Quranic Reflection No. 432. Ayat 37:101 – A Forbearing Child

فَبَشَّرْنَاهُ بِغُلَامٍ حَلِيمٍ
Fabashsharnāhu bighulāmin halīm
So We gave him the good news of a forbearing son.
(Sūrat al-Sāffāt, No 37, Āyat 101)

When Prophet Ibrahim ‘alayhis salām prayed for a son, Allah subhānahuwa ta‘ālā answered his prayer and gave him good news of three things:
1) birth of a child
2) growth of the child to be a youth (the word Ghulām)
3) a child having the quality of forbearance

A ghulām is at the stage between a young child and a youth.  History says that Ismā‘īl was nine years old when his father Ibrāhīm saw in a dream that he sacrificed his only son to please Allah (swt). On seeing the same dream on three consecutive nights, he told Ismā‘īl about it. Ismā‘īl replied that it must be a command from Allah ‘azza wajall to test their wills, and he was willing to be sacrificed in the way of Allah. Ibrāhīm took his son Ismail to Mina, laid him on the ground. The Archangel Jibrā’īl then appeared and announced that the test of their ultimate submission to Allah (swt) was complete.

Hilm is the quality of not rushing to an action before its time despite having the ability to do it. It means being able to control your impulses. When ascribed to Allah it refers to His grace and kindness to His creatures despite His ability to punish them for their transgressions. The word ‘halīm’ has come 15 times in the Quran, mostly for Allah(swt) except for a verse where the people of Prophet Shu‘ayb describe him (Q 11:87) and verses in which Allah ‘azza wajall praises Prophet Ibrāhīm and his son (Q 9:114 & Q 11:75).

‘Allāmah Tabātabā’ī in Tafsīr al-Mīzān states that Allah refers to Prophet Ismā‘īl as a youth (Ghulam) in the above verse despite the fact that he grew up and became an adult. This is in reference to the state when he as a youth perfectly demonstrated the quality of forbearance. When his father tells him about the dream of sacrifice, he replies with complete composure: O my father! Do whatever you have been commanded. If Allah wishes, you will find me to be patient (Q 37:102).

The quality of forbearance is instrumental in the success of the human being. This inner regulation of emotion comes into play when there is unpleasantness in life and is especially important when interacting with people. Forbearance allows a person to swallow anger and negative emotions to administer his relationships better. It stems from wisdom and the ability to think clearly. Imam Ali (a) says: Forbearance is the completion of the intellect (Ghurar al-Hikam, H. 1055) Forbearance is the root of other noble qualities such as dignity, modesty, and forgiveness.

It is interesting to note that patience (sabr) and forbearance (hilm) are two different qualities. Both are qualities of the soul, demonstrated in response to situations. Patience is not becoming distressed at circumstances. There is patience in worship, patience in staying away from disobedience, and patience in afflictions. All of these involve potentially painful situations. Patience helps a person experience them without becoming too disturbed. Forbearance on the other hand is in response to anger and annoyance. When a situation occurs that is potentially irritating, but a person does not react negatively, such a person is not patient but forbearing. A forbearing person is calm and enjoys inner peace.

Let this verse remind you of the importance of forbearance. As we remember the sacrifice of Prophet Ibrāhīm (a) during these days of Dhul-hijjah, let us also remember the glad tidings he received from God. He was given a child with a special quality, one that we should all try to incorporate in our lives. It will make us victorious. In the words of Imam Ali (a) one who is forbearing has the upper hand (Bihār al-Anwār, v.77, p. 208, H.1)

Sources: ‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed), Tafsīr-e Namūneh; www.mizanonline.com/fa/news/291944/