Tawakkul


by Derrick Peat

DSC_0715When I hear stories from Muslim countries around the Middle East, I sometimes can’t help but wonder what faith many of these purported adherents to Islam are practicing. While I know that Allah knows best everyone’s situation, and His mercy is all-encompassing, I feel many Muslims have mixed ignorance and backwardness with Islam, so much so that, in reality, it’s sort of become something else, i.e. not orthodox Islamic belief but rather ideas that float in the realm of aberrations.  As I’ll elucidate later in the example, these aberrations always occur because of an imbalanced or extreme understanding drifting one way or the other.

The example from my local imam comes from the time he spent in various Muslim countries. He has accumulated so many absurd stories that at first listen, you can’t help but laugh, but given further thought, they’re often quite unfortunate  due to their far-reaching implications. The imam related to a gathering I was in that while he was in a Muslim country, he stopped at a deli to buy a sandwich. He ordered the sandwich and watched while it was being made. The sandwich handler, who wasn’t wearing gloves, diligently alternated between wiping his sweaty face and making the sandwich. Disturbed by this, the imam approached the gentleman and admonished him about his insanitary way of operating. At this, the sandwich handler replied, “Ya akhi, Rabbina mahfadhnaa!” which translates to, “Brother, our Lord will protect us!”

Now, we often attribute the dirty and unclean aspects of some Muslim countries to their respective lack of resources and government social services, but this incident with the imam indicates an issue that transcends the lack of availability utilities: many Muslims simply don’t understand basic concepts in Islam, such as those conducive to cleanliness.

Here, the idea of tawakkul, i.e. relying upon Allah, is shown to be grossly misconstrued by many Muslims. To frame the topic, at one extreme there are Muslims — like the one in the imam’s story — who feel that Allah will protect them regardless of them taking precautions and thus  they feel that they don’t need to do anything to facilitate their own well-being, which is a misinformed conclusion, to say the least. While, on the other extreme, there are some Muslims who feel that the means that they take to protect and safeguard themselves are the be all and end all in this life; so  they hold to the understanding that their sustenance or safety is solely secured by their own works and measures, thus denying the essential aspect of Allah’s Lordship (a ‘lord’ being someone who takes care of and manages the affairs of another).

It must be understood that although Muslims are required to rely upon Allah for all their needs, this does not mean that they behave recklessly or throw out conventional routes to (in this case) cleanliness or gaining a livelihood. On the contrary, seeking the means is an essential aspect of relying upon Allah. Our Lord is the one who created those means for us as a mercy, but what is required of us is that we not fall into the other extreme. We must also understand those various ‘ways’ and ‘means’ are just that; they are not ‘ends’ in themselves because Allah is the impetus behind all of them. So, in the ability we have to wash our hands, we must take the opportunity and also understand at the same time that it is our Lord that provided us with it. He is the one who gave the soap its germ-killing attributes and made water have the characteristics of purity  to wash away dirt and grime.. Allah is the Creator of everything, and as such, it’s quite consequential that He also gave each thing its specifications and qualities.

Allah says in Surat al-Waqi`ah:

56:68

56:69

56:70

“And have you seen the water that you drink? Is it you who brought it down from the clouds, or is it We who bring it down? If We willed, We could make it bitter, so why are you not grateful?” (Qur’an, 56:68-70)

From this verse, it also becomes clear that in creating these means, Allah wants us to think about the processes by which we receive and take advantage of them and after observing the blessings, to give thanks and praise to the One who deserves all praise. This reliance upon Allah, of course, is not only limited to cleanliness; it encompasses all of our earthly dealings and matters. When men are given the ability to take care of their families, in this is a mercy and a means in relying upon Allah. Although, always on the surface of things, it’s easy for the human being to attribute everything to his own hard work, understanding, and dedication, Allah requires us to a bit think deeper, to crack the surface and see beyond the illusion that this life (and not the Source of Life) is our provider.

Allah’s says in the Qur’an:

16:18

“And if you should count the favors of Allah , you could not enumerate them. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” (16:18)

Also:

16:78

“And Allah has extracted you from the wombs of your mothers not knowing a thing, and He made for you hearing and vision and intellect that perhaps you would be grateful. “ (16:78)

And:

35:15

“O mankind, you are those in need of Allah , while Allah is the Free of need, the Praiseworthy. “ (35:15)

After reading these verses, one must stop to think: if Allah provided us with just about everything we utilize in the process of providing for a family, then to whom should gratitude then return? Who deserves the credit and to whom belongs the recognition? Towards the end of Surat al-Kahf , a chapter in the Qur’an that should be read every Friday,  Allah narrates to us a part of the life of Dhul-Qarnain, a king whom our Lord gave far-reaching dominion and authority throughout the earth. Allah informs us that in one of his journeys, he met a people terrorized by Gog and Magog,  a tribe feverishly spreading corruption throughout the Earth with reckless abandon. After Dhul-Qarnain assessed the tribe’s situation, he decided he would help them by building a wall between them and Gog and Magog. After putting a great deal of work into building the wall, without delay he proclaimed, “This is a mercy from my Lord!” Dhul-Qarnain understood very much that his efforts were only allowable because of God-given ability and that he had to utilize what Allah blessed us with to benefit himself and others. Dhul-Qarnain firmly understood the deeper meaning of tawakkul, and Allah honored him in the Qur’an as a testament to this.

Another point that is essential to understand from reading his story (and any story in the Qur’an) is that the stories of the Qur’an are real; they are not simply stories of old to read and take enjoyment from. Positions of honor like that of Dhul-Qarnain are achievable by anyone who wants them. How do we achieve them? Think about, reflect upon, and apply the characteristics of a devout servant like Dhul-Qarnain in our lives; give Allah His due recognition and praise, and attribute any success to its Rightful Source. The same formulas that worked then, still work now. Nothing has changed:

2:63

And [recall] when We took your covenant, [O Children of Israel, to abide by the Torah] and We raised over you the mount, [saying], “Take what We have given you with determination and remember what is in it that perhaps you may become righteous.” (Qur’an, 2:63)

So now, when we hear the hadith of our Prophet ﷺ supplicating to Allah to raise him among the poor on the Day of Judgment, where does this fit it into the scope of tawakkul? Of course, our blessed teacher ﷺ understood tawakkul more than anyone one else, and he ﷺ also perceived the apparent danger in worldly materials—supposed authority, power, wealth—things (tests of this life) that are only means through which the Creator allots blessings to His creation. By requesting to be raised among the destitute, the Prophet ﷺ seeks the ultimate ends, the Source of the means. He ﷺ was not blinded by the provision, rather, he was striving to rely on and seek an unfettered closeness to the Provider. When we take into account that the Prophet ﷺ is the pride of creation, the most beloved being to Allah, and eternally described by Allah in Surat al-Qalam as being “of magnificent character,” (4)  the reality should become clear that the Prophet ﷺ was making that du’a to set an example for us And his example is clear: don’t be fooled by this dunya; the Sustainer of the heavens and earth is the One in control of your affairs.

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10 Comments

  1. jazaka Allahu khair for the excellent reminder. “And his example is clear: don’t be fooled by this dunya; the Sustainer of the heavens and earth is the One in control of your affairs.”

  2. Nick says:

    JazakAllah Khair my brother. Simple reminders like this are so much needed. Alhamdulillah for your efforts.

  3. Yusra says:

    Jazakallah khair for this article.

  4. Umm says:

    The discussion was fine in itself – but the original story that prompted it didn’t seem connected to your deep analysis of it.

    I’m left thinking about this unsuspecting, hard-at-work sandwich maker. Maybe he was trying to appease the imam – who in this context was really just a customer – by his statement. Instead of bad-mouthing his boss, or getting mad (“i’m here sweating so hard and you’re busting my chops about wiping my brow?”) he said something diplomatic. I can’t help thinking this worker was basically trying to say “take it easy”?

    Can this small incident be used to make sweeping statements about the core problems in muslims societies? There was so much of this exchange that goes unsaid. Was the man smiling? Was the imam yelling or using a rude tone?

    I’ve worked in the service industry here, and have often had to make similar diplomatic statements to complaining customers because the boss or the manager above me wouldn’t invest money to buy the proverbial gloves (or make whatever sensible change the customer wanted). I’ve even had to lie that it was decaf, when it was real coffee. I’ve even met people who find it repulsive to eat with hands, even freshly washed hands – I’ve known muslims who are similarly repulsed by eating with hands even though the prophet (pbuh) did it.

    The truth of the issue is that the food preparation should have been done out of sight. And that’s a main reason why kitchens and food prep is usually done in a separate room from the diners.

    The reality of the kitchen is for grown ups. Hands are used. Hygiene is not perfect.
    Even establishments that have vested interests in cleanliness – because of legal and economic issues, not religious – allow touching without gloves. I’d never seen food handlers using gloves except meat cutters at the grocery store, and at Subways — again, in public view. Beyond that, I’ve rarely seen gloved kitchen staff or chefs who handle food with gloves. You can watch hours of Julia Child and Martha Steward etc. on the cooking channel with nary a glove in sight. Whatever about their alcohol drinks and pork consumption, it is difficult to deny their cleanliness.

    One angle of this is, why do we have to hold muslims up to higher standards that everyone else? Can’t we just be normal folks? Couldn’t we have a julia child sandwich maker overseas who does not have to wear gloves when cooking? Come on y’all.

    Okay, okay. You can take the other side, which is we have higher standards. Fine.

    If you are looking at the overseas aspect of this, yes, I do know conditions overseas. But if there is going to be a change to the higher plane, it is not in harrassing those low on the food chain and throwing up the hands and saying “o the ignorant masses!”

    Those workers are easy scapegoats, and they have their hands tied as much as any mismanaged, unmotivated workers here in the states. At least he didn’t spit in the food as american waiters are known to do!

    But what does it take to make real change?

    How many muslims with social credibility – like an imam – are willing to spend their social capital by aiming high on the ladder and voicing their complaints there? Did the imam contact the owner and voice his concerns – not about the lone worker, but about the management system that did not provide the worker with the gloves? Maybe the sandwich maker was the owner – maybe his other sandwich maker was sick and he was filling in. How many bosses know how to do the actual work of their businesses?

    Did the imam ask about why the guy was sweating? Did he need more help? Did he need a fan? Did the imam offer to pay more for his sandwich to underwrite a purchase of gloves, a fan, some more help, and some employee training? Did the imam get a group of his business friends, and instead of asking for donations for his masjid, get them thinking about hygiene practices and customer service standards and other Islamic standards of conduct being integrated throughout their business?

    No; instead of assertiveness at the appropriate level and to the appropriate change agents, instead of planned, patient systemic change that might nevertheless ruffle a lot of feathers and threaten a lot of people who are invested in the status quo, instead of getting in the trenches – instead of all this, there is a passive/aggressive response that reflexively blames the little guy on the street for the one thing he said or did wrong and frames it in religious failure of the individual.

    Beyond this, I’m disturbed by this trend of stories that make it into the lectures, the imam gab fests, the webcasts, etc. It’s, “there’s this brother I know who said x, y, z ” “this brother said to me one time…” “I saw a brother at the masjid during Ramadan and he did a, b, c”

    It’s like, don’t say or do anything but “yes sir, no sir, how high do you want me to jump sir” or you’re going to end up being dissected in the Friday khutba.

    How come the speakers are all perfect, but they run into all these ignorant bufoons?Where is the personal story? Where is the self-reflection? Where’s the change they made in their own lives?

    • Nomad78 says:

      Salam,
      With all due respect I think you blew this way out of proportion. There was no picking on the little guy here nor were there any finger pointing. No one is fault finding or fishing for people who are lower in iman or knowledge to boast their own. People use such examples to relate the readers to something material, real and from everyday life to draw us near to the origin of the problem which is lack of self discipline due to lack of kknowledge and understanding of the religion. Now don’t get me wrong, you don’t need to be a mechanic to drive a car, I mean you don’t need to be a scholar to be a good muslim; but an understanding of Iman, taqwa, sunnah would reflect on our behavior.
      The “why can’t we be normal y’all” is trying to excuse the lack of knowledge we have of our religion that mainfests itself in our day to day actions.

    • Derrick Peat says:

      Salaam, Umm,

      My intention in writing this article definitely was NOT to highlight or even suggest that all Middle Eastern sandwich makers are unsanitary.

      The example I used was simply an amusing story that I utilized as a segue into the over-arching topic of the article.

      And, yes, I would contend that ALL Muslims are held to higher standards. Muslims have a duty to study their faith and apply what they learn. I don’t even think I need to cite any hadith to prove this point.

      Also, regarding your dissection of the sandwich makers state (giving him the benefit of the doubt?), no names were mentioned here. The Middle East is a vast region, so, insha’Allah, no culture or body of people was exposed or embarrassed. And the story was only one among many that I’ve heard.

      Anyway, Jazak’Allah khairan for the thoughtful comments,
      Derrick

    • Imam says:

      Dear sister,

      The man was not only wiping his sweaty forehead but handling money too! It is not just one case but as the brother understood it. It is a backward mentality. There are many examples just like it.

  5. tauseef says:

    Salaam Alaikum.
    I really liked this article because it refers back to Allah’s guidance to us in the Qur’an, not to cultural practices, or ‘x,y, z’ or whatever. From the bottomless well of advice that we can learn from our Creator, there are endless treasures for us to receive. Thank you for taking the time to draw from this well to share with us. When one thinks about the scale and scope of Allah’s creation, the billions upon billions of souls who have shared trillions of moments with the gifts of His blessing – sight, sound, emotions, memory, everything that makes us ‘human’, one is truly humbled.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Umm says:

    Assalaamu alaikum Derrick,

    Not meaning to slam your intentions as a person or author. I’m definitely speaking to the initial set-up of your story, and not the discussion that follows.

    This guy is being set up as an example of the “purported adherents” of Islam who are so ignorant that they are practicing something else other than Islam – your first para. That’s heavy. Really, the brother wiped his brow and made a sandwich. Was it that bad that it possibly takes him out of the fold of Islam? That’s one high standard.

    When called on it, the sandwich maker resorted to a religious phrase. Yes, it is true these phrases have been downgraded and/or perverted in meaning. It is like the “inshaAllah” being used to mean not-gonna-do-it.

    (I saw a movie with a famous arab comedian playing a drug dealer with a load of drugs in his car, who, after escaping from the police in a high speed chase, jumps up and down shouting “alhamdulillah!”. I realized that these phrases are not necessarily embued with deep sacred meaning when they are said.)

    Maybe I’m over-sensitized to this after my personal experiences observing the scant social trust and deep class divides between muslims overseas (and even creeping in here in the states). It was, in my experience, common-place to ridicule the workers, suspect the butcher, and watch the servants like hawks.

    Anyway, it may not seem it, but I did actually enjoy your article otherwise. May Allah reward you.

  7. Umm, I think you’re taking the author’s words apart and putting them back together with the worst possible assumptions. I never thought for a second that he was implying that the sandwich maker was not Muslim. Rather, he was describing a way of thinking among some Muslims that is backward or confused.

    Also, I think your whole tirade about wearing gloves and not wearing gloves and your analysis of sanitary practices in the food industry was over the top. I mean, come on, a guy is making you a sandwich and he wipes his sweaty forehead with his hand, then handles the food? He might as well wipe his forehead with the bread! You wanna eat that? He could at least use a rag to wipe his brow, lol.

    Seriously, it was just an illustrative point to help readers understand the problem. I’m sure he could have picked from a number of other incidents. I’ve encountered this problem among Muslims myself, and it’s not a matter of arrogant class-superiority as you imply Umm, because I’m not taking about uneducated or working-class people but highly educated people, where they do something reckless and then justify it with the idea of trusting in Allah.

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