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Key Principles Relating to Certainty, Doubt, and Baseless Misgivings (Waswasa)

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Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

 

Question:

I was wondering about doubts while fasting. I rinsed my mouth for ablution (wudu) but thereafter had doubts whether I had swallowed water or not. I understand that for matters of purification (tahara), doubts are ignored, is this the case with worship (ibadat).

 

Answer:

Walaikum assalam,

When in such a situation, find out what is the right thing to do, and simply do it.

Do not think about the problem or worry about it. Rather, think and thank: think about the blessings of Allah for you, and thank Him for them with your tongue and heart. This is a means of making Shaytan leave you, and despair of making you despair.

 

Exercise Caution

It is important to calmly find out:

a. what all the relevant related rulings are;

b. ask as many specific questions as you have to (don t make assumptions!);

c. then figure out what you were doing wrong, if anything, and what the consequences are.

 

Don’t Have Baseless Misgivings

It is essential that one not have baseless misgivings (waswasa). This usually occurs from unawareness of the sunna, as operationalized by the fuqaha, or by lack of intelligence (in one’s behavior).

 

As such, we should take the proper means, 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 manage.”

 

Principles Related to Certainty & Doubt

Once you have taken the reasonable means, the default assumption is that you are now free error. Then, we return to the important fiqh principle:

 

“Certainty is not lifted by a doubt.”

[ibn Nujaym, al-Ashbah wa’l Nadha’ir; Majallat al-Ahkam al-`Adiliyya]

 

This means that if one is certain about something, such as the validity of our worship, with this being the basic assumption for all human actions, then we will keep assuming it valid until certain that it was 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 another certainty;

3.    The default 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.

 

Ibn Abidin points out that following one s misgivings (waswasa), whether about the validity of one s works or about  how hard  we imagine the legal prescriptions of the Shariah to be,  is highly blameworthy in the Shariah: it is from the Shaytan, and Allah Most High has commanded us to refuse his enticing.

 

As such, until you are certain that any of your prayer was invalid, you do not have any prayers to make up. One should, however, take the steps described above in  exercising caution.

 

This deen is mercy. The Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) is mercy. It is a means of mercy, success, and felicity. When one does not find this, one must be doing something wrong.

 

“Ask the people of remembrance when 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 persons of sound traditional learning.

 

May Allah grant us success in doing that which He loves.

Wassalam,

Faraz Rabbani

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