When in doubt

Not everything that we are taught in Muslim scholarship is in fact Islam, in the sense of what the Prophet brought — peace be upon him. Many who think themselves to be rejecting Islam may in fact just be rejecting an incorrect notion of it and, in doing so, they may actually be moving closer to Islam in its true sense. There are many things that Muslims preach which go against the teachings of Islam; remarkably, in rejecting such ideas we might find ourselves to be the real believer, whatever others might say.

In our zeal to hold fast to the particular school of thought we find ourselves on, many of us would throw out the entire intellectual heritage of Islam simply because it falls outside the realm of our experience or imagination. We may be taught that we are on true Islam and that all other practice is deviation at best, but we should be very careful about rejecting an entire tradition because of our encounter with one aspect of it. When our faith in our school is shaken, we do not ask ourselves whether there could there be a problem with a particular understanding, interpretation or practice of Islam, but instead often dismiss Islam as a whole.

We have to have the right information, and then we have to practice it: this is very difficult. Even very learned people can go against the teachings of Islam. Isn’t it said, “Many much-learned men have no intelligence”? Sometimes scholars become idols in themselves, and stand in the way of us truly understanding Islam. Historically we have had a lot of problems as Muslims. When things are not properly understood it creates a lot of unrest and people find that they are not at peace with themselves.

Islam is from the root word salima which contains two meanings: safety and health. Hence Islam in its essence is the way to be safe and healthy, physically as well as spiritually. A Muslim is a person who aspires to the ideals of Islam. Hence a true Muslim is the one who struggles to tread the path of safety and health at all times. This requires useful knowledge and good practice within one’s ability.

It is normal to have doubts, but you have to keep your feet on the ground. We all have a lot of questions. You cannot be asked to believe in something which is not clear to you. Some things that we are taught are clearly a part of Islam, some things may be or are probably part of Islam, and some things are definitely not part of Islam, neither in law nor belief.

When afflicted with doubt, the best approach is to list each of the problems you have and then address them one by one. You may not find the answer immediately — indeed it may take years — but this is the nature of the search for truth. As René Descartes said:

“If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.”

You have to have to have patience with yourself: it is not like a take away meal, or a fruit you pick from a tree. It can take many years to discover a satisfactory answer to your questions. “And God loves those who are patient.”

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