Monday, 13 October 2014

The doubt essential to faith

Lesley Hazleton, a British-American author who wrote a profile of the Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, gives a stimulating TED talk on the importance of doubt to acquiring faith. She points out that Muhammad's first reaction to his divine revelation was one of terror, uncertainty and conviction that it couldn't have been real.

This modest man who became an ardent advocate for social and economic justice in Arabia started his journey to Islam trembling with fear, overwhelmed by doubt, panic and disorientation. It was this visceral human reaction that "brought Muhammad alive" for Hazleton. Doubt, she says, is essential to faith. Without it, what's left is heartless conviction that risks devolving into dogmatism and fundamentalism. And absolutism, she rightly argues, is the opposite of faith.

"Real faith has no easy answers, it involves and ongoing struggle, a continual questioning of what we think we know, a wrestling of issues and ideas. It goes hand in hand with doubt," according to Hazleton.

The 13-minute video brought my thoughts back five years to 2009, to the immense doubt that filled my mind in the months before I discovered Islam, a state of surrender to the Almighty.

Beleaguered by anger and despair over a series of personal and family struggles, I made a conscious decision to abandon my relationship with God. While I didn't stop believing that He existed, I was frustrated by the constant stream of obstacles and challenges that He had lined along on my path. Upset and full of uncertainty about my faith, I sought comfort and solace in books, physical exercises like swimming and friendships. These succeeded at provided distractions. Yet the underlying frustration and sadness in my heart lingered.

After eight months or so of rejecting His presence in my life, I found God pulling me toward Him. In spite of my best efforts to stop it, I was drawn to Him not again, but in many ways that I would discover, for the first time.
At first I vehemently resisted the pull. But a power within me, that I hadn't been aware of before, knew there was no going back. That was the first time I learned how to listen to my soul. Beyond my angered mind she sat yearning for comfort, answers and guidance.

In February of 2010, while attending an economic conference in Jeddah for work, my sister, who lived about an hour's drive away from the Saudi Red Sea port city, came to pick me up so that we could go together for an umrah pilgrimage in Mecca. I refused at first, feeling deeply that I had no need to visit the sacred site due to my detachment from God.

In the end, I was coaxed into going. I performed the rites without a flash of inspiration -- not even when I found myself being thrust in a mob of worshippers toward the Black Stone on the eastern corner of the Kaaba. The stone first descended from Heaven whiter than milk before the sins of humankind turned it black, according to Prophetic tradition. Every year millions of pilgrims, usually unsuccessfully, try to touch or kiss it as the Prophet had. And there I was, pressing my lips against it without conveying a shred of emotion.

What happened in the following months was nothing short of an extraordinary and exceptionally personal spiritual awakening that nourished my soul's desire for guidance. 
My faith sprung from seeds of doubt, and my progress since then has rested in constantly questioning my actions to discover how they can be modified to honour my relationship with God.

Being Muslim isn't about having all of the answers. Doubt is 
not only a crucial part of the process, but also a key ingredient in sparking curiosity and discovery. Doubt is not an inhibitor, it is a stimulus. Having doubt in my ability to comprehend, coupled with a certainty that this is a journey rather than a destination is, in a way, a crucial part of keeping the faith.


  1. Very inspirational. Well-written and expressive:

    "Doubt is not an inhibitor, it is a stimulus. Having doubt in my ability to comprehend, coupled with a certainty that this is a journey rather than a destination is, in a way, a crucial part of keeping the faith."

    You might be interested in the early writing of the late Dr. Mostafa Mahmoud, an Egyptian writer with diverse interests from medicinal to inspirational. Some of his work has been translated to English and other languages. For example:

  2. Asalaamu'alaykum wa rahmatullahi ta'ala wa barakatuh.

    May this message find you in the divine light, love and presence of the Almighty.

    I wanted to take a quick moment to point out the danger of 'doubt' as an eminently valid epistemological tool in the pursuit of truth, is problematic. We must see that the infiltration of key concepts from the Western world has brought confusion which will ultimately cause grave consequences if left unchecked.

    Professor al-Attas(A great treasure) has explained the nature of this:
    "Finally, doubt is elevated as an epistemological method by means of which the rationalist and the secularist believe that truth is arrived at. But there is no proof that it is doubt and not something else other than doubt that enables one to arrive at truth. The arrival at truth is in reality the result of guidance, not of doubt. Doubt is wavering between two opposites without preponderating over either one of them; it is a condition of being stationary in the midst of two opposites without the heart inclining toward the one or the other. If the heart inclines more toward the one and not toward the other while yet not rejecting the other, it is conjecture; if the heart rejects the other, then it has entered the station of certainty. The heart's rejecting the other is a sign not of doubt as to its truth, but of positive recognition of its error or falsity. This guidance. Doubt whether it be definitive or provisional, lead to either to conjecture or to another position of uncertainty, never to the truth--"and conjecture avails naught against truth." (Qur'an 10:36)"--Prolegomena To The Metaphysics Of Islam: an Exposition of the Fundamental Elements of the World View. (A must read!)

    "Many challenges have arisen in the midst of man's confusion throughout the ages, but none perhaps more serious and destructive to man than today's challenge posed by Western civilization." Writes al-Attas. "I venture to maintain that the greatest challenge that has surreptitiously arisen in our age is the challenge of knowledge, indeed, not as against ignorance; but knowledge as conceived and disseminated throughout the world by Western civilization; knowledge whose nature has become problematic because it has lost its true purpose due to being unjustly conceived, and has thus brought about chaos in man’s life instead of, and rather than, peace and justice; knowledge which pretends to be real but which is productive of confusion and scepticism, which has elevated doubt
    and conjecture to the ‘scientific’ rank in methodology and which regards doubt as an eminently valid epistemological tool in the pursuit of truth; knowledge which has, for the first time in history, brought chaos to the Three Kingdoms of Nature: the animal, vegetal and mineral. It seems to me important to emphasize that knowledge is not neutral, and can indeed, be infused with a nature and content which masquerade as knowledge. Yet, it is, in fact, taken as a whole, not true knowledge, but its interpretation through the prism, as it were, the world view, the intellectual vision and psychological perception of the civilisation that now plays the key role in its formulation and dissemination. What is formulated and disseminated is knowledge infused with the character and personality of that civilisation —knowledge as presented and conveyed as knowledge in that guise so subtly fused together with the real so that others take it unawares in toto to be the real knowledge per se." --Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, Islam & Secularism (p.133-134).

  3. Some resources:
    Prolegomena to the Metaphysics of Islam, by Syed Muhammad Naguib Al-Attas; This important and profound book can be read as a guide to the Islamic intellectual tradition, as well as a guide to applying that tradition in navigating ourselves safely through the pitfalls of modernity.

    Kalam Jadid, Islamization & The Worldview of Islam: Operationalizing the Neo-Ghazalian, Attasian Vision by Adi Setia:

    The Crisis of Knowledge - Shaykh Hamza Yusuf:

    Take Care, Fi Amanillah,
    As-salamu 'alaykum,