Rebuilding Faith: A Prison Letter from Ismail Royer


Some of the writings of the late Mother Theresa were recently published wherein it was revealed that for years she suffered from doubts and estrangement from God.

Some popular writers, advocates of atheism, were filled with joy at the news: if a champion of faith was secretly a doubter, they said, then the faith of the masses is yet more tenuous. I, a Muslim, am tempted to blame Mother Theresa's crisis on her worship of the Messiah along with God. Had she worshipped God alone, I would like argue, she would have been fulfilled.

Both reactions miss something about the nature of belief. The truth is that people of all religions report vicissitudes of faith. It is further true that distance from God is painless for the one whose heart is dead: but for the one whose heart is as sensitive as an open wound, for the soul who never recovered from its separation from its Maker, doubt and distance from God is the source of horror and anguish.

Indeed. it is this same despair, this merciful despair, that first wracked the soul as it masqueraded with the ignorant and heedless, as it tried to get by, tried to convince itself that it was like everyone else, while it knew something was wrong. It was this same despair that impelled it to ask itself, "Is this really me?", to answer honestly that it was not, and then to seek its way home to God.

So while doubt and estrangement from God are not things to be desired, they are signs of life in the heart. They are also part of our nature. The Qur'an speaks of Abraham, Moses, and then Disciples of Jesus seeking of God signs from heaven - not because they did not believe, but because they wanted comfort for their hearts. When the Prophet Muhammad first received the revelation, he doubted his sanity, and his Lord, and his wife, comforted him. The Companions of the Prophet complained of whispers of doubt that came to them, and he prescribed words of remembrance that would restore certainty to their hearts. 

The one who views this aspect of faith as proof that faith is a delusion does not know what faith is. The purpose of our existence is to struggle to penetrate the physical world that distracts and blinds us, to discover the truth, a truth confirmed by signs from without and intuitions from within but a truth nevertheless unseen. The worshiper stumbles because the struggle is hard and there can be no complete victory in this life, not because, as the skeptic imagines, there is no underlying unseen truth.

As to recovering from these stumbles, "Truly in the remembrance of God the hearts find comfort." And in a beautiful passage: "Verily in the creation of the heavens and earth and the alteration of night and day there are indeed signs for men of understanding, Those who remember God, standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and contemplate the Creation in the heavens and the earth: 'Our Lord! You did not create all this to no purpose! Exalted be you! Give us salvation from the penalty of the fire!'"

And the Prophet said to his Companions about these verses: "Woe to the one who reads it and does not contemplate on it."

The reality further comes clear when on reflects on what the skeptics ask us to believe in the alternatives: that there is no soul, that life and the universe have no meaning, that there is no purpose. This is the creed of the living dead.

In reality, a man or woman with insight and awareness knows with an impervious surety that he has an immortal soul, that life has meaning, that there is a purpose. It is on this unshakable foundation that his faith is based, a home to which he may always return. It is not our belief, it is our being.

And further searching within himself and in the creation he will know that God is one, the merciful and all powerful sustainer. He will become aware of his desire to draw nearer to God, and he will realize he needs guidance to do so. God in His mercy must have put this guidance on earth where we could find it; the matter could not be otherwise. "We will show them Our signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth) and in their own souls, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth."

And the believer should not let the behavior and stupidity of his supposed fellow believers or others discourage him. This is because reality is completely unaffected by the failure of others, even your own failure, to grasp it. The earth was round even when most of humanity thought it was flat. Likewise, God's oneness and lordship is not diminished even if Arabs are building islands shaped like palm trees or Iraqis are killing each other, or if no one understands you.

So if something in Mother Theresa's plight sounds familiar, then know your heart is alive, and that your soul seeks God. Find Him in contemplation of His creation and yourself. Rediscover and rebuild your faith, brick by brick, certain knowledge upon certain knowledge, and seek comfort in prayer, for, as ibn Taymiyya wrote, "There is no tranquility in this world except in remembrance of Him."

Ismail Royer is an American convert to Islam, a writer and an activist. Currently he is serving a 20 year prison sentence and is being held as a political prisoner of the US government for supposedly aiding terrorism against "a nuetral ally of the US," being India. 


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  4 Comments   Comment

  1. thank you from United States

    Thank you so much for this article. Whenever I am in need of some Islam I come to Islamicity. This morning as I was driving to school, I was thinking of this exact thing, I was thinking of Mother Tereasa's guilt and doubt because I have my own doubts that have been troubleing me for some time now. I have been praying to God to help me back on the right path of faith and to believe as I once did. I truly believe I stumbled upon this article today, not because of coincidence but because God answered my prayers though this website and this article. THank you so much, I feel as though God himself send me a message telling me its okay to have these fears and you are still my human. The examples written in this article were perfect and really gives the reader something to reflect upon. Thank you so much, peace and God bless!!!!!!!

  2. Kris MacPherson from Malaysia

    Assalamualaikum,

    In order to still have faith in GOD, the understanding of the faith itself, the Omnipotence and Omnipresence of GOD is important.

    If a faith is simple without any mythodology, no dogmas, that man or woman worship GOD and repent to HIM without any intermediaries, then InsyaALLAH, one can hold on to the faith for the rest of his or her lives.

    And that there are not and should not be any contradictions of the words of GOD, no confusion as to what events and HIS sending of messengers, then one will always preservere even in the most trying of circumstances. There is only one Quran, and no others, no version of this or that. Or there is no edition of that one for that place or this one for this place.

    If one understands and accept without any reservation that there is ONLY ONE GOD, then he or she will never be confused. That HE has no son, and HE is no mind can ever imagine.

    As long as some segments tried to imagine HIM in a human form, then there's going to be confusion on all fronts. Humans must accept the fact that there are limits to the extenmt in which their mind can reason.

  3. Yohan Dahal from Bhutan

    The expressions look like that of the Jewish kabbalist. However, the kabbalists do not deny the Messiah or His Services. "When the Godhead is united, then we shall be saved" is the statement of a kabbalist rabbi. This speaks that our Salvation is in the purpose of God and we avail that Salvation in the acceptance of the Unity of Godhead taking our part in the Son (Father = creator of all, Son = creation, or as its head, Holy Spirit = convictor, inspirer, teacher of invisible things of God which no human interpreter can do). This knowledge and acceptance of the same constitute the saving faith. There is no other direct passage to God besides.

    Report of doubts and estrangement from God that came in the life of mother Teresa was disturbing. However, this is a truth that everyone faces in the journey of life. Some give up faith at such time turning to other seducing spirits or to atheism or may be to God himself without recognizing other personalities in the same godhead, assuming that He is separated from His purpose! We must overcome the thief that comes to steal our faith in the garb of trying situations as part of victorious living. We have to cross both water and fire on the way now not to be swept or burnt by them in the after life.

    I as a Christian enjoyed this article otherwise.

  4. Daniel from Canada

    Alhamdulillah. Everyone would do good to read this article. These are such true words, spoken beautifully and brilliantly. Alhamdulillah.