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