How a Camel Taught Me to Deal with Anxiety

by Abdullah Zaidani

To do the best or to trust in Allah?

I have anxiety. I have always lived with anxiety and I have owned that fact for quite some time now. I believe that it stems from an entire phase of my childhood where I was subjected to the feeling of perpetual inferiority and inadequacy. 

Growing Up in Meritocratic Singapore

I grew up in Singapore — yes, home of the ‘Crazy Rich Asians’. It is also home to thousands of children who spend a good amount of time in school, followed by piano or violin lessons, karate or swimming lessons, and then homework. And also tuition classes in the evenings. And perhaps, language lessons too.

Fortunately or unfortunately, I did not have to do all that because I came from a humble, lower-middle class family. We could not afford them. However, that meant that I was behind other children who had developed so much by the age of ten, those who could potentially be studying for a Bachelor’s degree by the looks of it.

Perfectionism and Failure

I was also an average student. I was good at many subjects in school, particularly in the humanities but I was terrible at mathematics and physics. 

Despite knowing my strengths and weaknesses at such a young age, I never allowed myself to become a victim of my circumstances and I strived to do my best in everything. I psyched myself up into believing, with every fibre of my being, that I could achieve anything that others did.

And to a certain extent, I did. But that also became my Achilles heel and the source of my anxiety.

Because I had achieved so much, I was led to believe that I was unstoppable. But as humans, we are bound to fail and face setbacks in life. 

Unfortunately, because of how I had conditioned myself over the years, I was ill-equipped to handle failures and that adversely affected my mental health. I have always wanted to be in control of things and when I was not able to, I spiral into a state of anxiety and often ricochet between overthinking and self-doubt.

Tie Your Camel

Recently, I attended a seminar on mental health and wellness aimed at Muslim professionals in Singapore. The asatizah who was hosting and speaking at the seminar shed light on how Muslims can look to the Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ sunnah and hadith to help guide us to be the best that we can be while preserving our mental wellness.

One of the most insightful things that he shared which resonated with me deeply was the concept of tawakkul (reliance on Allah) and how it is different from tamanni (wishful thinking). 

On the screen, he put up a massive picture of a camel tied to a pole. He then shared a simple but very poignant hadith. Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, the hadith outlines the story of a Bedouin man who was leaving his camel without tying it. 

Prophet Muhammad ﷺ asked him, “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” 

The Bedouin answered, “I put my trust in Allah.” 

The Prophet ﷺ then replied, “Tie your camel first and then put your trust in Allah.”

In its simplicity, I found that dealing with my anxiety is not about giving up control but rather to balance between trusting myself and trusting Allah and His plans.

Trust Yourself and Trusting His Plans

Trusting in Allah is tawakkul. It is at the core of our faith. Even in the name of our religion, ‘Islam’ means submission to God Almighty. 

It can be found in countless verses in the Quran too. 

ۚ وَمَن يَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ فَهُوَ حَسْبُهُۥٓ ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ بَـٰلِغُ أَمْرِهِۦ ۚ قَدْ جَعَلَ ٱللَّهُ لِكُلِّ شَىْءٍ قَدْرًا

“…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.”

[At-Talaq 65:3]

In the hadith on tying your camel, our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ taught us a very important lesson — one that is simple but often overlooked. 

Doing our due diligence and working within the means of this world does not in any way negate our tawakkul. The true meaning of tawakkul is about giving our very best in everything that we do and then leaving the rest to Allah. We put our trust in Him that He will take care of the rest that is not within our control. 

And in that wisdom, if something adverse were to happen and it did not go the way we intended, we can still find solace and be in peace knowing that we had done our best. The rest was up to the qadr (decree).

To go back to the question that opened this piece: to do the best or trust in Allah? Simply switch out the ‘or’ with an ‘and’.

Do our best and trust in Allah. Tie the camel and let Him do the rest.

And Allah knows best.