بسم الله الرحمان الرحيم
Knowing your enemy’s plan of attack is extremely important for understanding in how to defend against it.
Through teaching theology and counseling young people & adults with doubts in their faith, I think I have identified a major part of Shaytan’s plan for causing Muslims to doubt in their faith.
Doubts in faith do not start as systematic doubts in the entire structure of belief, they start in singular issues, often secondary or tertiary. So for example the issue of slavery in Islam and its ethical quandaries may start as an issue that causes a person to doubt in their entire belief in Islam. What this issue is will differ for everyone based on their knowledge, psychology and personality. This is how Shaytan starts the process of doubting one’s faith. He attacks one issue by itself, which can lead the person to doubt the entire faith as a result.
But If you know how knowledge, truth and epistemology work though, this is actually quite an irrational and incoherent process. Shaytan is using your emotions and feelings about this one issue to override the rest of reason. If we have a singular issue in which we have significant doubts or gaps in our understanding and knowledge, this should not automatically cause our entire structure of belief to disintegrate. There are countless examples, both mundane and significant that we can produce of this. Let’s take the example of a sale at Walmart.
For example if you are told that Walmart is having a huge seasonal sale through the mass testimony of dozens of shoppers, and you walk into the store and in the first corner of Walmart you walk into you encounter a whole bunch of products – you haven’t explored the rest of the store yet – you don’t see any discounted items, it doesn’t mean that all those people were mistaken or lying. It doesn’t mean the sale didn’t happen. You may have missed the sale, the sale might be on every product (or specific departments only) except that first corner of the store, or you might be early and that particular store has yet to put up their signs or discount the items in the store.
This is how human beings and their structure of belief and knowledge operate. One gap in your knowledge structure, understanding or belief system does not cause the entire edifice to collapse – unless it is built on weak foundations and connections. If your belief system is weak then yes those isolated doubts and gaps are going to be intensely problematic. So lets say if all you heard were rumors about the sale at Walmart, or if one friend who is not altogether reliable in their discount-hunting skills told you about it, then it would make sense that your entire belief structure about the sale at Walmart would collapse. In fact, you would be justified in allowing that to happen.
Let’s go a bit further and say that Walmart DID indeed have a sale. But YOU had a weak structure to your belief – you relied on rumors or unreliable people. You would have thought your belief to be false, and you felt justified – and could explicitly offer detailed justification – in that your belief was false. But the sale still did happen. As we gave examples of before, you may just have missed the sale, gone too early or made a hasty judgement based on a small sample size of products at the store. The fault here would be your unreliable sources, process of reasoning and unjustified confidence in your beliefs. You SHOULD have sought mass testimony, or collected systematic evidence BEFORE going to the store like a flyer, details on Walmart’s website and phoning in at the service desk.
Let’s transfer this thinking to belief in God & Islam as true. Let’s say you watched a random or even a few random videos on Youtube – something I constantly warn my students about – criticizing Islam or belief in God. If perhaps, the slavery issue gives you pause in your belief – you have immediately staked your entire belief system on a singular issue. But how is the rest of your belief structure? How strong is your knowledge of Islamic theology, Quranic studies & exegesis, Usul-ul-Fiqh, the hadith sciences etc? Is it rational or coherent to allow the rest of the structure to collapse just because of that single issue? Why not do tawaqquf – i.e. suspend judgement – on that issue until you understand it or the rest of the system properly? Perhaps you may have to do tawaqquf indefinitely, human beings are fallible and limited after all, and you may never have a complete or wholesome understanding of the issue.
If you chose to follow through on your doubts – and Shaytan may have made it a very appealing decision as the issue of slavery in Islam is a very emotional and strongly felt issue in society and popular ethical discourse today – you would have landed in an irrational and unethical predicament. Firstly, you discounted an entire belief system based on a handful of YouTube videos while you yourself have a poor grasp and knowledge of Islam as a whole. You don’t understand how epistemology and ethical beliefs work either (hint: ethical beliefs are some of the weakest types of beliefs in epistemology), so you don’t understand the path of reasoning you are taking to be authoritative and life-determining. It may not seem so at first, but this is very similar to watching a handful of Covid conspiracy videos on Youtube and thinking that Covid or Covid vaccines are a hoax or sinister plot by the Illuminati. You don’t know how virology, epidemiology or pharmacology work, but you’ve made up your mind about it anyway. The difference here is that believing that Covid-19 is a real disease and Covid vaccines work is a politically, socially and culturally accepted and dominant belief, as is a high level of trust in science and medicine as valid enterprises of knowledge, inquiry and political priority. So its not that easy to make the ‘switch’ to beind a Covid conspiracy theorist.
It is sometimes asked: “Why do I need to have such a high level of knowledge to understand these issues in my faith?” Firstly, Islam is a religion that promotes learning, understanding and knowledge. The first word to be revealed in Islam was a command to read, knowledge and learning are constant cornerstones of faith in both the Qur’an and the Sirah. So in Islam, being told to learn something well before believing should not be a source of surprise. Stop interpreting ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ in culturally dominant (influenced by secular or Christian notions of faith and religious belief) ways and start interpreting them in Islamic ways. Knowledge is a prerequisite of faith in Islam, and in fact Taqlid (blind following) in foundational issues of faith is not acceptable in Islam according to the overwhelming majority of Muslim theologians.
In addition to this, the doubts that Muslims are being exposed to are often sophisticated in terms of the knowledge they require to sincerely understand, or convoluted in the amount of knowledge they require to realize they are false doubts. These require us to learn and understand our faith better. There’s no choice unless you want to live in a bubble or isolate yourself in the mountains without the internet.
This is the world we live in. This is how human minds function. This is how Shaytan is utilizing both to destroy our faith and take us to Hell before this whole show ends and the major signs of the Day of Judgement begin to appear. The question is: are you going to allow singular issues to cause your faith to implode? Are you going to allow yourself to adopt irrational and incoherent systems of belief and epistemic function? Are you going to throw it all away for a system of belief (atheism or agnosticism) that has worse assumptions of belief and truth baked into it?
If someone is still okay with it, then this speaks more to their personal priorities of how important it is to answer the big questions in life sincerely and in a way that assures them the best future after they die. Are you willing to put in the necessary time and effort to learn what is true and what is false? If you’re willing to gloss over the big questions in life just for petty enjoyment, ‘freedom’ and fitting-in in this life, then you are an irresponsible and irrational individual, and there is no point in having a reasonable discourse with you in the first place. So do as you will. Shaytan’s just adding you to his list of victims he wants to drag down with him.
Note: Please realize I am omitting the dozens of academic volumes of philosophical methodology, theology and epistemology I have read that governs how I think about this issue. This is a snapshot that is meant to be as basic as possible for most readers to understand.