Life is a story, a narrative that describes our adventures through times. For me, my adventures took a turn that - in my opinion - require a medium to be shared with those going through their own forests and fighting their demons. Maybe this story can help provide a shortcut to their ordeal. I will summarize the story as best I can but nothing I write would depict the emotional roller coaster I had gone through.
I had a religious upbringing in a conservative family setting and always tried to be as committed to my religion as I could. Throughout my childhood, I had a fascination with Islam: whether it was memorizing the Quran, learning the history and practicing its tenets - all, without slacking. However, this all changed when I reached grade 12 and I started to have ‘thoughts’ about religion which did not make sense to me. Soon, all the foundation stones I had built for my faith came crumbling down. Atheistic thoughts that affected my faith creeped in through identified cracks shaking my being to the core.
I started asking myself questions that had never occurred to me. However, at first, these questions would come and go. For example, there would be something on my mind about a content in the Quran that did not make sense to me. It would bother me a little but then waking up the next day, I found myself not thinking about it anymore. Some days it was bad and at others it mellowed down a bit. Everyday there would be some issue bothering me: women’s rights, shariah law, non-Muslims in judgement day, authenticity of the Quran, proof of prophethood and similar unknowns. Pretty much, every day, these questions would pour into my mind out of nowhere. They affected my day to day existence. Sometimes in school, I would struggle to concentrate in class. At the time, I told my parents because I could not take it anymore; I wanted to end it. I was asking them a lot of questions and sometimes I would search on the internet.
What made matters worse was finding out that Atheism among Muslim youth was increasing worldwide. I read stories about many people like me who were brought up very committed Muslims only to be publishing content refuting Islam and promoting Atheism. Reading such material was terrifying. I kept telling myself that it was only a matter of time until I would have to go through this. To add insult to injury, there were many books published by former Christians turned Atheists specifically targeting people who were too afraid to leave religion because they were too ‘attached’ and were simply lying to themselves. I would ask myself so many times: am I simply lying to myself? Is Islam not true and I do not want to admit it? Is it more of a case that I want it to be true than it actually being true? My nightmare was going from bad to worse
Eventually, I needed to leave Dubai for the UK to study at university. I remember feeling convinced that my Islam would be blown away! At least in Dubai I was in a protected Islamic environment. How would I deal with doubts, staying in one of the least ‘religious’ countries in the world. I felt that in the first part of my first year of university, everything was fine. However, towards the end of the first year, things began to take a serious turn. Suddenly, my doubts reappeared, and they were at their worst. Prayer and all the other rituals related to Islam were seriously affected. I would rarely enjoy praying and every time I said Asalamu alaikum or Alhumdulliah, I would get an eerie feeling inside me. It is hard to explain, but I started to hate saying it. As mentioned before, when I went to sleep, I would feel ‘better; the next morning, this was not the case anymore!
I kept watching videos on YouTube and searching for answers and I had the same issue. I would feel a temporary excitement in finding the answer only to find that I was not convinced, and the annoying feeling was still with me. What was strange about all of this was that I had these doubts and every time I told myself that I wanted to leave the religion, I was not able to. It was like a constant stalemate in a tug of war. I would tell myself that I don’t need to believe in Islam and God in general, but I would find myself not being able to. But at the same time, I kept finding myself clinging to religion. Why was I so attached? I was in Europe, people do not regard religion as important, how come I cannot let go? I knew a very important fact, that without Islam and God, I did not want to live. There was no purpose in life and I would be left enslaved to my desires. So many times I would be in a good mood only to find myself feeling down due to the persistence of the thoughts I was having. I was getting more confused. Did it not say in the Quran that God’s name being mentioned should increase one’s faith? How come it was having the opposite effect with me? I was becoming more and more paranoid, everything else around me whether it was studies, or my future did not interest me anymore. All I wanted to do was to get rid of these doubts as soon as possible In my second year in university, my health started to take a downward spiral. From September to December, it was a case of the same routine of doubts coming and going, looking for answers on the internet and trying to get rid of the issue entirely. The nightmare roller coaster would take a massive nauseating turn on December 1st 2018. I suddenly woke up at night with what I was to later find out was a panic attack and remember crying and going crazy. I thought this was the instant I would finally leave Islam. I called my father and started crying because I could not take it anymore. I just wanted a definite resolution of my crisis. I was crying because although I kept asking questions and was determined to ‘eliminate’ my doubts more than anything else in life, this panic attack felt like some sort of unbearable force inside my body. I was to find out later that I suffered from acid reflux, and one of the symptoms I endured was difficulty in swallowing and halitosis (bad breath). No matter how much I brushed my teeth, I had a constant lingering bad taste in my mouth and I could feel acid coming out of my throat.
I could not come to terms that one of the factors that caused this was anxiety, and the cause of all anxiety for me at the time were the doubts. What was going on? Could it be true? Could the termination of my anxiety be leaving Islam? That would mean that there would be no doubts and no doubts would mean there is no anxiety. It was physical and mental torture. I knew that the doubts were causing this. At times, I felt that I was genuinely possessed. What was funny was that I started to miss the earlier stages of my doubts because although I had many questions, I never for one second suffered any health side effects.
From January to May in my second semester, I knew that I reached the limit of how much I could bear. I would constantly cry in my prayers - especially in sujood. Many times, I would be on the phone speaking to my parents panicking because all I wanted was for these doubts to go away. I really just wanted to know what was ‘the truth’? Was there a God? Is Islam really ‘worth’ it? Searching for answers seemed to be destroying my health. How could seeking the truth cause health problems? If Islam is the religion of Fitrah, how could I not enjoy praying so much? How could I hate saying salamu alaikum? The idea of doubts being a form of whispers from Shaytaan made sense. The idea of questioning your belief to become more convinced also made sense. But seeking the truth; could that result in my health being affected? I could not come to terms with this; I had never heard of such a thing.
I hope I can express the paranoia. When the semester ended, I returned to Dubai. But there was little hope that my doubts were going to end. I felt that I had almost given up. But there was a twist! Little was I to realize that by the time I returned to Edinburgh after the summer, the doubts disappeared all the sudden. My acid reflux was entirely gone. I was swallowing normally. I could say Salamu alaikum without getting angry and I loved praying again. I had joyfully informed my parents and kept thanking Allah for the blessing. What was the secret to my doubts disappearing?
The secret of my doubts going away is not as complicated as it seems. It was the heart. I could not stand saying Salamu alaikum or Alhumdulliah, I was not enjoying praying and I was at the lowest level of faith I had ever felt in my life. The Qur'an states: " Allah has endeared to you the faith and has made it pleasing in your hearts and has made hateful to you disbelief, defiance and disobedience” (49:7). And in another verse, “Our Lord, let not our hearts deviate after You have guided us and grant us” (3:6). This was what I was missing all along. The key point here is that it was never about the questions. It was the state of my heart. The proof is that the questions that I have about the existence of God or the credibility of Islam are still there, but I feel that my level of Iman is at it’s all time high!
How come then the same questions were causing me such problems for all these years and they have not been resolved even if the 'doubts' have gone? It goes back to the heart. A strong heart with a firm ground cannot be shaken. Therefore, in the first verse, the idea of Islam being beautified is requested, because if Islam is beautified then you are attached to it no matter what you face. The same goes for the second verse when you ask for Allah not to turn away your heart. It does not mention questions that shake your faith or trials that would shake your faith; it is about the heart being firm because it is the heart that is firm. This does not mean that people should not have a firm faith and find answers to the questions. In fact, one essential part of getting out of the doubts and advice anyone reading this to enact is to always fortify your Islamic beliefs with solid arguments. Why believe in God? Why believe in Islam? I am born in a generation where religion in the Muslim world is decreasing in significance. Should I go with the flow? I am an educated individual with a university degree, how will religion be of any use to me? People should know why Islam is the truth and leave space for acknowledging that not everything will be clear at once and that some questions need time for you to find the answer
That begs the next question, why did this happen to me in the first place? Why did Allah need me to go through this mental torture? Last year, I coincidentally come across an interesting podcast and the guest for the episode outlined going through a similar experience to mine and there is one section that was particularly interesting when he talked about how his doubts went away.
“Trying not to get answers to questions immediately…. These are major questions, I was created in order to answer these questions….. The way out of this severe experience was the realization that trying to defeat it does not work. This was something deeper than that. It was something related to the journey of life. I use this in psychological treatment. I think it benefits a lot of people… when the pressure of wanting to get out of the situation immediately decapitates……. This is your experience and was specially made for you. This is not something that relates to getting the answer immediately and attending some session and finding the answer and you feel assured. This might be the issue that defines your life and in the end it is a journey.”
In order words, if I had a time machine and went back in time, there is nothing I could do to change what happened to me. Perhaps someone who had fallen into sin would have wished that he did not hang out with the people he associated with and prayed more than he did. However, this was different for me. In fact, these doubts had started when I was fasting regularly, praying of the prayers and being very strict with general Islamic rules. This was planned for me all along. I feel spiritually and mentally stronger than I have ever been in my life! In fact, I am so glad this happened to me because if it had not have happened, I would not approach Islam like I do now. Allah had done this because he can as He said (Qur’an 14:27) “Allah does what he wills”. He also clarified (Qur’an 2:214) how he tested people and “they were touched by poverty and hardship and were shaken until [even their] messenger and those who believed with him said, “When is the help of Allah ?" Unquestionably, the help of Allah is near.” The prophets had their tests and I will have mine. I’m not in control of what happens to me, I’m only in control of how I respond, and this is how Allah will determine my deeds.
My doubts going away all goes back to the idea of Rizq (provision). Perhaps someone has a good job and is getting well paid. But the meaning of Rizq extends beyond this narrow understanding. Rizq can be the gift of being happy. It can be that people like you or you have a family. Everything given to you from Allah is called Rizq. For me, I grew up not being bothered. That was Rizq! This Rizq was taken away from me during my doubt period. No matter how much I tried, I was mentally and physically depleted. This was never in my hands. A very well-known Du’a (supplication) is “O Allah! show us the truth as true and inspire us to follow it. Show us falsehood as falsehood, and inspire us to abstain from it.” This is clear is something only Allah can grant, Allah can take it from who he wills and give it to who he wills. Those who will enter paradise will say (7:43) “"All praise is to Allah, Who guided us to this; we would not have attained the right path if Allah had not guided us”. Likewise, I could not have gotten rid of the doubts if not for Allah.
Things are becoming clearer to me now, some people say that there is a thing called beating cancer. I think I beat by doubts! I hope that this will be the best achievement that I have ever done in my life. But of course, it’s not over till it’s over. I still need to keep on track until I meet the angel of death. If you’re reading this and going through the same experience as me, know that being patient is the key to overcoming it. If you overcome it, you will taste sweetness in your life like you never imagined. If you are not going through this, do not be complacent, always know that there is always something that can befall you that can shake your faith. Our faith is something we cannot lose.