By Dr. Jasser Auda
Relying on God (tawakkul) is one of the important Islamic concepts that may be misunderstood and therefore might lead to undesirable results. This misunderstanding might also lead to some forms of deviation and introducing innovations in religion. Likewise, it might result in a state of failure in both religious affairs and worldly affairs.
When you leave worldly affairs to unreliable people, neglect the means, or quit your work completely, you are deviating from the path of relying on God and practicing apathy (tawaakul) not relying on God (tawakkul).
Ibn `Ata’illah says: (Save yourself from worrying (tadbir). Somebody else already took care of your affairs for you.) What is meant by tadbir here?
Tadbir in Arabic means considering the results and outcomes of a certain action. Therefore, tadbir is closely connected with outcomes. In their turn, the outcomes are connected with the concept of relying on God. God says:
… so that they answered, “God is enough for us; and how excellent a guardian is He! (Aal `Imran 3:173)
Then, when you have decided upon a course of action, place your trust in God: for, verily, God loves those who place their trust in Him. (Aal `Imran 3:159)
In God, then, let the believers place their trust! (Aal `Imran 3:160)
Thus, the virtue of relying on God is mentioned and highly praised in many Qur’anic verses and what is mentioned frequently in the Qur’an is of profound significance and takes high priority.
There is a considerable difference between relying on God and worrying which is the same difference between the means and outcomes. By this I mean that there is a difference between work represented in striving to achieve the goals, exerting efforts and devoting time and the outcome of this work represented in events, figures, and results.
Your role is to strive and rely on God. You do not have to worry about the process of governing such affairs. It is God who governs everything. “And who is it that governs all that exists?” (Yunus 10:31) , this is a clear question raised in the Qur’an.
Take the Means, Leave the Outcomes to God
God governs all that exists. You have to take the means and leave the outcomes to God because taking the means and causes is part of relying on God. When the Prophet (peace be upon him) wanted to give an example of relying on God, he said: “If you had all relied on Allah as you should rely on Him, then He would have provided for you as He provides for the birds, who wake up hungry in the morning and return with full stomachs at dusk.”
You are like the bird. The bird does not stand on one branch of a tree all the time waiting for the grains. But it moves from one branch to another until it gets the grains. The bird has to do its best to get the grains, and providing the bird with the grains is God’s work.
Therefore, you should take the means and leave out the outcomes to God. Some Muslims- even those who are on the path to God- do not take the means, stay at the mosque all the time and ask people for food and clothes. They argue that governing things is not their task. Their argument is correct, but they have to rely on God and relying on God necessities having recourse to the means and the causes of achieving goals.
It is reported that a man used to stay at the mosque all the time arguing that he is devoting himself and his time to worship God. The Prophet asked about the one who takes care of him. The Prophet was told that the man’s brother takes care of him. The Prophet replied: “His brother is better than him.” `Umar ibn al-Khattab advised some people who stayed at the mosque and said “We are relying on God.” He said his common words: “The sky does not rain gold or silver.”
If one cannot attain success after having recourse to every necessary means, this is a proper situation to really rely on God. If the means you have taken fail you, you might say: O God, I have done my best and I left no stone unturned, what should I do? At this point, you are indeed putting your trust in God.
What is not conformable with relying on God is not to do anything or not to have recourse to every kind of means and causes of success. Some ignorant people ignore taking the necessary means intentionally. What is needed from you is to take all the means, and then rely on God.
Sometimes God might withhold form me the causes, the means and take from me my power so that I return to Him and rely on Him. This is a valuable God-given gift.
Relying on God is not inconsistent with what we call nowadays planning, making a feasibility study, studying the market, etc. All this is part of relying on God because by planning, organizing, studying, etc. we are having recourse to the means of success. If you are a trader, you have to make a feasibility study and do your calculations. If you lose, this is God’s decree. If you win, it is also God’s decree. You do not have to worry about the outcomes. To lose or to win, to succeed or to fail, is not your business.
Even in religious issues whether they have to do da`wah (Islamic call) issues, scientific issues, or worship issues, you do the thing and leave the rest to God. For example, you worship God by calling people to do good deeds but guiding those people is left to God. God says:
It is not for you (O Prophet) to make people follow the right path, since it is God (alone) who guides whom He wills. (Al-Baqarah 2:272)
Verily, you cannot guide aright everyone whom you love: but it is God who guides him that wills (to be guided); and He is fully aware of all who would let themselves be guided. (Al-Qasas 28:56)
Ibn `Ataillah says: (Save yourself from worrying. Somebody else already took care of your affairs for you.). What is meant by “somebody else”? Who provides you with the means of living? Who plans for your success? Who decides on the outcomes? It is God the Almighty. Therefore, if somebody else has done something for you, why you go and do it yourself?
This is a very simple rational issue. If there is a specialist in a certain field doing something for you, it is not proper to go and do it yourself. How about if the one who is taking care of this thing is God Himself!
The article is excerpted from “Some of Al-Hikam Al-Ataiyyah” (The Path to God: A Journey with Ibn `Ata’illah’s Words of Wisdom In the Light of the Quran, the Prophetic Tradition, and Universal Laws of God- By Dr. Jasser Auda