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In Announcements

By Abu 'Aaminah

‘I don’t know’ is so liberating

On 29, Dec 2012 | In Announcements | By Abu 'Aaminah


As-Salaamu 3alaykum,

If you are a practicing Muslim and your appearance stands out in the crowd due to your beard or your full veil, then you know how it feels like when other Muslims or non-Muslims approach you and ask you all sorts of questions. Sometimes it seems as if you are morally obliged to serve as the official spokesperson of Islam just because your appearance is different than other people in your environment. People assume that you must be a scholar or a cleric since you distinguish yourself from others by choosing to look rather different.

When you start practicing as a young person you might get allot of questions from your community because they observe how you are gradually changing. However, after a few years, most people get used to it and they stop quizzing you all the time.

But a group of people will always continue to ask you all sorts of questions. They assume that you are responsible for everything they think is wrong about Islam, or at least the way you are practicing it. So for this reason they bombard you with questions.

At first, you might feel uncomfortable by saying I don’t know because you feel obliged to defend your decision to practice Islam, your faith and your way of life. So you might even feel compelled to answer some of questions you don’t have sufficient knowledge of.

Now if you are sensible, after a while you will realize that it is not your personal obligation to answer every question posed to you since you are an average Muslim like everybody else. You are not designated as the official spokesperson of Islam. So you will tell people to refer to sound and authentic sources of knowledge.

But some of us might find it difficult to escape the uncomfortable pressure we are exposed to when we are quizzed by critics. As a result, some of us invest days upon days trying to “refute” people or get into polemics relying primarily on online sources to answer questions. We’ve all seen people doing this in our environment. Some of us might even recognize this particular type of behavior in their own behavioral pattern.

As a solution, I have the following proposition. Just say: “I don’t know”. When you say that you do not know, they might start questioning you as a person, they might say all sorts of negative things about you. But at least you can be assured that you are not giving people any inaccurate information about Islam. After all, if you are a layperson like most people are, it is not your duty or responsibility. You can refer people to a scholar, or an institution of Islamic education, an authentic website where scholars are answering people’s querries etc.

If you do not have an ego problem and you don’t mind looking foolish in front of people, you will find that there is nothing morally wrong about just admitting that you do not know. Furthermore, not knowing can be divided into different levels. There is one kind of “not knowing” where you do not have sufficient knowledge and you are safer by just abstaining from answering. Then there is the “not knowing” where you have absolutely no idea.

If you know how to Google things, this does not count as knowledge. Because broadband or internet access on your smart phone doesn’t count as knowledge. Because without the access to internet, you really don’t know, do you? So don’t fool yourself into believing you know because you have seen it on the internet.

So be good to yourself. Stop forcing yourself to do something that is causing you to feel uncomfortable. Because this discomfort is not Jihad or any other noble abstract thing you might want to call it. If you are not educated and trained to serve as a spokesperson of Islam, you won’t be held accountable on the day of judgement for not answering. You shall not be rewarded for answering questions you haven’t thoroughly investigated. So why bother doing something that isn’t rewarding? Neither are you helping anybody else with your incompetence. After all, Islam does not depend on you or any other layperson.

If you really feel morally obliged to take the responsibility of speaking on behalf of Islam, then take the rational approach. Go and become a scholar. Sacrifice your days and nights in an Islamic seminary among scholars. If you are really a courageous person, you don’t need to prove anything to other people. After all, if you want to do any good, you are suppose to do it for the sake of Allah subhanahu wa ta3ala. Not to please your ego or to look smart and witty.

Lastly, you should know that Islam is a religion that teaches people to be humble. You are not being humble and sincere when you engage in all sorts of discussions and debates with people without proper education and sufficient knowledge. You will only accumulate sin upon sin by speaking without knowledge.

So do yourself a favor, and just say that you do not know. This is why I say: “I don’t know” is liberating. It liberates you from being something or somebody you are not. It gives you the comfort and ease of doing what you suppose to do. That is your religious obligation. Your only duty and obligation in this life is to do what is specifically your duty prescribed for you in Quran & Sunnah. By removing a false sense of obligation you are liberating yourself. You are giving yourself the time and opportunity to do things that will help you in this life and the hereafter.

It took me quite a while to realize this. I hope someone else realizes this too after reading this.

My Allah grant us all humility and sincerity. Amin