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In this interview, Christopher Buck questions Dr. Foad Seddigh, the author of a new book about the wonderful virtue of patience.
Q: Dr. Seddigh, you wrote an entire book on Baha’u’llah’s Tablet of Patience. What inspired you to take on this project?
A: This work of Baha’u’llah’s is regarded as one of his most significant tablets. Baha’u’llah revealed the Tablet of Patience at a critical time, on the eve of his exile from Baghdad to Istanbul. This departure marked a new chapter on the history of Baha’u’llah’s mission. This remarkable work—revealed on the very same day that Baha’u’llah openly and yet privately declared his prophetic mission—is the only record we have of Baha’u’llah’s exact words on that momentous and historic occasion of April 22, 1863, the day the Baha’i Faith began.
These teachings, so beautifully expressed, all inspired me to study the Tablet of Patience in order to understand it more deeply. So I prepared extensive notes over a long period of time. Eventually I was inspired to undertake the project of writing this book.
Q: In classical Islam, 99 “Beautiful Names of God” exist. The 99th name of God, in one list, is “the Patient.” In light of this, would you say that “patience” is an attribute of God?
A: Muslim scholars agree as to the number of the “Beautiful Names of God”—although the attributes of God are countless. Not all appear in the Qur’an, which mentions 85 of these names. For instance: “To God belong the Names Most Beautiful; so call Him by them.” – Qur’an 7:180. Baha’u’llah refers to “the Most Beautiful Names” of God in two paragraphs of the Most Holy Book.
However, there is some debate over whether “the Patient One” (aṣ-Ṣabūr, or aṣ-Ṣabīr) is among the 99 “Beautiful Names of God.” In short, “Patience” is an attribute of God, as manifested in the nature and character of the Messengers of God.
Q: Is it possible to turn the godly perfection of “Patience” into goodly actions?
A: Of course! It may happen when we have a willingness in our hearts to embrace the godly perfection of “Patience,” and when, at the same time, we make a concerted effort to achieve it—to incorporate it into our daily decision-making process and actions. If the world is going to benefit from our patience, we need to bring it to forefront and to make dedicated efforts to exemplify it in our daily actions.
Q: In the Tablet of Patience, what does Baha’u’llah teach about the virtue of patience?
A: Baha’u’llah devotes about one-fifth of this fascinating tablet to the explanation of the virtue of patience. First and foremost, he calls upon the believers to enter the City of Patience, which traditionally means a fortress-city, a place of protection and safety. In other words, once you are in such a place, you are safe from undesired elements. In this context, “City of Patience” is a metaphor. It simply means when we acquire the virtue of patience, it keeps us in a safe spiritual environment.
Then, in great detail, Baha’u’llah describes the life of the prophet Job, who exhibited the virtue to such an extent that the name of Job has become synonymous with patience. Baha’u’llah goes on to explain different kinds of patience and eventually states that the reward promised by God for those who adorn themselves with the ornament of patience is limitless:
Furthermore, know ye that for all good deeds there is ordained a limited reward in the Book of God, with the exception of patience. This is the point that was made by God unto Muhammad, the Apostle of God: “Those who patiently persevere will truly receive a reward without measure.” – Baha’u’llah, Tablet of Patience, provisional translation by Foad Seddigh.
Q: After studying this tablet, do you have any advice as to what an average person, like you or I, can do to improve and deepen our capacity for patience—both for our character development and for the benefit of others?
A: We can reflect on what Baha’u’llah has revealed in the Tablet of Patience, and meditate profoundly on this quality. We need to be continuously conscious of patience and increase our understanding of this virtue. Like anything else, we need to work on improving our practice of patience daily, little by little.
Nothing, especially patience, can be achieved all at once. We need to work on it until we master it. In particular we need to select a few aspects of patience which are more pertinent to us. Here’s the irony: it takes patience to deepen our capacity for ever-greater patience!
For example, in our daily interaction with our friends, neighbors, colleagues, etc., we might be impatient and over-reactive in cases of acts of unkindliness of varying degrees. The virtue of patience will help us to have the right kind of response and attitude in such cases. It will assist us to have the proper reaction, and teach us not to act on the basis of our impulses, but rather to reflect on any situation, then act wisely.
Patience has many facets, dimensions and ramifications: patience in the path of God and enduring tribulations; patience regarding the actions we need to take for which the outcome is uncertain; patience with regards to the realization of our long-term goals and aspirations; patience in our daily dealings with others. This is just a short list of some aspects of patience. Every single one of them is necessary to the development of our character and spiritual capacity.
I will elaborate briefly on one them only: being patient with ourselves. Each one of us comes into this world with different qualities, features, capacities, etc., which are not of our own choosing. At times, we might feel we should have been endowed with more. For example, one might wish to have a sharper memory, to be taller, etc. Yet these are things over which we have no control. In fact, these are given to us, like a gift.
We need to be grateful for whatever gifts God offers us—that’s part of patience, too. We have to make the best of what we’re given. If we feel we are disadvantaged, we need to look around; we can always find people who are more disadvantaged. Therefore, patience is required. We need to be patient with ourselves.
The virtue of patience allows us to look at life from a positive, happy, spiritually vibrant and alive point of view. In this case, to cultivate patience greatly depends on our reliance upon God, and submission and resignation to God’s will.