What Does “Seek Help through Patience and Prayer” [2:45] in the Quran Mean?

Answered by Shaykh Anas al-Musa


What is meant by this Quranic verse: “And seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, it is a burden except for the humble.” [2:45]?


This verse is the forty-fifth verse of Surat al-Baqara, and before we begin to explain it, it is necessary to look at its context. Allah (Most High) says, addressing the Children of Israel:

  • “O children of Israel! Remember My favors upon you. Fulfill your covenant, and I will fulfill Mine, and stand in awe of Me (alone).” [Verse 40]
  • “Believe in My revelations which confirm your Scriptures. Do not be the first to deny them or trade them for a fleeting gain. And be mindful of Me.” [Verse 41]
  • “Do not mix truth with falsehood or hide the truth knowingly.” [Verse 42]
  • “Establish prayer, pay alms-tax, and bow down with those who bow down.” [Verse 43]
  • “Do you preach righteousness and fail to practice it yourselves, although you read the Scripture? Do you not understand?” [Verse 44]
  • “And seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, it is a burden except for the humble” [Verse 45] [Quran, 2:40-45]

To understand the meaning of this verse, it is necessary to clarify some matters:

“And seek help through patience and prayer”: Some exegetes have confined the address (and seek help) to the believers who affirm Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) and his message; because one who denies prayer in principle and patience upon the religion of Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace) is hardly told to seek help through patience and prayer.

It is also said: It is not unlikely that the address was initially to the Children of Israel, and then it became an address to the believers in Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace); because the Jews did not deny the foundation of prayer and patience, but their prayer is different from that of the believers. [Razi, Tafsir Futuh al-Ghayb; Khazin, Tafsir al-Khazin; Ibn Hajar, al-‘Ujab fi Bayan al-Asbab]

“Through patience”: Patience is restraining oneself from what it inclines towards, including the patience of a person afflicted with a calamity, in restraining themselves from despair. Fasting is called patience for restraining the self from food and drink; therefore, the month of Ramadan is called the month of patience.

So, the patience commanded in the verse is either: patience which includes both types of patience, which are patience in obeying Allah (Most High), and patience in refraining from His disobedience, meaning abstaining from it.

Or it (patience) is: fasting in the sense of refraining from the desires of the stomach and private parts; because fasting is called patience, as mentioned. [Mawardi, al-Nukat wal-‘Uyun; Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Ibn Kathir]

The reason for pairing prayer with patience (fasting): Fasting prevents indulgences and renounces worldly pleasures, while prayer forbids indecency and wrongdoing and instills reverence, and the Quran, which reminds of the hereafter, is recited in it. [Qurtubi, Tafsir al-Qurtubi; Ibn Atiyya, al-Muharrar al-Wajiz]

“Patience (interpreted as fasting)”: Fasting (patience) is mentioned before prayer in the verse “And seek help through patience and prayer”; because the effect of fasting is in removing what is inappropriate, while the effect of prayer is in achieving what is appropriate. Negation is prioritized over affirmation. A fasting person shows patience in refraining from food and drink.

Someone who restrains themselves from satisfying the desires of the stomach and private parts eliminates the revolving desires for worldly pleasures. When prayer is added to this, the heart is illuminated with the lights of knowing Allah (Most High). [Razi, Tafsir Futuh al-Ghayb]

“Prayer”: Prayer is specifically mentioned among all acts of worship as a command, and it is considered a more noble and higher category than others due to the reason associated with its establishment.

This reason is the remembrance of the worshipped and the occupation of the heart and tongue in His remembrance. Indeed, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) would turn to prayer when he was troubled by a matter.

“Indeed, it is a burden”: There is a difference of opinion regarding the reference of the pronoun “it”, whether it refers to prayer alone or to both patience and prayer. Those who say it refers to prayer argue that prayer involves the confinement of souls, and fasting – if patience is interpreted as fasting – only involves the restraint of certain desires.

Someone restrained from one or two desires is not like someone restrained from all desires. A fasting person is only restrained from the desires of women, food, and drink, then indulges in other desires like speaking, walking, looking, and interacting with others to compensate for what they are restrained from.

However, a person in prayer refrains from all of that, as all their limbs are restricted by prayer from all desires; thus, when prayer involves the confinement of souls, it becomes more difficult for the soul, and enduring it is more arduous. That’s why Allah (Most High) says: “Indeed, it is a burden,” meaning heavy and burdensome.

It is also said that prayer is mentioned before patience in “Indeed, it is a burden” because it is of a higher status than patience, as it encompasses various forms of patience since it involves restraining the senses for worship and restraining thoughts and ideas for obedience.

That’s why Allah (Most High) says: “Indeed, it is a burden except for the humble.” [Qurtubi, Tafsir al-Qurtubi; Tayyibi, Hashiyat al-Tayyibi ‘ala al-Kashaf; Ibn Ashur, al-Tahrir wa al-Tanwir]

“Except for the humble”: Al-Khashi‘in is the plural of al-Khashi‘, which is “humble”. Humbleness is a state in the soul that manifests in the limbs as tranquility, and humility, and the humble are those who are subdued and reverent. [Qurtubi, Tafsir al-Qurtubi; Ibn Atiyya, al-Muharrar al-Wajiz]

And it was not said: “for the submissive (al-Khadhi‘in)”; because there is a difference between humility and submission; submission could be forced due to hypocrisy, fear, or dissimulation, and Arabs say: his heart is humbled, instead of his heart is subdued, except figuratively.

Humility, on the other hand, is one of the actions of the heart and occurs due to genuine emotion caused by the awe of whom we humble ourselves before, which is Allah (Most High). [Musanna Hibban, Min Rawa‘ al-Bayan]

It is said: The “waw (and)”  in “And seek help through patience and (on) prayer” means “on”, and it implies: seeking help in what befalls you through patience in prayer. [Tha‘labi, Tafsir al-Tha‘labi]

Note: There is nothing to prevent the meaning of “prayer” in the verse from being its linguistic meaning, which is supplication.

General Meaning of the Verse

“And seek help through patience and prayer”:

Allah (Most High) commands His servants, in their pursuit of the good of this world and the hereafter, to seek assistance in their affairs and to seek help for their needs and for the various trials they face, and in their quest for the hereafter from Allah (Most High) by combining the restraint of the self from what it dislikes; by praying with patience through the obligations of prayer, bearing its difficulties, and what it necessitates of heart’s sincerity, preserving intentions, repelling distractions, observing etiquettes, being cautious of disliked matters, with fear and humility, and being mindful that one is standing before the Lord of the heavens and the earth. And ask Him to liberate you from His displeasure and punishment. [Zamakhshari, Tafsir al-Zamakhshari]

Or it can mean seeking assistance in renouncing what you love about this world and in embracing what your nature finds burdensome in accepting the religion of Muhammad (Allah bless him and give him peace), by restraining the self from pleasures. For when you impose this on yourselves, it becomes habitual and easier. Then, when you add prayer to this, the matter is completed. [Razi, Tafsir Futuh al-Ghayb; Ibn Kathir, Tafsir Ibn Kathir]

“Indeed, it is a burden except for the humble”:

This means it is heavy for those who are not humble. For someone who does not believe in its reward or in the punishment of its neglect, it becomes difficult to perform. For the atheist, who does not believe in any benefit from its performance, it becomes burdensome, as engaging in what is believed to be futile is heavy on nature.

However, for the believer, who believes in its greatest benefits and the severe harm of neglecting it, it does not become burdensome, due to the belief in the reward and the great success of eternal bliss and salvation from painful punishment; that’s why our Lord says in the following verse:

“those who are certain that they will meet their Lord and to Him they will return.” [Quran, 2:46], meaning they anticipate His reward and salvation from His punishment, and expect what is stored for those who are patient with its hardships, so it becomes easy for them. [Razi, Tafsir al-Fakhr al-Razi; Baydawi, Tafsir al-Baydawi; Nasafi, Tafsir al-Nasafi]

Conclusion and Summary

Obedience to Divine commands and not opposing them requires patience. Whoever is patient in refraining from sins has indeed shown patience in obedience, and one of the most specific forms of patience is prayer. Prayer involves the confinement of souls, and in it, the limbs of a person are bound from all desires, making prayer more challenging for the soul and its endurance more difficult.

Similarly, all difficulties become insignificant in front of those who are humble and reverent towards Allah (Most High), those who are certain of meeting Allah, those who believe in resurrection, recompense, and being presented before the Supreme King, before whom nothing is hidden on the earth or in the heavens.

May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon our master, prophet Muhammad, and his family and companions.

[Shaykh] Anas al-Musa