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The Fitnah of Doubts and Desires

Imām Ibn al-Qayyim

A discussion surrounding the two types of fitan: shubuhāt(doubts and misunderstandings) and shahawāt (desires).

Therefore, advising each other in truth repels shubuhāt (doubts) and recommending patience to each other restrains one from his desires. So by having patience and a sound intellect restrains one from the fitnah of shahawāt (desires), and by possessing a clear vision and certainty (this) repels the fitnah of shubuhāt (doubts) and Allāh’s aid is sought.

Imām Ibn al-Qayyim

The Fitnah of Shubuhāt (Doubts):1

Fitnah is of two types: the fitnah of shubuhāt (doubts and misunderstandings), this one being the greater fitnah of the two, and the fitnah of shahawāt (desires). It is quite possible that (these two fitan) can be present in the ʿabd (servant) at the same time, or one of them may be within him to the exclusion of the other.

Regarding the fitnah of shubuhāt (doubts and misunderstandings), this is due to having a weak vision and a lack of knowledge. If this is accompanied by corrupt intentions and the goal of fulfilling one’s desires, then herein lies the greatest of all fitan, this is indeed the worst of afflictions. Say what you like about the deviation of evil motives, the dominant factor in such a person is his hawā (desires), and not hudā (guidance), in addition to his weak vision and his lack of knowledge of that which the Messenger (ﷺ) came with. Hence, he is like those whom Allāh describes,

إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ وَمَا تَهْوَى الْأَنفُسُ ۖ وَلَقَدْ جَاءَهُم مِّن رَّبِّهِمُ الْهُدَىٰ ‎﴿٢٣﴾

“They follow but a guess and that which they themselves desire, whereas there has surely come to them the Guidance from their Lord!”
[al-Najm, 53:23]

And indeed Allāh has informed us that the following of desires misguides one from the path of Allāh. Allāh the Exalted said,

يَا دَاوُودُ إِنَّا جَعَلْنَاكَ خَلِيفَةً فِي الْأَرْضِ فَاحْكُم بَيْنَ النَّاسِ بِالْحَقِّ وَلَا تَتَّبِعِ الْهَوَىٰ فَيُضِلَّكَ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَضِلُّونَ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ شَدِيدٌ بِمَا نَسُوا يَوْمَ الْحِسَابِ ‎﴿٢٦﴾‏

“O Dawūd (David)! Verily! We have placed you as a successor on earth, so judge you between men in truth (and justice) and follow not your desire for it will mislead you from the Path of Allāh. Verily! Those who wander astray from the Path of Allāh (shall) have a severe torment, because they forgot the Day of Reckoning.”
[Ṣād, 38:26]

This is the kind of fitnah which leads to kufr and nifāq (hypocrisy). This is the fitnah of the hypocrites and Ahl al-Bidaʿ (the people of innovation), according to the degree of their bidʿah. Thus, the majority of them innovate because of the fitnah of shubuhāt (doubts and misunderstandings), whereby they confuse the truth with falsehood and guidance with misguidance.

There is no salvation from this kind of fitnah except by exclusively following the Messenger (ﷺ). By appointing him as the judge in the fine (detailed) matters of the dīn and its simpler ones, the public aspects of his life and the private ones, his beliefs and his actions, his reality and his legislation, thus he takes from him (ﷺ) the reality of īmān (faith) and the legislation of Islām. He also accepts from him (ʿalayhis-salaam) what all he (ʿalayhis-salaam) has confirmed from Allāh’s names, attributes and actions and he does not negate them. In the same manner he accepts from him (ʿalayhis-salaam) the obligation of Ṣalāh, it’s time and the number (per day), the percentage of one’s wealth on which zakaat is due and those who deserve it, the obligation of wudūʾ and ghusl (from sexual impurity), the obligation of fasting in the month of Ramaḍān etc. He does not see him (ʿalayhis-salaam) only as a Messenger in some aspects of the dīn to the exclusion of others, but to the contrary he is the Messenger for everything this ummah is in need of – be it knowledge or actions. So, he does not accept nor take (anything) except if it is from him (ʿalayhis-salaam), for all guidance stems from his (ﷺ) statement and actions. And everything which is outside of his guidance is ḍalāl (deviation). Thus, if this (principle) is embedded within the heart of the servant and he turns away from everything except this (the guidance of the Messenger), whereby whenever he judges in anything he examines it in the light of that which the Messenger (ﷺ) came with, if it agrees with what he (ʿalayhis-salaam) came with, then he accepts it. And this is not because that particular person said what he said, but rather (he accepts it) because it agrees with the Sunnah, and if it contradicts the Sunnah then he rejects it, regardless of whoever it came from. And this is what will save a person from the shubuhāt (doubts and misunderstandings), and if he misses this (principle) then fitnah will afflict him in accordance to the degree he neglects this principle.

This fitnah is sometimes as a result of incorrect understanding, misinformation, the truth being confirmed and present, but one was unaware of it so he was not able to get the most out of it, or sometimes it can simply be that a person has evil intentions and is just following his desires, thus he becomes from amongst those who are blinded in their vision and from those who harbour evil in their intentions.

The Fitnah of Shahawāt (Doubts):

Allāh has indeed combined in the following ayah (verse) the description of those whom the two types of fitnah have befallen:

كَالَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ كَانُوا أَشَدَّ مِنكُمْ قُوَّةً وَأَكْثَرَ أَمْوَالًا وَأَوْلَادًا فَاسْتَمْتَعُوا بِخَلَاقِهِمْ فَاسْتَمْتَعْتُم بِخَلَاقِكُمْ كَمَا اسْتَمْتَعَ الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُم بِخَلَاقِهِمْ وَخُضْتُمْ كَالَّذِي خَاضُوا ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ حَبِطَتْ أَعْمَالُهُمْ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالْآخِرَةِ ۖ وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْخَاسِرُونَ ‎﴿٦٩﴾

“Like those before you, they were mightier than you in power, and more abundant in wealth and children. They had enjoyed their portion awhile, so enjoy your portion awhile as those before you enjoyed their portion awhile; and you indulged in play and pastime (and in telling lies against Allāh and His Messenger Muhammad, ﷺ) as they indulged in play and pastime. Such are they whose deeds are in vain in this world and in the Hereafter. Such are they who are the losers”.
[al-Tawbah, 9:69]

So Allāh is pointing out to us here what happens from the corruption of the hearts and the dīn because of taking pleasures in their portion (of this world) and indulging in (speaking about) falsehood, (and this is so) because corrupting one’s dīn occurs either by falsehood and engaging in it, or by doing deeds which contradict correct action.

As for the first one; it is bidʿah and what results from it. And the second one is sinful actions. The first one (bidʿah) is a consequence of shubuhāt (doubts), and the second (sinful actions) is an outcome of shahawāt (desires). This is why the salaf used to say “be aware of two kinds of people: a person of desires (innovator) whose desires have misguided him, and a person of this world (materialistic people) whom this world has blinded him”. They (the salaf) also used to say: “be careful of the fitnah of the evil scholar and the ignorant worshipper, for indeed their fitnah afflicts everyone who is misguided. The source of (all) fitnah is a consequence of giving precedence to opinions over what Allāh has legislated, and preference of desires over intelligence. Thus, the basis of the first fitnah is shubuhāt (doubts) and the basis of the second one is shahawāt (desires).

The Cure for These Two Fitan:

As for the fitnah of shubuhāt (doubts), this is prevented and cured by possessing ‘al-yaqīn’ (certainty), and the fitnah of shahawāt (desires) can be fended off and remedied by ‘al-Sabr’ (patience). This is why Allāh made these two qualities a necessity for leadership of this dīn, hence Allāh, the Mighty and Majestic says,

وَجَعَلْنَا مِنْهُمْ أَئِمَّةً يَهْدُونَ بِأَمْرِنَا لَمَّا صَبَرُوا ۖ وَكَانُوا بِآيَاتِنَا يُوقِنُونَ ‎﴿٢٤﴾

“And We made from among them leaders, giving guidance under Our Command, when they were patient and used to believe with certainty in Our āyāt.”
[al-Sajdah, 32:24]

Thus this indicates that by having patience and certainty one achieves leadership in this religion. Allāh has also aligned these two characteristics in Sūraht al-ʿAsr (the Time) wherein Allāh, the Exalted says,

إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ ‎﴿٣﴾‏

“Except those who believe and do righteous good deeds, and recommend the truth to each other and recommend one another to patience.”
[al-ʿAsr, 103:3]

Therefore, advising each other in truth repels shubuhāt (doubts) and recommending patience to each other restrains one from his desires. So by having patience and a sound intellect restrains one from the fitnah of shahawāt (desires), and by possessing a clear vision and certainty (this) repels the fitnah of shubuhāt (doubts) and Allāh’s aid is sought.


  1. The following article is an excerpt from Imām Ibn al-Qayyim’s book “Ighāthat al-Lahfān fī Maṣāyid al-Shayṭān”, Vol: 2 (Pg. 239-242)

Translated by: Hishām Ibn Zayd

Published: January 9, 2004
Edited: January 23, 2022


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