By Zara Aboubakar
I recently came across a short video published online by a popular meditation app which discussed ‘dark thoughts.’ It explored an involuntary phenomenon it described as ‘the dark side of the mind’; a place wherein we encounter perhaps our most troubling thoughts. The video went on to argue the importance of recognising that ‘we are not our thoughts’, regardless of how problematic they may be.
In reading the most popular comments on the video, there appeared to be a common theme of identification with the experience the video described, as well as confirmation that many found comfort in its core message of not defining ourselves by our so called ‘dark thoughts’.
I contemplated the potential relevance of this subject to our lives as Muslims. As people of faith, we would not hesitate to express deep conviction when it relates to our beliefs. With allowance for this, is there still something to be said about the occurrence of ‘dark thoughts’ where it pertains to our Deen?
From what I have found, one would arguably be mistaken to hold that the average Muslim cannot at times be susceptible to troublesome and even doubtful thoughts. Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said the following in his book Kitab ul-Eeman (the book of faith):
“The believer may suffer from the whispers of the Shaytaan insinuating thoughts of kufr (disbelief), which may make him feel distressed. The Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them) said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, some of us think thoughts which we would rather fall from heaven to earth than speak of them.’ He said, ‘That is a clear sign of faith.’”
Ibn Taymiyah continues: “meaning that the fact that these whispers come, but they are so greatly disliked, and they are pushed away from the heart, is a clear sign of faith.”
In another narration, Abdullah ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them) related that a man came to the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him and said: “O Messenger of Allah! One of us has thoughts of such nature that he would rather be reduced to charcoal than speak about them. He said: Allah is Most Great, Allah is Most Great, Allah is Most Great. Praise be to Allah Who has reduced the guile (plot) of the devil to mere whispers.” (Abi Dawood)
So, since this is something that we may all, at times experience, how can we deal with it?
As mentioned in the above ahadith, whispers of Shaytaan are merely that- whispers, insubstantial in and of themselves, unless we choose to let them become more. Further yet, our disdain of such whispers when they occur is praiseworthy. However, that is not to say that we cannot take steps to handle, and even dispel these thoughts when and if they decide to look in on us.
Have a look at the below ahaadith (found in Sahih Muslim) where the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him has advised us on how we should respond in the moment:
- Abu Huraira (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him said: “People will keep on asking questions until someone will say, ‘Allah created the universe, but who created Allah?’ Whoever encounters anything like that, let him say, ‘Amantu Billaah (I believe in Allah).’”
- Abu Huraira (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Shaytaan will come to each one of you and he will say: Who created this and that? He says this until he asks: Who created your Lord? When he comes to this, you should seek refuge in Allah and abandon such thoughts.”
The importance of Knowledge
We may agree that fleeting thoughts of this nature are futile, but what about sincere queries? When it comes to genuine confusion in our understanding of something, or real and relevant questions we may have, then it is important that such matters are handled in a manner befitting the importance of the Deen in our lives.
If we had a faulty boiler, the majority of us would contact a gas engineer as this is their area of expertise. Yet, so often we do not give religious matters this same regard. At times we make the mistake of approaching friends and family with topics that they are not necessarily equipped to address, and unfortunately this can, in turn, create even greater confusion.
Our religion exalts knowledge and encourages us to refer to the people who possess the knowledge that we do not. Have a look at the following hadith:
Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: We set out on a journey. One of our people was hurt by a stone, that injured his head. He then had a sexual dream. He asked his fellow travellers: Do you find a concession for me to perform tayammum (dry ablution)? They said: We do not find any concession for you while you can use water. He took a bath and died. When we came to the Prophet peace and blessings be upon him, the incident was reported to him. He said: They killed him, may Allah kill them! Could they not ask when they did not know? The cure for ignorance is inquiry.’ (Abi Dawood)
There can be no argument that knowledge is vital and it is something that Allah has decreed for us to seek. Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him said: “Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.” (Sunan Ibn Majah)
In another narration, he, peace and blessings be upon him also said: “When Allah wishes good for a person, He makes him understand the religion.” (Bukhari)
Sincerely seeking knowledge leads to virtue; knowledge equips us against the whisperings of Shaytaan, combats any ignorance of the religion and dispels the doubts which are a result of that.
‘Make my heart firm…’
What can we take from this discussion? What I wanted to get across, is that when it comes to belief, we should view it as a continuum, and not the journey’s end. We are all constantly chasing out the ‘dark’ calls of our nafs, Shaytaan and those inviting to misguidance from amongst mankind. From this we can come to view our belief as a blessing which requires consistent guarding. Is it then a surprise that the most common supplication of our beloved Messenger peace and blessings be upon him was:
‘O Changer of the hearts, make my heart firm upon Your religion.’ (Tirmidhi)
If that was true for him, sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam, then how many times do we need to make this supplication?
About the author:
Zara Aboubakar aims to encourage her readers to engage with real issues whilst emphasising the significance of exploring the more abstract themes. Born in the city of Jasmine (Damascus) and raised a Londoner, Zara’s exposure to a diverse scope of social experiences has left her with a zeal for pushing to forefront the important topics that you won’t necessarily find amongst the popular hashtags. Zara is currently in the process of writing her first book.