Misgivings Regarding Apostasy and How to Deal with Them

Hanafi Fiqh

Answered by Dr Asim Yusuf
Question: Alhamdulillah, I have been  through a lot of  hardship. I have been a Muslim Alhamdulillah for 8-9 years, because I wanted to accept the Islamic beliefs because I felt different and my heart found it to be from common sense to accept it. My heart says about the Islamic belief: “This is what you should accept”, so I accepted it. But after that,  I was with an islamic sect which was   preaching Takfirism on  other muslims, and making a bad image of Islam for many Muslims. But alhamdulillah I found out that they are deviants. Their belief is in contradiction to the beliefs of the Ahlus Sunnah. Then I found another sect, I thought they  were the real Ahlus Sunnah but then I found out that they are also wrong in their belief. 
I no longer remember how many times I left and then re-entered Islam.   This happened many times, all because I was talking without knowledge and saying many blasphemous words without realizing it. But for the last time, I went back to Islam again, because I want to stay Muslim and die as a Muslim. I’ve repented and I am still repenting for all that kufr beliefs I had. I want to stay Muslim. But I keep having these thoughts that I am not a Muslim, but rather a hypocrite and a disbeliever.  
When I have blasphemous thoughts, am I still a Muslim or an apostate?
Please help me with this, it is really distressing and I don’t know what to do.
Answer: Was salam Dear Questioner,
‘shifa al-‘ayy al-su’al (the cure for confusion is to ask)’ (Abu Dawud)
May Allah bring comfort to your heart – the tranquillity that comes through finding peace in Allah. May you be of those about whom Allah said in the Quran, ‘then, after distress, He sent down upon you tranquillity…’ (Aal Imran 3:175)
You have raised a number of issues in your email that I will address in brief. It should be noted that each of these points have been discussed at great length in our scholarly history, and where possible, I would point you to beneficial, balanced and succinct summaries of these discussions. What I’d like to you bear in mind right at the outset, though, is that you are not alone in any one of these dilemmas. I personally am aware of many people who struggle needlessly with the same issues for years before finally asking about them.
And there are yet many others who never do ask, remaining tortured by self-doubt till the end of their days. This is why I am very happy that you have had the courage to lay bare your heart and pose the questions that you have: through a single person’s sincere questioning, many others will derive benefit, and you will only realise how far the fruits of your endeavour have spread on the Day of Judgment.

1. What is ‘true Islam’?

On your journey to and through Islam, you have clearly encountered a number of groups, all of whom claim (no doubt sincerely believing it) that they represent ‘true’ Islam. It is an inevitable consequence of limited human minds coming into contact with the infinite grandeur of the Divine that many try to squash ultimate truth into their own worldviews, thereby distorting and limiting it. The great Sufi mystic and poet Rumi said, ‘everyone wanted to become my friend through their understanding of me / but they missed the secret within me!’
This is why Allah and the Blessed Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him and his family) warned about the dangers of attempting to interpret Revelation without deep insight, long training and outside of the collegiate consultation processes of the scholarly tradition. Our master, Ali, may God illuminate his countenance, gave us words of wisdom that are particularly relevant in your case: ‘truth is not known through people – rather, recognise the truth and you will know its people.’
Matters become more problematic when groups become exclusivist – claiming not just that the truth lies with them, but that the truth only lies with them and no-one else. Beware of those who narrow God’s mercy by declaring that the wide, clear, well-lit highway of Islam (mahhajatan bayda) is in fact a rickety bridge across an abyss! This has never been the way of normative Islamic belief – indeed the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him and his family) gave a severe warning about the dangers of accusing others of disbelief: ‘when one Muslim accuses another of disbelief, one of them certainly has disbelieved.’
He also severely castigated Usama bin Zaid (one of his most beloved young companions) for killing an enemy soldier on the battlefield despite the latter having shouted out the testimony of faith just before the deathblow. Even though the defeated man was most likely only trying to save his own skin, the Prophet (s) said to Usama, ‘did you look into his heart and ascetrtain the truth of the matter?!’ Both these hadiths indicate that faith should be assumed even with the smallest of signs.
Accordingly, one of the most widely accepted statements of belief in Islam, the Aqida Tahawiyya, clearly states, ‘we do not make disbelievers of any of those who pray towards our Qibla…’ Abu Hanifa, who was a great theologian as well as a legal scholar, is well-known to have said, ‘if a statement contains 99 meanings of disbelief and only one meaning of faith, then discard the 99!’
The scholars of the Ahl al-Sunna have been extremely wary about anathematizing people, as is clear from many of their statements. The groups that you mentioned in your email (whom I will not name here) are unfortunately well-known for this type of exclusivism, and whatever other benefit one might derive from their company (for Muslims of all stripes have a lot more in common with each other than differences) one should be wary of claims that ‘only we are going to heaven!’ There’s a lot more room on the ‘peace train’ of Allah’s mercy!

2. What entails disbelief

This subject is tackled in classical legal and doctrinal texts at some length; however, it boils down to a very simple principle: the only thing that can remove a person from Islam is clear denial of what brought them into it. This entails denial of what is necessarily known by every Muslim – scholar or lay-person – such as the unity of God, the Prophethood of our Master Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him and his family), the obligation of prayer, the prohibition of alcohol, and so forth.
You can’t trip up and stumble out of the religion by mistake; you really have to try! The Prophet (peace and blessings upon him and his family) said, ‘I have left you upon a wide, clear highway, whose night is [just as clear as] its day. None will deviate from it save one who destroys himself.’ I would advise you to take a course such as this one to further strengthen your faith. More detailed courses are also easily available on the Seeker’s Guidance website.
Much of what you are concerned about – having ‘apostated’ repeatedly, by ’talking without knowledge’ and ‘uttering blasphemous words’ – is most probably of no legal or doctrinal significance. Many people have obsessive doubts (waswasa) about having left Islam or blasphemed, whether because of thoughts that come to them, stray words or slips of the tongue. Unfortunately, this is sometimes compounded by unwise but zealous Muslims who have failed to understand both the breadth of God’s mercy and the moderate inclusivism of His Divine Law. Such people, unfortunately, are unwitting tools of Shaytan, who seeks to sow doubt where there was certainty, despair where there was hope, and weakness where there was strength.
Do not listen to them, nor the same whispers within your heart. Allah says, ‘the devil threatens you with poverty and commands you to obscenity; God promises you his forgiveness and blessings…’ As mentioned earlier, such doubts are part of the human condition, with some more affected by them than others. This is an extremely important subject that confuses many people, and is dealt with beautifully in this course. Our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings upon him and his family) has given us hope and guidance when afflicted in this way.

3. What does NOT entail disbelief

a. Blasphemous thoughts:

i. The sahaba came to the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him and his family) and said, ‘sometimes terrible thoughts occur to us and we fear that we have left Islam!’ He replied, ‘this is pure faith!’ (Sahih Muslim) Imam Nawawi explains that the fact that one is so troubled by these thoughts is a sure sign of one’s faith.
ii. The Prophet (peace and blessings upon him and his family) also said, ‘Allah has overlooked for my community the [sinful] whisperings of their hearts, so long as they do not act upon them or give them voice [believing in them].’ (Sahih Muslim)

b. Slips of the tongue

i. ‘Actions are only [judged] by intentions, and every person will be requited only for what they intended.’ This is the very first hadith of Sahih al-Bukhari and is known as the single most important hadith in the entire religion.
ii. Statements are always understood according to what was clearly meant, even if the words are mangled. A person who intends in their heart to pray Asr but accidentally says, ‘Oh Allah I intend to perform zuhr,’ does not need to repeat their prayer – it is accepted that he meant Asr. If this is the case for an action, it applies even more so for that which affects one’s very faith!
iii. Allah says, ‘Allah does not censure you for slips of your tongue in oaths, but rather for what your hearts have wrought.’

c. Unwitting statements

i. This is a slightly more controversial topic. If a person utters something clearly blasphemous without understanding that it is in fact blasphemous, have they left the fold of Islam. The understanding of the classical Sunni tradition is that they have not, because they did not intend blasphemy. However, sometimes zealous Muslims take statements of the scholars out of context to conclude the opposite. Examples of such statements (eg: ‘whoever engages in a pillow-fight whilst the jumua khutba is being delivered has committed kufr!’) are understood to mean ‘disbelief is feared for a person if they did or said such a thing intending to mock or belittle the religion.’
ii. If a person makes you fear you have left the religion because of such a thing, follow the advice of Abdullah Ibn Abbas. A man came to him and said, ‘people accuse me of being a disbeliever!’ He replied, ‘say, ‘there is no God but Allah, and make liars of them!’
In answer to your questions, then: a momentary doubt about Allah’s existence does not entail kufr, and a momentary ‘hesitation’ about belief in Allah is not kufr either. Both of these are satanic whispers (waswasa) and should be ignored or rebutted. Allah has already saved you from disbelief – dare to believe it and place your trust in Him. A person who fears not being Muslim is by definition a Muslim – in fact, they have tasted the sweetness of faith!
The Prophet (peace and blessings upon him and his family) said, ‘with three things is the sweetness of faith experienced: to love Allah and His Messenger more than anything else, to love one another for the sake of Allah, and to fear disbelief as one would fear being cast into a fire.’ Remember also that Allah’s capacity for mercy utterly beyond anything you can imagine, and far greater than your capacity to sin. He says, in a hadith Qudsi, ‘Oh my worshipper: if you come to be with a world’s worth of sin, I will come to you with a world’s worth of forgiveness!’

4. Parting advice

a. Be in the company of good friends – those who give you peace and certainty, and who do not fill you with despair and doubt.
b. ‘Leave that which causes you to doubt for that which leaves you in no doubt.’
c. Always remember that Islam is an easy and simple faith: there are no theological traps waiting to ensnare you here.
d. If the doubts persist, seek out the help of a well-respected, moderate and wise local scholar who can advise you specifically
e. If all of this does not work, remember that severe doubts are sometimes a symptom of a medical/psychological problem – don’t be afraid to seek professional help (says the Psychiatrist!)
f. Recite the Kalima, Sura al-Ikhlas and salawat on the Prophet (peace and blessings upon him and his family) in abundance – BUT NOT because you feel you have fallen into disbelief, but rather to increase you in faith, surety and love of Allah and His Messenger (peace and blessings upon him and his family).
g. This is a religion of mercy – don’t ever despair of that mercy.
h. Lastly, make dua for me, my family and my teachers: for you are clearly a better Muslim than I!
Was salam
Abd Faqir
Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani