How to Understand Tawakkul Correctly

understand tawakkul correctly

Muslims of today must realize that only if they plan and work, they can achieve prosperity. So long as Muslims do their utmost to achieve success, Allah will help them.

By Dr. `Ali Muhammad As-sallabi

One of the universal laws of Allah regarding the creation is the law of ’causes.’ Cause and effect is a basic reality in the universe that we must understand and be in harmony with. Allah the Almighty created the universe and then established laws by which it is run. To be sure, had Allah wanted, He could have made every effect occur without a cause. But it is from His Will and Wisdom that cause and effect occurrences are the norms, and miracles are the rare exceptions. Hence, angels carry Allah’s Throne, vegetation grows with water, and humans earn sustenance through work. Allah’s universal law of cause and effect is clearly palpable in the universe around us. And it is established in the Book of Allah (Glory be to Him), wherein Allah made it clear to Muslims that they must be in harmony with this law both in their worldly and religious affairs. If they want sustenance in this world or Paradise in the Hereafter, they must do those actions that lead to the fulfillment of their goals. Allah said:

And say (O Muhammad): “Do deeds! Allah will see your deeds, and (so will) His Messenger and the believers. And you will be brought back to the All-Knower of the unseen and the seen. Then he will inform you of what you used to do.” (At-Tawbah 9:105)

And Allah said:

He it is, Who has made the earth subservient to you (i.e., easy for you to walk, to live and to do agriculture on it, etc.), so walk in the path thereof and eat of His provision, and to Him will be the Resurrection. (Al-Mulk 67:15)

When Maryam was in a state of weakness, Allah ordered her to take an action (cause) that would result in her getting sustenance (effect). Allah said:

And shake the trunk of date-palm towards you, it will let fall fresh ripe-dates upon you.” (Maryam 19:25)

In every aspect of his life, the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) lived in harmony with the law of cause and effect; and he taught his Companions to do the same. The Prophet and his Companions understood that, regardless whether something happened through a miracle or through a cause and effect chain, it ultimately happened because Allah decreed it to happen. They understood that by working to achieve their aims, they were following one of Allah’s universal laws that apply to the universe and to how it is run. And so they didn’t disparage work and planning, as some misguided ascetics do; rather, they knew that working and planning are required of them in their religion.

If Muslims lag behind the rest of the world today, it is not because they have been wronged, but because Allah’s justice has been rendered upon them as a punishment for their having forgotten and neglected their religion. Both in knowledge and in action, Muslims today are not in harmony with Allah’s universal laws; they think that success will come to them through dreaming, but nothing could be further from the truth:

This is because of that (evil) which your hands have sent before you. And certainly, Allah is never unjust to (His) slaves. (Aal `Imran 3: 182)

One might then ask, “But if this is Allah’s punishment for believers who have disobeyed Him, then what about polytheists who disbelieve in Allah altogether? Why is it that they have, from a worldly point of view, achieved such prosperity, advancement, and stability ?” Disbelievers have not achieved historically unparalleled prosperity because they are closer to Allah or because He is pleased with them; nor have they done so through a miracle or the use of magic. It is not their beliefs or their way of thinking that has enabled them to become so technologically advanced. The reason they are prosperous and advanced is that, through His universal law of cause and effect (work and achieve results), Allah has opened the door to worldly prosperity to all of his creation, to believers and disbelievers, righteous people and wicked evildoers. Allah said:

Whosoever desires the life of the world and its glitter; to them We shall pay in full (the wages of) their deeds therein, and they will have no diminution therein. (Hud 11: 15)

Through His universal law of cause and effect, Allah has made worldly prosperity hinge upon human planning and human efforts. Whoever strives and works -or in other words, whoever lives in harmony with Allah’s universal law of cause and effect- will achieve results in proportion to his efforts. True, all the technological and material advancement in the world will not open the Doors of Paradise to disbelievers, and will not avail them in the least in the Hereafter. But we must also keep in mind that negligence on the part of Muslims is a sin, for which they will be held accountable.

Placing one’s trust in Allah

Some Muslims, especially those who are of an ascetic bent, feel that there is a contradiction between placing one’s trust in Allah (Tawakkul) and working to achieve one’s goals. On an individual level, where this sentiment is most palpably felt, one might feel that it is praiseworthy to sit in the Masjid 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When such a person is asked about how he procures food and drink, he answers, “I trust in Allah; He will provide for me.” He fails to realize, however, that Allah commands him to work and that there is no contradiction between him working and striving, and him placing his trust in Allah.

A believer has a highly nuanced understanding when it comes to this issue. He works and strives and plans in a lawful manner because he has faith in Allah and because he wants to be obedient to Allah. Yet at the same time, he does not trust in his action and planning; he does not feel that it is his action and planning that will bring him the results he wants. It is up to him to work, and then the results are independent of his actions, for it is Allah Who decrees results. With this understanding, the believer does not put unnecessary faith in or dependence upon his actions; but at the same time, he does take whatever action is necessary to achieve his goals because he wants rewards for being obedient to Allah.

In various hadith narrations, the Prophet (peace be upon him) established that it is necessary to both trust in Allah (Tawakkul) and live in harmony with Allah’s law of cause and effect. For example, Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that a man once stood with his she-camel at the door of the Masjid and intended to enter. He said, “O Messenger of Allah should I leave it free (without tying it up) and place my trust (in Allah)?” It was as if this man felt that taking necessary action contradicts placing one’s trust in Allah (Tawakkul). The Messenger of Allah explained to him – with the most succinct of wording – that no such contradiction exists. He (peace be upon him) said, “Rather, tie it up, and place your trust (in Allah). ” (At-Tirmidhi)

In another hadith, which is related by `Umar ibn Al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him), the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “Were you to trust in Allah as He truly should be trusted, He would have provided sustenance for you, just as He provides sustenance for a bird, which leaves hungry in the beginning of the day, and returns full at the end of the day.” (Ibn Majah) In this hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) exhorted Muslims to trust in Allah, and at the same time, he  pointed to the importance of working (i.e., applying Allah’s universal law of cause and effect) by mentioning how a bird leaves in the morning in search of its sustenance.

Regarding this issue, the correct Islamic understanding can be summarized in the following points:

1) Islam confirms Allah’s universal law of ’cause and effect.’

2) When one depends on causes and means alone, without depending on and placing his trust in Allah, then one has perpetrated an act of Shirk (associating partners with Allah in worship).

3) Islam establishes a clear link between causes and Tawhid (the Oneness of Allah M)’, both causes and results are in the Hand of Allah.

4) Therefore, based on the first three points, a Muslim must both do what is lawfully necessary to achieve his goals and place his trust in Allah (Tawakkul).

Muslims of today must realize that only if they plan and work can they achieve prosperity. So long as Muslims do their utmost to achieve success, Allah will help them. And Allah does not require of them an effort that is beyond their scope or ability.

Allah (Glory be to Him) says:

And make ready against them all you can of power, including steeds of war (tanks, planes, missiles, artillery, etc.) to threaten the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others besides whom, you may not know but whom Allah does know . And whatever you shall spend in the Cause of Allah shall be repaid unto you, and you shall not be treated unjustly. (Al-Anfal 8: 60)

It is as if Allah is saying to them in this verse, “Do the most you are able to do, and prepare as much as you can prepare, even if your preparations are not as good as that of your enemy.” For whatever is beyond the ability of Muslims, Allah provides help with His unlimited power. Acting to the utmost of one’s ability is at once proof of one’s sincerity and a prerequisite for achieving Allah’s help.


Source: Taken with modifications from the author’s Noble Life of the Prophet, translated by Faisal Shafeeq

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