Brother Hakeem Olajuwon taught me the importance of Tawakul, or trusting Allah.
Br. Hakeem was an MVP on the Houston Rockets basketball team a couple of years ago when I first got to know him.
I remember reading before he became the star of the team, that he was a very good player but had A very bad temper. He would regularly fight with other players and swear, for instance.
Although he was a good player, his team went nowhere. But suddenly, in the mid-1990s, that changed, and the Rockets became a winning team instead of one with a couple of good players but no coordination. This culminated in their success in the 1994 and 1995 NBA championships.
Br. Hakeem used to be a non-practicing Muslim. I and a group of friends once asked him how the transformation to Islam affected his character.
“Before I started practicing my faith, I used to completely rely on myself. When I had done my best, I would be extremely frustrated if I didn’t win. It would irritate and anger me. And that was causing me to be bad to others by fighting and swearing,” he explained.
“But when I started practicing my faith, I learned that results are not my property. I started doing my best but then I left success and failure to my Creator. Now I was not irritated by failure and was not overinflated by success. That caused me to calm down and improve my behavior towards others on my team and we became a team.”
The difference between Br. Hakeem before and after was his understanding of the concept of Tawakul, which is a major concept in the relationship of a believer with his or her Creator. When a believer fully practices Tawakul by putting his or her full trust in Allah, this person realizes that they are not all-powerful, Allah is. Although we all control some variables that Allah has given us in our control, Allah ultimately controls all the other variables known or unknown to us.
Our capacities are limited. Allah’s are unlimited. We are responsible for following His command by doing our duty and making a right choice in the world of choices and following them up with action. In this way, good intentions and directions combined with good steps is what we are responsible for. And as Muslims, we want to do our best in that area. But results, positive or negative, are not always in our control. They are dependent upon the laws and prophecies which Allah has put in place and on His Will.
Sometimes we think that something is good for us and actually it is bad for us. And sometimes we feel that something is bad for us while actually it is the other way around. So the limit of human knowledge explains the limits of our not only control, but our responsibility as well. That is why we do our part and leave things in terms of results to God.
Adopting the belief and practice of Tawakul has two benefits for us. First, knowing that our responsibility for what happens is limited is very comforting. Those who do not realize the limits of human responsibility normally transgress on others’ rights by forcing their will on them through verbal or physical violence or they may get depressed and lose their mind or hurt themselves. So it is the Mercy of Allah that He has told us that our responsibility is limited. And that is the meaning of “On no soul does Allah place a burden greater than it can bear” (Quran 2: 286) as well as the understanding of individual responsibility.
The second consequence of Tawakul is that it invites us to connect to a powerful Ally Who is no one but the Lord Himself. The more we rely on Him, the greater the chances that we will try to please Him by following the guidance He has given us, which in turn will lead to goodness in this world and success in the Hereafter.
The third consequence of Tawakul is what Br. Hakeem learned by observing himself. By fully trusting in Allah and relying on Him, we are not depressed by what we have lost or intoxicated by our success (Quran 57:22-23). We know that all things are in Allah’s hands. And that makes us not only humbler but more submissive to God, thus better believers.
“The believers are only those who when Allah is mentioned feel a fear in their hearts and when His Verses are recited unto them, they increase their faith, and they put their trust in their Lord. Who perform prayer and spend out of what We have provided for them. It is they who are the believers in truth. For them are grades of dignity with their Lord, and Forgiveness and a generous provision.” (Surah Al-Anfal 8: 2-4)
“And put your trust and reliance in Allah, and sufficient is Allah as a Trustee.” (Surah Al-Ahzab 33: 3)
“And trust and rely on the Living One (Allah), Who will never die, and celebrate His praises and thanks. And Sufficient is He to be acquainted with the sins of His slaves.” (Surah Al-Furqan 25:58)
“And whoever places his trust in Allah, Sufficient is He for him, for Allah will surely accomplish His Purpose: For verily, Allah has appointed for all things a due proportion” (Qur’an 65:3)
The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Were you to put your complete trust and reliance on Allah, He would provide for you as He provides for the birds. They issue forth hungry in the morning and return filled in the evening”. (Tirmidhi)