Sabr in the Qur’an
Question asked by .
Answered by Dr. Shehzad Saleem

What is the meaning of sabr in Arabic? Can it be translated as “patience” or is this not appropriate?


In the Arabic language, the word sabr is used to firmly set oneself on one’s view while protecting oneself from worry, frustration and anxiety. It does not have any element of feebleness and frailty in it.

While referring to this meaning, Farahi writes:


الصبر عند العرب ليس من التذلل في شى كما يصبر المضطهد العاجز بل هو أصل القوة والعزم و كثر في كلام العرب استعماله بهذا المعنی


To the Arabs, صَبْر never referred to what is frail and feeble – something accustomed to the weak and meek. On the contrary, it is the basis of power and determination. It is abundantly used in this meaning in classical Arabic.1


Farahi goes on to corroborate his claim by quoting from the Qur’an and from various classical poets:


وَلَمَن صَبَرَ وَغَفَرَ إِنَّ ذَلِكَ لَمِنْ عَزْمِ الْأُمُورِ (43:42)

And indeed if anyone shows sabr and forgives, that would truly be an exercise of the courageous. (42:43)


A famous classical Arab poet, Hatim al-Ta’i says:


وغمرة موت ليس فيها هوادة

يكون صدور المشرفي جسورها

صبرنا له في نهكها و مصابها

بأسيافنا حتی يبوخ سعيرها


(Many are the seas of death on which are bridges of swords. We showed sabr with our swords against all their torments and tortures until they cooled down.)2

Al-Asbagh writes:


يا بن الجحاجحة المداره

والصابرين علی مكاره


(O progeny of noble chiefs and of people who show sabr while facing hardships.)3


Al-Zuhayr says:


قود الجياد وأصهار الملوك وصبر

في مواطن لو كانوا بها سئموا


(Riding thoroughbred horses, being sons in law of kings and [showing] sabr in trenches where others lose inner strength.)4


All these usages of the word sabr show that it is referred to as a commendable trait and not something which reflects weakness and frailty. Thus a more accurate translation of it would be “perseverance” rather than patience.





1. Hamid al-Din al-Farahi, Mufradat al-Qur’an, 1st ed. (Azamgarh: Matba‘ Islah, 1358 AH), 48.

2. Hatim al-Ta’, Diwan, 39.

3. Muhammad ibn Mukarram ibn Manzur. Lisan al-‘arab, 1st ed., vol. 13 (Beirut: Dar sadir, n.d.), 488.

4. Abu Muhammad ‘Abdullah ibn Muslim ibn Qutaybah, Gharib al-hadith, vol. 2 (Baghdad: Matba‘ah al-‘ani, 1397 AH), 333.


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