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Kathīr al-shakk (Arabic: کَثير الشَکّ) is a terminology in fiqh (jurisprudence), referring to a person who frequently doubts his religious practices. Some marja's (Shiite authorities) have provided criteria for kathir al-shakk.
A number of hadiths have attributed the origination of the psychological state of frequent doubt to the devil and considered it wrong to act upon such a doubt. There are specific jurisprudential rulings with regard to kathir al-shakk. Such a person should not act upon his or her doubts.
Doubt ("shakk") (Arabic: شکّ) means the psychological state of giving equal probabilities to both sides of a proposition. Thus, it does not include suspicion (al-zann) (Arabic: ظنّ) which means the psychological state of giving a greater probability to one side. There are specific jurisprudential rulings for al-zann, though in some cases it is treated like doubts.
Criteria of Frequent Doubt
The majority of jurisprudents or fuqaha take "frequent doubt" (or kathir al-shakk) to be determined by reference to the common sense, that is, if people take someone's doubts to be above the ordinary, then that person should be considered as kathir al-shakk. Some jurisprudents have provided criteria for the determination of kathir al-shakk, such as doubting in three consecutive prayers or three doubts in one prayer.
According to a jurisprudential principle, if a person doubts quite often, then they should ignore their doubts. Thus, such a person should assume that they have done the doubted action properly, and if the doubtful action is one that would invalidate the religious practice, then they should assume that they have not done it. For example, if a person doubts whether they have performed the ruku' of the prayer or not, then they should assume that they have done it, and if they doubt whether they have performed the ruku' once or twice, then they should assume that they have done it once, and so, their prayer is valid. A few jurisprudents restrict this ruling to the prayer, without extending it to other actions.
There is a disagreement about whether a person who frequently doubts about a specific case should be counted as kathir al-shakk in other cases or not.
If a person was a kathir al-shakk, but now they do not know whether their psychological state of frequent doubt has disappeared or not, then they still count as kathir al-shakk and should comply with the respective rulings.
According to some Shiite authorities, it is haram (forbidden) for a kathir al-shakk to act upon his or her doubts.
Some Jurisprudential Principles
There are jurisprudential principles about some cases of doubt in the Shiite jurisprudence that apply to all cases, including kathir al-shakk. Here are some of these principles:
Principle of Faragh
- Main article: Principle of Faragh
According to this principle, if a person is finished with an action and then doubts whether they have performed it property, then they should ignore their doubt and the action will count as valid. For example, if a person doubts whether they have recited Sura al-Hamd or have performed the ruku', when the prayer is finished, then the prayer will be valid and the doubts should be ignored.
Principle of Tajawuz
- Main article: Principle of Tajawuz
According to the Principle of Tajawuz, if an action is still unfinished, but the person doubts about the validity of a part of that action when one has "passed" (tajawuz) from it to a subsequent part, then the doubt should be ignored and one should assume that the part in question is done properly. For example, if one doubts while in ruku' whether they have recited Sura al-Hamd, or one doubts while in the sujud whether one has performed the ruku', then the doubts should be overlooked and the prayer should be continued.
According to a hadith from Imam al-Sadiq (a), the devil likes to be followed, and to act upon one's frequent doubts is to follow the devil. It will make the devil eager to more often intrude the believer's mind while worshiping.[Note 1]
Difference between Frequent Doubt and Obsession
Some scholars drew a distinction between kathir al-shakk (a frequent doubter) and waswas (a person obsessed with something) in that the latter does something and thinks that they have not done it properly (and so, they repeat the same action), but the former does not know whether they have done it. However, the jurisprudential ruling in both cases is the same, and the doubt should be ignored.
A number of solutions have been suggested to cure obsession.
- لاتُعَوِّدُوا الْخَبِیثَ مِنْ أَنْفُسِكُمْ بِنَقْضِ الصَّلَاةِ؛ فَتُطْمِعُوهُ؛ فَإِنَّ الشَّیطَانَ خَبِیثٌ یعْتَادُ لِمَا عُوِّد.Al-Kafi, Dar al-Hadith Pub., Vol.6, P.278
- The material for this article is mainly taken from کثیر الشک in Farsi WikiShia.