The Beauty and Wisdom of the Sufi Teaching on ‘Tawakkul’ or Divine Surrender
It is God and God alone Who can rule the universe and can arrange our life according to His just and good predestination and according to His perfect plan and excellent will.
By Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu
The Sufi mystics of Sunni Islam always insist that the measure of a true spiritual person is when one absolutely depends his whole being to the divine pre-ordaining of God and His divine arrangement or predestination (Arabic: Taqdeer). The Arabic term for this dependence is “Tawakkul” which literally means the complete surrender of the corpse to the one who will bury it. In Islamic Sufism, surrender means to be absolutely dependent on God’s Divine Predestination.
Way-Out of a Vast Desert
“Tawakkul” also means complete trust to a person who knows the way-out of a vast desert. Sufis likewise add that “Tawakkul” (complete dependence or resignation) is not just in mere surrendering of the soul to God, but in the soul’s total contentment (Raza) and satisfaction (Ridha) towards God Who knows what is truly Good and accomplishes what is truly the Best in the person’s life.
As for me, I have to admit that there were times that I wanted to be fully in-charge of my life and during those times, I also wanted to run away from God’s divine pre-ordainment in my life—in short, there were times that I wanted to dethrone God out of my life. And the moment, I realize that I got angry at God, I right away repent before Him for such audacity displayed by me, a mere creature against the Divine Controller of the whole cosmos and the Generous Giver of my insignificant and ephemeral life.
The Wrong Directions
The reason why I sometimes wanted to declare my “independence” from God is my feeling that there are many things that are going-on in my life that I cannot understand, and I sometimes feel that if I am the one truly in-charge of my life, then all will be well. However, when I looked back at my past and saw for myself the wrong directions I had taken and the mistaken decisions I had made, and the many heartbreaks and complications that came due to my stupid decisions, I cringed at the idea of my seeking “independence” from God; and right there and then, I sincerely repent of my arrogance and confess with utter humility that God is still the God of Divine Wisdom Who holds my very life in the Palm of His Hands (See Isaiah 41:13 in the Jewish Holy Scriptures).
I have truly realized and experienced many times of wanting to have the best and the most excellent circumstances in all I do, and yet I do not have perfect control over things and events going-on in my life, despite the best well laid-out plans; for I am not God Who alone predisposes all things towards the Absolute Good. I know that this is impossible, but if I am given the permission by God to take control of the universe in just an hour, I know fully well that I cannot keep the universe in order, because even my life cannot be fully controlled by my own predispositions, tentativeness, chaotic moods, indecisiveness and indiscipline! It is God and God alone Who can rule the universe and can arrange our life according to His just and good predestination and according to His perfect plan and excellent will.
God Who holds the Key
Yes, there might be many times that I feel angry with God at the seeming injustices of life and the calamities of this world, yet I could not figure out anybody to replace God as the Supreme Controller of this universe. It is only God and God alone Who holds the key and knows the just balance that makes the cosmos and our life in order: because it is only God, the Compassionate Heart of God alone Who truly knows the Final Good of this cosmos and the Final Good of our life. We only see the present, but God Holds Eternity in a single vision of His Compassionate and All-Seeing Eyes. This is the very point when the Holy Qur’an beautifully declares: “No vision can grasp Almighty Allah, but His grasp is over all vision. Allah Almighty is above all comprehension, and is acquainted with the finality of all things” (See Holy Qur’an 6:103).
Therefore, as believers, what can we do, except to bow, submit and lay prostrate before this All-Just, All-Good, All-Loving and All-Merciful Predestinating God who pre-ordains and predetermines life with the Final Good and the Best End in mind? How can we not trust and surrender to the pre-ordainment of this God of Wisdom, Love and Mercy? This is why Sufi mystics of Islam always bow down (Sajdah) and submit (Tasleem) to the will of God by saying with trust and faith these short yet profound phrases: “In Shaa’ Allah!” (If Allah wills it) and “Wa Allahu Aalam!” (Allah knows best). Tonight, I also say with firm faith these words of divine trust in the loving Predestinating God to all the things, circumstances and events that will come to my life tomorrow and in the days to come. So how about it? Something worth pondering in our inward and upward journey back to God.
(Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu is Associate Professor-VI of Philosophy and Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines (UP), Cebu City).