By Ekram Haque
PERHAPS NOT A day goes by without something bad happening to Muslims somewhere. Nations of the world are calling us extremists and worse. We are traumatized by such pejorative labeling, knowing Muslims are supposed to be a people of moderation.
How do we reconcile our status as an ummah of moderation with the senseless violence of which we are either perpetrators or victims? The most disturbing part is that violence is committed against innocent people and in the name of Islam.
Is there a silver lining in the midst of a gloomy landscape? Yes. The extremists are a tiny minority who are finding their dogma increasingly challenged by mainstream Muslims. The current extremism among Muslims is an old vice in a new guise. In the past, Muslims faced the ultra extremism of the Kharjiites (Khawârij) and defeated it with superior religious discourse.
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The Kharjiites were full of outward religiosity (their faces bearing the marks of prostrations) but due to their narrow understanding of Islam they strayed from the true path. The Kharjiites looked at other Muslims, including the fourth rightly guided caliph, ʿAli ibn Abî Ṭâlib, as less than they. Their extremism led them to accuse other Muslims of committing innovations (bidʿa). They even legitimized killing Muslims they considered innovators. The Khawârij were religious but misguided people, and they tried to violently impose their narrow view of Islam on others.
By no means were the Kharjiites alone in their subversion of the Islamic values. Throughout Islamic history, various Muslim groups or sects have proposed outrageous ideas. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ foretold us about extremism of the sects. In a ḥadîth collected by Tirmithi he said: My Ummah will be divided into 73 sects; all of them will be in the Hellfire except one. The Companions asked who the saved group would be. He replied: The one who will be upon my Sunnah and the sunnah of my Companions.
Then there were the Muʿtazilah, who said that a Muslim could never atone for a major sin. Such thinking went against the teachings of Islam and caused a set back to Muslims’ progress.
The Responsibilities of the Wasat Nation
How can we protect against an extremist ideology that is presented in the name of Islam? A potent defense against falling into misguidance and extremism is to have the correct knowledge and ʿaquîda (creed) about Islam.
The Quran says:
Thus We have made you (Muslims) a waṣaṭ nation that you be witnesses over mankind, and the Messenger (Muhammad) be a witness over you. Sûrat Al-Baqarah, 2:143
The Arabic word waṣaṭ could be described as being moderate, in the middle, and the best. It could also be described as justly balanced. All these meanings complement each other. Being moderate means neither too soft, nor too hard; being in the middle means being at equal distance from both extremes; and when something is justly balanced, moderate, and free from extremes, it is the best.
The Quran disliked the extremes of the People of the Book and commanded the Prophet ﷺ to tell them to give up their extremism:
Say (O Muhammad): O people of the Scripture! Exceed not the limits in your religion. Sûrat Al-Nisâ’, 4:171
In other words, don’t go to extremes in your dîn. A classic example of the extremism of the Jews and Christians was that they called prophets ʿUzair and ʿEisa sons of God.
The Quran records their statement thus:
And the Jews say: Uzair (Ezra) is the son of Allah, and the Christians say: Messiah is the son of Allah. Sûrat Al-Tawbah, 9:30
The Prophet ﷺ therefore, always told his followers to avoid extremism. He ordered them to be moderate even in worshipping their Lord, saying that if someone worshipped too hard he will not be able to continue in that manner for very long. It is reported that three Companions went to the houses of the wives of the Prophet ﷺ to inquire about his worship. When informed, they thought the amount of the Prophet’s worship insufficient for them and said: “Where are we in comparison with the Prophet while Allah has forgiven his past sins and future sins.” One of them said: “As for me, I shall offer prayer all night long.” The second said: “I shall observe fasting continuously and shall not break it.” The third said: “I shall abstain from women and shall never marry.” After confirming their oath, the Prophet ﷺ told them: By Allah, I fear Allah more than you do, and I am most obedient and dutiful among you to Him, but still I fast (some days) and I don’t fast (other days), I pray at night and I also sleep (meaning he does not pray all night), and I take wives, and whoever does not follow my Sunnah (my God’s prescribed way of life) does not belong to me. (Bukhâri)
Imam Muslim reported that the Prophet ﷺ warned us thrice by saying: Ruined are those who insist on hardship in matters of Dîn.
Moderation: An Integral Part of Being the Wasat Nation
Moderation encompasses all facets of our life, not just worship; it is an integral part of being the Waṣaṭ Nation. There are scores of verses in the Quran that exhort us to be moderate in our life. Allah, for instance says: And offer your Ṣalâh (prayer) neither aloud nor in a low voice, but follow a way in the middle. Sûrat Al-Isrâ’17:110
Being balanced and moderate also applies to spending: And those, who when they spend, are neither extravagant nor stingy, but hold a medium (way) between those (extremes). Sûrat Al-Furqân, 25: 67
And to consuming: And eat and drink but do not waste extravagantly, certainly He (Allah) does not like the extravagant. Sûrat Al-Aʿrâf, 7:31
Unfortunately, despite ample evidence from the Quran and Sunnah some Muslims have justified extremism to settle political differences and other grievances. They denounce fellow Muslims who do not agree with them, and treat Western nations as evil reprobate, totally ignoring their good qualities. Their excessive dislike of others makes them justify killing innocent people, something Islam categorically forbids.
Allah commands us to be fair when we dislike someone, as in His saying:
O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah and be just witnesses and let not the enmity and hatred of others make you avoid justice. Be just: that is nearer to piety, and fear Allah. Sûrat Al-Mâ’idah, 5:8
And as for killing innocent people, what could be more profound than Allah’s statement: And if anyone killed a person not in retaliation of murder, or for spreading mischief in the land , it would be as if he killed all mankind, and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind. Sûrat Al-Mâ’idah
Imâm Ibn Taymiyyah said: “Islam as a religion is the midpoint among all other religions. The Muslims believe in the messengers of Allah in a moderate way. For example, they do not go to extremes in their beliefs about the prophets as the Christians do, nor do they put the messengers at such a low status, as do the Jews. The Muslims always stand in the middle when it comes to all matters of Dîn.”
Imâm Ibn Al-Qayyim said: “Always encourage people to take a moderate stand, because it will rescue you from transgression. So we find the middle position between two extremes to be the most balanced and just, where a person will find all the benefits and comforts of this worldly life and the Hereafter…”
There are just too many examples of balance and moderation in our life, including the creation of this universe. Our body has everything in the right balance; when that balance is disturbed, it malfunctions.
In the universe, the planets are swimming in their orbits that have been defined by Allah. Major disasters can occur if they get out of balance. Had Allah placed this earth closer to the sun, or much farther from it, life could not have survived.
So, being ‘ummatan waṣaṭan’ means we are the holder of that balance and moderation in this world. When things get out of alignment or go to extremes, we are supposed to help them get back to the middle way.
As we yearn for the restoration of Islam’s glory, it is imperative that we bring back moderation to our individual and collective life. Our current predicament requires a serious reappraisal. Although only a minority among Muslims are extremist, its actions are holding all of us hostage. It is time for the silent majority to stand up and be heard.
Originally posted 2015-04-23 09:00:47.