Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas
Question: 1. I was deeply disturbed by reading claims that the Prophet never existed. Can you give me a solid response to those claims? I am really struggling inside.
2. Does really struggling inwardly with doubts caused by what I just described makes me a disbeliever?
1. Questioning the existence of the Prophet (blessings be upon him) is a revisionist thesis forwarded by certain Orientalist scholars as a consequence of their rejecting/questioning the historical literature authored by later Muslims in its entirety.
The theories of these revisionist scholars are untenable and have been rejected even by many in the Western academy. The Islamic historical tradition, as you know, establishes the existence of the Prophet (blessings be upon him) through mass-transmission. To deny this existence is, consequently, an absurdity, and the explanations justifying/explaining any alternative narrative are equally absurd sounding more like conspiracy theories than anything else. Even those who question the oral tradition of Islam have recognized that the archaeological record and non-Muslim sources (Thomas the Presbyter; Sebeos; Khuzistan Chronicle) contemporaneous/near-contemporaneous (i.e. mid-late 7th century) to the Prophet (blessings be upon him) make mention of him, his teachings, his companions, and many other things affirmed by the oral tradition.
As such, to question the existence of the Prophet (blessings upon him be peace) is to question both the mass oral Islamic tradition and also numerous other external sources. My personal advice to you would be to steer clear of such revisionist theories concerning early Islam. It will only create doubts where none should exist.
2. Internal struggles are not to be equated with disbelief. Disbelief is actually rejecting the tenets of Islam, not the thought of doing so or questions about these tenets. As Imam al-Tahawi says, “a servant is not considered to have left his faith except by denying that which originally caused him to enter into it.”
The best way to straighten ones faith is through (a) study and (b) practice. The latter is essential as it is the nourishment of the heart that protects one from the whispers of the self and the devil. For more, I would advise you to read the following:
Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani