Hilm - Forbearance/Tolerance

Hilm i.e tolerance/forbearance refers to implementation of stability and tranquility at the time of anger or at something which is disliked despite having the ability and authority to react to it.  Haleem is one of the names of Allah.  It is in the sense that neither the sins of His slaves make Him indifferent nor His anger over them makes Him outrageous! Hilm also denotes self-control at the time of extreme anger.

Hilm is the midway between two ignoble characteristics, namely anger and apathy.  If a person reacts to the anger without rationale or insight, he will end up having an ignoble character in him.  Similarly, if he becomes indifferent, loses his rights, and accepts defeat and oppression, he will possess yet another ignoble character.  On the contrary, if he observes forbearance towards those who are entitled to it, then he will possess a noble character.

Allah attributes Himself with the quality of forbearance in many places in the Quran, like in Chapter 35, Verse 45 But Indeed Allah has forgiven them, surely Allah is oft-forgiving and Most forbearing

Also, in many verses of the Quran, Hilm comes together with ilm (knowledge) like we see in Chapter 22, Verse 59 Allah, indeed, is all Knowing and Most Forbearing.  The point here is that perfect hilm comes with perfect ilm.

Prophet (peace be on him) praised Ashaj bin Abdul Qais (May Allah be pleased with him) saying You possess two qualities which Allah loves, namely forbearance and patience (Saheeh Muslim).

Hilm is one of the major characteristics of Prophethood.  All the Prophets and Messengers of Allah were noble men with exemplary character and were role models for their followers. Each and every Prophet was confronted by his people, offended, insulted, and were provoked, but the Prophets unlike other leaders did not react or become outrageous, but rather they exercised self-control and observed forbearance and were lenient and compassionate towards their people, and the foremost among them was their leader and their chief, Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him).  Therefore, it does not seem strange when Allah says about him in Chapter 7, Verses 199 and 200 show forgiveness, enjoin what is good and turn away from the ignorant (i.e. do not punish them), and if an evil whisper comes to you from satan, then seek refuge with Allah, similarly in Chapter 41, Verse 34 The good deed and the evil deed are not alike.  Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then he, between whom and you there was enmity (will become) as though he was a close friend, and in Chapter 3, Verse 159 It was by the mercy of Allah that you was gentle with them, for if you had been stern and fierce of heart, they would have dispersed from round about you.  So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult with them upon the conduct of affairs.

Indeed the Prophet reached the exemplary pinnacle of forbearance and forgiveness in calling towards Allah.

There are innumerable evidences to prove this.  Following incidences are but a few examples.

  1. Narrated Abdullah bin Masood (May Allah be pleased with him): On the day (of the battle) of Hunain, Allah''s Messenger favored some people in the distribution of the booty (to the exclusion of others); he gave Al-Aqra'' bin Habis one hundred camels and he gave ''Uyaina the same amount, and also gave to some of the eminent Arabs, giving them preference in this regard.  Then a person came and said, "By Allah, in this distribution, justice has not been observed, nor has Allah’s pleasure been aimed at."  I said (to him), "By Allah, I will inform the Prophet (of what you have said), "I went and informed him, and he said, "If Allah and His Messenger did not act justly, who else would act justly.  May Allah be merciful to Moses, for he was harmed with more than this, yet he kept patient. (Saheeh Bukhari).
    In this hadith, we come across an excellent display of Hilm/forbearance in calling towards Allah.  The wisdom of Prophet (peace be on him) made him to distribute the booty to attract the hearts of those who have been inclined towards Islam.
  2. Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri (May Allah be pleased with him) : Ali bin Abi Talib sent a piece of gold not yet taken out of its ore, in a tanned leather container to Allah''s Messenger.  Allah''s Messenger distributed that amongst four Persons: ''Uyaina bin Badr, Aqra bin Habis, Zaid Al-Khail and the fourth was either Alqama or Amir bin At Tufail.  On that, one of his companions said, "We are more deserving of this (gold) than these (persons)." When that news reached the Prophet, he said, "Don''t you trust me though I am the truth worthy man of the One in the Heavens, and I receive the news of Heaven (i.e. Divine Inspiration) both in the morning and in the evening?" There got up a man with sunken eyes, raised cheek bones, raised forehead, a thick beard, a shaven head and a waist sheet that was tucked up and he said, "O Allah''s Messenger! Be afraid of Allah." The Prophet said, "Woe to you! Am I not of all the people of the earth the most entitled to fear Allah?" Then that man went away. Khalid bin Al-Wahd said, "O Allah''s Messenger! Shall I chop his neck off?" The Prophet said, "No, for he may offer prayers." Khalid said, "Numerous are those who offer prayers and say by their tongues (i.e. mouths) what is not in their hearts." Allah''s Messenger said, "I have not been ordered (by Allah) to search the hearts of the people or cut open their bellies." Then the Prophet looked at him (i.e. that man) while the latter was going away and said, "From the offspring of this (man there will come out (people) who will recite the Qur''an continuously and elegantly but it will not exceed their throats. (They will neither understand it nor act upon it). They would go out of the religion (i.e. Islam) as an arrow goes through a game''s body." I think he also said, "If I should be present at their time I would kill them as the nations of Thamud were killed." (Saheeh Bukhari).
    This is also another major display of forbearance observed by the Prophet (peace be on him).  He took into consideration the outward aspects of the people as he said "I have not been ordered to search the hearts of the people or cut open their bellies” The person was entitled to be killed, yet he did not kill him lest people should say that Muhammad kills his own people, especially the one who prays (salah).
  3. Anas bin Malik narrates:  While I was walking with the Prophet who was wearing a Najrani outer garment with a thick hem, a bedouin came upon the Prophet and pulled his garment so violently that I could recognize the impression of the edge of the garment on his shoulder, caused by the violence of his pull.  Then the bedouin said, "Order for me something from Allah''s Fortune which you have.  "The Prophet turned to him and smiled, and ordered that a gift be given to him. (Saheeh Bukhari).
    This incidence shows the forbearance of the Prophet (peace be on him), his noble characters, his overlooking of the faults of the people, his forgiveness, and his patience during the time of hardship.  These are the qualities the callers towards Allah should adopt and follow.
  4. Narrated Jabir bin Abdullah that he fought in a Ghazwa (battle) towards Najd along with Allah''s Messenger and when Allah''s Messenger returned, he too, returned along with him.  The time of the afternoon nap overtook them when they were in a valley full of thorny trees.  Allah''s Messenger dismounted and the people dispersed to rest in the shade of the trees.  Allah''s Messenger took shelter under a tree and hung his sword on it.  We slept for a while when Allah''s Messenger suddenly called us, and we went to him, to find a bedouin with him.  Allah''s Messenger said, "This (bedouin) took my sword out of its sheath while I was asleep.  When I woke up, the naked sword was in his hand and he said to me, ''Who can save you from me? I replied, ''Allah'' thrice.  The Prophet did not punish him but sat down.
    In this incident, there is a clear evidence of the power of certainty the Prophet had, his patience during the hardship, his forbearance towards the ignorant, and his immense desire to attract the heart of the disbelievers to enter Islam.  It is said that this bedouin returned to his people and embraced Islam, and a large number of people entered Islam through him.  This incident lays emphasis on forbearance and tolerance as one of the core pillars of hikmah (wisdom).
  5. One of the important aspects of the Prophet’s forbearance is that he never used to supplicate against his people, though he had the ability to do so, and Allah would have destroyed and annihilated them if he had done so, but the Prophet was haleem and hakeem aiming for a far superior objective i.e. anticipation for their and their descendants’ Islam.  Abdullah bin Masood once said:  As if I am seeing the Messenger of Allah depicting as one of the Prophets -May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him- his people beat him until he bled, and he was wiping out the blood from his face and saying “O Allah, forgive my people, verily they do not know.”

Also the thing which denotes hilm as one of the pillars of hikmah is the fact that hilm is attributed to previous Prophets before Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) in their calling towards Allah.

This is Ibraheem (peace be on him) the father of the Prophets who had reached the perfection of hilm to the extent that Allah Himself has qualified him as haleem.  Chapter 9, Verse 114 states The prayer of Abraham for the forgiveness of his father was only because of a promise he had promised him, but when it had become clear unto him that he (his father) was an enemy to Allah, he disowned him. Lo! Abraham was soft of heart and forbearing.

Ibraheem (peace be on him) was the man who used to supplicate, forbear and withstand the hardships and sufferings directed to him by his people.  That is why we see him relentlessly praying for the forgiveness of his father despite the severe hardships and difficulties that he encountered from his father as we see in Chapter 19, Verses 46 and 47 He said, do you reject my gods O Ibraheem? If you stop not (this), I will indeed stone you, so get away from me a long while.  He said: Peace be unto you! I shall ask forgiveness of my Lord for you. Lo! He is ever gracious unto me.  I shall turn way from you and from those whom you invoke besides Allah, and I shall pray unto my Lord, and I hope that I shall not be unblest in my invocation to my Lord.

All the Prophets and Messengers of Allah were like this.  They have been the most forbearing towards their people in their mission of calling them towards Allah.

After the Prophet, the callers towards Allah and pious followers, whom Allah commanded to follow the way of their Messenger, as Allah said in Chapter 25, Verse 63 And slaves of the Most Beneficient (Allah) are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the foolish ones address them (with bad words), they reply back with mild words of gentleness, Chapter 42, Verse 37 And those who avoid greater sins and fawaahis (fornication, etc.), and whey they are angry, they forgive

Narrated Ibn Abbas:  Uyaina bin Hisn bin Hudhaifa came and stayed with his nephew Al-Hurr bin Qais who was one of those whom Umar used to keep near him, as the Qurra'' (learned men who have memorized Quran) were the people of ''Umar''s meetings and his advisors whether they were old or young. ''Uyaina said to his nephew, "O son of my brother! You have an approach to this chief, so get for me the permission to see him." Al-Hurr said, "I will get the permission for you to see him." So Al-Hurr asked the permission for ''Uyaina and ''Umar admitted him. When ''Uyaina entered upon him, he said, "Beware! O the son of Al-Khattab! By Allah, you neither give us sufficient provision nor judge among us with justice." Thereupon ''Umar became so furious that he intended to harm him, but Al-Hurr said, "O chief of the Believers! Allah said to His Prophet: "Hold to forgiveness; command what is right; and leave (don''t punish) the foolish." (7.199) and this (i.e. ''Uyaina) is one of the foolish." By Allah, ''Umar did not overlook that Verse when Al-Hurr recited it before him; he observed (the orders of) Allah''s Book strictly.

This man misbehaved with Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) in the following ways which would make anyone angry, trigger him to take revenge and punish him.

Firstly, he addressed him, “O son of Khattab” as opposed to Yaa Ameerul al Momineen i.e. chief of the believers.  Secondly, his saying, “you does not give us sufficient provision.” Thirdly, the worst of it, “you does not do justice among us.”

Despite all these things, Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) observed forbearance, forgave him, and did not punish him after listening to the above-mentioned verse recited by Al-Hurr. This shows the perfection of his forbearance and wisdom which he acquired through the guidance of Allah’s Messenger which got imprinted in his mind and became a core element that had a positive impact on himself and his character.

Developing hilm initially requires a lot of exercise, practice and struggle.  That is why Messenger of Allah said He is not the strong and powerful who throws people down, but the strong and powerful is the one who controls his anger. Verily anger ruins the wisdom.  An angry person cannot become wise.  This the reason why the Messenger of Allah said to a man do not get angry! when he asked the Prophet to advise him.