Article – “Tie the Knot” Before Tawakkul (Reliance on God)

Originally published in (3 June 2020) at here.

By Muhammad Haniff Hassan

Tawakkul is a key teaching of Islam. The number of Qur’anic verses and hadiths that speak about it signify its importance. Also, there are no books written by Muslim scholars from the past till today on Akhlaq, an important aspect of Islam, that do not contain a chapter on tawakkul.

One of many evidences on the importance of tawakkul in Islam is the fact that Allah make it as a path to His love and those who uphold it consistently are His beloved servants (The Qur’an, 3:159).

However, an Islamic virtue requires right understanding to positively affect Man because past and contemporary realities highlight negative effect of tawakkul due to misunderstanding of its concept. Some examples are fatalism (Man is predestined to its fate and unable to change them except through absolute reliance on Allah), tawakkul that incorporates Man’s effort but without due consideration to cause and effect law relevant to the objective that need to be achieved or striving for noble objective with no regard of potentials harms from external factors.

These examples could be seen from some segment of Muslim community around the world when facing with Covid-19 pandemic. Some Muslims;

  • hold that mosque should not be closed and Friday prayer should not be stopped because if God has willed a person to be sick, none would able to stop it. In fact, the pandemic is a test from God on Man’s true reliance on Him alone to address prevalent deficit of tawakkul among Muslims today.
  • recognise the danger of the pandemic and the need for Muslim’s effort but they do not fit with the cause and effect law to address the problem such as organising larger public assembly for special prayer which would only aggravate the problem instead.
  • recognise the need for effort but they are “mere consolatory” because of the belief that it is the quality of tawakkul that matters in determining success.

Essence of tawakkul

Firstly, the accurate understanding of tawakkul is not on the idea of reliance, but Man’s recognition of being imperfect creation of God which would naturally limit their ability to overcome life challenges alone without God. The recognition requires a recognition that Man could still fail despite putting the best effort for a life objective and, thus, they must rely on God’s support. For that, Man should strive to strengthen their relationship with God through constant ibadah and not letting life endeavours to neglect the devotional obligation to Him. When succeeded in life, Man also should not fall into arrogance thinking that success is achieved by their personal efforts only as exemplified by Prophet Sulaiman (the Qur’an, 27:9, 40) and his opposite contrast in Qarun (the Qur’an, 28:78).

Secondly, tawakkul does not mean to absolutely rely on God’s iradah (will) only. It could also mean to rely on the causal law that God Himself created in the universe because God’s will does not happen in magical manner. Although supernatural and miracles are not impossible to God, His will is first manifested through the causal law and Man’s effort. For example, a hungry person is required to feed food in front of him to his mouth to overcome hunger, not by mere staring or praying to Him.

Make effort first

Putting effort is necessary to achieving a life objective because tawakkul in Islam constitute reliance on law of causality created by Allah. The former is not in contradictory with the latter. Instead, it is a prerequisite for the latter.

Three stories of righteous servant of Allah in the Qur’an could be cited as dalils here.

Firstly is the verse that counsels the Prophet on how to deal with his companions after the defeat in Uhud, “….And take counsel with them in all matters of public concern; then, when thou hast decided upon a course of action, place thy trust in God: for, verily, God loves those who place their trust in Him.” (The Qur’an, 3:159)

The verse advised the Prophet not to let the defeat to cause him to abandon consultation that he practiced with the companions in preparation for battle at Uhud – whether to confront the enemy outside or to defend from within Medina and other strategies. It reminded the Prophet that the bad experience should not make him to incline towards making decision based on his own ideas only.

The verse mentions “wa shawirhum (take counsel)” and “fa iza `azamta (when thou hast decided upon a course of action)” first before command for tawakkul to highlight the importance of effort.

Muslim scholars hold that the meaning of “fa iza `azamta” is to make decision after due consideration of all factors in consultation with relevant experts and stakeholders.

Secondly is the verse tells about Prophet Yaakob’s advice to his children before their travel to Egypt to obtain food supplies for their tribes during drought season. Prophet Yaakob suggested to his children not to enter Egypt from one entry point. Instead, they should take precaution by breaking into groups and made entry from different points. In case harm would befall on them, the precaution would ensure some of them might still be able to return back safely with the needed supplies (the Qur’an, 12:67)

Thirdly is the conversation of Ashab Al-Kahf (The Cave Dwellers) after waking up from long sleep. A suggestion was made that one of them to go to the city’s market to buy food and, while doingso, to take necessary precaution from being identified by the tyrannical king’s agents and risked capture and torture in order to force them back to idol worshiping. (the Qur’an, 18:19-20)

Common points about tawakkul that could be concluded from the three stories are, a) tawakkul is reliance on God with effort from Man to achieve an objective, despite the belief that Allah  Al-`Azim (The Most Great) and Al-Qadir (The Most Able) is ever able to fulfill His servants’ need without effort from them, and b) tawakkul does not dismiss the need for taking precautions and mitigating risks from harms even when performing devotional acts in the path of Allah, as pronounced by the Prophet in a hadith, “… tie your camel, rely on Allah (tawakkul).” (Narrated by Al-Turmuzi)

Best, not consolatory, effort

Putting effort before tawakkul in Islam does not mean a simple effort that is close to mediocrity.

Islam enjoins Muslim to always strive in the best manner to fulfill causal factor of an objective that could be known from scientific and methodological studies by experts of relevant field.

The Qur’an says, “Behold, We established him securely on earth, and endowed him with [the knowledge of] the right means to achieve anything [that he might set out to achieve]. and so he chose the right means [in whatever he did].” (the Qur’an, 18:84-5)

Allah has made Zul Al-Qarnain a powerful ruler by providing with knowledge and ability to fulfill causal law of things in this world as a lesson for Man in seeking success.

Secondly, the Qur’an desires Muslim to be Khayr Ummah (the Best Nation) as mentioned in the 3:110 because such status would, in practice, make da`wah to non-Muslims much effective. Only by being the best, Muslim could command respect and be exemplary to others and this does not fit with a culture of “consolatory effort” in the name of tawakkul.

Finally, Islam enjoins ihsan and itqan in all things.

Ihsan is stated in a hadith, “Verily Allah has prescribed ihsan (proficiency, excellence) in all things….. and if you slaughter, then slaughter well. Let each one of you sharpen his blade and let him spare suffering to the animal he slaughters.” (Narrated by Muslim)

The meaning of ihsan here is not limited to compassion. It encompasses excellence. If ihsan is commanded when slaughtering animal for consumption, it is logical to deduce that ihsan is equally expected in acts that are more important than slaughter.

Itqan (meticulousness) is mentioned in a hadith, “Allah loves to see his servant who does a job with itqan (meticulously).” (Narrated by Al-Tabrani).

Although ihsan and itqan carry different meanings, they are the two sides of the same coin. Ihsan requires itqan and itqan is an important manifestation of ihsan in deed.


Tawakkul in Islam is not absolute reliance on God’s taqdir. It must encompass reliance on causal law that is embedded in the universe by God Himself. Man is required to strive to fulfill causal law of anything that they want to achieve and the strive must be in the best manner, not mere consolatory.