Certainty and doubt: How to ensure you stay on the right path


Many stumble because of weak faith. Many fall into the darkness of doubt: ‘what if it’s not true?’

In one of the famous cities of Europe lived a gentleman who, one day, happened to be extremely hungry. He felt emptiness deep inside, he heard his stomach grumbling and he was certain that food was what he needed at this present moment. As he marched towards the kitchen, he came across his wife, with whom he shared his knowledge. “I am hungry”. The reply came as a shock: “It doesn’t seem to me that you’re hungry” she said. “You had a heavy meal a few hours ago, and therefore it seems very improbable that you are now hungry”, she added. And before he could say anything, she continued her reasoning: “not to mention the fact that digestion takes a few hours to complete and thus hunger for you at this moment is impossible”. He was a bit puzzled. It wasn’t to be denied that he had a heavy meal a few hours ago and certainly biological realities are not to be questioned.

Often in our lives, influences come our way that make us doubt realities that we understand from the depth of our being.

Nonetheless, he hung on to his inner feeling and moved on. He hadn’t taken three steps that his daughter came in calling out loud, “mum, that meal we just had all together with dad was really heavy, I don’t think none of us can be hungry for another twelve hours!” Now doubt began to creep in. “What if I’m not hungry”. He heard his stomach grumble and felt empty inside. Maybe … “can you help me with my steel industry homework, dad” said his youngest son, interrupting his thoughts. The thought occurred to him to delay the request of his son for a few minutes in order to grab some food to satiate his hunger, but now that he was uncertain if really he was hungry or not, he decided to put his dilemma on the side for a short while and go help his son. 3 hours went by, before he fainted. Hungry, indeed, he was.

What can we learn from the story?

Often in our lives, influences come our way that make us doubt realities that we understand from the depth of our being.  These influences come in different shapes and forms, and have different levels of impact, but as they get more and more frequent, they divert our attention from certainty.

I didn’t say “take away our certainty”. That can never happen. What is certain can never be taken away from us, for they make a part of our being. Separation from it would be ‘not being’[1].

Rather, what you read was “take away our attention from certainty”. Once our attention is distracted, we don’t act according to certainty, but rather get distracted with things that are futile.

Why we procrastinate when it comes to worship, lies in the weakness of our attention to a reality that we have certainty about in the first place: God is The Lord of the Universe

Our simpleton in the story got distracted from his certainty of being hungry. How? At first, doubt was created in him, he became distracted as a result of arguments that kept his mind busy and thus he ignored his inner knowledge. Then came his son who took away not only his mind but also his action, and he moved away from the path leading to the kitchen, to help with the steel industry homework.

The Fitrah

A certainty that is part of our being is the knowledge of Absolute perfection and our attraction towards it. In Islamic terminology, this is called the Fitrah, and we all have read the beautiful verse that describes it:

So set Thou Thy face steadily and truly to the faith: (establish) Allah’s handiwork according to the pattern on which He has made mankind: no change (let there be) In the work (wrought) by Allah. That is the standard religion: but Most among Mankind understand not. (Quran 30:30)

The human being is created in a way that he has full certainty about the existence of Allah (swt) and can understand perfection (mercy, generosity, love, etc…), in addition to being attracted to these traits.

However, as he gets busy in this world, two things happen:

  • He comes across words and thoughts that occupy him and distract him from his certainty.
  • He comes across distractions that move him away from those actions which would result from his certainty.

In other words, his attention towards what his innate knowledge pushes him to do is diverted.

As for the distractions, the list is not short. From movies and food to long hours of football nights and work-related stress, not to mention negative propaganda in the news and twisted interpretation of what the goal of life is on the local radio. Our minds are too busy trying to deal with the huge cloud of distraction such that the light of certainty is an unseen matter – excuse the pun.

As for the second, you may ask yourself when was the last time your actions were based on truth: Imagine an honest, reliable and very generous person promises to leave you one hundred thousand pounds richer if you would be willing to do a simple task at 3 in the morning at a place located 45 minutes from the comfort of your house (perhaps this occurred in winter). Would you complain of sleepless nights, long drives and think twice before accepting? What you get in return is worthy of the effort.

Why? Because you have certainty that money exists and that money is a problem solver for you, i.e. it helps you live a comfortable life, assists you when you are in trouble, etc…

Acting upon what Allah (swt) has commanded us to perform is a way to tell ourselves, ‘God exists and He has a role in my life’.

Sure, this action is based on a reality. But what about the reality that God exists and that He is the One who provides you with every breath and with every sustenance that comes in your path. He is the One who solves your problems, listens to your requests, and grants you happiness and inner tranquillity. He is the one who you will meet after your death and He is the One who will decide where your eternal abode will be.

Isn’t that enough for you to miss a few minutes of sleep to pray your Fajr Salaat?

The answer to why we drag our feet when it comes to attending our prayers, or why we procrastinate when it comes to worship, lies in the weakness of our attention to a reality that we have certainty about in the first place: God is The Lord of the Universe (read: in charge of everything that happens to me and around me).

We don’t really believe that God is our provider or that the solution to all our problems is He who is the force behind every movement, do we?

It is not the word of a poet: Little do you believe! (Quran 69:41)

Practical solution

Islam gives you 2 keys to ensure your attention from Truth doesn’t leave you:

  • Remember Allah (swt)
  • Act according to his commands

Let’s come back to our story. Two things would have ensured that our simpleton didn’t get distracted and would have avoided fainting. Firstly, by reminding himself he was hungry by drawing his attention back to his innate knowledge, he would have made his wife’s invalid argument futile[2]. Secondly, walking towards the kitchen actively and eating. The simple act of walking towards the kitchen would make his certainty unforgettable, since he is acting upon it.

Acting upon what Allah (swt) has commanded us to perform is a way to tell ourselves, ‘God exists and He has a role in my life’.

When it’s time to pray and you pause from your work to go and perform your obligation, you are unconsciously telling your-self that God exists and He has a role in my life.

When you come across an opportunity to sin, and you avoid it because God said so, one of the amazing things that happen is that you remind your nafs, God exists, and He has role in my life.

And when you come across an opportunity to commit a sin and the imtihan (test) gets the better of you, or you dwell in actions that have no reality other than worldly entertainment, you’ve turned your attention away from certainty. Quickly, take example of those whom the Quran describes as:

Those who have Taqwa, when a thought of evil from Satan assaults them, they remind themselves (of Allah), Then, they see (aright)! (Quran 7:201)

Otherwise, you too may be diverted from the straight path to something like the steel industry homework!


Continuity and perseverance in avoiding sin and performing the obligation is the only path that will bring our attention back to the innate reality which makes up our fitrah. It is not without reason that the scholars and the teachers of Akhlaq would constantly remind their students: There is no better way to get closer to Allah (swt) than to act according to His instructions. Doing that which is Wajib and avoiding that which is Haram.

As for remembrance, well here’s a powerful phrase from an infallible being:

From the Messenger of Allah (swt): “Whoever obeys Allah (swt) has remembered Him, even if his prayers, fasts and his recitation of the Quran are few” [3]

In conclusion, if you were to act based on certainty, nothing will obscure your innate knowledge, and it will thus remain as bright as light. Then if a Harry was to ask you at midday, “does God exist?” you would laugh at him: it would sound to you as if he just asked you if the sun had risen today or not.


[1] A deeper explanation of this notion deserves a separate work.

[2] That is not to say rational argument doesn’t have an important role in our path towards certainty, rather once a certain matter has been established rationally and through innate knowledge, it is ‘remembrance’ (as well as action) that prevents one from getting distracted, i.e. from ignoring the certainty one has reached and replacing it with superficial distractions or entertaining diversions.

[3] رسولُ اللَّهِ صلى اللَّه عليه وآله : مَن أطاعَ اللَّهَ عزّوجلّ فَقَد ذَكَرَ اللَّهَ وإن قَلَّتْ صلاتُهُ وصِيامُهُ وتلاوَتُهُ لِلقرآنِ   (بحار الأنوار : ۷۷ / ۸۶ / ۳)

Advertise on TMV