Dealing with faith-related doubts in Islam
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful
In the course of a believer’s life, he or she will be confronted with doubts about Islam from several perspectives. These doubts may arise from many sources, whether as a whisper from Satan or attacks by enemies of Islam. It is important for Muslims to understand the nature of doubt and how they can protect themselves and their families from falling into unbelief and idolatry.
Doubt about Islam is classified by scholars as a disease of the heart that needs to be removed through certain knowledge. However, it is inevitable that a believer will experience doubt at some point, because even the Prophets were afflicted by doubts from time to time.
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
نَحْنُ أَحَقُّ بِالشَّكِّ مِنْ إِبْرَاهِيمَ إِذْ قَالَ رَبِّ أَرِنِي كَيْفَ تُحْيِي الْمَوْتَى قَالَ أَوَلَمْ تُؤْمِنْ قَالَ بَلَى وَلَكِنْ لِيَطْمَئِنَّ قَلْبِي
We are more likely to doubt than Abraham, when he said: O Lord, show me how You give life to the dead. Allah said: Do you not have faith? Abraham said: Of course, but rather to put my heart at rest. (2:260)
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 4537, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi
The doubt of Abraham was not related to the articles of faith or Allah’s power to resurrect the dead. He confirmed his faith, but he wanted to know more about Allah’s power to settle his heart on the matter. This is a simple doubt removed by asking those with knowledge.
Al-Qurtubi commented on this verse, writing:
فَقَالَ الْجُمْهُورُ لَمْ يَكُنْ إِبْرَاهِيمُ عَلَيْهِ السَّلَامُ شَاكًّا فِي إِحْيَاءِ اللَّهِ الْمَوْتَى قَطُّ وَإِنَّمَا طَلَبَ الْمُعَايَنَةَ وَذَلِكَ أَنَّ النفوس مستشرقة إِلَى رُؤْيَةِ مَا أُخْبِرَتْ بِهِ
The majority say that Abraham, upon him be peace, never doubted that Allah could give life to the dead, but rather he requested to see it with his own eyes. That is because souls seek light to see what they are told about.
Source: Tafsīr al-Qurṭubī 3/297
People naturally want to see more proof or evidence to substantiate the divine revelation. These are simple doubts that are cured by learning more about Islam and experiencing more of Allah’s signs. Experiencing these simple doubts is not blameworthy. In contrast, serious doubts that are rooted in arrogance or denial may rise to the level of unbelief.
Therefore, the believers need to insulate themselves from doubts and protect their faith as if it were a precious treasure being menaced by thieves on all sides. It is incumbent upon us to erect walls around our faith and fortify it from external threats. The fortress of faith is built up in two ways: observing signs in divine revelation and signs in creation.
Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen writes:
ويتعرف العبد على ربه بالنظر في الآيات الشرعية في كتاب الله عز وجل وسنة رسوله صلى الله عليه وسلم والنظر في الآيات الكونية التي هي المخلوقات فإن الإنسان كلما نظر في تلك الآيات ازداد علماً بخالقه ومعبودة
The servant acquires knowledge of his Lord by looking at the legislative signs in the Book of Allah Almighty and the Sunnah of His Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, and by looking at the universal signs that are found in creation. For whenever a human being looks at these signs, he will increase in knowledge of His Creator and His exclusive right to be worshipped.
Source: Sharḥ Thalāthat al-Uṣūl 1/19
The Quran and Sunnah are abundant with signs from Allah indicating that these two sources originate with the Creator. From daily manners to societal organization, the laws, beliefs, and ethics of Islam produce manifest benefits for humanity in this life and, more importantly, in the Hereafter.
Hence, it is the characteristic of believers for their faith in Islam to increase in strength by reading and reciting the Quran on a regular basis.
إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الَّذِينَ إِذَا ذُكِرَ اللَّهُ وَجِلَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَإِذَا تُلِيَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتُهُ زَادَتْهُمْ إِيمَانًا
Verily, the believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts tremble with fear, and when His verses are recited to them, it increases their faith.
Surat al-Anfal 8:2
Abu Shurayh al-Khuza’i reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
فَإِنَّ هَذَا الْقُرْآنَ سَبَبٌ طَرَفُهُ بِيَدِ اللَّهِ وَطَرَفُهُ بِأَيْدِيكُمْ فَتَمَسَّكُوا بِهِ فَإِنَّكُمْ لَنْ تَضِلُّوا وَلَنْ تَهْلِكُوا بَعْدَهُ أَبَدًا
Verily, this Quran is a rope. One end is in the hand of Allah and the other end is in your hands. Hold fast to it, for you will never be led astray or ruined ever again.
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān 122, Grade: Sahih=Authentic
Believers should have a closer relationship with the Quran by memorizing it as much as possible and understanding its language, meaning, interpretation, and rulings. Knowledge of the Quran enhances the ritual prayers of believers, among other things, which is the mainstay practice of faith.
In addition, believers should have a close relationship with the Messenger of Allah (ṣ) and acquire knowledge of his authentic Sunnah and prophetic biography (sirah). His life and teachings full of signs and wonders that demonstrate he was indeed a messenger from Allah, calling us to worship our Creator alone and to accept eternal life in the Hereafter.
Ibn Hazm writes:
فَلَو لم تكن لَهُ معْجزَة غير سيرته صلى الله عَلَيْهِ وَسلم لكفى
Were there no miracles other than his biography, peace and blessings be upon him, it would be enough.
Source: al-Fiṣal fī al-Milal wal-Ahwāʼ wal-Niḥal 2/73
Knowledge of these two fundamental sources, the Quran and the Sunnah, is essential for every Muslim. Those who take their religion by osmosis or custom, simply going through the motions like everyone around them, are highly susceptible to doubts, trials, or threats to their faith.
Certainty in Islam that one gains from divine revelation is reinforced by observing the signs of Allah in creation. There are innumerable signs pointing to the design of the Creator, His wisdom, and His power. It is the habit of believers to appreciate nature by reflecting upon these universal signs and directly connecting them to the signs of divine revelation.
إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ لَآيَاتٍ لِّأُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ الَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ اللَّهَ قِيَامًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىٰ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَٰذَا بَاطِلًا سُبْحَانَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ
Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding, who remember Allah while standing or sitting or lying on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, saying: Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly, exalted are You above such a thing, so protect us from the punishment of the Fire.
Surat Ali ‘Imran 3:190-191
This particular passage in Surat Ali ‘Imran is very important in this regard. The Prophet (ṣ) implicitly ordered us to reflect upon it by warning us not to ignore it, and he used to read the last ten verses of this surah when he awoke at night.
Aisha reported: Bilal came and announced the call to prayer. When he saw the Prophet weeping, he said, “O Messenger of Allah, why are you weeping when Allah has forgiven you for what you have done and what you will do?” The Prophet said:
أَفَلَا أَكُونُ عَبْدًا شَكُورًا لَقَدْ نَزَلَتْ عَلَيَّ اللَّيْلَةَ آيَةٌ وَيْلٌ لِمَنْ قَرَأَهَا وَلَمْ يَتَفَكَّرْ فِيهَا إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلَافِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ لَآيَاتٍ لِّأُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ
Shall I not be a grateful servant? A verse has been revealed to me tonight and woe to one who reads it without reflecting upon it: Verily, in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of the night and day, are signs for those of understanding. (3:190)
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān 620, Grade: Sahih=Authentic
Reflection upon the creation leads one to clearly notice the features of design in the world, indicating that we exist for an important reason. The creation is not a haphazard accident brought about randomly for no purpose whatsoever.
Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen writes:
فإن الإنسان لم يخلق نفسه لأنه قبل وجوده عدم والعدم ليس بشيء وما ليس بشيء لا يوجد شيئاً ولم يخلقه أبوه ولا أمه ولا أحد من الخلق ولم يكن ليأتي صدفة بدون موجد لأن كل حادث لا بد له من محدث ولأن وجود هذه المخلوقات على هذا النظام والتناسق المتآلف يمنع منعاً باتاً أن يكون صدفة إذا الموجود صدفة ليس على نظام في أصل وجوده فكيف يكون منتظماً حال بقائه وتطوره فتعين بهذا أن يكون الخالق هو الله وحده
For the human being has not created himself, as before he had no existence and non-existence is nothing and nothing cannot create anything at all. Neither was he created by his father or his mother or anything else from creation.
He did not come about randomly, as every effect must have a cause and as the existence of these creations, with their organization and harmonious composition, makes it completely impossible that they are random. That which is brought into existence randomly is not ordered in principle, so how can it become ordered, survive, and develop? Thus, examination of this must conclude that the Creator is Allah alone.
Source: Sharḥ Thalāthat al-Uṣūl 1/29
The rational and logical proofs for the Lordship of Allah are known as the cosmological and teleological arguments.
Knowledge of Allah’s signs is complemented by the religious experience provided in Islam known as the “sweetness of faith.” This experience is very powerful and is even more effective at strengthening faith and repelling doubts than intellectual arguments alone.
Anas ibn Malik reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
ثَلاَثٌ مَنْ كُنَّ فِيهِ وَجَدَ حَلاَوَةَ الإِيمَانِ مَنْ كَانَ اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَحَبَّ إِلَيْهِ مِمَّا سِوَاهُمَا وَمَنْ أَحَبَّ عَبْدًا لاَ يُحِبُّهُ إِلاَّ لِلَّهِ وَمَنْ يَكْرَهُ أَنْ يَعُودَ فِي الْكُفْرِ بَعْدَ إِذْ أَنْقَذَهُ اللَّهُ كَمَا يَكْرَهُ أَنْ يُلْقَى فِي النَّارِ
Whoever has three traits within himself will find the sweetness of faith: one who loves Allah and His Messenger more than anything else, one who loves a servant only for the sake of Allah, and one who hates to turn back to unbelief after Allah has saved him, just as he hates to be thrown into the fire.
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 16, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi
فكذلك إذا فهمت معنى النبوة فأكثرت النظر في القرآن والأخبار، يصل لك العلم الضروري بكونه صلى الله عليه وسلم على أعلى درجات النبوة وأعضد ذلك بتجربة ما قاله في العبادات وتأثيرها في تصفية القلوب … فإذا جربت ذلك في ألف وألفين وآلاف، حصل لك علم ضروري ولا تتمارى فيه
Hence, when you have understood the meaning of prophecy and you have abundantly examined the Qur’an and Sunnah, you will inevitably arrive at the knowledge that the Prophet (ṣ) embodied the highest levels of prophecy, and that is reinforced by experiencing his teachings in regards to worship and its effects on purifying the heart… Thus, when you experience that one thousand, two thousand, and many thousands of times over, you will necessarily attain knowledge in which there is no doubt.
Source: al-Munqidh min al-Ḍalāl 1/185
The sweetness of faith is dependent upon three things: 1) knowledge of Allah and His Messenger (ṣ) leading to love of them, 2) the love, fellowship, and brotherhood of Muslims, and 3) knowledge of evil in contrast to the good of Islam. These three elements are rooted in the individual experience of the believer and are not purely intellectual.
As for brotherhood, the believers support one another in their faith like the bricks of a building. They can help each other increase in faith, learn more about Islam, influence each other positively, and foster a sense of community and belonging, which is a psychological need of every human being.
Abu Musa reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
إِنَّ الْمُؤْمِنَ لِلْمُؤْمِنِ كَالْبُنْيَانِ يَشُدُّ بَعْضُهُ بَعْضًا
Verily, the believers are like bricks of a building, each part strengthening the other.
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 481, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi
Abu Musa reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
إِنَّمَا مَثَلُ الْجَلِيسِ الصَّالِحِ وَالْجَلِيسِ السَّوْءِ كَحَامِلِ الْمِسْكِ وَنَافِخِ الْكِيرِ فَحَامِلُ الْمِسْكِ إِمَّا أَنْ يُحْذِيَكَ وَإِمَّا أَنْ تَبْتَاعَ مِنْهُ وَإِمَّا أَنْ تَجِدَ مِنْهُ رِيحًا طَيِّبَةً وَنَافِخُ الْكِيرِ إِمَّا أَنْ يُحْرِقَ ثِيَابَكَ وَإِمَّا أَنْ تَجِدَ رِيحًا خَبِيثَةً
Verily, the parable of good company and a bad company is only that of a seller of musk and a blacksmith. The seller of musk will give you some perfume, you will buy some, or you will notice a good smell. As for the blacksmith, he will burn your clothes or you will notice a bad smell.
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5534, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
الرَّجُلُ عَلَى دِينِ خَلِيلِهِ فَلْيَنْظُرْ أَحَدُكُمْ مَنْ يُخَالِلُ
A man is upon the religion of his best friend, so let one of you look at whom he befriends.
Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 2378, Grade: Sahih=Authentic
It is imperative for Muslims to have close friends among the believers who will be a good influence upon them. By experiencing the fellowship of Islam, believers will strengthen their faith and fortify themselves from doubts.
As for knowledge of evil, it is necessary in order to contrast it with the good of Islam. For this reason, the companion Hudhayfah would ask the Prophet (ṣ) about evil, although most other people only asked him about good.
Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman, may Allah be pleased with him, said:
كَانَ النَّاسُ يَسْأَلُونَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَنْ الْخَيْرِ وَكُنْتُ أَسْأَلُهُ عَنْ الشَّرِّ مَخَافَةَ أَنْ يُدْرِكَنِي
The people used to ask the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, about good, but I would ask about evil for fear it would overtake me.
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 3606, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi
Likewise, Muslims should learn about the history of idolatry, its origin, and its manifestations, as well as the great tragedies of history, so that they will not repeat the mistakes of the past.
Umar ibn al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, said:
إنَّمَا تُنْقَضُ عُرَى الْإِسْلَامِ عُرْوَةً عُرْوَةً إذَا نَشَأَ فِي الْإِسْلَامِ مَنْ لَمْ يَعْرِفْ الْجَاهِلِيَّةَ
Verily, the bonds of Islam will undone, one by one, only if there arise people in Islam who never knew the time of ignorance.
Source: Majmū’ al-Fatāwá 15/54
Muslims should also learn about modern society’s ailments such as crime, bigotry, addiction, breakdown of the family, and mental illness.
In fact, it is from Allah’s wisdom that He created evil in order to contrast it with the good of Islam. The world is a place of trial and hardship, sadness and pain, to prepare our souls to receive eternal Paradise and to be grateful for it. If there was no difficulty in life, there would be no meaningful appreciation or reward.
Ibn al-Qayyim writes:
فَأَرَادَ سُبْحَانَهُ ان يذيقه يعني آدم عليه السلام وَولده من نصب الدُّنْيَا وغمومها وهمومها وأوصا بهَا مَا يعظم بِهِ عِنْدهم مِقْدَار دُخُولهمْ اليها فِي الدَّار الاخرة فَإِن الضِّدّ يظْهر حسنه الضِّدّ وَلَو تربوا فِي دَار النَّعيم لم يعرفوا قدرهَا
Allah Almighty intended for Adam, upon him be peace, and his children to experience difficulty in the world, its distresses and its anxieties, and enjoined by it what would glorify the value of their entrance into the abode of the Hereafter, for the opposite of a thing makes apparent the goodness of its opposite. If they had only experienced the abode of bliss, they would never recognize its worth.
Source: Miftāḥ Dār al-Sa’ādah 1/3
Thus, knowledge of evil makes us grateful for the good of Islam, enhancing our religious experience or “sweetness of faith,” which then can fortify us from doubts.
In short, the believer must erect a fortress around their faith to protect it from external threats. This is done by increasing our knowledge of Allah, His Messenger (ṣ), and His creation, keeping company with righteous believers, and raising awareness of the evil from which Islam protects us. These are preventative measures to be taken before encountering attacks from the outside.
Subsequently, some unbelievers, but not all or even most of them, will most certainly attack Islam and say many hurtful things to the Muslims about Allah and His Messenger (ṣ). This is inevitable and is part of the trials of life, for Allah to test us in our faith. As a matter of fact, these attacks force us to become better Muslims, thus concealing good within an apparent evil.
لَتُبْلَوُنَّ فِي أَمْوَالِكُمْ وَأَنفُسِكُمْ وَلَتَسْمَعُنَّ مِنَ الَّذِينَ أُوتُوا الْكِتَابَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ وَمِنَ الَّذِينَ أَشْرَكُوا أَذًى كَثِيرًا ۚ وَإِن تَصْبِرُوا وَتَتَّقُوا فَإِنَّ ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ عَزْمِ الْأُمُورِ
You will surely be put to trial in your property and your lives, and you will hear many harmful things from those given the Book before you and those who commit idolatry, but if you are patient and your fear Allah, that is among the matters requiring resolve.
Surat Ali ‘Imran 3:186
Aside from pure insults, some unbelievers will attempt to mislead people from the path of Islam as they call to their own false religions and ideologies. They will “seek to make it look crooked,” as the Quran mentions in several places, by willfully or ignorantly misrepresenting it.
قُلْ يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لِمَ تَصُدُّونَ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ مَنْ آمَنَ تَبْغُونَهَا عِوَجًا وَأَنتُمْ شُهَدَاءُ
O people of the Book, why do you obstruct those who believe from the path of Allah and seek to make it look crooked, while you yourselves bear witness?
Surat Ali ‘Imran 3:99
The result of their efforts are seen today in the many lies or misrepresentations about Islam that can be found on the internet, in public discourse, and in academia. The source of such doubts is innumerable.
Moreover, the unbelievers will use mockery and ridicule to unsettle the hearts of Muslims and to make them susceptible to doubts.
وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَشْتَرِي لَهْوَ الْحَدِيثِ لِيُضِلَّ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ وَيَتَّخِذَهَا هُزُوًا ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ مُّهِينٌ
Among the people are those who use amusement to mislead from the path of Allah, without knowledge, and they take it as mockery. They will have a humiliating punishment.
Surat Luqman 31:6
And Allah said:
وَمَا يَأْتِيهِم مِّن رَّسُولٍ إِلَّا كَانُوا بِهِ يَسْتَهْزِئُونَ
There never came a Messenger to them but that they mocked him.
Surat al-Hijr 15:11
Know that mockery is not an intellectual argument, but rather a sign of weakness and falsehood. It is a logical fallacy named as ‘appeal to ridicule’ or ab absurdo. The idolaters at the time of the Prophet (ṣ) only ridiculed him because they had no rational arguments to counter the Quran’s intellectual decimation of their false religions. The unbelievers who mock Islam today are following in their footsteps.
Muslims should not be caught off-guard by these attacks, but rather should have prepared beforehand and anticipated such confrontations. In regards to lies and misrepresentations of Islam, there are an infinite amount of doubts that could be produced by unbelieving religions and ideologies. Some of the doubts produced by academia involve very complicated philosophical or ideological discussions. Therefore, a general response is needed.
Know that the Quran contains decisively clear verses, and the Sunnah contains decisively clear and mass-transmitted reports, that act as the foundation of religious knowledge and from which all other verses and reports are understood. Muslims need to familiarize themselves with the foundations (usul) of the religion and these proof-texts, then turning away from those who bring up specious interpretations.
Aisha reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, recited the verse:
هُوَ الَّذِي أَنْزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِنْ عِنْدِ رَبِّنَا وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ
It is He who revealed the Book to you, in which are decisive verses that are the foundation of the Book, and others are ambiguous. As for those in whose hearts is deviance, they follow what is ambiguous from it, seeking discord and its interpretation, but none knows its interpretation but Allah and those grounded in knowledge say: We have faith in them, all of it is from our Lord. Yet none will take heed but those of understanding. (3:7)
Then, the Prophet said:
إِذَا رَأَيْتُمْ الَّذِينَ يَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ فَأُولَئِكَ الَّذِينَ سَمَّى اللَّهُ فَاحْذَرُوهُمْ
If you see those who seek the ambiguous verses in it, they are those whom Allah has named. Beware of them!
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 4547, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi
Those who attack Islam tend to cite verses that could be interpreted in different ways. For instance, they will claim some verses contradict “science” but such verses use figurative language and do not in any way conflict with what can be proven from rational methods.
They will also claim some verses contradict “history” or “morality” as they impose the worst possible disingenuous interpretation upon them. In such cases, Muslims must hold onto the decisive verses and mass-transmitted reports in awareness that unbelievers will deliberately or ignorantly misinterpret that which is easily misinterpreted, especially for those ignorant of the Quran’s Arabic language.
As for specific attacks by the unbelievers, such attacks occurred in the time of the Prophet (ṣ) himself. For instance, some Christians claimed that the Quran contradicted “history” when it referred to Maryam as the sister of Aaron.
The companion Mughirah asked the Prophet (ṣ) about it and he told him that the Quran was using figurative, not literal, language. In other words, the Quran was not saying Maryam was literally the sister of Aaron, but rather that it was common for people of Semitic languages to attribute themselves to their forefathers with such phrases.
Mughira ibn Shu’ba reported: When I came to Najran, the Christian monks asked me, “You recite the verse, ‘O sister of Aaron,’ (19:28) but Moses was born long before Jesus by many years.” When I came back to the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, I asked him about it and he said:
إِنَّهُمْ كَانُوا يُسَمُّونَ بِأَنْبِيَائِهِمْ وَالصَّالِحِينَ قَبْلَهُمْ
Verily, they used to name people with the names of prophets and righteous people who had passed before them.
Source: Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2135, Grade: Sahih=Authentic
We learn from this incident that the companion Mughirah had a doubt as a result of the monks’ claims, so he asked the Prophet (ṣ) about it. If a Muslim is unsettled by an attack on Islam from outside, he or she should ask the scholars about it so that it can be removed. There is nothing blameworthy about experiencing this kind of doubt and, in fact, it is praiseworthy to ask scholars about them in order for it to be resolved.
فَاسْأَلُوا أَهْلَ الذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ
So ask the people of the Message if you do not know.
Surat al-Nahl 16:43
Ignorance that produces doubts about Islam is a painful disease of the heart for the believers, and the only cure is to ask trustworthy Muslim scholars for clarification. As such, it is essential for lay Muslims to have a close relationship with the scholars and for scholars to have a close relationship with their colleagues and mentors.
Jabir reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
إِنَّمَا شِفَاءُ الْعِيِّ السُّؤَالُ
Verily, the only cure for ignorance is to ask questions.
Source: Sunan Abī Dāwūd 336, Grade: Sahih=Authentic
Ibn al-Qayyim writes:
وَقَدْ جَعَلَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ الْجَهْلَ دَاءً وَجَعَلَ دَوَاءَهُ سُؤَالَ الْعُلَمَاءِ
The Prophet (ṣ) designated ignorance as a disease and he designated the cure as asking the scholars.
Source: al-Jawāb al-Kāfī 1/8
Doubts about Islam, especially those originating in attacks, lies, and misrepresentations, unsettle the heart and cause distress to believers. In such a situation, it is an obligation upon the believers to ask the trustworthy scholars until such ignorance is removed and the doubts are defeated, even if they must ask multiple scholars or consult many writings.
Ibn Taymiyyah writes:
والشاك فِي الشَّيْء المرتاب فِيهِ يتألم قلبه حَتَّى يحصل لَهُ الْعلم وَالْيَقِين وَيُقَال للْعَالم الَّذِي اجاب بِمَا يبين الْحق قد شفاني بِالْجَوَابِ
Doubt in something causes pain in the doubter’s heart until he acquires knowledge and certainty. It is said to the scholar who answered with what clarified the truth: You have healed me with the answer.
Source: Amrāḍ al-Qulūb wa Shifāʼuhā 1/4
We can, then, appreciate the importance of the preventative measures discussed earlier. A believer who has not prepared for such attacks, nor has access to authentic knowledge, is in a precarious state. It is even worse if such attacks compound each other until one mistakenly conceives of Islam in an inaccurate way, which is the case of those who abandon Islam on false pretenses.
Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen writes:
الجهل البسيط وهو عدم الإدراك بالكلية والجهل المركب وهو إدراك الشيء على وجه يخالف ما هو عليه
Simple ignorance is to not comprehend something in its entirety. Compound ignorance is to comprehend something in a way that contradicts what it actually is.
Source: Sharḥ Thalāthat al-Uṣūl 1/18
Simple ignorance is easy to deal with, but compound ignorance is much more dangerous. Compound ignorance is the result of a web of lies or misrepresentations that reinforce one another, creating the Illusion of knowledge. Whereas simple ignorance can be resolved by a single question, compound ignorance might take a long process of questioning for the truth to be revealed or it might never resolve at all. This is why it is so important for Muslims to seek knowledge from trustworthy sources before compound ignorance can set in.
In sum, Muslims will inevitably experience doubts from time to time as a result of whispers from Satan or attacks by unbelievers. Muslims must fortify their faith with knowledge of Allah, His Messenger (ṣ), His religion, and His creation, as well as fellowship with righteous believers for support, tasting the “sweetness of faith,” and raising awareness of evil in contrast with the good of Islam.
This knowledge and positive religious experience can prevent doubts caused by attacks of unbelievers from developing into the dreadful state of compound ignorance. The only cure for such doubts caused by ignorance, whether it is simple or compound, is to sincerely ask trustworthy Muslim scholars and consult their writings to clarify the truth.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.