by Dr. Maram Behairy
A baby comes into this world preprogrammed to learn and create. Every moment is helping this baby understand about the world and himself. He develops a map or rule book for the world—“When I cry this way, I get food.” And at some developmental point, he notices his hands and feet, eventually developing an awareness of himself as an independent being.
Our entire life, we continue to learn about this interaction between world and self. Scientists manipulate these variables in an effort to understand and control outcomes. “If we increase this, that will happen…if we combine these 2 things, this will happen.” Intuitively, we all do some sort of cause and effect equations in our social lives in the hopes of figuring out how to get what we want. It’s natural.
Yet, our Deen teaches us to be Muslim—to surrender to Allah SWT. How does this nature of trying to understand and control fit in with the ultimate goal of surrender?
We know from our beloved Prophet Mohamed pbuh, we are not meant to do nothing. Tie your camel first, then surrender. Do your part, then surrender. So surrender is not the same as complacency.
حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو حَفْصٍ، عَمْرُو بْنُ عَلِيٍّ حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى بْنُ سَعِيدٍ الْقَطَّانُ، حَدَّثَنَا الْمُغِيرَةُ بْنُ أَبِي قُرَّةَ السَّدُوسِيُّ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَنَسَ بْنَ مَالِكٍ، يَقُولُ قَالَ رَجُلٌ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ أَعْقِلُهَا وَأَتَوَكَّلُ أَوْ أُطْلِقُهَا وَأَتَوَكَّلُ قَالَ “ اعْقِلْهَا وَتَوَكَّلْ ” . قَالَ عَمْرُو بْنُ عَلِيٍّ قَالَ يَحْيَى وَهَذَا عِنْدِي حَدِيثٌ مُنْكَرٌ . قَالَ أَبُو عِيسَى وَهَذَا حَدِيثٌ غَرِيبٌ مِنْ حَدِيثِ أَنَسٍ لاَ نَعْرِفُهُ إِلاَّ مِنْ هَذَا الْوَجْهِ وَقَدْ رُوِيَ عَنْ عَمْرِو بْنِ أُمَيَّةَ الضَّمْرِيِّ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم نَحْوُ هَذَا .
Anas bin Malik narrated that a man said: “O Messenger of Allah! Shall I tie it and rely(upon Allah), or leave it loose and rely(upon Allah)?” He said: “Tie it and rely(upon Allah).” Other chains report similar narrations.
Jami` at-Tirmidhi 2517 https://sunnah.com/tirmidhi:2517
We also know that working hard and striving is rewarded. The path to Jannah is repeatedly made easy for those who strive to learn, even if they actually never learn a thing. It’s never about the results.
Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported:
وعن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه أن رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم قال: “ومن سلك طريقًا يلتمس فيه علما سهل الله له به طريقًا إلى الجنة” ((رواه مسلم)).
The Messenger of Allah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said, “Allah makes the way to Jannah easy for him who treads the path in search of knowledge.”
[Muslim]. Riyad as-Salihin 1381 https://sunnah.com/riyadussalihin:1381
Control is where things get tricky. We are meant to think, analyze, assess, and strive. We are meant to hope and want to improve ourselves and world.
I think the key difference between surrender and control is not about our actions at all. It’s more about our intentions. If the intention is for Allah SWT, the outcome is irrelevant.
That’s a hard one because we are conditioned to equate results with success. In our world, results are rewarded more readily than effort and intention. And seeing the results fuels us to keep striving. This is why we try to figure out how to get those results consistently. This is where we get heady on control.
So how do we rewire our minds to focus on the intention and action? To trust that the results will come when Allah SWT decides with His infinite knowledge and wisdom? How do we surrender without being complacent?