Repost #1: Dealing with Doubts & Misgivings
‘Reposts’ are posts of yester- day/week/year which shall be posted again, once a week and can be found in the ‘Reposts’ category.
Original post date: December 7, 2006.
Severe Doubts and Misgivings
When in such a situation, find out what is the right thing to do, and simply do it. Do no think about the problem or worry about it. Rather, think and thank: think about the blessings of Allah upon you, and thank Him for them with our tongue and heart. This is a means of making the Devil leave you, and despair of making you despair.
First, exercise caution
It is important to calmly find out what all the relevant rulings related to the question are. Ask as many specific questions as you have to, and do not make assumptions. Then, figure out what you were doing wrong, if anything, and what the consequences are.
Second, do not have baseless misgivings
It is essential that one not have baseless misgivings (waswasa). This usually occurs due to ignorance of the sunna, as operationalized by the fuqaha, or through failure to act within the bounds of sound reason. As such, we should take the proper meas, as described above, and not go beyond them.
Our legal responsibility (taklif) is within the limits of reason: Allah Most High has informed us, “Allah does not burden souls with more than they can bear.”
Once you have take the reasonable means, the default assumption is that you are now free from error. Then, we return to the important fiqh principle: “Certainty is no vitiated by a doubt” (Ibn Nujaym, al-Ashbah wa ‘l-naza’ir, and Majallat al-ahkam al-‘adliyya).
This means that if one is certain about something, such as the validity of one’s worship – this being the basic assumption for all human actions – then we continue to assume it is valid until certain that it is not. Mere possibilities and even likelihoods do not change this.
The important fiqh principles related to this matter include:
1. Certainty is not lifted by doubt
2. Certainty is only lifted by certainty
3. The defaulty assumption about a matter is akin to certainty
4. The default assumption about all matters is validity and soundness
5. Mere doubts and suppositions are of no legal consequence.
As such, until you are certain that any of your prayers were invalid, you do not have any prayers to make up. One should, however, take the steps described above in “exercising caution.”
Ibn ‘Abidin points out that following one’s misgivings (waswsa), whether about the validity of one’s works or about “how hard” we imagine the legal prescriptions of the Shari’a to be is highly blameworthy: it is from the Devil, and Allah Most High has commanded us to refuse his enticing.
The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) is a mercy. This religion is a mercy. It is a means to mercy, success, and felicity. When one does not find this, one mustbe doing something wrong. “Ask the people of remembrance if you know not,” Allah tells us in the Qur’an.
This is an important final point: when in doubt, one should not make up legal rulings. Rather, one should seek reliable knowledge, either from a reliable book one is able to understand or from people of sound traditional learning.
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