Have you ever been asked about something, a topic that people assumed you know, for example: a question about the subject you are majoring in, a question during a group discussion, a question about your family, or a question about your faith, but you don’t know the answer?
In those situations and many more situations like them that you can possible think of, it might be difficult to simply say, “I don’t know”. Saying “I don’t know” hurts the pride and it makes us feel stupid, perhaps a bit guilty for not knowing what to say or not knowing how to say it.
But realistically speaking, if I don’t know something, then what are the options?
Option No. 1: Well, I could say “I don’t know” but that’s not good for my image. People might make fun of me and I might get humiliated.
Option No. 2: I could make up an answer and make sure that it sounds brilliant so that people will be impressed and then, they will finally like me.
Option No. 2 sounds appetizing but I know better not to do that (even though I want to). I should just say "I don't know". Saying “I don’t know” when we don’t know something shows honesty and integrity, and yes, honesty and integrity can sometimes hurt our ego. In fact, a lot of the time it would hurt the ego.
If we made up an answer in order to sound smart, yeah we might get a few people nodding to us and thinking how smart we are. But essentially, we are lying to them. Most importantly, we are lying to ourselves.
It shows that we don’t have the courage to admit to ourselves that we don’t know something. We don’t have the strength to be able to lower ourselves in humility and face the reality of our ignorance. Instead, we choose to cover the reality with a fantasy that we know everything.
We would rather enjoy living in a lie than to deal with the pain of living in the truth. But the truth is still going to stare at you in the face, even when you choose to look somewhere else. The truth is, we don’t know everything, and it is okay not to know everything.
Not knowing and admitting that you don't know is the essential part of learning. If you walk around thinking and believing that you already know everything there is to know, then you wouldn’t be open to learning new things.
We can’t be that arrogant. We shouldn’t be that arrogant. If you think about it positively, not knowing something can be a good thing. When you found out that you don’t know something, that is actually an opportunity for you to learn something new and to upgrade your understanding, even in the subject you specialize in.
I get asked by Muslims a few times about how to answer questions about Islam when you don’t know the answer. The way they asked me that question was in such a way that they feel like they have to, they need to provide an answer to people to ask them about Islam, even in situations where they don’t know the answer.
As Muslims, yes, we should be the ones who know and understand our religion better than anyone else. We should, but just because we should know everything doesn’t necessarily mean that we actually do know everything.
When somebody asked us a question about Islam and we don’t know the answer, the best answer to give is “I don’t know.” Because that is the truth, and I know that there are people who wouldn’t accept that answer from us because they expect us to know everything about Islam.
We can't blame them, because we too might expect similar things from them. If they are Christians, we might expect that they know everything about Christianity. If they are Hindus, we might expect that they know everything about Hinduism. If they are atheists, we might expect that they know everything about science and reason.
But expectation and reality often times don’t overlap. The reality is, we Muslims don’t necessarily know everything about Islam and that is not a reason to be ashamed of.
That is a reason to be humble, and to continue life with the mentality that there is always something new to learn.