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How to Balance Seeking Out Means with Tawakkul

Imām al-Qurṭubī

A discussion on how to navigate the dunyā whilst still keeping your intentions pure for the dīn. Seeking to fulfill worldly goals does not invalidate your tawākkul of Allāh.

Refuting the View that Carrying out Action in Fulfilment of a Goal is not from Islām
Addressing the Confusion Centred Around the Companions of Al-Ṣiffah
Refuting the Claim that Carrying out Actions in the Fulfilment of a Goal is a Sign of Weakness
Carrying Out Action in the Pursuit of a Goal Does Not Invalidate Tawfīq from Allāh
The True Definition of Tawākkul

Allāh says:

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا قَبْلَكَ مِنَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ إِلَّا إِنَّهُمْ لَيَأْكُلُونَ الطَّعَامَ وَيَمْشُونَ فِي الْأَسْوَاقِ ۗ وَجَعَلْنَا بَعْضَكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ فِتْنَةً أَتَصْبِرُونَ ۗ وَكَانَ رَبُّكَ بَصِيرًا ‎

‘And We did not send before you, [O Muḥammad], any of the messengers except that they ate food and walked in the markets. And We have made some of you [people] as a trial for others – will you have patience? And ever is your Lord, Seeing.’
[Al-Furqān, 25:20]

Abū ʿAbdullah Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad al-Anṣārī al-Qurṭubī [d. 671 AH] said:

This verse forms the foundation of the principle of carrying out actions in pursuit of the fulfilment of goals [and that doing so does not oppose true reliance in Allāh]1. It also encourages earning a living through trade, craftsmanship or its like.

Refuting the View that Carrying out Action in Fulfilment of a Goal is not from Islām

Some of the scholars have mentioned to me that the Prophets (عليهم السلام) came primarily to show the weak among the ummah how to execute actions in pursuit of their goals [but that this does not apply to the ones who truly rely in Allāh from among the prophets or their righteous, pious followers].

So I answered him saying: This is a statement that emanates only from an ignorant, stupid person, or from the foolish rabble, or from one who desires to slander the Book of Allāh or the honourable Sunnah. For Allāh has related in His Book concerning His chosen ones, His Messengers and prophets, that they carried out actions in the fulfilment of their goals and adopted trades [and they were definitely not the weak ones from among this ummah]. Allāh says, and His speech is only true:

وَعَلَّمْنَاهُ صَنْعَةَ لَبُوسٍ لَّكُمْ لِتُحْصِنَكُم مِّن بَأْسِكُمْ ۖ فَهَلْ أَنتُمْ شَاكِرُونَ ‎

And We taught him [Dāwūd] the making of metal coats of mail (for battles), to protect you in your fighting. Are you then grateful?
[Al-Anbiyāʾ, 21:80]

and He said:

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا قَبْلَكَ مِنَ الْمُرْسَلِينَ إِلَّا إِنَّهُمْ لَيَأْكُلُونَ الطَّعَامَ وَيَمْشُونَ فِي الْأَسْوَاقِ ۗ وَجَعَلْنَا بَعْضَكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ فِتْنَةً أَتَصْبِرُونَ ۗ وَكَانَ رَبُّكَ بَصِيرًا

‘And We did not send before you, [O Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم)], any of the messengers except that they ate food and walked in the markets.’
[Al-Furqān, 25:20]

The scholars commented on this verse: that is, they traded and adopted professions. Muḥammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: ‘My provision has been placed under the shadow of my arrow.’2 The Most High says:

فَكُلُوا مِمَّا غَنِمْتُمْ حَلَالًا طَيِّبًا ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

‘So consume what you have taken of war booty [as being] lawful and good.’
[Al-Anfāl, 8:69]

The companions (رضي الله عنهم) used to trade, have professions and work with their money [i.e. invest in their businesses]. Do you see them as weak?! Rather, they are, by Allāh, the strongest among us. The generations who followed them imitate them, and their path is one of guidance to be emulated.

Addressing the Confusion Centred Around the Companions of Al-Ṣiffah3

These scholars said in response to me: Those prophets only sought professions and carried out actions in pursuit of the attainment of their goals because they were leading others. They executed those actions directly to show the weak from society how to behave. In isolation from the weak of this ummah, they would not have done so. This is made clear by the companions of al-Ṣiffah.

I responded: If taking action in pursuit of goals only applied to the weak from this ummah, it would have been clarified by the companions of al-Ṣiffah themselves and before them by the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم). As this clarification is obligated in the Qurʾān:

بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَالزُّبُرِ ۗ وَأَنزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الذِّكْرَ لِتُبَيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ مَا نُزِّلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ

‘With clear signs and Books (We sent the Messengers). And We have also sent down unto you (O Muḥammad (ﷺ)) the reminder and the advice (the Qurʾān), that you may explain clearly to men what is sent down to them, and that they may give thought.’
[Al-Naḥl, 16:44]

He [Allāh] also said:

إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَكْتُمُونَ مَا أَنزَلْنَا مِنَ الْبَيِّنَاتِ وَالْهُدَىٰ مِن بَعْدِ مَا بَيَّنَّاهُ لِلنَّاسِ فِي الْكِتَابِ ۙ أُولَٰئِكَ يَلْعَنُهُمُ اللَّهُ وَيَلْعَنُهُمُ اللَّاعِنُونَ

Verily, those who conceal the clear proofs, evidences and guidance, which We have sent down after We have made it clear for the people in the Book, they are the ones cursed by Allāh and cursed by the cursers.
[Al-Baqarah, 2:159]

This matter is from among those proofs and evidences that obligate clarification.

As for the companions of al-Ṣiffah, they were guests of Islām who fell upon hard times. Thus, if charitable donations would reach the Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم), he would specifically make sure it was given to them. Likewise, if he was granted a gift of food, he would eat with them. Despite this, the companions of al-Ṣiffah used to chop wood and fetch water to the houses of the Messenger of Allāh (صلى الله عليه وسلم). They were described as thus by Imām al-Bukhārī (رحمه الله) and others. Then, later on, when Allāh had allowed the conquering of territories by the Muslims, a place was prepared for them and they took on leadership roles. Furthermore, they themselves ordered that provisions and sustenance be sought by others.

Refuting the Claim that Carrying out Actions in the Fulfilment of a Goal is a Sign of Weakness

Also, the expressed opinion would give the impression that the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) and his companions were weak, as they were aided and supported by the angels in their battles. For if they were truly strong, they would not require such support from the angels—this being among the means by which they attain victory over their enemies. We seek refuge in Allāh from any opinion or phrase that could give such a vile impression.

Rather, the opinion of utilising means and recognition of causality is from among the established ways of Allāh and His Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم). It is the manifest truth, the straight path upon which the consensus of Muslims scholars have reached agreement [ijmāʿ]. Otherwise, it would be that His true saying:

وَأَعِدُّوا لَهُم مَّا اسْتَطَعْتُم مِّن قُوَّةٍ وَمِن رِّبَاطِ الْخَيْلِ تُرْهِبُونَ بِهِ عَدُوَّ اللَّهِ وَعَدُوَّكُمْ وَآخَرِينَ مِن دُونِهِمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَهُمُ

‘And make ready against them all you can of power, including steeds of war (tanks, planes, missiles, artillery, etc.) to threaten the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others besides whom, you may not know’
[Al-Anfāl, 8:60]

is only applicable to the weak among us. Likewise, all other similar commands in the Qurʾān. For in the Qurʾān, Allāh addresses Mūsá al-Kalīm4 saying:

أَنِ اضْرِب بِّعَصَاكَ الْبَحْرَ

‘“Strike the sea with your stick.”’
[Al-Shuʿarāʾ, 26:63]

while He was fully capable of parting the sea without the striking of a staff. Likewise regarding Maryam (عليها السلام) when He commanded her saying:

وَهُزِّي إِلَيْكِ بِجِذْعِ النَّخْلَةِ

‘And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree’
[Maryam, 19:25]

while He was fully able to allow ripe, fresh dates to fall for her without shaking or fatigue of any kind [on her behalf].

Carrying Out Action in the Pursuit of a Goal Does Not Invalidate Tawfīq from Allāh

In spite of all this, we would never deny Allāh’s compassionate treatment of man, nor the fact that He aids him, or answers his invocation, or treats him with a generosity from Himself that benefits those around him. For such facts do not undermine the all-encompassing general principles we have already established. Indeed, this is far from the case! We would not deign to utter such speech, for the Most High has said:

وَفِي السَّمَاءِ رِزْقُكُمْ وَمَا تُوعَدُونَ

‘And in the heaven is your provision, and that which you are promised.’
[Al-Dhāriyāt, 51:22]

Verily, we state: Allāh and His noble Messenger (صلى الله عليه وسلم) have spoken the truth. Provision, here, is water as reflected by consensus of the scholars of Qurʾanic interpretation. The evidence of this is His saying:

هُوَ الَّذِي يُرِيكُمْ آيَاتِهِ وَيُنَزِّلُ لَكُم مِّنَ السَّمَاءِ رِزْقًا

‘It is He, Who shows you His āyāt (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) and sends down (rain with which grows) provision for you from the sky.’
[Ghāfir, 40:13]

He [also] said:

وَنَزَّلْنَا مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً مُّبَارَكًا فَأَنبَتْنَا بِهِ جَنَّاتٍ وَحَبَّ الْحَصِيدِ

And We send down blessed water (rain) from the sky, then We produce therewith gardens and grain (every kind of harvests) that are reaped.
[Qāf, 50:9]

Just as no one has ever observed loaves of bread or platters of meat descend from the heavens, rather it is the law of causality that governs the existence of those things. The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) said: ‘Seek provision in the hidden caches of the earth,’[5] which is through farming, tilling, and planting. In Arabic, things derive their names from that which logically precedes it. Here, rain is termed provision because from it provision grows. Such phraseology is common in the language of the Arabs. The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) also said: ‘It would be better for one of you to take his rope and [use it to] carry wood on his back [for the purpose of selling] than him asking [for hand-outs] regardless of whether he is given or not.’[6] This [ḥadīth] concerns even the one who packs wood and brambles out of pure necessity [rather than as an occupation]. For example, a man living in the mountains far from civilization would undoubtedly have to sort through heaps of bramble such that he could extract that which would sustain him [i.e. from firewood and the like]. For such is the meaning of his saying (صلى الله عليه وسلم): ‘If you were to possess true reliance in Allāh, you would be provided for, similar to the provision of the birds. They leave in the morning hungry and return in the evening fully satiated.’[7]

Leaving in the morning and returning in the evening here is representative of taking action in fulfilment of the goal of sustenance. So how surprising is the state of one who claims complete divestment from causality and true reliance in Allāh alone [tawākkul] while they sit in the middle of the way having completely abandoned the straight path; the upright methodology of clarity.

It is confirmed by Al-Bukhārī,[8] narrated by Ibn ʿAbbās (رضي الله عنهما), that the people of Yemen used to travel for the purpose of Ḥajj but would not pack provisions. They used to claim: ‘We are the mutawakkilūn [those who truly put their reliance in Allāh].’ Upon arriving in Makkah, they would ask the people. Consequently, Allāh, the Most High, revealed:


‘And take provisions’
[Al-Baqarah, 2:197]

Moreover, it has never been narrated from the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) or his companions (رضي الله عنهم) that they travelled without preparing provisions. They were the true mutawakkilūn.

The True Definition of Tawākkul

Tawākkul is to truly rely on Allāh to fulfill and satisfy an identified need like the attainment of provision, sustenance or any other goal. It is also to rely on Him in the granting of the necessary skill required to fulfil that need. Then, to execute valid actions which He has commanded in the fulfilment of that goal. This is the true definition.


1. Seeking means: i.e to an end or goal. Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 751 AH) said: “Indeed, a servant of Allāh achieves that which has been ordained for him through carrying out that which is within his capacity towards facilitating the fulfilment of that goal. The avenues traversed in its fulfilment will be according to his own abilities and in keeping with that which has been prepared by Allāh for him as a valid means to arrive at his goal. As long as he carries out the action required, he will reach whatever has been ordained for him in the Mother of the Books [al-Lawḥ al-Maḥfūẓ] by Allāh. The more he struggles in the attainment of his goal through carrying out what he recognises as a means to that end, the closer he is to the attainment of what has been ordained for him.

An example: If it has been ordained that someone will be the most knowledgeable scholar of his time, this is only attained through struggling and aspiring in the path of learning and that which leads to it [from reading and sitting with scholars]. Or if it has been ordained that someone is provided with children, such a thing is not granted except through marriage [and sexual intercourse]. If it has been ordained that someone will derive agricultural benefit from his land, this is not achieved except through him planting the seeds and executing the means of agricultural growth [like tilling the soil]. If it has been ordained that someone satisfies his appetite or quenches his thirst, then this is unattained except through the means which is eating and drinking. Such is the case for all matters of this worldly life and the hereafter.’ See ‘Shifāʾ al-ʿAlīl’ 52-53.

2. Here, reference is made to the lawfulness of the booty attained in war. Authentic; narrated by Al-Bukhāri:2913, Aḥmad: 5114, Al-Ṭabarānī 13:317 and 14109.

3. Companions of al-Ṣiffah: were poor companions predominantly from among the mahājirīn of Makkah who came to Madīnah without family or wealth. As such, a place was built for them in the Prophet’s (صلى الله عليه وسلم) mosque where they would temporarily reside and receive charity originally donated to the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم). The companions who dwelled therein did so temporarily, their numbers increasing and decreasing continuously. See ‘Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá’ by Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyyah 11:38.

4. Kalīm: Title given to Mūsá in relation to him being among the prophets with whom Allāh directly spoke. Allāh said: 

وَكَلَّمَ اللَّهُ مُوسَىٰ تَكْلِيمًا

‘And to Musa (Moses) Allah spoke directly.’
[Al-Nisāʾ, 4:164]

5. This ḥadīth is weak. See Albānī in Ḍaʿīf Al-Jāmiʿ: 905
6. Authentic. Narrated by Al-Bukhārī: 1470
7. Authentic. See Albānī in Ṣaḥīh Al-Jāmiʿ: 5254
8. Authentic. Narrated by Al-Bukhārī: 1523   

Source: Tafsīr al-Qurṭubī 13:11-13
Translated by: Riyāḍ al-Kanadī

Published: March 26, 2023
Edited: June 12, 2023

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