Please note: The answers on Hawramani.com constitute friendly advice rather than fatwas. Where relevant, we translate the opinions and fatwas of respected scholars and present them in our answers.

On unanswered prayers, and is it normal for a Muslim to doubt God’s existence?

As a Muslim is it normal to ever doubt Allah's existence? I pray 5x daily and have completed Umrah, but i feel like my prayers have never been answered.

That’s normal, and that is why faith is rewarded. We are supposed to believe in God without having physical proof of His existence. Believing in God while having physical proof is like believing that the sun or the moon exist. There is no virtue in that. This world is designed to test our faith by making us feel abandoned, or making us think that good and bad things happen randomly, or that it is evildoers who are rewarded with the best life. These are very much part and parcel of the design of the universe, seeing these things around us is as normal as seeing furniture in a house.

It is normal to doubt God’s existence when you feel your prayers are not being answered. The question is whether you will keep your faith in Him despite this, whether you will continue to put your hope and trust in Him, or whether this world’s difficulties overpower you so that you turn your back on Him, doubt His existence and abandon serving Him. The Quran says:

Do you expect to enter Paradise before God has distinguished those among you who strive, and before He has distinguished the steadfast?1

God will intentionally make us go through periods of suffering and abandonment to bring out our true nature. Instead of letting us stroll into Paradise while we continue to be selfish, greedy and disloyal toward Him, He will make us suffer exactly the type of circumstances that brings out the best and the worst in us. And this way He distinguishes between His servants:

  • These are those who continue to love him and work to please Him despite the worst suffering.
  • There are those who are on the whole patient and faithful but whose faith is almost overwhelmed every time difficulty and abandonment hits them.
  • There are God’s fair-weather friends who are faithful during times of ease and abandon Him when their faith is tested.
  • There are the ex-believers who, after suffering a number of tragedies, turn their backs on Him, refusing to submit to His decree, thinking the worst of Him and even fighting against Him and His believers.

The Quran has this important passage on the issue of unanswered prayers:

47. To Him is referred the knowledge of the Hour. No fruit emerges from its sheath, and no female conceives or delivers, except with His knowledge. And on the Day when He calls out to them, “Where are My associates?” They will say, “We admit to you, none of us is a witness.”

48. What they used to pray to before will forsake them, and they will realize that they have no escape.

49. The human being never tires of praying for good things; but when adversity afflicts him, he despairs and loses hope.

50. And when We let him taste a mercy from Us, after the adversity that had afflicted him, he will say, “This is mine, and I do not think that the Hour is coming; and even if I am returned to my Lord, I will have the very best with Him.” We will inform those who disbelieve of what they did, and We will make them taste an awful punishment.

51. When We provide comfort for the human being, he withdraws and distances himself; but when adversity befalls him, he starts lengthy prayers.

52. Say, “Have you considered? If it is from God and you reject it—who is further astray than he who is cutoff and alienated?”

53. We will show them Our proofs on the horizons, and in their very souls, until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. Is it not sufficient that your Lord is witness over everything?

54. Surely they are in doubt about the encounter with their Lord. Surely He comprehends everything.2

As believers, it is normal for this world to continuously challenge our faith and tempt us to abandon God. The question is whether we remain faithful despite these challenges, whether we continue to humbly submit and say “It is all from God, we belong to God and He can do anything He wants with us”, or whether we arrogantly reject His decree, become enamored of this world and start to disbelieve in Him.

The principle of Plausible Deniability (which I discussed in a previous answer) means that God will never, or almost never, answer our prayers in a clearly miraculous way. You may wish to get high marks on an exam, pray ardently for this and work hard, and once you do get the high marks, you will look back and wonder whether God had anything to do with it or whether it was all your own hard work.

That is how God answers our prayers; subtly, always keeping Himself hidden, and always leaving us room for doubt. He will not miraculously answer our prayers, because that would be physical proof of His existence.

If you wish for your prayers to be answered, become the type of person who deserves such a favor. Do you deserve having your prayers answered? Even if we pray ardently for something and worship God, if we regularly disobey Him, or selfishly ignore His commandments (such as those regarding giving charity to one’s relatives, etc.), or are involved in something sinful (such as having an interest-bearing savings or retirement account), then we are in effect asking for God’s help while also insulting Him by our disobedience. Such a person will have a very low status in God’s eyes.

Therefore we must first work on ourselves. We must purify ourselves, rededicate ourselves to God, give up all sin and disobedience, do everything we can to raise our rank in God’s eye, then we should expect Him to give us what we wish for.

The majority of people are only half-dedicated to God, so it is no surprise that God does not elevate their ranks. They serve Him with one hand while insulting Him with the other. God, out of His generosity and kindness, still protects such people and blesses them in countless ways that they cannot see:

That is because God is the mawlā (Protecting Friend) of those who believe, while the disbelievers have no protecting friend.3

There are millions of Muslims who have worse lives than we do. Why should we expect to be treated any better by God than those Muslims? What is so special about us that our prayers should be answered? Unless we have attained a special status in God’s eyes, we should not expect special treatment. God takes care of the faithful and ensures that they will have a generally good life, as the Quran promises:

Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while being a believer, We will grant him a good life—and We will reward them according to the best of what they used to do.4

But if we want more than that, if we want a life that has special blessings that we desire, than we should turn ourselves into the type of believer who deserves those special blessings.

Footnotes

  1. The Quran, verse 3:142.
  2. The Quran, verse 41:47-54.
  3. The Quran, verse 11:47.
  4. The Quran, verse 16:97.
And God knows best.

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