One of my favorite hadiths or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), involves a camel. Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, the hadith outlines the story of a Bedouin man who was leaving his camel without tying it. The Prophet (PBUH) asked him “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” The Bedouin answered, “I put my trust in Allah.” The Prophet then replied, “Tie your camel first, and then put your trust in Allah.”
It seems simple. Tie the camel, trust in Allah, go about your business.
Trusting in God’s plan is known as tawakkul, a concept that shows up all over the Qur’an and hadith. For instance: “…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” (65:3). It is linked to the essence of the word “islam,” literally translated into English as “submission,” a.k.a. submission to the will of God.
Just as tawakkul is seemingly simple, it is also integral to Islam. However, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Trust means giving up control. When a friend trusts another with a secret, they give up control over where that secret could go. In a world and a time where it feels like there is nothing we can control, to trust that it’ll all be alright may feel even riskier than usual.
In the case of the camel, it is entirely possible that if that man had left his camel untied it might have stayed in place. It is also possible that, had he tied his camel, it could have gotten loose somehow. Tawakkul in this case means trusting that, either way, it’s in God’s hands. Furthermore, a belief in a benevolent God means trusting that whatever happens, whether it seems positive or negative at present, is ultimately what’s best.
It’s not easy to trust, whether we’re trusting ourselves or the people around us or God. However, it is necessary to keep moving forward. We focus on what we can realistically control, and trust that the rest is out of our hands. We tie our camels, and then trust in Allah.
Associate Chaplain for Muslim and Interfaith Life