Doubts About Islam: I Don’t Find Any Observable Effect or Peace in My Worship
Hanafi FiqhShafi'i Fiqh
Answered by Sidi Abdullah Anik Misra
Question: How can I convince my self about the truth of Islam and that my ceremonial actions like salat and dua have any effect? I converted when I was a teenager and have been practicing regularly. Yet, for everything else in the universe, or at least for the things I care about, I observe cause and effect.I do an action and an effect is produced. But with invocation, prayer, and dhikr no observable effect is produced. I have not experienced peace in the remembrance of Allah. Shaytan feels closer to me than Allah. Then I keep hearing from Christian coworkers, classmates, etc. how such and such miracle occurred in their lives or how they got a sign from God – and I think they honestly believe what they say. What should I do? Please advise.
Answer: In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful,
As salaamu alaikum brother,
I want to tell you that what you have done is very brave- trying to get help to clear your doubts about the Truth is something that is necessary for any Muslim to do. Many people live and suffer with the disease of doubt in silence for years while it takes a toll on their mental, spiritual and even their physical health.
It is also very reassuring that despite this issue, you keep up your worship to Allah through the five daily prayers. However, we must not think for a moment that we are doing a favor to Allah; rather it is He who is doing us a great, incalculable favor, a sign of His immense generosity that engulfs us even while we have been unmindful of Him.
First, we will look at why you might feel emptiness in your worship, then your confusions regarding God and His existence and how to solve that, then finally, why these problems might be occurring and the cure for it.
Why Does My Prayer Feel Like an Empty Ritual?
Part of the reason that people feel emptiness in their prayers is because they feel that by praying and fasting and supplicating, they are doing something to benefit Allah, and that He should feel obliged to reimburse them for their efforts. Then, they desire certain outcomes that their limited insight feels is best for them, and that if those do not occur, then Allah has not answered them, so they become despondent.
Rather, do we ask ourselves how Allah can possibly owe us anything, when, long before we were even created, in His infinite knowledge, He willed that we would be guided as Muslims today? Did He not choose you and I out of billions of people to believe in Him?
What did we do in pre-eternity, what great act of piety, what service, what obedience, for which our creation and guidance was recompense? Nothing whatsoever.
What was there before this entire world of cause and effect and ups and downs and desires and actions? Allah alone, and His pure largess and mercy.
So is it not fitting that we worship Him out of a profound sense of gratitude, solely because He alone deserves to be worshiped, rather than for outcomes, as if He has to pay us back for acts of worship that He guided us to in the first place?
When we choose freely to worship Him (even after He makes us inclined to do so), He creates the act and enables us, then we acquire that prayer in our account of good deeds, then He Himself appreciates it and rewards us for something He created. That is the reality for our devotions. They are in fact a gift from Him to us, not the other way around. Knowing this should change the state of our worship, insha Allah.
The Wordly Returns of Sincere Worship
The scholars of Islamic spirituality say that the one guaranteed (though not obligatory) worldly effect of sincere obedience (such as prayer) is the tawfiq, or divine facilitation, to do more good deeds. This is much more beneficial than any worldly thing to ask for, and of course, the rewards in the Hereafter are permanent.
Still, none of a believer’s prayers are unheard: they are either answered, or something harmful is averted in its stead, or delayed till the Hereafter where the result is better.
Perhaps the reward for your steadfast prayers and devotions for all these years since you became Muslim is that, even through your difficult times of doubting the very One who gave you all of these blessings, He still enables you to worship Him and keeps you connected to Him, out of His love and divine concern for you.
He, Most Gracious and Merciful, is what is keeping us from falling into disbelief at all times, not our practice, though He can make that a means to attach ourselves to Him. Seeing Allah’s gentle hand behind the blessings in our life can uplift us so much, and seeing how He has saved us from so much potential harm as well can make us appreciate what we have now and feel content.
Know Your Lord – Study the Science of Beliefs
Sometimes, we as Muslims confuse our priorities in this religion. One might think that having small doubts about the existence of the Creator whilst continuing outward practice is the relatively better position to be in, rather than having firm faith while slipping in and out of practice due to laziness.
Both are bad and undesirable, but the preference of the former over the latter is putting worship (‘ibadah) before the One who is worshiped (al-ma`bud), which doesn’t make sense. The first obligatory duty upon us as Muslims – rather, as human beings – is to know Our Lord. Everything else follows after firmly confirming that knowledge in our hearts [al-Dardir, Sharh Kharida al Bahiyya].
That’s why it is highly recommended for us all to study at least one basic primer in Islamic Beliefs with a qualified teacher. This primer can be one that lists the general beliefs that a Muslim needs to have without explanation if it is readily followed.
However, in an age where doubt and confusion are widespread, a work should be studied which allows the beginner to logically understand how it is necessary that this world have a Creator who is unlike His creation, and why Islam’s teachings on the nature and qualities of the Creator make it the indisputable religion of truth. In the case of someone who has doubts, it becomes an obligation to seek that knowledge. Seeker’s Guidance offers a course on Islamic Beliefs that I would personally recommend everyone to take.
Then, once one sees how Islam’s view of God is the necessary truth that accurately reflects and applies to what actually exists, the message from God which carried the proofs for this knowledge and obligated us to believe (al-Qur’an) can be verified as true, after which the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) can be verified as true, after which one can be convinced, as you asked, of the truth of Islam as a religion in all its various aspects.
It is also worth reminding you that, years ago, you made a conscious decision to accept Islam, Alhamdulillah. You came as a result of seeing the truth in it; of being sure and knowing that Allah is One and that Islam is His religion. What has changed? Don’t sell yourself short in thinking you don’t have faith – you might actually have all you need to discern truth from falsehood, but the problem is lying in your outlook.
After all, you are seeking this help and trying to convince yourself because you know deep down inside this is the truth- not because some other non-truth has convinced you and is dawning on you, and you are afraid to admit that. The issues you bring up are not well-formulated lines of reasoning, but scattered doubts mixed with emotions. If you had been led totally astray by disbelieving in the truth of Islam, you might not have felt disturbed about this; if there wasn’t some good in your heart, you would never be concerned about this. Then what is the problem?
This is where it is important to understand the role of baseless misgivings (wasawasa) and the effect that they can have on the Muslim’s heart and mind, tempting even firm believers into thinking that they don’t really have faith, or to doubt something they know exists as rationally and necessarily true, but can’t see.
Baseless Misgivings in One’s Faith – Shaytan’s Weapon of Choice
The Devil (shaytan) is mankind’s sworn enemy, as Allah Most High tells us in the Qur’an. After his own straying from Allah Most High’s pleasure and subsequently being cast out of divine favour, he vowed that he would lead all of mankind astray, out of envy for the close relationship that Adam (peace be upon him) and his progeny (us) shared with their Lord.
His main influence is by the fact that he whispers evil thoughts into our hearts. Then, we take these suggestions, and begin to repeatedly think about the evil (or less good) action, until it becomes our own thought, which then leads to determination, then to action.
One thing I have learned is to constantly remind yourself that not every thought you have is from your own mind- especially the gross ones and ones we wouldn’t repeat. When the Devil whispers doubts into people’s minds, sometimes they mistaken them for our own, and feel disgust and shock for thinking such a gross thought, then they blame themselves over and over, allowing themselves to re-expose their mind to the thought repeatedly, till it actually does start confusing them, until it finally settles and becomes an internal struggle.
To have these fleeting doubtful thoughts, at the initial stage, is something normal, and to seek refuge in Allah Ta’ala from the Devil immediately is the remedy. Do not let those thoughts grow, rather, say “a`udhu billahi min ash-shaytan nir-rajeem” and if you pondered on the thought, seek forgiveness (istighfar).
It is narrated from Abu Hurayra (may Allah be pleased with him), who ascribed it back to the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) that he said, “Truly, Allah has overlooked for my Ummah that which is whispered, or the which is thought about in the lower self, as long as they do not act upon it, or speak about it.” [al-Bukhari, Sahih]
He also narrates that people from amongst the Companions came to the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and consulted him: “We surely find within ourselves things that one of us would consider an enormity to even speak about.” So he [peace and blessings be upon him] asked, “And you have really found that [within yourselves?]” “Yes,” they replied. “That,” he replied (peace and blessings be upon him), “is clear faith.” [Muslim, Sahih]
You mentioned that you felt the Devil was closer to you than Allah Most High. It is true that the Devil “runs in the children of Adam like the circulation of blood.” [Bukhari, Muslim]. You feel so sure of this, yet, the Devil can make you doubt even his existence as well, because if he admits his existence to one with doubts, isn’t it plainly obvious that the One who created him must exist?
Perhaps the feeling of the Devil being closer is actually about how you spend your time- do you, from your side, make yourself closer to your vain desires and ego, or to Allah? What are the hidden departments in your life which you need to address? Often, it is our connection to sinful or vain things that we overlook that causes us to feel emptiness.
We may feel far from Allah at those times, but is Allah far from us? No, never! Allah Ta’ala says in the Qur’an:
“And when My servants ask you concerning Me, then [tell them] surely, I am near. I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he calls on Me. So let them hear My call and let them trust in Me, in order that they may be led aright.” [al-Quran, 2:186]
So knowing that Allah Ta’ala is closer to us than the Devil or anything else, if we act on the second part of the verse, namely to call on Allah sincerely and to rely and trust in Him to fulfill our every need, we get the result, which is being led aright, which is the means to attaining success in both this world and the Hereafter.
Someone might look at people of other faiths and think that they experience peace. Most of feeling tranquil is a mental thing; anyone can do that if they put their mind to it, even if they do the worst of things at other times, or worship false gods or have corrupt practices. That false sense of “peace” can mislead them into self-satisfaction and contentment with misguidance; it also doesn’t guarantee anything beyond this-worldly feelings.
But true peace is from Allah, al-Salam, when the believer combines truth with his/her love for the Divine, because He says: “Indeed! It is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts find rest.” [al-Quran, 13:28].
If a person chooses their religion based on what makes them feel good, and not based on whether they are worshipping the one true God the way He wants and deserves to be worshiped, who, or what exactly are they worshiping then? Their Lord, or simply their own base desires and fancies? In conclusion, these issues are simply things in our mind that we have to deal with by taking positive steps to developing a meaningful relationship with Allah Ta’ala.
May Allah Ta’ala make it easy for you and us to stay on the Truth of Islam and may He shower His love and mercy upon us and the entire ummah of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.
I tell myself all of this first and foremost, and then remind others. And Allah knows best.
Abdullah Anik Misra
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani