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Some sins are especially difficult to let go of and some habits incredibly tough to change. The conscious Muslim, however, never surrenders to his status quo regardless of how deep he feels the fangs of such habits have dug into him.
In the face of every demotivating whisper from shayṭān, the believer is spurred to try again and again and offer yet another apology to Allah. He does so with huge optimism and relentless positivity, motivated by the awe of Allah, the longing for His mercy, and through humility towards His countless favours. He will also find motivation in the remembrance of His name Al-Ḥalīm (The Forbearing).
So, who is Al-Ḥalīm?
1 – The linguistic meaning of Allah’s name Al-Ḥalīm
Linguistically, al–ḥilm means الأناةُ والعَقْلُ (Serenity and sensible behaviour).
Others have defined it as:
الحِلْمُ ضَبطُ النفس والطبع عن هيجان الغضب
“The control of one’s self and character from anger.”
With this said, what does it mean with respect to Allah?
Imam al-Ṭabarī said:
حليم يعني أنّه ذو أناة، لا يعجل على عباده بعقوبتهم على ذنوبهم
“Ḥalīm means one of serenity who does not rush to punish people for their sins.”
Al-Khaṭṭābī also said:
هو ذو الصَّفحِ والأناةِ، الذي لا يَستفزُّهُ غضبٌ، ولا يَستَخِفُّهُ جهلُ جاهل، ولا عصيانُ عاصٍ. ولا يستحق الصافح مع العجزِ اسم الحِلمِ، إنّما الحليمُ هو الصَّفُوحُ مع القدرة والمتأنّي الذي لا يَعجَلُ بالعقوبة
“He (Al-Ḥalīm) is The One of pardoning and composure, One who is not provoked by rage nor driven to foolish behaviour due to the ignorance and sins of man. Those who forgive when unable to punish do not deserve to be called ḥalīm (forbearing); rather the one who is ḥalīm is one who forgives when he is able to punish and who gives respite, not hastening to punish.” 
Shaykh al-Sa‘dī said:
والحليم الذي يدر على خلقه النعم الظاهرة، والباطنة مع معاصيهم، وكثرة زلاتهم، فيحلم عن مقابلة العاصين بعصيانهم، ويستعتبهم كي يتوبوا، ويمهلهم كي ينيبوا
“Al-Ḥalīm is the One Who keeps bestowing blessings, both visible and hidden, on His creation, despite their sins and many slipups. So He shows forbearance by not retaliating against the sinners, continually encouraging them to repent and giving them respite to humble themselves to Him.”
Therefore, Al-Ḥalīm is He who does not rush to avenge Himself nor to unleash upon the sinners their deserved share of punishment. Rather, He opens for them one window of opportunity after another; windows of various forms that appear at different stages throughout their lives. Even when they choose to slam these windows shut, He does not cut off His provisions from them. They are only able to disobey Allah using the very favours He gave them, but, in a display of divine forbearance, Al-Ḥalīm awaits their penitent return as they misuse His blessings under His watchful Eye.
2 – What are the differences between ṣabr (patience) and ḥilm (forbearance)?
(a) A person who is ḥalīm (forbearing) must be able to avenge himself for him to qualify as such, whilst this is not necessarily the case for a person who is ṣābir (patient).
(b) The ṣābir (patient) suppresses inner pain in the face of challenging scenarios, restraining the self from its desire to erupt in rage or despair. As for the ḥalīm (forbearing), his inward state is different in the face of challenging scenarios: composed, serene and innately at peace.
3 – The effects of believing in this name
To call upon Allah using His name Al-Ḥalīm
Ibn ‘Abbās said,
كَانَ يَقُولُ عِنْدَ الكَرْبِ: لاَ إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ العَظِيمُ الحَلِيمُ، لاَ إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ رَبُّ العَرْشِ العَظِيمِ، لاَ إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ رَبُّ السَّمَوَاتِ وَرَبُّ الأَرْضِ، وَرَبُّ العَرْشِ الكَرِيمِ
“The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) used to say when he was in distress: ‘None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, The Great, The Forbearing. None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, The Lord of the Mighty Throne. None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, The Lord of the heavens, the earth, and Lord of the Honourable throne.”
It is interesting to note how this duʿā’ – one intended for the alleviation of distress – happens to include Allah’s name Al-Ḥalīm. The relevance of this could be due to the fact that the distress which descends upon man is, at times, due to his own sins. Rather than unleashing torrents of rage upon us, similar to how we behave when people fall short towards us, Al-Ḥalīm mercifully sends us moments of distress in order to bring us back to our senses. He gives us an opportunity to amend our relationship with Him, hence saving us from what could have been a much greater punishment later on down the line.
Call upon Al-Ḥalīm; “O Ḥalīm, you have been so forbearing towards me. Never deprive me of it, for my life cannot function for a single second without it.”
The love of Al-Ḥalīm
His Sight over us is flawless, His hearing is perfect, and both His knowledge and power over us are complete. Our behaviour, most of which is despicable, treacherous, and utterly humiliating, is exhibited to Him in the most exposed manner. In a divine display of forbearance, however, He does not rush to punish. Instead, He allows our hearts to beat yet again, our veins to remain unblocked and our nerves to function perfectly. He enables our respiratory system to continue functioning as we sleep, gifting us with provisions by day and guarding us by night. Is a Lord of this level of forbearance not to be adored?
إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُمْسِكُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ أَنْ تَزُولَا وَلَئِنْ زَالَتَا إِنْ أَمْسَكَهُمَا مِنْ أَحَدٍ مِنْ بَعْدِهِ إِنَّهُ كَانَ حَلِيمًا غَفُورًا
“Allah holds the heavens and the earth, lest they cease. And if they should cease, no one could hold them after Him. Indeed, He is Forbearing and Forgiving.”
How strange it is indeed: He creates but others are praised, He provides yet others are thanked, He answers duʿā’, repels evil and delivers the distressed to the shores of safety yet others are glorified and worshipped. Man does not cease to sin against his Lord, whilst Al-Ḥalīm does not cease to send down his favours upon man. It is through remembering these realities that one is able to foster intense love for Al-Ḥalīm. These realities also include:
How one cannot disobey Allah except by using the strength which He has gifted
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,
مَا أَحَدٌ أَصْبَرُ عَلَى أَذًى سَمِعَهُ مِنَ اللَّهِ، يَدَّعُونَ لَهُ الوَلَدَ، ثُمَّ يُعَافِيهِمْ وَيَرْزُقُهُمْ
“None is more patient towards harm which He hears than Allah. They claim that He has a son, yet He continues to give them wellbeing and provisions.”
How Al-Ḥalīm ordered for gentle treatment towards the most wicked of people
Prophets Mūsā and Hārūn were commanded by Allah to make their way to the Pharaoh of Egypt to invite him to Islam. He had issued a death warrant for Prophet Mūsā, enslaved members of his community, butchered countless male babies, and – worst of all – declared himself as God almighty. Yet, despite all of these crimes, Allah’s instructions to Mūsā and Hārūn were precise:
فَقُولَا لَهُ قَوْلًا لَيِّنًا لَعَلَّهُ يَتَذَكَّرُ أَوْ يَخْشَى
“Speak to him gently, so perhaps he may be mindful or fearful.”
Allah knew that the Pharaoh would become neither mindful nor fearful, but this is the way of Al-Ḥalīm with His creation.
How the world is constantly inclined to erupt in Allah’s cause
The boldness of man’s sins, his ill-manners towards his Lord and his neglectful behaviour towards his maker, have physical effects upon the world around us. The universe despises man’s sinful conduct. Consider what Allah says about the world’s reaction to those who ascribe a son to Allah.
وَقَالُوا اتَّخَذَ الرَّحْمَنُ وَلَدًا (88) لَقَدْ جِئْتُمْ شَيْئًا إِدًّا (89) تَكَادُ السَّمَاوَاتُ يَتَفَطَّرْنَ مِنْهُ وَتَنْشَقُّ الْأَرْضُ وَتَخِرُّ الْجِبَالُ هَدًّا (90) أَنْ دَعَوْا لِلرَّحْمَنِ وَلَدًا (91)
“And they say, ‘The Most Merciful has taken for Himself a son.’ Certainly you have made a monstrous assertion. The skies are ready to burst, the earth to split open, and the mountains to collapse in devastation. That they attribute to the Most Merciful a son.” 
Why, then, were the seas restrained from drowning mankind, the earth from consuming them or the skies from collapsing on top of them? This is because our Lord is Al-Ḥalīm.
Spare a moment this evening just before you fall asleep and consider the sheer amount of sins that are taking place worldwide just at that very moment. From mass theft and state sponsored genocides to global levels of fornication, the use of interest, online and offline backstabbing and mockery, the tons of alcohol consumption, plotting and conspiracies, prostration to idols, the worldwide normalisation of sexual perversions and the widespread movement of atheism, He sees and hears all of these in the starkest of ways. Nevertheless, He is not provoked into retaliation in the least; the sun rises yet another day, the stars display their beauty yet again and the air is still made available for our consumption. He is Al-Ḥalīm.
What would life look like without the ḥilm of Al-Ḥalīm? According to the Qur’ān, the answer is crystal clear: there would be no life.
وَلَوْ يُؤَاخِذُ اللَّهُ النَّاسَ بِمَا كَسَبُوا مَا تَرَكَ عَلَى ظَهْرِهَا مِنْ دَابَّةٍ وَلَكِنْ يُؤَخِّرُهُمْ إِلَى أَجَلٍ مُسَمًّى
“If Allah were to punish people ˹immediately˺ for what they have committed, He would not have left a single living being on earth. But He delays them for an appointed term…”
The actions of mankind qualify them to be removed from existence at every second of the day, to spare the world from their harm. Nevertheless, they continue to exist, eat and further themselves as Allah delays them “for an appointed term” in the hope that they will change their ways. That is because He is Al-Ḥalīm.
Realise the effects of Al-Ḥalīm, love Him for them, rush to translate that love into worship and amendments, and beware of being a person who only realises just how forbearing Al-Ḥalīm had been the moment the punishment finally arrives.
To discipline one’s self to be ḥalīm
Allah is forbearing, loves those who act upon this trait, and has praised some of the finest of people for being just this: ḥalīm.
إِنَّ إِبْرَاهِيمَ لَحَلِيمٌ أَوَّاهٌ مُنِيبٌ
“Ibrāhīm was forbearing, grieving, and frequently returning to Allah.”
In fact, when Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) asked Allah for a righteous son, saying:
رَبِّ هَبْ لِي مِنَ الصَّالِحِينَ
“Lord, grant me a righteous son.”
The response was:
فَبَشَّرْنَاهُ بِغُلَامٍ حَلِيمٍ
“So We gave him good tidings of a forbearing boy.”
The fact that the answer to Ibrāhīm’s duʿā’ for a righteous child came in the form of a son described as ḥalīm shows that forbearance is one of the most important traits of a believer. It is one of the clearest indicators of righteousness and one of the greatest signs of Allah’s love for a person. The Prophet Mohammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) once said to a man:
إن فيك خصلتين يحبهما الله ورسوله: الحلم والأناة
“You possess two qualities that are loved by Allah and His messenger: Forbearance and deliberateness.”
One can also deduce that the opposites of these traits, hot-temperedness and impulsiveness, are detested by Allah.
In his definition of what ḥilm is, al–Rāghib said:
الحِلْمُ ضَبطُ النفس والطبع عن هيجان الغضب
“Ḥilm is the restraint of one’s self and nature from the surges of anger.”
Hence, one who possesses this treasure of a trait has also possessed, by way of consequence, a handsome share of ‘aql (intellect and sound reasoning), being able to see the bigger picture that transcends the self, ego and short-term rewards. For this reason, the Qur’ān has, in certain passages, used the terms ḥilm and ‘aql interchangeably, not because they are synonymous, but because the former yields the latter.
Therefore, from the above, a person who is ḥalīm has (1) displayed a trait of righteousness, (2) acted upon a trait that is loved by Allah, and (3) exhibited high levels of intellect. It is for these reasons that the best of people happen to also display the highest levels of ḥilm.
Consider the greatest of them all: Prophet Mohammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam)
A man came to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) to collect a debt but was harsh in his approach, and so the companions wanted to punish him. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) told them:
دَعُوهُ، فَإِنَّ لِصَاحِبِ الحَقِّ مَقَالًا، وَاشْتَرُوا لَهُ بَعِيرًا فَأَعْطُوهُ إِيَّاهُ
“Leave him alone, for the owner of a right has a right to have his voice heard. Purchase for him a camel and hand it over to him.”
They searched for a camel but only found ones that were better quality than what the man was owed. Nevertheless, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
اشْتَرُوهُ، فَأَعْطُوهُ إِيَّاهُ، فَإِنَّ خَيْرَكُمْ أَحْسَنُكُمْ قَضَاءً
“Purchase it for him, for the best of you are the best in repaying people.”
Anas b. Mālik narrated an incident when an ill-mannered Arab Bedouin pounced upon the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and tugged at his collar so aggressively that the Prophet’s neck became visibly bruised. The Bedouin insisted: “give me some of the money of Allah which He has given to you!” In a remarkable display of forbearance, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) ignored the injury he had sustained, turned to the man smiling, and handed him over a sum of money.
On another occasion, a Bedouin made his way into the Mosque of the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) and, not knowing its function as a place of worship, took to a corner of it to urinate. At once, the companions hurried towards him in rage but the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) demanded that they do not interrupt him, saying to them:
دَعُوهُ وَهَرِيقُوا عَلَى بَوْلِهِ سَجْلًا مِنْ مَاءٍ ، أَوْ ذَنُوبًا مِنْ مَاءٍ ، فَإِنَّمَا بُعِثْتُمْ مُيَسِّرِينَ ، وَلَمْ تُبْعَثُوا مُعَسِّرِينَ
“Leave him alone. And pour over his urine a vessel of water, for Allah has sent you to make things easy, not difficult.”
In fact, one of the most impressive displays of ḥilm that humanity has ever witnessed was during battle. While the Prophet Mohammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was standing in the middle of the battlefield, wiping the blood from his face due to injuries he had sustained at the hands of the pagans, he proclaimed:
اللهم اغفر لقومي فإنهم لا يعلمون
“O Allah, forgive my people for they do not know.”
Unpacking this profound statement of forbearance, one discovers several layers of excellence, in that he:
– had pardoned them
– begged Allah to do the same (“forgive my people”)
– found excuses for them (“for they do not know”)
– and did not disown them but attributed them to himself (“my people”)
Ḥilm is indispensable in every aspect of life and every role which one assumes, whether as a parent, child, employer, employee, teacher, student, husband or wife. Al-Aḥnaf b. Qays was once asked: “How did you manage to become the leader of your people?” He replied:
وجدت الحِلم أنصر لي من الرجال
“I came to realise that ḥilm brings better victory than soldiers do.”
Therefore, without ḥilm:
– No true education can be disseminated
– Ne effective nurturing can be administered
– No marital relationship can endure
– No friendship can last
– No family ties can be upheld
– No businessman can prosper
– No influential leadership can exist
To conclude this third effect, “to discipline one’s self to be ḥalīm”, there are three noteworthy points:
The first: The praiseworthy ḥilm is that which is exercised by he who has the ability to avenge himself and settle scores, but consciously opts out of doing so despite being in a position of strength. As for the ḥilm of those who are weak and defenceless, it is not distinguishing, as forbearance during such moments could be due to cowardice, compulsion, or any other cause.
The second: Although it should be the default status of a believer, one’s ḥilm must never become the cause of their being taken advantage of. The believer is honoured, principled and dignified and does not allow these qualities to be compromised on the back of misplaced “forbearance”. Showing forbearance when force is required is weakness, whilst using force when forbearance is required is oppression. It is only the guided one who knows the correct trait to employ given the circumstances.
The third: It is also important to note that whilst ḥilm may be part of some people’s personality, being dispositioned upon forbearance and level-headedness, others may need to exert great efforts in order to acquire it. The good news is that it can be attained and Allah rewards those who embark upon that task immensely.
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
إِنَّما العلمُ بِالتَّعَلُّمِ، وإِنَّما الحِلْمُ بِالتَّحَلُّمِ
“Knowledge is acquired through training and being ḥalīm is acquired by training.”
The ḥalīm in you is unlikely to activate fully by the time you finish reading this piece. We resided in the wombs of our mothers as semen for forty days, then we became a clinging-like matter for a further forty days, then a lump of flesh for a further forty days, then the angel was sent to blow life into us. From there we developed into a newborn, then into an infant, a toddler, a child, an adolescent and finally, into an adult. Therefore, the same way our physical construct developed in stages, our moral construct must also develop in a similar fashion: gradually.
Hence, once you make the intention to become ḥalīm, you will be tested with a situation that demands forbearance. It is likely, however, that only 10% of your reaction would be classified as one of ḥilm, whereas the remaining 90% would be of rage, impulsiveness, and recklessness. You should take note of your failure. Then, a second testing circumstance unfolds, but having learned from your previous experience, you try again. You surprise yourself now with 40% of your reaction being of ḥilm, and so on, in keeping with the ḥadīth “being ḥalīm is acquired by training”, until ḥalīm becomes your second name.
What are the steps to becoming ḥalīm? Below are a few:
Train yourself to remain silent
Resisting the temptation of knee-jerk reactions and forcing silence is a challenge for many, but it is undoubtedly the womb which, with time, will give birth to ḥilm. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
If one is able to successfully weather the storm in the first 60 seconds of an enraging circumstance, then one is unquestionably upon the first steps of the path towards ḥilm.
To realise that Allah’s support is with the ḥalīm
A man once complained to the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) that he has relatives whom he tries to uphold ties with but they sever them, and whom he does good to but they do not return the favour, and whom he treats with ḥilm but they treat him ignorantly. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) told him:
لا يَزَالُ مَعَكَ مِنَ اللهِ ظَهِيرٌ عَلَيْهِمْ مَا دُمْتَ عَلَى ذلِكَ
“[…] and you will continue to have a supporter by you from Allah as long as you continue to do so.”
To remember the ḥilm of Allah upon you
Our forbearance towards people is infinitely less than the forbearance which Allah has and continues to display towards us. Not a day passes by without us crossing a limit set by Allah, neglecting an obligation of His, boldly acting upon a sin, or tarnishing a good deed with pride, laziness, or it’s like.
Abū Hātim said:
الواجب على العاقل، إذا غضب واحتدَّ، أن يذكر كثرة حلم الله عنه، مع تواتر انتهاكه محارمه، وتعدِّيه حرماته، ثمَّ يَحْلُم
“It is incumbent upon the intelligent one, when experiencing a fit of rage, to remember the abundance of Allah’s forbearance towards him, despite his constant violation of Allah’s limits”
We are full of deficiencies and shortcomings, and frequently display treacherous behavior. Despite the fact that our deeds are worthy of punishment, Al-Ḥalīm continues to provide, nurture, relieve and sustain us around the clock, even during moments of sin, for we cannot disobey Him except by using His gifts to do so. The believer, therefore, is shy to withhold his ḥilm from people whilst, at the same time, expecting it in full from Allah.
To remember the outcome of ḥilm
Ḥilm is a means of quashing jealousy, commanding respect, turning hearts towards you, sleeping better at night, leading a healthier life and gaining supporters against the ignorant. It also leads to successful leadership, marital harmony, effective teaching, contentment, minimising the regret of ill-made impulsive decisions, acquiring a prophetic trait, and earning the pleasure and love of Allah.
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
التَّأنِّي مِن الله، والعجلة مِن الشَّيطان، وما أحدٌ أكثر معاذير مِن الله، وما مِن شيءٍ أحبُّ إلى الله مِن الحِلْم
“Composure is from Allah, whilst haste is from Shayṭān. There is no one who gives more excuses than Allah, and there is no quality which Allah loves more than ḥilm.”
Hence, the ḥalīm smiles in the face of those who frown, gives to those who have never helped him, and reacts to advice in a manner that is calm, collected and one of gratitude. The ḥalīm upholds family ties, even with those who try to cut them, and withholds insults and the primal urge to retaliate. The ḥalīm trains himself to extend the greeting of salām to every Muslim, even those who never care to initiate it. He endeavours to take petty matters light-heartedly by rising above them, and never boycotts his Muslim brother for over three days.
The believer has so much on his mind with regards to his journey to Allah and the Home of the Hereafter that his/her heart finds no room to store the insults of people. They compare life to a marketplace with a specific closing time, when it eventually closes, some will walk away having made profits whilst others will have lost out on everything. With patience, determination, and your focus on the prize, you will discover the ḥalīm within you.
 Lisān al-‘Arab
 Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī
 Sha’n al-Du‘ā’
 Tafsīr al-Saʿdī
 Al-Qur’ān, 35:41
 Muslim, on the authority of Abū Mūsā
 Al-Qur’ān, 20:44
 Al-Qur’ān, 19:88-91
 Al-Qur’ān, 34:45
 Al-Qur’ān, 11:75
 Al-Qur’ān, 37:100
 Al-Qur’ān, 37:101
 Al-Bukhārī, on the authority of Abū Huraira
 Al-Bukhārī and Muslim, on the authority of Anas
 Al-Bukhārī, on the authority of Abū Huraira
 Al-Bukhārī, on the authority of Ibn Masʿūd
 Al-Wāfī bi al-Wafayāt
 Al-Ṭabarānī, on the authority of Abū al-Dardā’
 Aḥmad, on the authority of ‘Abd Allāh b. ‘Amr b. al-‘Ās
 Muslim, on the authority of Abū Huraira
 Rawḍa al-‘Uqalā’
 Shu‘b al-Īmān, on the authority of Abū Huraira
Shaykh Ali Ihsan Hammuda is Islam21c’s Tarbiya Editor. A UK national of Palestinian origin, he gained bachelors and masters’ degrees in Architecture & Planning from the University of the West of England, before achieving a BA in Shari’ah from al-Azhar University in Egypt. He is currently based in Wales and is a visiting Imām at Al-Manar Centre in Cardiff, and also a senior researcher and lecturer for the Muslim Research & Development Foundation in London. Shaykh Ali is the author of several books including ‘The Daily Revivals’, ‘The Ten Lanterns’ and ‘The Friday Reminder’. He delivers sermons, lectures and regular classes across the country.