Faith & Certainty | In Pursuit of Conviction
Published: June 13, 2019 • Updated: January 22, 2021
Author: Dr. Zohair Abdul-Rahman
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيْمِ
In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.
For a long time, our faith on this point has depended on the principle of authority, which can hardly keep pace with the demands of the minds of an elite already captivated by positivism.
Whatever it may be, the problem of Qur’anic exegesis arises at two levels: firstly, the problem of religious conviction at the level of the intellectual and secondly, the problem of the popular ideas at the level of the layman.
With the elimination of dogma came the utilitarian view of morality, and thus rationalism completed the reign of unbelief. Such was the state of theological thought in Germany when Kant appeared. His Critique of Pure Reason revealed the limitations of human reason and reduced the whole work of the rationalists to a heap of ruins...Ghazali’s Philosophical scepticism which, however, went a little too far, virtually did the same kind of work in the world of Islam in breaking the back of that proud but shallow rationalism which moved in the same direction as pre-Kantian rationalism in Germany.
I have always known that Greek logic is not necessary for any intelligent minded person and it does not provide any benefit to any light-minded individual...and it is clear to me that most of what they mention regarding the Divine reality and logic comes from false assumptions regarding God.
They are not able to affirm the existence of the Lord (rabb), the messenger, nor any other of the foundations of faith that are necessary for the happiness (sa’adah) of the servant.
They wish to show that a possible existent (mumkin) requires a necessary existent (waajib)...As for the existence of God, the One who is the only worthy of our devotion, the Ever Living, the Sustainer of all, the Irresistible...Who has knowledge of the hidden matters, Who Sees, Hears, Speaks, is Pleased...then their proof and logical premises do not prove any of these essential realities of faith that are shared by the believers.
I hope I have made it clear to you that the ontological and the teleological arguments, as ordinarily stated, carry us nowhere...This view of thought gives us a mere mechanician in the one case, and creates an unbridgeable gulf between the ideal and the real in the other.
Section 1: The spiritual instinct
The revealed and mystic literature of mankind bears ample testimony to the fact that religious experience has been too enduring and dominant in the history of mankind to be rejected as mere illusion.
And when humanity is touched with hardship, he calls upon Us, whether lying on his side, or sitting, or standing.
But science has surprised us, and our research has left us no choice but to conclude that the mystics may be on to something, that the mind’s machinery of transcendence may in fact be a window through which we can glimpse the ultimate realness of something that is truly divine.
So turn your face toward the true natural way of life—God’s chosen fitrah (constitution) upon which He has formed humanity. There is no altering the primary state of God’s creation. That is the correct way of life though most people fail to realize it. It is the path of turning towards God, remaining dutiful to Him, establishing prayer, and being not of those who ascribe partners to Him.
Therefore, atheism is possible, but requires some hard cognitive work to reject or override the intuitions that nourish religious beliefs.
Peoples’ customs and habits are moulded by a metaphysical preoccupation that inclines even the smallest village together around a small hut, deliberately and carefully built as a meeting place for spiritual devotions varying in their primitiveness.
That that human consciousness has thus faced, throughout all the phases of its development, the metaphysical problem with such regularity is itself an issue which sociologists wished to resolve by characterizing man as ‘a fundamentally religious animal.’
an ideal of moral perfection towards which civilization has never ceased to move as its essential and ultimate goal.
Tawheed blends spiritual, moral and intellectual—the spiritual goal of coming closer to God entails the moral goal of doing good towards His creation, and the intellectual goal of analyzing the signs of God in scripture and nature.
Differing approaches to spirituality
And we instilled compassion and mercy into the hearts of those who followed him (Jesus). But monasticism was something they invented—We did not ordain it for them—only to seek God’s pleasure, and even so, they did not observe it properly.
Guide us to the straight path. The path that You have bestowed Your favor upon, not (the path) of those who have earned anger, nor those who have gone astray.
Toward a balanced spirituality
Indeed, in view of its function, religion stands in greater need of a rational foundation of its ultimate principles than even the dogmas of science.
Everyone should fear that their spiritual experience may be a delusion from Satan.
The link between self-transcendence and moral behavior is not as straightforward as we might like. It would seem that people can have genuine spiritual insights, and a capacity to provoke those insights in others, while harboring serious moral flaws.
And do not be like those who forgot Allah, so He made them forget themselves. They are the ones who are defiantly wicked (fasiqun).
I see spirituality as a search for the sacred. It is, I believe, the most central function of religion. It has to do with however people think, feel, act, or interrelate in their efforts to find, conserve, and if necessary, transform the sacred in their lives.
To sanctify means to set apart for a special purpose—for a holy or a godly purpose. A recognition of the presence of the divine in ordinary activities is an aspect of spiritual knowing in all major religions of the world.
There may be important consequences of the sanctification process. A job is likely to be approached differently when it becomes a vocation. A marriage likely takes on special power when it receives divine sanction. The search for meaning, community, self, or a better world are likely to be transformed when they are invested with sacred character.
Islamic paradigm of spirituality: Tawheed
For the One, be one, in one
In the path toward Truth and faith.
Thus, man becomes unique by becoming more and more like the most unique Individual. What then is life? It is individual: its highest form, so far, is the self (khudi) in which the individual becomes a self-contained exclusive centre...The greater his distance from God, the less his individuality.
And this matter (spiritual experience) is shared between those who believe and don’t believe in Islam...When a person experiences the complete extinguishing of reality (fanaa’ al-mutlaq), then this is an illusion (wahm) that contradicts reality, it is simply imagination (khiyaal) that throws a person into a deep ocean with no shore, entering into a dark night with no dawn.
Section II: The necessity of faith
What is faith?
You knew neither the Scripture nor the faith, but We made it a light, guiding with it whoever We will of Our servants.
Faith in the unseen
This is a book about which there is no doubt. It is guidance for people mindful of God. Those who have faith in the unseen, establish the prayer and give from what We have provided them with.
The necessity of faith
It is known that every living thing besides Allah...is in dire need (faqeer) of achieving benefit and thwarting harm. This cannot be accomplished except by identifying the [ultimate source of] benefit and harm.
Whoever, male or female, does acts of goodness while they are believers, then We will awaken them to a blessed life.
Faith is not irrational
The prophetic tradition is like the ark of Noah: whoever embarks on it will be saved, and whoever leaves it will drown.
Our concrete mental operations are indeed adaptations to the mode of life in which we had to compete for survival a long, long, time before science...Why, then, do the formal operations of the mind carry us so much further? Were those abilities not also matters of biological evolution? If they, too, evolved to let us get along in the cave, how can it be that they permit us to obtain deep insights into cosmology, elementary particles, molecular genetics, number theory? To this question I have no answer.
Thus, in the evaluation of religion, philosophy (reason) must recognize the central position of religion and has no other alternative but to admit it as something focal in the process of reflective synthesis.
Whoever turns away from My Remembrance, then for them is a miserable life.
Finding true faith
Now, since the transformation and guidance of man’s inner and outer life is the essential aim of religion, it is obvious that the general truths which it embodies must not remain unsettled. No one would hazard action on the basis of a doubtful principle of conduct.
For that is Allah , your Lord, the Truth. And what can be beyond truth except error? So how are you averted?
And when they commit an immorality, they say, “We found our fathers doing it, and Allah has ordered us to do it.” Say, “Indeed, Allah does not order immorality. Do you say about Allah that which you do not know?”
Say, “How wretched is that which your faith enjoins upon you, if you should be believers.”
And whoever turns away from My Remembrance—indeed, he will have a depressed life and We will gather him on the Day of Resurrection blind.
And who is more oppressive than the one who lies about Allah and lies about the truth when it comes to them.
The station of riyaadha is training the self to be authentic (sidq) and sincere (ikhlaas).
Faith in Islam
Do they not ponder upon the Qur’an? Had it been from other than Allah they would have found in it much discrepancy.
Say I only advise you to one thing, that you stand for the sake of Allah, in pairs or in isolation and then reflect. Your companion (the Prophet Muhammad) is not insane.
And the one who brings the Truth and the one who confirms it, they are the righteous.
And when they hear what has been revealed to the messenger, you see their eyes overflowing with tears because of what they have recognized of the truth. They say, “Our Lord, we have believed, so write us among the witnesses.”
Light upon light, Allah guides to His light whoever He Wills.
I bear witness that there is nothing worthy of worship except God, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His messenger.
So whoever disbelieves in false gods and has faith in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing.
Section III: Attaining certainty
What is certainty?
Our age is the genuine age of criticism, to which everything must submit...reason grants only to that which has been able to withstand its free and public examination.
Moreover, the modern man, by developing habits of concrete thought—habits which Islam itself fostered at least in the earlier stages of its cultural career—has rendered himself less capable of that experience which he further suspects because of its liability to illusion.
Certainty as an emotion
Psychosocial aspects of certainty
What an individual person hopes for and experiences from God has its frame of reference in what he has experienced in the years of childhood from his parents in terms of love, affection, and security.
Certainty as a spiritual pursuit
Achieving certitude cannot occur by virtue of the person’s own ability, it is solely a gift from God that is granted to people as a favor upon them.
The truth of the matter is that it (certainty) is earned from the perspective of its means, but it is a pure gift from the perspective of its essence and ontological reality.
Yaqeen is the internalization (istiqraar) of knowledge that will not turn, change, or waiver in the heart.
An example of these three degrees is like a person who tells you that he has honey with him. (At this stage) you have no doubt in his testimony. Then you actually see the honey and this increases your yaqeen, then you actually taste the honey. The first is reasonable certainty (‘ilm al-yaqeen), the second is empirical certainty (‘ayn al-yaqeen), the third is ultimate certainty (haqq al-yaqeen).
And remember when Ibrahim said, “My Lord! Show me how you give life to the dead.” Allah responded, “Do you not believe?” Ibrahim replied, “Yes I do, but just so my heart can be reassured.” Allah said, “Then bring four birds, train them to come to you, then cut them into pieces, and scatter them on different hilltops. Then call them back, they will fly to you in haste. And thus you will know that Allah is Almighty, All-Wise.”
It can be understood that he asked to increase his yaqeen, not to say that he was doubtful before. Knowledge has levels of strength, and he intended to ascend from ‘ilm al-yaqeen to ‘ayn al-yaqeen.,
“O Messenger of God, verily we perceive in our minds that which any one of us would consider too grave to even express.” The Prophet replied, “Do you really have such thoughts/feelings?” They said, “Yes.” Upon this he remarked, “That is the manifestation of faith.”
The Shaytaan only throws these whispers into the minds of those who he has given up on misguiding. So he frustratingly whispers these thoughts out of a deep failure to misguide this person.
God specifies that the people of certainty will be the ones who will be able to benefit from the signs and proofs.
(The people of certainty refer to) the monotheists that take the straight and rational path that leads to true knowledge and understanding, using their piercing insight.
The person who achieves certainty (al-muqin) is never heedless of God, and sees signs of Him in everything.
And if we opened for them a gateway from the universe so that they would ascend (through it), they would say, “Our eyes are hallucinating or even worse we have been affected by magic.”
They only follow assumptions and whatever their self desires, even though guidance has come to them from their Lord.
And when it was said, “Indeed, the promise of Allah is Truth and the Hour [is coming]—no doubt about it,” you said, “We know not what is the Hour. We assume only conjecture (dhann) and we are not seeking certainty (yaqeen).”
Seeing Allah in everything, returning to Him in every situation (you encounter), seeking His Aid in every circumstance.
Do not let your heart be a sponge for every doubt and allegation so that it absorbs them and is moistened with nothing else. Instead, make your heart like solid glass; doubts pass over its surface but do not settle on the inside. Thus, the doubts are seen through the clearness of the glass, but are repelled by its firmness. Otherwise, if you allow your heart to drink every doubt you encounter, it will end up affirming them.
Men will continue to question one another till this is propounded: Allah created all things but who created Allah? He who found himself confronted with such a situation should say: “I have faith in Allah.”
Satan comes to one of you and says, “Who created so-and-so?” till he says, “Who has created your Lord?” So, when he inspires such a question, one should seek refuge with Allah and give up such thoughts.
And do not pursue that of which you have no knowledge. Indeed, the hearing, the sight, and the heart—about all those [one] will be questioned.
If it weren’t for yaqeen, no one would choose to embark on the journey to Allah. Moreover, it is only through it (yaqeen) that a person is able to stand firm on the path.
2 Sahih Muslim, Hadith 60.
3 Sir Muhammad Iqbal was a poet, philosopher, and Muslim thinker born in 1877 CE in the Punjab region of India. His studies of Western philosophy in Europe under a number of professors deepened his appreciation for Islam. He was heavily involved in politics and envisioned a Muslim-majority state in India. This idea would come to fruition after his death and be known as Pakistan. [Aksoy, N. (2015). Meeting the challenges of modernity as experienced by Said Nursi, Muhammad Iqbal and Muhammad Abduh (Doctoral dissertation, Rutgers University-Graduate School-New Brunswick).]
4 Malik Bennabi was a modernist Muslim thinker born in Constantine, Algeria in 1905 CE. He was a civil engineer by trade but dedicated his life to developing ideas of social reform for the Muslim world. He was heavily influenced by the modernist Muslim movement in North Africa during the time of colonization. He wrote a number of works in French that outlined his views on social change. He is a controversial figure due to his offensive views on race, specifically African communities. The West also views him as controversial due to his ideas regarding Islam and politics, viewing him as an early founder of ‘Islamism.’ [Naylor, P. C. (2006). The Formative Influence of French Colonialism on the Life and Thought of Malek Bennabi (Malik bn Nabi). French Colonial History, 7(1), 129-142.]
5 Abu Abdullah Muhammad bin Abi Bakr is known as Ibn al-Qayyim Jawziyyah due to the fact his father, Abu Bakr ibn Ayub, was the custodian (qayyim) of the Jawziyyah school in Damascus. Ibn al-Qayyim was born 691 AH/1292 CE in Damascus to a family of scholars. He mastered the Islamic sciences as well as fields such as astronomy and medicine. He wrote extensively on Islamic theology and the Islamic spiritual tradition with profound insight and mastery. [Krawietz, B. (2006). Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah: His Life and Works. Mamluk Studies Review,10(2).]
6 Bennabi, M. (2010). The Qur'anic phenomenon: an essay of a theory on the Qur'an. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Islamic Book Trust, p. 5.
7 Ibid., p. 6.
8 Iqbal, M. (2011). The reconstruction of religious thought in Islam. Lahore, Pakistan: Iqbal Academy Pakistan, p. 4.
9 Taymiyyah, I. (1976). Ar-Radd alaa al-mantaqiyeen. Lahore, Pakistan: Dar Tarjuman As-Sunnah, pp. 3-4.
10 Qayyim, I. (2004). As-Sawa’iq al-mursala. Riyaadh, Saudi Arabia: Maktabah Ar-Rushd, vol. 1, p. 359.
12 Iqbal, M. (2011). The reconstruction of religious thought in Islam, p. 33.
13 Ibid., p. 14.
14 Jung, C. G. (2014). Modern man in search of a soul. Abingdon, United Kingdom: Routledge, p. 205.
15 Harris, S. (2014). Waking up: A guide to spirituality without religion. New York, USA: Simon and Schuster.
16 Emmons, R. A. (2000). Is spirituality an intelligence? Motivation, cognition, and the psychology of ultimate concern. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 10(1), 3-26.
17 Iqbal, M. (2011). The reconstruction of religious thought in Islam, p. 90.
18 Qur’an, 10:12.
19 Newberg, A. (2000). Why god won’t go away: Brain science and the biology of belief. New York, USA: Random House Publishing.
20 Ibid., p. 87.
21 Qur’an, 30:30-31.
22 Norenzayan, A., & Gervais, W. M. (2013). The origins of religious disbelief. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17(1), 20-25.
23 Bennabi, M. (2010). The Qur'anic phenomenon: an essay of a theory on the Qur'an, p. 31.
25 Ibid., p. 262.
26 Qur’an, 2:85.
27 Bennabi, M. (2010), p. 29.
28 Ibid., p. 30.
29 Ibid., p. 36.
30 Khan, N. (2015 January 10). Tawheed - A Life Worth Living. Spiritual Perception. Retrieved from
31 Qur’an, 57:27.
32 Qur’an, 1:5-7.
35 Iqbal, M. (2011). The reconstruction of religious thought in Islam, p. 1.
36 Harris, S. (2014). Waking up: A guide to spirituality without religion, p. 116.
37 Ibid., p. 159.
38 Qur’an 59:19.
39 Pargament, K. I. (1999). The psychology of religion and spirituality? Yes and no. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 9(1), 3-16.
40 Emmons, R. A. (2000). Is spirituality an intelligence? Motivation, cognition, and the psychology of ultimate concern. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 10(1), 3-26.
41 Urry, H. L., Nitschke, J. B., Dolski, I., Jackson, D. C., Dalton, K. M., Mueller, C. J., ... & Davidson, R. J. (2004). Making a life worth living: Neural correlates of well-being. Psychological Science, 15(6), 367-372.
42 Emmons, R. A. (2000). Is spirituality an intelligence? Motivation, cognition, and the psychology of ultimate concern. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 10(1), 3-26.
43 Pargament, K. I. (1999). The psychology of religion and spirituality? Yes and no. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 9(1), 3-16.
44 Qayyim, I. (2007). Al-Kaafiya ash-shaafiya. Makkah, Saudi Arabia: Dar ‘Alim Al-Fawa’id, p. 188.
45 Iqbal, M. (2010). The secrets of the self. New York, USA: Cosimo Classics, p. 19.
46 Qayyim, I. (2013). Madarij as-salikeen. Al-Mansoorah, Egypt: Maktabah Al-Fayyadh, p. 493.
47 Qur’an, 42:52.
48 Al-Hanafi, I.A. (1990). Sharh ‘aqeedah tahawiyyah. Beirut, Lebanon: Mu’assisa Ar-Risaala, vol. 1 p. 462.
49 Qur’an, 2:143.
50 Iqbal, M. (2011) The reconstruction of religious thought in Islam. Lahore, Pakistan: Iqbal Academy Pakistan, p. 2.
51 Qur’an, 2:2-3.
52 Qayyim, I. (2011). Ighaathat lahfaan. Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: Majma’ Al-Fiqh Al-Islamee, p. 39.
53 Qur’an, 16:97.
54 Taymiyyah I. (1995). Majmoo’ al-fataawa. Riyaadh, Saudi Arabia: Majma’ Malik Fahd, vol. 1, p. 57.
55 Max Delbrück was born in 1906 in Berlin, Germany. He was a Nobel-Prize winning molecular biologist, also excelling in physics and philosophy with a strong passion for art. He passed away in 1981 in America. [Hayes, W. (1982). Max Ludwig Henning Delbrück, 4 September 1906-10 March 1981.]
56 Delbrück, M. (1978). Mind from matter? The American Scholar, 47(3), 339-353.
57 Iqbal, M. (2011) The reconstruction of religious thought in Islam. Lahore, Pakistan: Iqbal Academy Pakistan, p. 2.
58 Khan, N. (2015 January 10). The Real Battle: Meaningful vs. Meaningless. Spiritual Perception. Retrieved from http://spiritualperception.org/the-real-battle-meaningful-vs-meaningless/
59 Davies, P. (2007 November 24). Taking Science on Faith. The New York Times. Retrieved from
60 Qayyim, I. (2013). Madarij as-salikeen. Al-Mansoorah, Egypt: Maktabah Al-Fayyadh, p. 720.
61 Qur’an, 20:124.
62 Iqbal, M. (2011) The reconstruction of religious thought in Islam. Lahore, Pakistan: Iqbal Academy Pakistan, p. 2.
63 Qur’an, 10:32.
64 Qur’an, 7:28.
65 Qur’an, 2:93.
66 Qur’an, 20:124.
67 Qur’an, 39:32.
68 Qayyim, I. (2013). Madarij as-salikeen. Al-Mansoorah, Egypt: Maktabah Al-Fayyadh, p. 390.
69 Khan, N. (2015, January 1). Fitrah: The Primordial Nature of Man. Spiritual Perception. Retrieved from, http://spiritualperception.org/fitrah-the-primordial-nature-of-man/
70 Qur’an, 22:31.
71 Qur’an, 4:82.
72 Qur’an, 34:46.
73 Qur’an, 39:33.
74 Qur’an, 5:83.
75 Qur’an, 24:35.
76 Qur’an, 2:256.
77 Newman, L. (2008). Descartes' epistemology. Retrieved from,
78 Kant, I. (1998). Critique of pure reason. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, pp. 100-101
79 Iqbal, M. (2011). The reconstruction of religious thought in Islam. Lahore, Pakistan: Iqbal Academy Pakistan, p. i.
80 Koriat, A. (2000). The feeling of knowing: Some metatheoretical implications for consciousness and control. Consciousness and Cognition, 9(2),149-171.
81 Burton, R. A. (2008). On being certain: Believing you are right even when you are not. New York, USA: St. Martin’s Press, p. 23.
82 Stern, E. R., Welsh, R. C., Gonzalez, R., Fitzgerald, K. D., Abelson, J. L., & Taylor, S. F. (2013). Subjective uncertainty and limbic hyperactivation in obsessive‐compulsive disorder. Human Brain Mapping, 34(8), 1956-1970.
83 Burton R. A. (2008). On being certain, p. 13.
84 Waaijman, K. (2007). What is spirituality? Acta Theologica, 27(2), 1-18.
85 Newberg A. (2000). Why god won’t go away: Brain science and the biology of belief. New York, USA: Random House Publishing.
86 Qayyim, I. (2013). Madarij as-salikeen, p. 757.
87 Qur’an 13:27.
88 Jami’ al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 3522.
89 Qayyim, I. (2013). Madarij as-salikeen, p. 458.
90 Ibid., p. 758.
91 Ibid., p. 758.
92 Ibid., p. 762.
93 Qur’an, 2:260.
94 Al-Ayni, B.D. (2001). ‘Umdat ul-qari. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar ul-Fikr, vol. 19, p. 128.
95 Al-Asqalani, I.H. (1960). Fath ul-bari. Riyaadh, Saudi Arabia:: Al-Maktaba As-Salafiyya, vol. 6, p. 413.
96 It should be noted that there are multiple interpretations regarding the reason why Ibrahim asked to see life come to the dead. Ibn Hajr al-Asqalani (d. 856 AH) explains that some have understood the story to also mean: 1) Ibrahim was affected by the whispering of Shaytaan; 2) he was not in doubt of the power of resurrection, but doubted whether he was really Khaleel Allah and made this prayer as a sign that he truly achieved this status; or 3) he wanted to see it due to his previous debate with Nimrod who claimed he could give and take life. Ibn al-Jawzi also documents the various interpretations in his commentary on the verse in Zaad al-Maseer Fee Ilm at-Tafseer.
97 Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 4537.
98 Sahih Muslim, Hadith 247.
99 An-Nawawi (1929). Al-Minhaj sharh sahih muslim. Cario, Egypt: Al-Matba’a al-Misriyya bi-Al-Azhar, vol. 2, p. 205.
100 Ibid., pp. 205-206.
101 Ibid., p. 757.
104 Qur’an, 15:14-15.
105 Qur’an, 53:23.
106 Qur’an, 45:32.
107 Qayyim, I. (2013). Madarij as-Salikeen. Al-Mansoorah, Egypt: Maktabah Al-Fayyadh, p. 758.
108 Qayyim, I. (2010). Miftah dar al-sa’adah. Makkah, Saudi Arabia: Dar ‘Alam al-Fawa’id, vol. 1, p. 395.
109 Sahih Muslim, Hadith 134.
110 Sahih Bukhari, Hadith 3276.
111 Qur’an, 17:36.
113 Qayyim, I. (2013). Madarij as-Salikeen, p. 757.
114 Ibid., p. 760.