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Can One Be An Agnostic Muslim?

27 April, 2017
Q Can someone be agnostic, meaning they don't know if they believe in God, and Muslim at the same time?


Asalamu Alaikum,

Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.

Dr. Shabir Ally addresses this question in the video below:


Aisha Khaja: So, Dr. Shabir, the question that we have today is some someone wrote in: my brother has become an agnostic. Are there, what can I say to him to bring him back to God?

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Dr. Shabir Ally: Well, we can say to that person that, you know, to be agnostic actually is a reasonable position that many people do embrace nowadays. But that is not contrary to being a follower of a religion.

Many people following many religions may actually hold to agnosticism, which basically says that we cannot be sure if God exists or not. Or we do not have any [or] enough evidence based on which, from a naturalistic point of view, to say that God exists.

And it is possible that some Muslims also have that position. I know that there are verses of the Quran that speak about having a yaqeen or certitude and verses of the Quran which say that, you know, after they believe in God and the messenger they do not doubt, and so on.

So, those are on the one hand verses which talk about the need for certainty, the lack of doubt, and so on. But there are certain things which are said in the Quran by way of encouragement rather than by way of legislation or demarcation.

So, demarcation between believer and non-believer can be on the one hand of like those who submit, for example, a person who submits as a Muslim. It does not necessarily mean that this person has like a full effulgence of faith. That person may still and not really have that full conviction.

Aisha Khaja: So is it, are you saying it’s okay to have certain doubts even if you’re Muslim?

Dr. Shabir Ally: Um, yes it’s, I mean I’m not encouraging people to have doubts. But this is a fact of life that many Muslims, while remaining Muslims, while praying and fasting and performing all of the Hajj or pilgrimage and so on, they may not have that kind of certitude.

If you ask them certain questions, [they] may be puzzled about it. If you ask them, how do you know that God exists, they might say well, I just put my faith in that. But they do not have that certitude of being able to prove it by logical arguments and so on.

Now they just have like an inner conviction, a kind of submission. And the Quran speaks about that in the case of some people who said that they have believed. And the Quran says don’t say that you believe: say that you have submitted. And the word for submitted is “Muslim”.

So, when we say that somebody is Muslim, we mean that person has decided to make this his or her way of life. They’re submitting to the rules and obligations of Islam and respecting its prohibitions, regardless of that, whether that inner conviction is there or not.

Now, this is different, obviously, from nefaq or hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is the attitude of knowing or feeling that they do not have the faith, but they are pretending to have it. Or to put a different way, hypocrisy is in a person who is not convinced of the faith and they’re pretending to be.

Aisha Khaja: So, putting on an act but in some ways. 

Dr. Shabir Ally: But with deceptive intentions. They have some inner motive or to harm Islam or something like this. But they are pretending in the meantime to be Muslim. So that’s hypocrisy.

But the person who is sincerely trying to follow the rules of Islam, even lacking that sort of conviction it is still acceptable as a Muslim and we pray to God to give us all that certitude of faith. So, a person who says I’m an agnostic, really what they mean is that I do not have enough evidence based on which to know that God exists.

Maybe he exists: maybe He doesn’t exist. But if such a person decides to submit to the religion of Islam, then this is acceptable. A man said to the Prophet (peace be upon him)— and this was the father of Abu Bakr of [inaudible]— that I, you know, certain things I don’t like about Islam.

And the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, accept Islam even though there are certain things that you don’t like about it. So, it’s possible that this can happen. But to be an agnostic means to live as one. And how does one live as an agnostic?

Usually agnostics live as atheists as if God does not exist. What we can say to the agnostic is, since you can go either way, you can think either God exists or does not exist, why not live as a Muslim, in which case that’s possible, yes. 

I hope this helps answer your question. Please keep in touch.

Walaikum Asalam.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

6 Steps to Remove Doubts