IMAGINE A PERSON sitting in the driver’s seat of a car, with a road map marked with a red cross to denote the desired destination. He begins his journey and, following directions deduced from the map, takes several turns.
But the way seems to be more complicated than he had expected. At one point, he is overcome with worries – about whether he is on the right track, whether he will be able to reach the red cross before the fuel runs out, whether the path will lead up to a dead-end or be out of repair.
Then something strange happens.
The steering wheel gets stuck. He had planned to take the next left turn, but now his car can only move straight ahead. He stops the car, restarts it and attempts repeatedly to move the steering wheel, until his fingers become sore and his throat dries up with panic, but to no avail.
And then the truth dawns on him.
Although he is in the driver’s seat, he is not in full control. The steering wheel is in remote control, and the controller, who has immobilized it, is better informed of the correct way to reach the destination.
And, sighing with relief, he lets go of all attempts to control the uncontrollable and directs all his focus towards keeping the car moving.
We all know what it is – that incessant buzzing of all kinds of thoughts, rushing one after another, that has the potential of hampering a person’s life with their persistent noise, as though the mind were a formula 1 circuit, with a thousand cars racing on a three-mile track, burning scorch marks on the smooth pitch that is your brain.
And it isn’t just the brain. Your body undergoes changes too. Your neck muscles are tensed into a hard knot, your shoulders are slumped, your nerves tingle, your chest feels like there’s a balloon inside, and so on.
Your anxiety also affects people around you – you snap at your boss (fail-safe way of getting fired), you kick your next-door neighbour’s cat (sign of having your door kicked off its hinges by an enraged cat owner), you shout at the waiter and bring him to tears because he brought you plain potato chips instead of French fries, till you realize that they are the same thing.
Anxiety is an irrational fear of the future. Instead of focusing on the work at hand, we brood over “what if” questions: What if I fail my exams? What if my assignment paper gets eaten by bedbugs? What if the promotion I worked so hard for is given to someone else?
There are plenty of methods to treat anxiety, including psychotherapy, medications and meditation. Many of these are highly effective and worth trying. However, there is one method which is more effective than all the others combined and does not have any side-effects. This method is to be like a bird, as the Prophet ﷺ said:
If you were to rely upon Allah with the required reliance, then He would provide for you just as He provides for birds, they go out in the morning hungry, and returns full. (Tirmidhi)
A sparrow doesn’t ask “what if” questions. It simply wakes up at the crack of dawn and goes out to work, and by the time it returns, it has got food for itself and its babies.
A classical infancy experiment called the Visual Cliff, appearing in many standard textbooks on developmental psychology, indicates that infants learn to perceive depth only after a certain age. The experiment goes like this: an infant is placed on a checkerboard beside a hollow area covered with a glass top, giving the illusion of a sharp fall. The infant’s ability to perceive depth is measured by his or her willingness to cross over to the other side of the apparatus.
In a more recent variation of this experiment, the infant’s mother is told to stand on the other side of the apparatus and show certain standardized facial expressions. The researchers found that, when the mothers expressed fear, none of the infants crossed over to them, and nearly all of them did so when the mothers smiled.
This cute little experiment shows that infants who have learned to perceive and fear heights will cross over the seemingly dangerous visual cliff merely based on their trust in their mothers. The baby trusts his mother blindly, knowing that she will never let him down. He looks to her for cues on how to react to a strange situation.
If only we could trust Allah in this way! And yet He deserves our trust much more than a mother deserves that of her child.
Before reading on, ponder on the following question: What makes the baby trust his mother?
Ways of Increasing Tawakkul
(A) Make a habit of reading the Quran daily.
The Quran helps us develop tawakkul in several ways:
1. It introduces us to Allah and His beautiful and powerful names and attributes. When you let Allah talk to you about Himself, in His own words, you can’t resist trusting Him.
2. It reminds us to have tawakkul, and gives us incentives for doing so.
And whoever fears Allah – He will make for him a way out and will provide for him from where he does not expect. And whoever relies upon Allah – then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has already set for everything a [decreed] extent. [Sûrat AlṬalâq, 65:2-3)
3. It tells us amazing stories of the Prophets and the Righteous who put their trust in Allah with astounding results.
Example: refer to the story of Prophet Yûsuf.
4. It is a miracle.
Imagine you were right behind Mûsa when Allah parted the Red Sea for him. Imagine how high your tawakkul would soar. And yet we have a greater miracle within our reach – the Quran.
Now Imagine a blind man standing behind prophet Mûsa in that historical moment. Although he has some inkling of what amazing things are happening, he’ll never be able to experience the full impact of the miracle.
That’s our situation regarding the Quran. To understand its miracle, we need to learn Arabic. It is a long-term solution to the problem of not having tawakkul.
(B)Watch and reflect on nature
Look at the high mountains, the endless sky and the tall ocean waves. It will seem laughable that the One who created them all will not have the power to solve our problems.
(C) Put the best effort you can, no more, no less.
What does “best” mean? To an anxious mind, “best” seems like an endless abyss.
“Best” doesn’t mean breaking your back, losing sleep or stopping having meals. What did the Prophet ﷺ say to the man who came to the masjid with a camel parked outside? The man asked him, O Messenger of Allah! Shall I tie it and rely (upon Allah), or leave it untied and rely (upon Allah)?” He replied, “Tie it and rely (upon Allah). (Tirmidhi)
Tying your camel doesn’t mean buying a heavy, rust-proof chain, tying the formidable thing around the poor animal’s neck and padlocking the other end to the most deep-rooted palm tree in the area, and then hiring a man to keep a watch over it, and hiring another man to watch over him, in case he decides to bunk it.
Remember what Allah said:
… Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship …. [Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:185]
Doing your best just means putting as much effort as necessary without overburdening yourself or others. When we turn all our focus on doing our best, we are likely to go into a transporting state, called “flow”. In this state, we become so absorbed in the task that every worry vanishes, and only the enjoyment of the moment remains.
Once the task is accomplished, we feel content in our hearts that we’ve done our bit, and that makes it easier to leave the rest to Allah.
Now that you have done your best, verbalize your tawakkul. Talk to Allah and tell Him all about it, and ask Him to bless it. Acknowledge your powerlessness to the All-Powerful, submit your sense of control to Him, and express your faith in His decree.
Sufficient for me is Allah; there is no deity except Him. On Him I have relied, and He is the Lord of the Great Throne. [Sûrat Al-Tawbah, 9:129]
Summing It All Up
Tawakkul isn’t a piece of cake that you can eat and have done with. It’s a life-long commitment. It’s a bit like gardening – sowing a seed in a good bit of earth isn’t enough; you need to take care of it continuously and, with consistent patience and perseverance, help it flourish into a fruitful tree.
Erica Burman, Deconstructing Developmental Psychology.