The Dunning-Kruger Effect: An Internal Threat To The Unity Of The Ummah

UNITING for a good reason is a great way to benefit ourselves and others. As a man of unity and generosity, our Prophet Muhammad (saw) attracted millions of people to Islam by his conduct and teachings. It is possible for people to change their lives simply by uniting together. By working together, we can elevate the spirits of those who are down and give them a sense of belonging as a community. Allah stated in surah Al-Hujurat, verse 10 – 11:

“The believers are brothers, so make peace between your brothers, and remain conscious of God, so that you may receive mercy. O, believers! Do not let some ‘men’ ridicule others. They may be better than them, nor let ‘some’ women ridicule other women. They may be better than them. Do not defame one another, nor call each other by offensive nicknames. How evil it is to act rebelliously after having faith! And whoever does not repent, it is they who are the ‘true’ wrongdoers” (Quran, 49: 10 – 11)

Muslims are obligated by these verses to assist their fellow Muslims. Even if they disagree, they must interpret what is being said properly and politely. Be kind and understanding at all times. No unjustified slandering or hatred of Muslims should exist. Non-Muslims, too, deserve respect. Hence, brotherhood must be peaceful and harmonious. “Islam” signifies “submission to God’s will” in Arabic. Its name comes from the Arabic word for peace, “Salaam.” The unity of a nation’s population is its strength as Islam places a strong value on social solidarity. Nonetheless, Muslims today are divided, despairing and disarray since they desperately seek guidance from “those who have strayed.” Hence, this comes to this article that will explain one of the issues that may prevent Muslim community from uniting, called Dunning-Kruger Effect. It is agreed that the Dunning-Kruger Effect is an internal threat to the unity of the Ummah because it overestimates one’s deficient abilities, lacks meta-cognitive skills, and resists constructive criticism. Therefore, in this article, these issues will be explored in more depth and touched on the Islamic point of view to make us aware of the dangers of this effect in our daily lives.

Overestimating The Deficient Abilities

The Dunning-Kruger effect should be avoided at all costs because it exaggerates one’s deficiencies. Dunning once describe the Dunning-Kruger effect as a cognitive bias in which individuals who are incompetent at something cannot detect their ineptitude but are inclined to believe they are competent. It occurs when an individual’s lack of knowledge and skills in a particular field leads them to exaggerate their competence. In a nutshell, they have no idea what they do not know. They overestimate their abilities and assume they are competent since their careers may depend on their skill in that field. And it is even worse when someone ignores such truth because they are confident in their competence; this is referred to as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This is clearly portrayed in the current issue regarding the anti-vaccines’ attitudes. In a recent study by Motta and his colleague (2018), the finding reported that the “overconfidence” resulted in people opposing obligatory vaccination policies and expressing skepticism about the role of medical professionals in political decision-making. Such an issue needs to be emphasized because it involves the spread of understanding to people around, especially if the knowledge is inaccurate and brings more harm. Indeed, many verses in the Quran encourage us to seek knowledge, to think and to ponder. It begins with reading, inquiring thoughtfully and critically, as well as avoiding fanaticism. Allah mentioned in surah Al-Jathiyah, verse 13:

“And He has subjected to you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth – all from Him. Indeed, in that are signs for people who give thought” (Quran, 45: 13)

After all, people’s desire for knowledge should lead them to be humbler.

Lacking In Meta-Cognitive Skills

The Dunning-Kruger effect should be avoided, as individuals who suffer it may lack meta-cognitive abilities. This effect is also associated with meta-cognitive difficulties; the capacity to examine one’s behavior and skills outside of oneself. People often can only evaluate themselves from their own limited and subjective perspectives. Individuals appear to be extremely skilled, and superior from this narrow perspective. As a result, they may struggle to construct a more realistic image of their skills. To further illustrate, an inflated sense of competence can lead to reckless judgments and accidents. Those with less than six months of driving experience double the likelihood of an accident. This is not usually due to a lack of driving ability, but rather overconfidence. If only they had high meta-cognitive skills, they would be aware of their limited skills, thus significantly reducing the number of these crashes.

In Islam, there is a concept known as “muhasabah” that is critical for ensuring one’s life is on track and functioning according to the right path of Islam. Otherwise, it might impede their ability to grow as a better person and hence contribute to various interpersonal and intrapersonal problems in society. Hence, this point highlights the value of self-reflection and has been supported by a hadith of Umar Ibn Khattab RA:

“Take account of yourselves before you are taken to account, weigh your deeds before they are weighed.”

Being Resistant To Constructive Criticism

The Dunning-Kruger effect should be avoided since it is resistant to constructive criticism or feedback. Feedback is undeniably important in assessing one’s abilities. Individuals who are experiencing this may dispute the accuracy or relevancy of the feedback. Indeed, accurate feedback reveals one’s competence limits. If feedback is taken nicely, it can help minimize the Dunning-Kruger effect. This is quite similar to the story of the unbelievers during the Prophet’s time where they opposed the call of the Prophet, like the infidels who tried to kill the Prophet or threw feces at him throughout his lifetime. They were so obsessed and overconfident with their ancestors’ beliefs that they refused to open their hearts to accept Islam. Hence, the case is likened to one of the characteristics of this Dunning-Kruger effect, which is inability to accept constructive criticism. If this attitude persists, it will harm one’s own growth, development of the community as a whole.

To summarize, Dunning-Kruger effect is considered as internal threat to the unity of the Ummah as it possesses negative characteristics such as overestimating the deficient abilities, lacking in metacognitive skills and being resistant to constructive criticism which builds a strong reason why our community should avoid it. Therefore, these issues should be addressed in Islam as Muslims are strongly encouraged to observe, improve their attitude and preserve companionship to unite the Ummah. Abu Hurairah reported the following hadith from Sahih Muslim: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said;

“Verily, Allah Almighty is pleased with you by three things and displeased by three things. He is pleased for you to worship Him without associating anything with Him, to hold fast to the rope of Allah altogether, and to not become divided. He is displeased for you to gossip among yourselves, to ask many unnecessary questions, and to waste your wealth”