Doubts and Difficulties
The main goal of criticizing a belief, is to raise doubts about its validity. Therefore, when one enters into the realm of apologetics, they have to deal with many doubts and difficulties. So what is a doubt? A doubt is to be uncertain about the validity of something. That can range from it being true, to it being authentic, to it being believable. There are many ways we can doubt something, but what doubting something means needs to be understood. To be doubtful is to be uncertain. It does not mean you disbelieve or that you reject anything, it just means that you have uncertainty. The way the mind functions is that it tends to make emotive leaps as opposed to reasonable ones. This is why those who often have doubts seem to be very sensitive in handling their beliefs, there is some emotional buildup which the mind creates that severely blows uncertainty out of proportion. I’ll give an example.
- 2 * x = 4.
You’re told that this is correct, nothing is wrong with this statement. It just doesn’t make sense though, 2 multiplied by x, gives 4? How can 2 multiplied by a letter give a number as a result? This doesn’t make sense, this is nonsense. Anyone who thinks like this, must have some mental problem! That’s until you’re taught that x is a variable, and through some arithmetic we arrive at x = 2. The x has a meaning, there are rules, methods to follow so that we may extract full understanding of the given statement. If we don’t know the rules, or if we don’t know the method used to interpret and make sense of the statement, then it’s very likely that it’s not going to make sense to us. Scripture is very much like this. There are rules, methods, different ways to read scripture and interpret it that most people ignore and so they read things as they see them, not as they should be seen. Often times, they interpret things literally. So for the person who read the arithmetic statement above literally, they’re not going to get very far, but if you’ve done basic mathematics, then not only did the statement make sense it would’ve been very easy to solve.
Yet, for the person who’s just starting out, you show them two statements and tell them that they both make sense:
- 2 * x = 4
- 2a * x = 4
They’re going to think you’re making it up as you go along. However, if you knew how to solve the first equation, but didn’t know how to solve the second, it’s very likely that you’d be uncertain about your methodology! This is just like most issues in faith. There are some instances in which you’ll possess enough knowledge to make sense of somethings, which may help in other areas of belief, but because you don’t fully have the needed knowledge there are somethings you become uncertain about. Somethings you doubt. It doesn’t mean everything you know is wrong, it just means you need some direction from a person with greater knowledge than you. This is why, Allah says in His Qur’an:
فَاسْأَلُوا أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
So ask the People of Remembrance (of the Dhikr, of Knowledge) if you do not know. – Qur’an 21:7.
This is a pretty clear command that I don’t think needs explanation. Don’t know something? Ask the people who are educated! The scholars, the Ulama:
ثُمَّ أَوْرَثْنَا الْكِتَابَ الَّذِينَ اصْطَفَيْنَا مِنْ عِبَادِنَا
Then We gave the Scripture as inheritance unto those whom We elected of Our servants. – Qur’an 35:32.
Shaykh Faraz Rabbani of Seekers Guidance has an excellent article on the commentary of these verses and more similar to them, which you can read here. The scholars are indeed the inheritors of the Prophets and in our Ummah they are the inheritors of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. You and I are not the first people to read the Qur’an. We’re not the first people to read a hadith. There have been millions before us who read the same literature as we did, and so, if we had questions about what we read, then it is very likely that those who came before us had the same or similar questions. Read something and don’t understand it? There’s bound to be a commentary on it, there’s going to be some scholarly work that examines the different interpretations and meanings. This is good, because it means that Allah did not simply just drop the Qur’an and leave us to figure it out. He raised a Prophet ﷺ, with a nation, built upon the lives of the Companions who strove hard to establish Islam in the midst of great adversity and tribulation. That means, there is a long, well established intellectual tradition from our time to the time of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. So, if you have questions, I can guarantee you that there are answers. A great work to read, so that one can develop some understanding about the extant and prevailing Islamic intellectual tradition is Dr. Jonathan AC Brown’s, “Misquoting Muhammad”.
Being an apologist means that you’re going to have to engage with our healthy and expansive intellectual tradition, and so if you truly want to respond to the critics of Islam, the best place to start is in a class under a reputable and rightly guided scholar. Doubts and uncertainties can be replaced with certainty. It can be done. Uncertainty can be removed by gaining knowledge or by asking the knowledgeable. Being uncertain or doubting something, does not mean you disbelieve, or that you reject Islam, it merely means that you have questions and that you’re searching for the answers to them. Therefore, in closing this article on doubts, the most important lesson we can walk away with is that there are answers to our questions, what truly matters is if we have the ability to be patient for them and if we are willing to educate ourselves, for as Allah says in His Qur’an:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اسْتَعِينُوا بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلَاةِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ
O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient. – Qur’an 2:153.
For more information on the role of doubts and processing them, Shaykh Omar Suleiman has a simple to follow, and short lecture on this topic: