The goal of this book is to equip you with the epistemic, psycho-spiritual tools to deal with your or other people’s doubts.
We do that starting in Part I by expounding upon foundations. This part has been titled “Metaphysical Backdrop.” Metaphysics studies the fundamental nature of reality. The term “metaphysics” has been coined from the Greek, μετὰ τὰ φυσικά or “beyond the physics”. In a sense, if we understand “the physics” to refer to the physical world (i.e. that which we perceive by way of our senses: sight, sound, touch, etc.) then ‘meta’-physics deals with concepts that are non-physical. The prefix ‘meta’ is used in a number of words that highlight the idea of concepts that precede, transcend and/or form the anchor for the term that is being prefixed.
For example, when speaking about ‘metalearning’, Scott Young writes, “The prefix meta comes from the Greek term μετὰ, meaning “beyond.” It typically signifies when something is “about” itself or deals with a higher level of abstraction. In this case metalearning means learning about learning.”1
Another way of understanding the signification of the prefix ‘meta’ is by way of ethical ‘meta’-language. In our use of ethical language there have to be certain words that form the grounding for other words. We can think of these words as ‘secondarily evaluative’ words that anchor ‘primarily descriptive’ words. For example, the words ‘good’ and ‘true’ would be secondarily evaluative. You could ask the question, “why do you want x?” and an appropriate response could be “because it is good.” If you now asked, “why want what is good?”, you have reached the ambit of reason, leading your interlocutor to respond with something silly like, “because good is good.” Primarily descriptive words however, rely on secondarily evaluative words for valuation. So the word “humility” or “humble” can be teased further to reach the word “good”. You could ask, “why do you like person Y?” and the response could be “because he is humble”. Now, if you were to ask, “why do you like humility?”, your interlocutor can logically respond with, “because humility is good”. In this case, the secondarily evaluative word ‘good’ is part of your ethical ‘meta’-language as Toshihiko Izutsu explains, “In this sense, secondary ethical terms may justly be called ethical metalanguage, and the distinction between primary and secondary level would roughly answer the logician’s distinction between object words and logical words.”2
Returning back to ‘Metaphysical Backdrop’, in the context of dealing with doubts, one needs to understand one’s grounding or basis of reality before one can speak about doubts. This understanding informs a person’s view of whether something truly is a doubt or not. Hence, it behooves us to begin with a backdrop exploring the fundamental nature of reality.
Our ‘Metaphysical Backdrop’ begins with how we conceptualize or frame Islam. Is Islam a religion? An uncritical response of ‘yes’ to this question testifies to two problems. First, it assumes that ‘religion’ is a strictly bordered, non-porous, conceptual domain with everything inside the border being ‘religion’ and everything outside the border being not ‘religion’. Second, it casts Islam into this assumed conceptual domain. Our first section, Islam is NOT a religion, investigates both of these problems and concludes that indeed Islam is not a religion but is better conceptualized as a worldview. But, what is a worldview?
A worldview can be understood to be the ‘lenses’ by which we view reality. Our second and third sections, What is a Worldview? and Components of a Worldview expound upon the definition of worldview and investigate what philosophical components make up a person’s worldview. We will see that worldviews impact a person’s stance on various social, psychological, economic, political, ethical, etc. issues. Does Islam seem unjustly patriarchial? Can’t understand why Islam doesn’t allow interest bearing transactions? Having trouble reconciling certain hadīth with empirical findings in the natural world? These two sections will provide the paradigmatic solution that the reader will find liberating, God willing.
Once we have thoroughly understood worldview and its components, a natural question would arise: How do we know which worldview is true? This question can be very challenging to answer considering all worldviews have pre-assumptions that cannot be proven. In philosophical parlance, these unprovable pre-assumptions are sometimes referred to as first principles. What first principles show us is that pure rationality has limits. Our fourth section, The Limits of Rationality, explores those limits and provides justification for the Islamic worldview’s first principle: the fiṭrah.
In the fifth section of our metaphysical backdrop called The Fiṭrah: “Original Normative Disposition”, we explore the concept of the fiṭrah from an intuitive and scriptural perspective. This section will connect the concept of the fiṭrah to the concept of the spiritual heart in the Islamic paradigm. This connection is extremely important in understanding how doubts affect the human being since the spiritual heart is the locus of activity for doubts. As such, section 6, The Nature of the Heart and Its Main Corrupters presents an overview of how the spiritual heart functions and what are its main challenges, respectively.
Section 6 will also provide an explanation of what a “doubt” is. This may seem a bit late coming considering this is a book on doubts. Why not start the book with an explanation of what a doubt is instead of placing it six sections away from the begining? If you recall, the overarching title of these sections is “Metaphysical Backdrop”. Without a proper backdrop in place, even the definition of the term “doubt” could prove problematic. In this section, we start with the Arabic word that is employed to mean ‘doubt’ (shubhah) and study its morphology, etymology and usage in Islamic source texts. This will allow us to understand the true nature of doubts and help us identify characteristics of doubts that cause a lack of spiritual homeostasis.
An assiduous understanding of doubts will equip us to better interpret where doubts come from. In our seventh section, Sources of Doubts, we take a look at the main areas where doubts originate. The taxonomy used in this book to categorize these sources has been taken from a 2016 study conducted by Yaqeen Institute and published in an article titled, “Modern Pathways to Doubts in Islam”3 In this article, Youssef Chouhoud organizes the sources of doubts into three broad categories:
- – Moral & Social Concerns
- – Philosophical & Scientific Concerns
- – Personal Trauma
With the proper metaphysical backdrop in place, Part II of the book outlines 10 effective strategies to deal with your or other people’s doubts. These strategies will either be preventative or palliative or both. Certain strategies will be more effective as preventative measures being applied before the doubt has taken root in the heart. Other strategies will be more palliative in nature, providing a cure if the doubt has already infected the heart. Briefly, the 10 strategies are as follows:
- Be Aware: This strategy is simply about recognizing danger. Doubts, as we will cover in the metaphysical backdrop, are extremely dangerous since they undermine a person’s īmān. Thus, one needs to be aware of them.
- No Attention: If we are aware of the dangerous nature of doubts, then it only makes sense to avoid them. This strategy is not a testament to the strength of the doubt but more so it is related to the weakness of our hearts, as we will see, God willing.
- Make the Distinction: It is important to know that there are valid questions we can ask about Islam. However, what’s the difference between a valid question and a doubt? There is also a phenomenon known as ‘waswasa’ (whispering). How do we distinguish between a valid question, a ‘waswasa’ and a doubt? This strategy equips us with the ability to make the distinction between them.
- Your Environment: In the metaphysical backdrop we look at the limits of rationality and conclude that there are indeed extra rational elements that can affect our perception of truth. One of those elements that affects us is our environment. In this section, we will be presenting studies from social psychology as well as traversing through Islamic source texts to better understand the effects of our environment and how that impacts our hearts.
- Study Islam: Many times a doubt is due to a lack of knowledge about Islam. The strategy of studying Islam is both preventative and palliative because it allows us to sift through actual facts about Islam and mere misconceptions. The Qur’anic motif for knowledge is light as it illuminates the darkness of ignorance. This section elucidates the difference between studying Islam and merely studying, the importance of Islamic knowledge in confronting destructive doubts and how Islamic knowledge and spirituality are connected. We will conclude this section with two case studies. One, dealing with women’s inheritance and the other dealing with marital age.
- Critical Thinking: This strategy is related to the theo-philosophical understanding of things. Being able to think critically will empower you to transcend doubts by correctly making logical connections between ideas, looking at the philosophical underpinnings of those ideas and arriving at sound conclusions. We will be presenting a case study related to the claim of science being an intellectual source of doubt and study some aspects of the philosophy of science.
- Find a Specialist: Every human being has epistemic limitations. We cannot know everything. One of the means by which we can extend our epistemic limitations is by the testimonial knowledge of others. Think about all of the knowledge housed in other people’s minds that you rely upon as you make your way through the modern world. Most of us rely upon pilots to fly planes to get us from one place to another, or rely upon mechanics to present a diagnosis of what is wrong with our vehicles and so on. As such, when it comes to dealing with doubts, finding and consulting a specialist is an indispensable strategy. This section outlines the benefits and need to find specialists in theology, philosophy, spirituality, etc.
- Deal with Trauma: How do we deal with personal trauma, life’s trials and tribulations and general negative experiences, especially if we find them becoming a source of doubts? This section will give a strategy that is derived from Islamic orthodoxy and bolstered by cognitive psychology. This strategy asks the reader to reposition the meaning they have attached to the particular traumatic experience to one that is in line with the intended meaning from the Divine.
- Focus on Your Heart: As was mentioned earlier, the heart is the locus of attack for doubts. In this section, we take an exhaustive approach to Islamic pneumatology (study of the spirit) and breakdown the spiritual-material constitution of the human being. We will elaborate upon fundamental ontological questions (e.g. who are you?) and explore the connection between spirituality and doubts. The conclusion of this section will present examples of effective acts of worship that fortify the heart against destructive doubts.
- Making Du’ā: The preceding 9 strategies will be ineffective without the help of Allah. This is where the last and most important strategy comes into play. Earnestly beseeching Allah for a firm heart, protection from doubts and being granted strong īmān are all a part of strategically dealing with doubts. However, there are many factors that enhance the acceptance of one’s supplication. These factors include choosing appropriate times, places and situations for making dua, employing the appropriate Name or Attribute of Allah based upon the circumstance, and using supplications from the Qur’an and Sunnah. This section outlines some of the ways to properly make dua and presents some sound supplications from Islamic source texts.
The last part of this book may be treated like an appendix. If one has internalized the concepts and strategies presented up to this point, then Part III – Popular “Doubts” should merely serve as a reference. In this part of the book we have collected and analyzed a number of popular and widespread “doubts” which can be found circulating on the internet. These “doubts” are pushed by a number of different groups including ex-Muslims, militant Atheists, Orientalists, Modernists, certain evangelical Christian groups and many others. This “appendix” is by no means an exhaustive list of “doubts” and should not be referred to without covering the previous two parts of this book.
1 Young, Scott. Ultralearning: Master Hard Skills, Outsmart the Competition, and Accelerate Your Career. HarperBusiness, 2019., pg. 53
2 Izutsu, Toshihiko. Ethico-Religious Concepts in the Qur__n. McGill-Queen’s Press – MQUP, 2002., pg.20
3 Chouhoud, Youssef. “Modern Pathways to Doubt in Islam.” Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research, October 24, 2016. https://yaqeeninstitute.org/read/paper/modern-pathways-to-doubt-in-islam.