Saturday, December 3, 2011

Complete Trust in God (Tawakkul)

One of the most important stations on the Path is tawakkul, complete trust in God and self-surrender to Him. The definition of tawakkul is of central importance for an understanding of classical Sufi thought. Darani, the spiritual descendant of Hasan al-Basri, defined it as the apex of zuhd, “renunciation.” Muhasibi, representative of orthodox views, holds that the degree of tawakkul can very in accordance with the degree of faith a person has. Throughout the ninth century – probably beginning with Shaqiq al-Balkhi – the pious discussed the different aspects of this attitude, which Dhu’n-Nun defined as “complete certitude.” According to these definitions, real tauhid demands tawakkul: God, in His absoluteness, is the only actor, and therefore man has to rely completely upon Him. Or, to define it differently: since the divine power is all-embracing, man must have complete trust in his power.

Tawakkul in its interiorized sense means to realize tauhid; for it would be shirk khafi, “hidden associationism,” to rely upon or be afraid of any created being. This aspect to tawakkul is one of the basic truths in Sufi psychology: as soon as every feeling and thought is directed in perfect sincerity toward God, without any secondary causes, neither humans nor animals can any longer harm the mystic. Thus tawakkul results in perfect inner peace. The numerous stories about Sufis who wandered “in tawakkul” through the desert without fear of lions or highway robbers, without any provisions, reflect this attitude in a somewhat romantic fashion.

But exaggerated tawakkul might induce man into perfect passivity. Then it might produce strange figures like the dervish who fell into the Tigris; asked whether he wanted to be saved, he said “no,” and asked whether he would rather die, he again said “no” – “for what have I to do with willing?” God had decreed at the time of creation whether he was to be drowned or saved. Another story that deals with the exaggeration of tawakkul is told about Ibrahim ibn al-Khawass, an Iranian Sufi who used to wander in the deserts without any provisions (‘ala’t-tawakkul). But a colleague of his thought even this too lax, since “his Sufi dress begged for him”; he made him wear luxurious attire and then sent him to the desert to practice real trust in God. This same wayfarer would refuse the company of Khidr, the patron of pious travelers, because his graceful company seemed to negate his perfect trust in God alone – had not Abraham, after all, refused help even from Gabriel when Nimrod cast him onto the blazing pyre? And he was rewarded for this act of tawakkul by God’s changing the fire into a cool rose garden. How, then, could the Sufi ascetic even think of danger if everything was in the hands of God? And why should he get involved in a profession to gain his livelihood if God would send him his food in any case, if there was food predestined for him?

The ascetic regarded everything worldly as contaminated; nothing was ritually clean enough for him to occupy himself with. He would rather spend his days and nights in worship than pollute himself by “practical” work. And even if he did work, why should he try to gain more than was needed just for one day? To store money or goods was regarded as a major sin – did the pious know whether he would still be alive within an hour, or by the next morning?

Extension of hope (tul al-amal), is one of the most disliked attitudes in Sufism; Ghazzali’s chapter on “Fear and Hope,” in his Ihya ‘ulum ad-diin, echoes these feelings and gives a lucid picture of th austere outlook of early Sufism. Even mystics who cannot be regarded as typical representatives of strict tawakkul often distributed all their money in the evening or gave away everything they had on Friday.

However, neither strict Hanbalite orthodoxy nor the moderate Sufis accepted the notion of tawakkul in an overstressed form; exaggerations like those just mentioned were criticized by many of the leading pious. They considered this exaggerated attitude a violation of the Prophetic tradition – did not Muhammad himself advise a bedouin: “First tie your camel’s knee, and then trust in God”? Sahl at-Tustari is the perfect example of a mystic who tried to combine a life in the “world” with complete tawakkul, and his contemporary Junayd taught his disciples how to regard earning: “The proper method of to engage in works which bring one nearer to God, and to occupy oneself with them in the same spirit as with works of supererogation commended to one, not with the idea that they are a means of sustenance of advantage”

In the course of the time, tawakkul came to be regarded more as a spiritual attitude than as an external practice. If everybody had lived according to the ideals promoted by some of the early ascetics, the whole economic and social fabric of the Muslim Empire would have collapsed. However, as a basic station on the mystical Path and as a spiritual force, an unshakable trust in divine wisdom and power, tawakkul is still an important element of Muslim piety.

(Annemarie Schimmel. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. The University of North Carolina Press, 1975. P.116-120)

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