How can you be sure that your understanding of Islam is not biased by your culture, your upbringing, your environment?
First of all, recognize that it is possible to be unbiased. The modernist academic assumption that “Everyone is biased,” is not true and the very notion is incoherent and clearly contrary to Islam.
To be biased means to not be able to accurately see the truth or reality at large because of some cognitive hindrance that distorts what we can know. To make the claim that “Everyone suffers from bias,” is self-contradictory because the one making the claim itself would, by his own admission, be biased and therefore the claim would not be a reflection of truth and reality, i.e., would be false. The claim is not dissimilar to the self-contradictory nature of the statement, “All statements are lies.”
Furthermore, Allah says repeatedly in the Quran that the truth is clear from falsehood and guidance is clear from misguidance. The defining attribute of revelation is that it is clear (mubin) and it clarifies (yubayyin) reality. The words of Allah are guidance that can be understood clearly such that the truth can be made known to humanity. The Quran and Sunna are lights that illuminate the straight path and reveal the nature of the world. To say that “Everyone is biased,” however, means that truth and falsehood can never be truly distinguished and separated by anyone. Furthermore, no one can ever knowingly follow the guidance of the Quran and Sunna since everyone’s vision of the truth is obstructed by bias that is inherently inescapable.
That being said, Islam recognizes that some people can be affected by bias. Desire is one big source of bias. Egoistic nafs is another. The mirage of dunya is another. A stubbornness to follow the crowd or follow one’s ancestors blindly is another big one. The influence of shaytan is yet another source that can distort our understanding of the truth. But for all these distortions, Islam provides a solution and claims that we can purify our hearts from the rust that, if left unchecked, would eventually seal our hearts and prevent us from seeing the manifest truth. It requires constant work and effort, but this is something we must all strive for.
The first step to avoiding bias is ikhlas. We have to be sincere in seeking Allah. Easier said than done. You cannot be unbiased in your understanding of Islam if you suffer from hidden shirk. Have you really purified your intentions? Have you really recognized that Islam is the highest truth, the exclusive truth above all else?
I know what you’re thinking. How can we be sure we have purified our intentions? Honestly, you can never know for sure. All the greatest Sahaba like Umar -r- were deathly afraid that they might in reality be hypocrites and not know it. So only Allah can know the reality of our hearts. We just have to pray for sincerity and acceptance.
That being said, there is a practical criterion to know if we suffer from a hidden hypocrisy. It is called the Sunna. And how do we know what the Sunna is? We turn to the inheritors of the Prophet ﷺ, i.e., the ulama, both those who have passed and those senior scholars that are with us still. To understand the Sunna, we look at what positions and views they overall gravitate towards and tend to. Obviously, there is diversity in the Islamic scholarly tradition, but there are many points of consensus and even if there isn’t a formal `ijma, there are tendencies and areas of convergence.
So ridding ourselves of bias means aligning ourselves with the Quran and Sunna through the ulama. And if we find that we are disagreeing with them or, worse, we find that their positions are repulsive to us or we want to refute them or we want to cherry pick isolated statements from them to derive rulings that are contrary to the overall thrust of scholarly precedent, then these are bad signs. They indicate that we suffer from bias that is obstructing our understanding of the truth.
May Allah guide us to the straight path and let our hearts not falter.