Be patient (O Muḥammad) of what they say, and remember Our slave Dāwūd, endued with strength. Indeed, he was ever oft-returning in all matters and in repentance (toward Allāh).
All praise is for Allāh and may He praise and send peace and blessings upon the Prophet. Every āyah (verse) in the Qur’ān has pertinent messages and this āyah is no exception. This single āyah from Sūrah Sād conveys many lessons, lessons that Muslims will do well to learn. This article is a brief look at some of the key messages given in this āyah.
A few facts will help to understand the context and the circumstances leading up to this āyah. The Sūrah was revealed in Makkah before the Hijrah, technically known as Makki. Muslims during this time were a minority amongst a disbelieving majority. They faced many forms of persecution as well as lies about the Message and the Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). “No one was more directly affected by this than the Messenger of Allāh (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam).”
Although his opponents could not physically harm him due to his tribal protection, that did not prevent them from verbal and moral abuse. This had an effect on the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) as it would on any other person. His only concern was to guide them to Allāh and to save them from the debase practices in their worship and morals. They could only react with abuse and mockery.
To correctly understand this āyah it will help to take a quick look back at the previous āyāt (verses). The Sūrah begins with an oath by Allāh and then describes the state of the disbelievers. They were in obstinate denial and opposition to the message of Islām. They did not simply reject it but went further to active opposition. They raised numerous objections all of which were conclusively answered by the Qur’ān. They were astonished that a Prophet was sent from amongst them. They could not find any fault in the Prophet’s character so they turned to accusations which they knew were evidently false. Their principal objection was to the core message itself, ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allāh [lā ilāha illa Allāh]’. How could the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) ask them to worship one god abandoning their multiple deities? This they claimed they had never heard of and there was no precedence of such a call. Not content at questioning the message they went further trying to discredit the Messenger. Why him? Why should the message be sent to him and not to one of their leaders? “And if all that was not enough they ridiculed the warnings they were given mockingly asking for the punishment to be brought forward before the Day of Judgement.”
Faced with this reaction Allāh provides the best response. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is commanded to be patient and to remember Allāh’s servant Dāwūd (David). There are a number of key messages in this āyah; Patience, the mention of Dāwūd and the wonderful description he is given. Allāh who has full knowledge of the rejection His Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was facing shows the most fitting manner to deal with such a situation, patience. Allāh heard all that they said hence He tells His Messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), ‘Be patient over what they say’. Allāh sent this Message, if they disbelieve then it is not the Messenger they disbelieve but in the Message. Many of the Tafsīr scholars (exegists) say this was sent to give moral support to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). Many times in the Qur’ān we are reminded of past prophets, the reaction of their people and the end result. What purpose do these events serve besides historical facts? The Qur’ān provides the answer,
And all that We relate to you (O Muḥammad) of the news of the Messengers is in order that We may make strong and firm your heart thereby. And in this (chapter of the Qur’ān) has come to you the truth, as well as an admonition and a reminder for the believers.
Commenting on this āyah, Ibn Kathīr says, ‘All the events we relate to you of past Prophets with their people; the arguments and disputes that occurred; all the lies and harm they endured; and how Allāh supported His party of believers and humiliated the disbelieving enemies, all this is to strengthen your heart so that the Messengers, your brothers, are an example for you.’ The āyah is addressed to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) however all his followers are indirectly included. This is understood from a general principle when the Qur’ān uses the pronoun for the second person, it is addressing the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) as well as his followers unless there is evidence to suggest that it is specifically intended for the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). Hence the stories in the Qur’ān also offer solace for any believer facing hardship in his faith. “The examples of past Prophets are the best moral support for a Muslim in keeping firm on his religion.”
The struggle between good and bad, right and wrong is a necessary part of life. When a believer turns to the Qur’ān for guidance he is bound to be filled with hope and conviction.
Past prophets faced rejection, opposition and ridicule. Nevertheless, they were ultimately triumphant. Their enemies were destroyed and all their efforts came to nothing. A Muslim must be certain that Islām will be triumphant. Nothing that its enemies do can extinguish the light Allāh sent for humanity. Muslims today are constantly bombarded with lies, abuse and mockery. Under the guise of free speech they mock the Prophet of Allāh for no purpose other than to cause offence. They ridicule the belief in the Hereafter and the rewards Allāh has prepared for His pious servants. Why? Because Shaytān has fooled them. Their material comforts have made them forget their final destination. They prefer being slaves to their every whim over serving their Creator. Their reaction is not surprising; such was the reaction of those before them. The methods may have changed but the outcome is the same.
How should Muslims react in such a climate? Patience is the answer. Patience is necessary to cope with the hardship life throws up. Everyone experiences hardship, Muslim or not. The difference is in how one reacts. What does it mean to be patient? Al-Sabr (patience) in Arabic means to contain or control oneself. This understanding of self-control is applied in three areas of a Muslim’s life: patience in fulfilling Allāh’s commandments, patience in abstaining from forbidden acts and patience when experiencing hardships and difficulties. The obligatory duties enjoined upon Muslims require some effort to perform. This is achieved by pushing oneself to undertake these obligations. Hence the element of control is crucial. On the other hand, abstaining from prohibited matters also requires self-control, the level of control depending on the strength of temptation. Hardships and difficulties that occur in life are part of Allāh’s decree; here is where patience comes into effect. Recognising that what happened was inevitable and that there is no turning the clock back is the first step in dealing with such events. The second step is patience. A number of Ḥadith from the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) guides a Muslim’s response under difficult circumstances, “Know that what missed you was not going to befall you and what befell you was not going to miss you. Know that victory comes with patience, relief with distress and with hardship comes ease.”; “If something befalls you do not say, ‘If only I did so and so’ but say, ‘Allāh decrees and what He wills He does.’ ‘If’ only opens the way for Shatyān.”; “The believer’s affair is wonderful. All his matters are good for him. This is only for the believer. If good befalls him he is grateful which is good for him and if harm afflicts him he is patient which is good for him.”
Patience therefore is indispensable and thus Allāh commands his Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to be patient over what they say. Everything they said was hurtful whether it was said explicitly or not. Allāh tells him to be patient as the Prophets before him were in dealing with their people.
Remember Our slave Dāwūd, endued with strength
The order to be patient is followed by the order to remember Dāwūd. Some scholars of Tafsīir mention that the connection between the two is that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) is being asked to gain strength in patience by remembering Dāwūd’s worship and obedience. There are three significant points in this part of the āyah. Firstly, Allāh describes Dāwūd as ‘Our slave’. The use of the personal pronoun ‘Our’ makes this an honourable description. In fact it is the most honourable position one can aspire for. This description is used in other places in the Qur’ān, twice to refer to our Prophet Muḥammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and once to Ayyūb and Nuh (ʿalayhima al-Salām). To become a devout slave of Allāh is the true purpose of life. What is the reason for human existence? Is it simply to eat, drink and die? “There is more to life than what is common to all animals.”
The reason for this life is for the worship of Allāh. Worship is more than rituals. It is a comprehensive word for every word or action, internal or external, which is pleasing to Allāh. In the worship of Allāah a Muslim becomes a willing slave of Allāh and frees himself from other forms of servitude. He sees this as an honour knowing that he serves a master who has no equals, who forgives mistakes, gives more when thanked and repays much more than his labour is worth. Most people are perhaps physically free. Nevertheless they have become slaves to themselves and to material life. When a person chooses to follow his own desire it becomes his god as the Qur’ān states,
Have you seen him who has taken as his diety (ilāh) his own desire? Would you then be a disposer of his affairs or a watcher (wakīl) over him?
Such a person is not as free as he may imagine. His master is his whims. Can there be any comparison between the slave of Allāh and the slave of desires? Servitude also exists in other forms; when the accumulation of wealth becomes the only goal of a person he becomes a slave to this wealth. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said, ‘Let the slave of the gold coin (dinar) and the silver coin (dirham), of Qatifa and Khamisa (two types of luxurious garments) perish; as he is pleased if these things are given to him, and if not, he is displeased[…]’ He becomes so engrossed with the love of wealth and its pleasures that he becomes like a prisoner who finds no way to escape. Such is the condition of many people today; they are so occupied earning or attempting to make money that they forget their faith, their families and even themselves.
Secondly, what is the significance of mentioning Dāwūd? There are similarities between Dāwūd (ʿalayhi al-Salām) and the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam). Dāwūd was given kingdom and authority which his ancestors did not have. Mentioning Dāwūd was an indication that the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) will also gain honour and authority. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) had no ancestors who were rulers and he had no army. In this respect he was very similar to Dāwūd. It is reported that Dāwūd was a shepherd, working for his father before he joined Tālūt’s (Saul) army. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) had also been a shepherd before he was blessed with prophecy. It is also said that Dāwūd had to be patient in enduring the envy of Tālūt, the king of Israel, because Dāwād had defeated Jālūt (Goliath).
Thirdly, the meaning of ‘endued with strength’. Ibn Abbas said ‘strength in worship’. Several scholars of Tafsīr said the same meaning. This does not negate the fact that he had great physical strength as clearly proven by his victory over Jālūt. But that was not the limit of his strength. “He had inner power which was equally if not more important.”
He had enormous strength in worshipping Allāh. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) not only testified to Dāwūd’s worship but told his followers that it was the best worship, ‘The fasting most loved by Allāh is Dāwūd’s fasting; he would fast one day and leave one day. The prayer most loved by Allāh is Dāwūd’s prayer; he would sleep half of the night, pray for a one third and sleep for the last sixth.’ When ʿAbdullah b. ʿAmr wanted to fast continually the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) told him to fast like Dawud. When ʿAbdullah said, ‘I can do better’ the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) answered, ‘There is no better than that’. Dāwūd attained the honour of being Allāh’s slave through his worship. He was a king, he had everything that he could ask for, and yet this did not distract him from serving his master. Patience to deal with adversity and challenges is gained through worship. A Muslim will be able to stand up to any difficulty if he has a strong relationship with his Lord, for it is Allāh who is the source of all strength and power. It is Allāh who supports His servants keeping their feet firm when others slip and fall. During hard times when a Muslim’s faith is tested, unless he is patient he is likely to succumb to the pressures. This sadly is what we see today; unable to withstand the onslaught against Islām, some Muslims with weak faith, rather than strengthen their faith, are calling to change Islām. How would such people fare if they ever faced physical persecution? In fact how would anyone fare in such a situation? The solution is not capitulation, but firm determination and resolve to practice the faith as Allāh wants it, not as others wish. Worship is the key element in remaining firm in the face of opposition. This is a proven method as shown by the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) In Makkah, where the āyah under discussion was revealed, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) focused on building inner strength. Hence, amongst other practices the night prayer was obligatory. “He connected their hearts to Allāh such that they were filled with faith and conviction.”
When faced with similar situations Muslims should employ the same methods. This does not negate the fact that when Muslims have authority appropriate action should be taken against those who mock Islām and abuse the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam).
This point of one’s strength of worship is particularly significant to those engaged in propagating Islām. As they have taken on the responsibility of carrying this message their relationship with Allāh should be much stronger than the common person looking to them for guidance. Otherwise it is a superficial call, lacking sincerity and unlikely to have the desired impact on heart and minds. In addition, such a relationship if sincere will protect him from wavering and subsequently abandoning the path. Allāh will not fail his servant if he is sincere. It is through hardship that sincerity is tested.
Indeed, he was ever oft-returning in all matters and in repentance (toward Allāh)
Dāwūd is described as being awwāb which is someone who constantly goes back. Ibn Kathīr says, ‘He would go back to Allāh in all his affairs’. Awwāb is used in the Qur’ān mostly to refer to the repentant. Dāwūd would always repent to Allāh for anything great or small. Ash-Shawkāni said, ‘He would constantly turn back to Allāh from anything that Allāh disliked. This is only possible if someone is strong in his religion’. This last part of the ayah is a causative statement. In other words, the fact that Dāwūd constantly turned back to Allāh was the cause for his strength in worship. Such was the state of the Prophets in their relationship with their Lord.
This final quality is perhaps the most important. The previous qualities of strength in worship and patience stem from repentance. Patience is gained through worship. Strength in worship comes from persistent repentance. This is an indication to follow Dāwūd’s guidance. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was the best example in learning from other prophets. He would continually repent to Allāh although his past and future sins were forgiven. He instructed his followers to do the same, “O people, repent to Allāh and ask for His forgiveness. Indeed I repent one hundred times a day’.
 Al-Qur’ān 38:17
 Al-Qur’ān 11:20
 Al-Qur’ān 25:43
 Bukhāri and Muslim