot summer day with an empty stomach and dry lips undoubtedly requires a lot of will power and strong determination.
Hajj also requires tolerating the inconvenience and hardships of a long distance journey, separation from home and relatives, joining groups of unknown companions, and spending money and precious time. If Hajj is done purely for the pleasure of Allah without any motives of leisure and profit-making, it will also require patience and self-sacrifice.
The obligations regarding encouraging whatever is good (Amr bil Ma'roof) and prohibiting whatever is forbidden (Nahi anil Munkar), as well as the holy struggle in the way of Almighty God (Jihad), requires a lot of hardship, sacrifice, tolerance and patience. Proclamation of truth in front of the forces of falsehood and corruption is a dangerous and unpleasant act, like standing against a tyrant whose unsheathed sword is ready to fall on the proclaimers head, or facing enemies who are like savage beasts, the glint of whose electrifying eyes and swords stun the heart and soul of superficial observers. To be able to offer resistance against the waves of corruption and diversion of a nation, class or mankind as a whole, is a most difficult, dangerous and menacing task.
Similar is the case with other Islamic obligations, which are accompanied by headaches, hardships and inconveniences, but at the same time without exception, all of them are the most beneficial and essential means and guarantees of salvation and prosperity for mankind. Of course, for those who have recognized the straight path and have tasted the sweetness of walking on the difficult road for the pleasure of Allah, having realized the sacred and exalted aims of humanity, all the above difficulties are not only tolerable, but desirable.
The same prayer for men of Allah, who have tasted the sweetness of fervent prayer and remembrance of Allah is something sweeter than honey. The Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him and his progeny) at the time of prayers was so eager and restless that he used to tell Bilal: "O Bilal, recite the call for prayer (Adhan) and make my heart and soul peaceful."
The struggle for the sake of Allah (Jihad fi sabil lillah) for self-indulgent people without any insight for ultimate consequences is extremely harsh and undesirable, but for someone with a good spiritual insight and power like Imam Ali (peace be upon him), is sweeter than honey. For him, all inconveniences and hardships in this struggle result in strengthening his power of resistance and steadfastness. He himself describes about his astonishing state of morale in a sermon in Nahjul Balaghaas follows:
"Together with the Holy Prophet we fought our own fathers, sons, brothers, and uncles, but all these unpleasant events had the least influence upon us, except that they increased our faith to surrender ourselves completely to Allah and made the hard things tolerable for us."
Difficulties and hardships exist for common people with weaker spiritual insight and for those who are not possessed with the required determination and will power, are bitter and undesirable.
What should be done regarding these difficulties which exist in discharging religious obligations? Since offering daily compulsory prayers is difficult, the presence of heart during prayers and chaining the roaming and wondering thoughts are even harder. Since fasting, Jihad, Hajj, giving charity, encouraging good and forbidding evil and other social obligations require pains and inconveniences, then all these should be declared as void. We should be allowed to live according to the desires of our heart which is full of passions and a spirit which loves ease and the comforts of life.
It is here that Islam tells us, no! Instead, patience must be practiced. Patience in obedience must be practiced against those passions which lure the heart away from the prayer mat, mosque and altar, by making it preoccupied with worldly amusements, and in turn make prayers spiritless and meaningless. Patience must be practiced against these kinds of desires and prayers should be offered with the presence of heart and complete concentration, so that they are accepted by Allah and are fruitful for us. Patience must be offered against all those tendencies which tempt us to enjoy eating and drinking on a hot dry day instead of fasting.
Patience must be practiced in confrontation with the enemies on the battlefield, where the danger shows its real and serious face and death confronts man. The pleasures and sweetness of life, memories of children and relatives, and the faces of loved ones become incarnated in the eyes, and all profit-oriented business transactions in one way or the other attract his attention and try to make his determination weak and shaky. Resistance should be offered against all these forces. All obstacles and barriers which interfere with the forward march must be removed from the road.
Patience must be offered against proud tyrants whose eyes burn with anger and whose transgression and corruption has pushed nations to the brink of catastrophe. Such a tyrant must be opposed by each responsible individual. In this situation it is a compulsory obligation for everyone to try to overthrow such a despot.
Patience should be practiced against the whispers of Satan, who with thousands of colorful deceits will try to close charitable hands by reminding one of personal needs instead of helping others, by inciting desires for material profits and other worldly ambitions, and will ultimately prevent a person from righteous deeds. He will try to emphasize that the light in his own home is more important than the candle of the mosque's niche (Mehrab). Here, patience comes into picture by offering the necessary resistance to the above desires, to enable one to discharge his financial and religious obligations. Yes! Patience should be practiced. Yes! One should be patient in obedience and fulfillment of these religious commands. Resistance should be offered against Satanic whispers and passions encouraging transgression.
Each case where such resistance is offered assumes a special meaning and holds special importance in proportion to the greatness of that particular situation. Resistance may mean to be steadfast in facing the enemy in the battlefield; it may be confrontation with the self; it may be the struggle to remain indifferent while facing the pangs of poverty and other difficulties.
Therefore, patience means to be able to offer resistance in all the above circumstances. Patience never allows us to surrender with folded hands, to be insulted, to give up the initiative, and become prisoners of the events.
Examples of Patience in Obedience in the Lives of the Infallible Imams
The key phrase which has been emphasized much in the salutations (Ziyarats) of the Imams is patience: "You (Imams) remained patient, and this patience was practiced with pleasure for the sake of Allah. You accepted the heavy load of carrying the trust, and in spite of all the difficulties and hardships, you delivered it to its final destination…"
Truly, the responsibility of guiding mankind and explaining to them the truth of religion, and resisting tyranny, corruption and transgression during the days of the Imams – like any other time – was a difficult task requiring a lot of patience and strong determination. If the patience practiced by our Imams would have been such that although unhappy about the bad conditions of their times, with their hearts bleeding for the worsening plight of Muslims and Islam, they had confined themselves to the safe boundaries of their homes without taking any concrete steps for the destruction of evil and betterment of the community, then this type of patience would not have been of any special distinction, prestige or honor. There is nothing special in this kind of inert behavior; it could be done by anyone. Of course, this type of conduct is practiced only by weak and uncommitted persons.
The prominence and glory which distinguish the lives of the Holy Imams and their special characteristics which may be repeated while reciting salutations as mentioned in the Ziyarats, was their being patient in obedience to Allah. This is an area in which many ordinary people find themselves helpless and cannot tolerate the hardships; they therefore failed to achieve such honor and distinction.
Editor's Note: This article is an excerpt from the book Discourse on Patience, which is a transcript of lectures delivered by Ayatollah Khamenei on the topic.