What Does the Hadith of Hungry Birds Mean? – A Non-Believer Asks

24 November, 2018
Q A hadith I read today says: “If you all depend on Allah with due reliance, He would certainly give you provision as He gives it to birds who go forth hungry in the morning and return with full belly at dusk.” Isn't this just nonsense? It's true in the sense that birds sometimes fail to feed themselves and then die from starvation, and likewise "Allah" sometimes fails to provide for us. What does the hadith signify, then? What is "due reliance"? Does that mean that you can have too much reliance or not enough reliance? What happens if you depend either too much or too little? Is this the cause of a man's failure? Is it helpful to think about our daily lives in this way, striving for just the right amount of reliance?


Short Answer:  “Due reliance” in the Hadith can mean two things: One, the spontaneous feeling of complete reliance a person feels towards his Lord and Sustainer. Second, the proper measure of reliance a human as a creation of Allah has to place on Allah.


Salam Brother,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

In attempting a response to your question I would like to first read the above hadith from your point of view, i.e. from the point of view of a non-believer.

There are a couple of questions that arise here:

1.   The hadith says that even birds that do not understand who God is, let alone consciously “rely” on God, do get their food. So what is the meaning of placing so much of emphasis on “reliance”?

2.   Also you asked what is meant by “due reliance”?

Allah Almighty is the Creator and Sustainer of the whole universe and everything in it.

His Mercy encompasses all of His creation, and even the tiniest unicellular being is a recipient of His overarching Mercy.

Allah says in the Qur’an:

“Say: “To whom belongs all that is in the heavens and on earth?” Say: “To Allah. He has inscribed for Himself (the rule of) Mercy” (Qur’an 6:12)

“My Mercy overspreads everything.” (Qur’an 7:156)

And He created man and placed him on the earth as His khalifah, meaning vicegerent or ambassador. (See Qur’an 2:30)

Thus we can see that humans possess the kind of creative faculties that only Allah can bestow; such as reasoning power, analytical skill and imaginative insight.

And what is more, they enjoy the freedom (though not unlimited) to use the above faculties not only to better their living conditions, but also to creatively transform the world around them.

The foregoing means:

(1) From the Islamic point of view, humans as the representatives of Allah on earth need to accept Him as their Sovereign Lord and Law-Giver.

(2) And secondly, they need to realize that they are helpless to manage their affairs on their own, and so have to rely on Allah for all their affairs.

How Allah Fulfills the Needs of His Creatures

In the hadith quoted above, the keyword is “reliance”.

About reliance, you raise the question whether it is possible for a person to have “too much reliance” or “not enough reliance”.

Now isn’t it possible for us to compare the degree of a person’s reliance on God with another person’s?

For instance, here is someone who seeks Allah’s help before he starts any activity. And there is another person who doesn’t do that; but prays to God for help only when he is confronted with a threat to his safety.

Can’t we say that the first person’s reliance on God is greater than that of the other?

“Due reliance” can mean two things: One, the spontaneous feeling of complete reliance a person feels towards his Lord and Sustainer.

Second, the proper measure of reliance a human as a creation of Allah has to place on Allah. I understand that both these senses are relevant in the context of the hadith.

Comparing Humans & Birds

Now what is the difference between birds and humans in this matter?

Birds are natural Muslims (those who submit to Allah): that is to say, they have no choice but to follow their nature, which is part of Allah’s sunnah – namely Allah’s Law as evinced in nature and the universe. And Allah feeds them.

But humans are beings in nature – let us say living their animal lives – and as such they too are fed the same way; since they too have no choice but to follow Allah’s Law of Nature.

But humans are beings appointed by Allah as His khalifah on earth. As mentioned above this means that they have the faculties of reasoning, logical analysis etc.

So they can understand who Allah is, and thus can exercise their choice to consciously acknowledge their reliance on Allah or to ignore or reject the very idea of reliance on God.

The hadith does not mention this subtle difference between birds and humans; but only emphasizes the concept of reliance on Allah.

The point underscored is how both birds and humans (consciously or unconsciously) rely on Allah to fulfill their needs.

And it is also worthy to note here that if a bird or animal does not get its food and dies; it is also Allah’s Law of Nature working; and it is not the failure of Allah.

And Allah knows best.

I hope that this answers your question.

Salam. Please stay in touch.

(From Ask About Islam archives)

Continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:


Let Go with the Heart – The Power of Tawakkul

Reliance on Allah at Odds with Self-Confidence?


About Professor Shahul Hameed
Professor Shahul Hameed is an Islamic consultant. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.