Part I | Part II
What do I know anyway?
One of my teachers taught us in a class earlier this year: ‘The less you learn, the more you think you know. And the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know!’ This shook me to my core. I reflected on this, questioned myself and have felt it hard to write about anything in many months—unusual for me—out of fear of my lack of knowledge and understanding. It also led me to write this article.
Before you began to read this article, what passed through your mind? Are you someone that enjoys VirtualMosque.com and its articles, for it chimes with you—which in turn makes you feel good about yourself, that you’re in the right? Or maybe the opposite—perhaps you don’t like the content around here, and are looking for something odd (which in turn proves that you’re right)?
Or did you open this article with the hope of learning something that you don’t know already? Or better still, did you open it with the hope that it may challenge your prevailing views in your quest for truth?
I have worked at the grassroots and walked the corridors of power over the last few years, with a leading role in student activism in Britain. Now—I may be wrong—but something that bothers me deeply after much consideration is the prevailing dogmatic state of the mind in the world today, and it is something I must remind myself often not to be (especially as I write this). A dogmatic mind assumes, as Professor Tariq Ramadan describes, that its “certainties and truths are exclusive”; its characteristic feature is “its tendency to see things from one exclusive angle, and to think in terms of absolutes”; it thinks it has all the answers; and it holds a monopoly on the truth.
This dogmatism manifests itself innocently in the living rooms of Muslim families, as well as the committee rooms of Muslim organizations. It can be there in our interactions with people around us, for young and for old. Often it is made out to be the monopoly of ‘conservative Muslims’ or ‘liberal Muslims’—I think it is label-less. It particularly rears an ugly face through tribalism in our national politics, but I will focus in this article on the Believing mind.
My real worry is that this dogmatism applies probably to most of us from time to time.
We lack the ability to consider that we may be, from time to time, potentially wrong. And we become so obsessive in our desire to be “right” that we forget what it means to be a seeker of truth and thus, as a believer, a humble servant of Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He).
For Allah alone is Al-‘Alim (The Knower of All), He alone is Al-Qadir (The All Powerful), He alone is Al-Khaliq (The Creator). Intellectual humility was present amongst the greats of our religion. Imam Shafi’i radi Allahu ‘anhu (may Allah be pleased with him) beautifully said once, “I believe my opinion is right with the possibility that it is wrong and I believe the opinion of those who disagree with me is wrong with the possibility that it is right.”
Humility is a sign of mightiness, not weakness. Humility does not mean to be a ‘wimp’—it means to confidently witness that truth only lies with Allah (swt), not our egos. It means to recognize that our understanding and knowledge is not limitless—and that we must recognize our limitations.
Living in a world of ‘rightness’ is dangerous—we probably all know somebody who believes in their own superiority so much, doesn’t listen and wants everybody else to view the world just as they do, right? You wish they thought just like you? Stop there—because you aren’t any better—maybe they know better than you. Worse still, this is a spiritual disorder—at best of vanity, at worst of arrogance. One scholar wrote, frighteningly, “The dogmatic mind thinks that it is God and passes judgment from on high and in the name of eternity.”
One can be too humble too—living in a world of confusion and darkness. One could argue, if our knowledge and capacity for insight is so little, then how can we know anything?
Moments like these make you glad to be a Believer! Rather than simply floating aimlessly in life in confusion, in the darkness there is a Rope on to which we must hold fast (Qur’an 3:103); we have a Straight Path that we must tread (Qur’an 1:5); and we have The Most Trustworthy Handhold That Will Never Break (Qur’an 2:256).
We have as the bedrock of our existence the fact that the Creator of this world has created us to worship Him. And in the Qur’an we have an instruction manual to life, by the Creator of Life itself, in the Prophets we have the perfect model to follow, in the great people and scholars we have experts to show us the way, and the Signs of our everyday lives we have the tools to draw closer to Him.
Now that we have discussed the issue itself, in the second article to follow this (part 2) insha’Allah (God willing) I will provide some ideas on how we can reach such intellectual humility that we crave—and how what seems to be a flaw can be turned into your greatest strength.
Most certainly, my teacher’s comment gave me a whole new meaning to the verse, “O humanity, you are in need of Allah, but Allah is independent of all needs, worthy of all praise.” And sure as anything, we don’t have all the answers. We ask Allah to give us humble minds and to save us from arrogance and vanity.
Jazakallah khair for this very deep and important post!
Indeed, every second we are in need of HIM. JazakAllah Br Nabil for a reflective reminder.
Jazakhallah for this article. If everyone knew this, then all Muslims would be united as one and no one from outside would look down at us.
salaam u alaikum,
i listen lectures often. But i cannot find constancy in faith. After 2 or 3 days, i feel like i have very low iman. How do i become closer to Allah?
read Imam Haddad’s ‘Book of Assistance’. If you can implement half of what he says in each chapter; you’ll be set.
my teachers told me: make repentance of past sins, stay on top of your prayers, read at least a page of quran each day and say your morning and evening adkhars regularly (find a litany and keep up with it). cut out any major mins and work on minimizing minor ones.
It’s easier said that done. Consistency is key.
Salam, sister, ”Keep your tongue moist with Dhikr” – helps me alot and also as brother Waleed said, read the quran regularly and even better to listen to it while reading like the vids on youtube. Dhikr at night and after fajr is also quite good because your at rest when you start as youhave been working all day etc..
Hope it help
Assalamoualaykum warahamatulahi wabarakatu Sister Zainab,
Following this articles’ reflections I would like to share some questions I ask myself in moments like these:
Why do I listen/read/attend Islamic lectures?
What do I define as being “constant with my faith”?
How do I measure my iman’s strenght or weakness?
When did I feel closer to Allah swt recently? What was I doing? example: fasting, making dhikr, doing good deeds, reading the Holy Qu’ran, being on top of my intentions to keep them in alignment with Allah swt, etc.
What does “feeling closer to Allah swt” mean to ME?
Am I being grateful to Allah swt considering that my very breath depends on my Creator?
Am I praying with a deep intention, seeking to connect my heart and soul with Allah swt?
Am I making Du’as for my loved ones, myself, the Muslims that world over, the entire Creation?
Am I checking my actions before I actually act?
Am I asking Allah swt to forgive my big and small sins from my past, present, just minutes ago and seek Allah’s swt protection against the temptations?
If you are asking these questions to yourself and others, it seems to me, that you have your heart in the right place, because you are concerned about not “feeling closer to Allah swt”. Insha’Allah there is a reward for you and all of us for seeking knowledge, questioning ourselves and making the effort to become better Muslims, insha’Allah.
May Allah swt forgive me if I cause you or anyone else any harm sharing my own thoughts. Ameen. May Allah swt grants us an open heart, mind and soul to embrace Islam, learn from the Qu’ran, each other and the examples of our Prophet Mohammed sws. Ameen. May Allah swt accept our prayers, Du’as, Dhikr, good deeds, intentions and actions. Ameen May Allah swt protect us from the evil one, temptations and our own evil thoughts. Ameen.
This was a lovely reminder for us all. I look forward eagerly to read your next piece inshAllah.
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As-Salaam 3alaykum wa ra7matullahi wa barakatuhu,
All we need is love – a popular song from The Beatles.
Love is what we do need to stick to the right path of Islam – rational belief is not suffiient. Loving Allah and His messenger is important.
Shukran Jazeelan for this insightful essay. The value of Humility should always be practised 😉
Very nice. I tried to encapsulate some of your points in a Facebook post:
“A seeker of truth is a humble servant of Allah. He doesn’t imagine that he has all the answers. He’s willing to be proven wrong. Only Allah is Al-‘Aleem (the All-Knowing). Humility in the face of truth is a sign of inner strength. Turn to the Quran with an open heart and a willingness to accept what it teaches.”
I enjoy articles like this. Reminders are necessary for us to become better Muslims and get closer to Allah. If we don’t remind each other, we wind up trying to go it alone and that can be an often short, lonely, and misguided path.
Islam is a communal religion that requires Muslims to act as if they are one community and one society, even if we’re hundreds of miles apart.