I begin with the Name of Allaah, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful
“Thus We have made you [true Muslims ‘real believers of Islamic Monotheism, true followers of Prophet Muhammad and his Sunnah (legal ways)], a just (and the best) nation, that you be witnesses over mankind and the Messenger (Muhammad) be a witness over you”
It is commonly said by the Arabs that things are better understood by their opposites hence, Islam cannot be understood until those elements acting under its pretext are understood in the light of Qur’an and Sunnah. The verse referenced above gives an insight into the real concept of Islam wherein Allaah Exalted be He, mentioned in an unequivocal terms that the true adherents of the religion of Islam are “wasatan” (a just, balanced and the best nation). Imam Al-Baghawi in his Tafseer he narrated that al-Kalbi said: Wasatan means the followers of the wasat religion, one that represents a middle path between exaggeration and negligence, because both are blameworthy in the matter of religion.
In recent times, the religion of Islam has been the subject of excessive condemnation and criticism due to the presence of some extremists in its midst but as it is with all religions, groups, associations, ideologies, the reality of having extreme elements is constant. The Muslims that adhere to the true teachings of the religion have recognized extremism as a cancer thus they are never apologetic over the actions of a few that advertently or inadvertently have chosen the path of violence. Overzealous youth, enthusiastic new reverts with deficiency in true scholarship tend to most at times, innocently fall into the trap of extremism leading to the portrayal of Islam in a blurred image. Extremism which is the antithesis of the just religion that Allaah sent His Messenger ﷺ with is simply to overburden oneself beyond one’s ability and being too strict in matters where strictness is inappropriate.
Professor Zain al-Aabideen al-Rukaabi said true religiousness has two criteria, the first is the criterion of responding to the requirements and demands of the religion while the second has to do with responding to these requirements through the use of one’s ability and capacity. Both of these criteria have their bases deeply rooted in the verses of Qur’an and authentic hadith of the Prophet ﷺ. For the first criterion, Allaah Exalted be He said: “O you who believe! Respond to Allaah and His Messenger when he calls you to that which will give you life.” Qur’an 8:24 while responding to the second criterion revolves around the statement of Allaah in Qur’an 2:286 where Allaah says: “Allaah does not burden a soul beyond its capability.” There is not a verse in the Qur’an or a hadith of the Prophet ﷺ that promotes a third trend and that is understanding the religion in a strange and extreme manner devoid of the methodology of rightly guided principles. Under extremism there are words like Al-Ghulu (going beyond the limit and measure; Ibn Faaris), At-Tanatta’ (every kind of exorbitance or extravagance, whether in speech or action; ibn Atheer in al-Nihaayah fee Ghareeb al Hadith), At-Tashaddud (taking the religion very strict and in a severe manner), Al-Unf (relating to others with harshness and incivility).
Allaah Exalted be He sums it up in Qur’an 22:78 where He says: “And strive hard in Allah’s Cause as you ought to strive (with sincerity and with all your efforts that His Name should be superior). He has chosen you (to convey His Message of Islamic Monotheism to mankind by inviting them to His religion, Islam), and has not laid upon you in religion any hardship, it is the religion of your father Ibrahim (Abraham) (Islamic Monotheism). It is He (Allah) Who has named you Muslims both before and in this (the Quran), that the Messenger (Muhammad SAW) may be a witness over you and you be witnesses over mankind!”
In collaborative terms on the strength of Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) the Prophet ﷺ said:
“Religion is easy, and no one overburdens himself in his religion but he will be unable to continue in that way. So do not be extremists, but try to be near perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded. Gain strength by worshipping in the mornings and afternoons and during the last hours of the night.” Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim. Hafidh ibn Rajab al-Hanbali said this means that religion should not be approached in an extreme manner and whoever does that will be defeated. While ibn Hajar in Fathul Baari said this does not in any way suggest that we should not seek to be more perfect in worship for that is praiseworthy. But rather what is blameworthy here is the kind of extremism that leads to getting bored of it. AbdulRahman As-Sa’di as quoted in Bahjat Al-Quloob said in the beginning the Prophet ﷺ established an important principle stating that religion is easy which means it is easy and simple in its beliefs, morals and deeds, in its actions and abstentions.
Flipping the coin and putting the spotlight on negligence in the religion, the world will be amazed that Islam is a balance between extremism and negligence. In a narration recorded by Al-Bukhari and Muslim on the strength of Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him), the Prophet ﷺ said: “What I have forbidden you, stay away from. What I have ordered you (to do), do as much of it as you can. Verily, the people before you were destroyed only because of their excessive questioning and their disagreeing with their Prophets.” In Islam, there is strict or complete prohibition (at- Tahreem) and there is a recommendation to avoid an act out of dislike for it (al-Karaaha). It is paramount to leave the first but commendable even if the second is avoided. In order to tame the rise in negligence among Muslims, it is an obligation upon them to discharge their duties according to the best of their abilities hence the legal maxim; “What one can perform is not excused because of what one cannot perform.”
Going into extremes in belief (in blind following an Imam, declaring others as Awliya’ Allaah (friends of Allaah) and thus visiting their graves for worship, in declaring other Muslims as unbelievers and thus killing them without any justifiable Shar’ee reason) and in deeds (like fasting every day, like praying all night, like not marrying) and being negligent in the religion (by abandoning its core teachings to favour modernist narratives and viewing its tenets as archaic) are all blameworthy. These forms of extremism have given birth to violent groups such as ISIS, Boko Haram, Khawarij and modernist Muslims guilty of neglecting the pristine teachings of the religion seeking to change the orders of Allaah to fit into the civilization.
Furthermore, the statement of Ibn al-Qayyim in the second volume of Madaarij al-Saalikeen is apt in this regard. He said: “Allah does not make any command except that Satan has two incitements [toward it], either to negligence and neglect or to excess and exaggeration. The religion of Allah is in a middle position between being aloof from it and exaggerating in it. It is like a valley between two mountains, guidance between two astray positions and the middle, just position between two blameworthy positions. In the same way that one who is aloof from a matter loses that matter, the one who exaggerates also loses that matter. The first by his not meeting the minimum requirements and the second by going beyond the limits.”
In conclusion, the way of Islam is the way of moderation (in the true sense of the word) and not in the perspective of the modernist definition of a moderate Muslim which is a deviation from the truth. They see naked chicken as dressed chicken while normal chicken as undressed chicken. So beware of the semantics of those that categorize Muslims into “Fundamentalists, Extremists, Modernists, Progressives, Wahabists, Salafists, Moderates, Radicals, Terrorists”. There is but one Islam and that is moderate Islam (in the true sense of the word) in which the Muslims follow the path of the Messenger ﷺ and his rightly-guided successors (al-Khulaafa’ al-Raashidoon). Umar ibn Abdul Azeez was quoted to have said in the Sunan of Abu Dawud that: “There is no room to fall short of them (the early pious predecessors) and there is no room to go beyond them. Some people shortened (neglect) the matter (religion) and fell short. Some people went above them and therefore went to extremes. They (the pious predecessors) were between that (those two extremes) upon a straight guidance.” This is Islam, a moderate religion devoid of compromise.
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