The Utility of Doubt

doubt

Fear is a powerful force, some say it is more powerful than love. I believe doubt to be equally more powerful. It is doubt that gives birth to fear as well. Some of us even doubt those who love us and our courage to face our fears. Doubt has led mankind to unfathomable discoveries and inventions. Doubt coupled with curiosity is the root of all human knowledge and awareness. It is in doubt that we truly discover ourselves. I believe doubt has great utility. 

We often hear people advising us to have faith and believe in ourselves in our moments of weakness and self-doubt. It is only through doubting our beliefs that we are able to transform, to change, and to grow. The moment we become satisfied with what we know, and get comfortable with the safe, our journey to experience and knowledge stops right away. A doubtless man, in my opinion, is more vulnerable and more susceptible to hearsay.

I see many people around me who believe that faith and doubt are mutually exclusive just like courage and fear. Just as courage is not the absence of fear, faith is not the absence of doubt at all. Doubt exists in the plurality of possibilities, it does not exist where there can be no more than one possibility. I recall the second caliph of Islam, Umar (may God be pleased with him), saying once that faith exists between hope and doubt. The wisdom of his words is self-explanatory, it can hardly be said better than these words.

English: There is no fear, until we make it up.
English: There is no fear, until we make it up. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many times throughout our lives, we are thrown into situations where we are not sure we are able to meet a challenge. It may be an unexpected leadership position, a loss of a loved one, a setback to career and personal finance, or just about any possible event or task that is unknown and unfamiliar to our prior experiences and knowledge. It is exactly in these situations that we doubt our abilities, we doubt our fate, and we even doubt our faith. It is also precisely in these moments that fear creeps in.

In reality, the true depth of our abilities and potential remains hidden from us till such situations of doubt and weakness are hurled our way. I think these moments of doubt are crucial in transforming us in our lives for the better. And it is fear through doubt that we can face and conquer instead of fear instilled without doubt.

The society that I am born in fears to doubt itself. We are trained to believe without asking. We are told not to question anything especially societal norms and matters of religion and faith. We are trained early on in our lives where fear of doubt is instilled in us by our parents and elders. We are told from the very beginning that asking questions tantamount to challenge, disrespect and insult. It is not questioning that insults or weakens religion or norms of society or authority. In fact, it is believing without questioning that weakens it and gives birth to societal and religious dogma; the root causes of our society’s many ailments. It is precisely fear and belief without doubt that has stalled our growth both individually and collectively.

The God I know does not shy away from doubt or questions, instead, He encourages; “seek”. We are not even allowed to discover God, we are given a certain sketch of God and asked to believe in it. Funnily enough, those who draw us that sketch can hardly describe the faith itself, or why do we believe in one God and not a plurality of gods. It is still worse than that; they can hardly describe why do we believe in the first place that there is a God and this world is not a chance happening or evolution. And then we are expected to become good Muslims, with a strong faith and an unwavering belief.

It is exactly this absence of doubt that has rendered us unable to make any mark in progress of human knowledge. The mushroom growth of “educational institutes” in Pakistan are money-making business conglomerates. They are not the knowledge centres we believe them to be, neither we go there to satisfy our thirst for knowledge or our curiosities to find out who we are and how do we know what we know. These money-making business conglomerates, disconnected from our own history and traditions, are blindly following imported models and curriculums that they are even unable to appropriately replicate. They are even unable to create curriculums and books of their own without being embarrassed about it.

These “educational institutes” essentially create labour; the kind that is only too distantly connected with the hard realities of life and the needs of the society. We go there to receive receipts of our investment to earn a livelihood; the receipts we call degrees. Within these “educational institutes”, there is an atmosphere of fear, where questions are discouraged, where doubt is uninvited, where we are just supposed to fulfil laid out criteria to receive the receipts we are paying for. There is no room for intellectual curiosity, where knowledge is bred only in name.

Ironically, with growing age I have come to appreciate how much of our society actually is willing to know and understand religion and how much it takes the sham morality and dogmas of our societal norms to be religious conjectures. I stopped believing in such religious conjectures a long time ago but not without suffering a lot because of such beliefs. I decided that I cannot believe in a God that I have not discovered for myself, and much less love and follow Him.

People call me intemperate, unstable and inconsistent, but I can care less about people who do not know about the pains of my journey and of my being. I am ridiculed every other day for having kept a long, religious, beard twice in my life and then clean shaving months later. I have seen extremes of the society, I have been to Madrassah and Khanqah as well. And only I know the painful path of doubt and discovery I have travelled between the two beardy existences. But I have taken it upon me to seek answers before believing, and not believing in hearsay.

I cannot follow and bog down to social moralities without asking why. There is no surer way to know what we know and what we want to know but to doubt it. I cannot know without asking my stupid questions, I cannot love without doubting both me and the love in question. I doubt everything now, it is just the way I have come to believe that I can face my fears and give birth to hope.

Since the day I started doubting everything, my whole life experience has changed. Painful as it is, this doubt is not without utility and ultimate fruits. I am truly determined to know who I am and why. I now truly appreciate the wisdom in the words of the second caliph, my faith does lie between hope and doubt.

Author: Bilal Khan

I am a Lahore, Pakistan, based researcher in the fields of Political Science, Public Policy, and Public Administration.