We recently completed the month of Ramadan during which we fasted, tried practicing humility, patience and calmness. The current Muslim month is Dhu-al-Qa’dah. In this article we will explore the concept of Hilm.
Al-Haleem is one of the names of Allah (Asma-e-Husna). Haleem comes from the root “hilm“, which has the following classical Arabic connotations: to be mild, lenient, clement; to be forgiving, gentle, forbearing, deliberate; to be leisurely in manner, not hasty; to be calm, serene; to manage one’s temper; or to exhibit moderation.
The word “hilm” has not been used in the Holy Qur’an, but its derivations have been mentioned over a dozen times. In the Qur’an, both God and humans have been praised as “Haleem“. In 11 Quranic verses God has been referred to as “Haleem” and in other verses Holy Prophets such as Hazrat Ibrahim (Abraham) (a.s) Hazrat Ismail (Ishmael) (a.s) and Hazrat Shu’ayb (Jethro) (a.s) have been described as “Haleem“.
Forbearance is the result of one’s moderation and calmness. From the viewpoint of mystics and Sufis, forbearance is one of the seven major attributes of the soul which are the originating points of other good qualities. Forbearance is the originating point for poise, modesty and tolerance.
Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) believed that no human being was born with all of these traits, but rather had to strive to acquire them during his/her lifetime. A person with the first attribute not only avoids anything that is explicitly unlawful, but also stays away from anything doubtful, including those things they are themselves unsure about.
The second attribute that the Prophet highlights is beautifying our code of conduct. This means, behaving in a manner befitting our position on this earth as ashraf al-makhluqat, God’s supreme creation.
The third attribute, tied to the previous two is that of hilm, or gentleness, patience and forbearance. This trait is so important, that the Prophet is reported to have said in a hadith, “If gentleness was a creature that could be seen, God would not have created anything better than it.” Echoing this sentiment, our fourth Imam, Mawlana Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s) [677-733] once said, “Everything has a sign, and the sign of faith is gentleness.”
The Ismaili Pre-School Ta’lim Curriculum, Book-3, has a section entitled: “Prophet Muhammad” (May the Peace of Allah be on him), which contains a story about a woman in Makkah who did not like the Prophet. Each time Prophet Muhammad passed by her house, she threw trash on him. Despite this, the Prophet did not get angry with the woman. One day when walking by her house, the Prophet was surprised when the woman did not throw trash on him as he was accustomed to. Upon finding out that she had become ill, the Prophet went to her house to see her and found that the woman was so unwell that she could not get up to have a drink of water, so the Prophet offered her some.
This story is a beautiful example of the gentleness and the calm nature of the Holy Prophet even in difficult circumstances. In other ways, it is also a story of faith and conviction. How many times do we lose our temper, get angry or annoyed at the smallest of things? Whether at home with our families, at work or with our neighbors or friends, we are often quick to lose our patience and become angered. Many of us are not even aware that we often raise our voices to scold or criticize others. And when we act in haste, we often regret yelling/shouting at someone or engaging in actions that are even worse.
Amongst the first steps undertaken by those who choose a mystical way of life, is the calming and quieting of the urges of the nafs (lower self), one’s ego and inner self. To be patient and gentle is not easy. It involves spiritual strength that requires us to control ourselves, to curb the quickness of our emotions and instead let our actions be guided by our heart and our soul. Our outer states can affect our inner states and our inner states can be reflected in our outward being.
Being kind and gentle to our elders, to our parents, to our siblings, to children and others who we interact with throughout the day can sometimes require a special kind of patience. The virtues of gentleness, of patience and of forbearance, that together make up Hilm, are the qualities we should aim for ourselves.
Let us each try and notice how many times each day we get impatient or angry, and then ask ourselves if we can try to be gentler in everything that we do.
O’Allah, give us the strength to be patient and to stay calm when our end goals seem far and out of reach. We should pray that we learn to wait patiently with understanding for all things that come to pass in our lives. O’Allah give us the strength and clarity of mind to find our purpose in life and to walk on “Sirat-al’Mustaqeem” (the straight path) that You have laid out for us. We trust Your love O’Allah and know that You will heal our stress. Ameen.