Sabr Jameel – Patience is Beautiful!

On a Monday morning I am reminded of a phrase used daily in Egypt, and perhaps the entire Middle East. It’s the phrase “Sabr Jameel” loosely translated as “Patience is Beautiful!”  At face value one can hear this and assume it is no more than an idiom or pleasant phrase. What I learned this weekend is that the concept of ‘Sabr’ permeates the Muslim world and is deeply ingrained in Islam. My brother, Dr. Daniel Brown, a pastor with a PhD in Islamic Studies and an excellent speaker/teacher was speaking at a conference and brought in this value and concept as one of the areas where there is a cultural disconnect between the world of the instantly gratified and the world of ‘Sabr’. In more simple language, it is a disconnect between values of speed, efficiency and productivity often represented by the western world, and relationships and patience viewed highly by Muslim majority countries from Iran to Indonesia.

This idea of patience is more than our idea of being patient and letting someone get in front of us in a line. Dan explained it as a persistence, a fortitude, a willingness to endure. He likened it to a fairy tale where a man wants a princess, but the father stands in the way loathe to let someone unworthy have his prized possession. But the man will risk all for the sake of his love and go to great lengths to earn the father’s grudging respect, and the princess hand in marriage.

I realize within my faith tradition that this value is also highly prized and referred to in various ways. Even a quick search within the Bible brings me to verses that speak to this character trait. There remains a question as to why my present culture has moved so far away from this as an admirable sought after trait, often considering the patient person one who is willing to be walked over and dismissed.

In my world of the deliciously instant from oatmeal to ATM’s ‘Sabr’ is a challenge. As my brother was speaking I remembered the many times the words “Sabr Jameel” were said to me as a gentle rebuke while living in Egypt. The rebuke came at times when my impatience was obvious, my western value of efficiency getting in the way of manners and relationships. It was more than one time that I rushed in to the local grocery shop and said “I need apples, oranges, bananas and strawberries” only to be smiled at by Hosni and replied with the words “Sabah al Khair ya madame! Sabr Jameel!” “Good morning Madame! Patience is Beautiful!” The gentle rebuke would stop me and I would realize I was ready to risk relationship for speed.

And that brings me to my present world and reality of a Monday morning where I’m confronted with a great need to exercise “Sabr jameel”. Exercise this beautiful patience in the face of fatigue, heavy work load, and interaction in my surroundings that reflect efficiency and impatience as opposed to fortitude and willingness to endure.

And with that I move forward on this first day of the week with a renewed value of the power and beauty of patience.