Understanding Moderation and Extremism (Feb 2013)

Moderation is to avoid excessiveness or extremes and to remain within reasonable limits. In recent past when the world witnessed the damages of extremism, the tag of ‘moderate’ became the best seller among intellectuals. As stated above moderates are the one who remain within reasonable limits. What are the limits and who is the authority to draw them? What happens when limits are violated?

First example of violation of limits:

The first violation of limits in human history can probably be traced in the episode depicted in Quran. [And narrate to them with truth the story of the two sons of Adam they made an offering. It was accepted of one of them and not accepted of the other. He threatened, ‘I will surely kill you.’ The other replied, ‘Allah accepts only of the god-fearing. If you stretch your hand against me to kill me, I shall not lift mine to kill you. I fear Allah Lord of the worlds. Rather, I wish that you add on my sin to your other sin and end up a companion of the Fire. And that is the recompense of the transgressors.’ Thereupon his (evil) self drove him to the murder of his brother. He murdered him and became of the losers. That was why We prescribed this for the children of Israel: “He who killed any person, unless it be a person guilty of manslaughter, or of spreading chaos in the land, should be looked upon as though he had slain all mankind, and he who saved one life should be regarded as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.” But the majority of them went on committing excesses in the land even after Our Messengers came to them one after the other with clear directions. 5:27-32]

Let us rely on scholarly traditions to find out the reason of the subject conflict. It is said that with every pregnancy Hawwa’ gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl. Adam married off the girl of one birth to the boy of another, and vice versa. Habil was to marry Qabil’s sister and Qabil to the sister of Habil. But, because the girl born along with Qabil was prettier, he refused to marry Habil’s sister, rather wanted to marry the girl that was with him in the womb. Adam told him that she, having been in the same womb with him, was not lawful to him. But he insisted. The two decided to present an offering each to Allah to check whose would be accepted. Habil was a shepherd and he presented the best of sheep he had. Qabil tended farms and presented the worst kind of vegetables he could lay his hands on. The result did not matter to him, because he was bent upon marrying his sister. The fire descended and consumed the sheep but left the vegetables untouched. Qabil ultimately murdered Habil by dropping a stone on his head as he slept.

Cause of first conflict:

The lesson to learn here is that first conflict between the two brothers that resulted in murder happened because one of them didn’t want to obey the law given by their father who was a messenger of Allah.

Extremism and moderation:

If I were asked to define the subject terminologies, I would say that the violation of Allah’s law is extremism and moderation is simply obedience to His laws.

Right way for mankind:

[Quran 5:12 …… But after this whoever from among you adopted the way of disbelief, has indeed gone astray from the Right Way (sawa-as-sabil).]

Quranic term ‘sawa-as-sabil’ translated as right way is the way of life which enables a man to develop harmoniously all his powers, faculties, and abilities: which satisfies all his cravings, urges and feelings and the demands of his body and soul in a congenial manner: which guides him rightly to keep balanced the multi fold complex relations with other human beings: which leads him individually and collectively to exploit and use equitably the natural resources for his own good and that of humanity. In short, it is that way of life which enables the individual and the society to solve spiritual, moral, social, physical, economic, political and international problems in a straight, smooth, even and just manner. It is obvious that man with his limited powers and intellect cannot by himself solve these problems, as he is simply incapable of comprehending at one and the same time all the aspects of human problems so as to weigh and estimate their relative importance and judge between the different courses before him. That is why, whenever he has tried to plan a way of life for himself, he has utterly failed to do justice to his own self or tiffs society, and made a mess of all his affairs and problems, and created a state of chaos everywhere. This is because with his narrow vision he becomes so absorbed in one basic need out of many and one problem out of many that he loses sight of all others and neglects them intentionally or un-intentionally. As a result of this, life loses its balance and begins to rush towards one extreme. When this state of affairs becomes unbearable, one of the neglected needs or problems takes hold of man and life begins to rush towards another extreme with the same destructive result. In this way, life goes on running from one extreme to the other and man never finds the balanced middle way which is “The Right Way”, because all the ways planned by him keep him running in wrong directions from one extreme to the other.

As has been pointed out, man cannot plan that right way which may lead him clear of the pitfalls of the myriad wrong and crooked ways; so Allah has very graciously made arrangements for showing the Right Way to mankind. He sent His Messengers with Guidance to lead mankind to the Right Way to real success in this world and in the Hereafter; and the one who loses this way will go wrong here and act wrongly, and inevitably go to Hell in the next world, for all the wrong ways lead to Hell.

In this connection it will be pertinent to point out the blunder that has been committed by some so-called philosophers. When they noticed that human life was continually running between two extremes, they came to the wrong conclusion that the Dialectical process was the natural way of the evolution of human progress. According to them, internal contradictions are inherent in all things and the struggle between these opposites and their synthesis constitutes the contents of the process of development. They apply the Dialectical methods to the study of social life and come to the wrong conclusion that the same is the right way of evolution. Accordingly they start with a thesis of an extreme nature for the solution of a problem and go on rushing away from the Right Way towards one extreme till they discover, to their dismay, that in this process gross injustice has been done to some other equally important problems. Then they turn back with the antithesis of the first theory and presume that the synthesis of the two will help evolve its right
   solution. Though it is true that the struggle between the two opposite theories helps them approach the Right Way, yet they cross it rapidly towards the other extreme because they do not believe in Divine Guidance which alone can make one firmly adhere to it. Then they do gross justice to some other problems and the same process is repeated over and over again. If such short sighted philosophers had not rejected God and religion and trade an impartial study of the Qur’an, they would have discovered to their joy that the Right Way is the straight path, leading to the human evolution, and not the myriad crooked and curved paths. Thus they would have saved mankind from continually rushing aimlessly between extremes. (Source: Tafheemulquran) 

Community of middle way:

[Quran 2:143: And it is thus that We appointed you to be the community of the middle way (ummat wasat) so that you might be witnesses to all mankind and the Messenger might be a witness to you.]

This is the declaration of the leadership of the Muslim Community – a righteous and noble community, which must not go beyond proper limits, but follow the middle course and must deal out justice evenly to the nations of the world as an impartial judge, and must base all its relations with other nations on truth and justice. The meaning of “We have appointed you as ummat wasat so that you may be witnesses in regard to mankind and the Messenger may be a witness in regard to you” is: On the Judgement Day when all mankind will be called to account together, the Messenger, as Our authorized representative, will give evidence in regard to you to prove that he had imparted to you, by word and by deed, without any reservation, the whole teaching of sound thought, righteous deed and justice given by Us. Then you, being representatives of the Messenger, in your turn, will be required to give evidence to prove that you had done your utmost to impart, by word and deed, to mankind whatever the Messenger had imparted to you just as you had received it from the Messenger.

Quranic classification of Muslims:

[Quran 35:32: Then We made those people heirs of this Book, whom We chose (for this inheritance) from among Our servants; now someone of them is being unjust to his own self, and someone following a middle course, and someone excelling in good deeds by Allah’s leave.  This is the supreme bounty.]

According to the above verse, the Muslims, who have been sorted out from all mankind so that they may become heirs to the Book of Allah, and convey its message to others after the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Though this Book has been presented before all human beings, those who accepted it in the first instance were chosen for the honor to become heirs to a great Book like the Qur’an and the trustees of the teaching and guidance imparted by a great Messenger like the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). All these Muslims are not alike but are divided into three classes:

(1) Those unjust to themselves: They are those who believe sincerely and honestly that the Qur’an is the Book of Allah and Muhammad (upon whom be Allah’s peace) the Messenger of Allah, but in practical life do not fully follow the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger. They are believers but sinful; culprits but not rebellious; weak of faith but not hypocritical and unbelieving at heart. Therefore, although they are ¦unjust to themselves,” they have been included among the chosen servants of God and among the heirs to the Book; otherwise, obviously the rebels and the hypocrites and the unbelieving people could not be so treated and honored. This class of the believers have been mentioned first of All because they are most numerous among the Muslims.

(2) Those following the middle course: They are the people who fulfill the obligations of this inheritance to some extent but not fully. They are obedient as well as erring. They have not left their self altogether free but try as best as they can to turn it to God’s obedience; however, at times they give it undue freedom and become involved in sin. Thus, their life becomes a combination of both the good and the evil actions. They are less numerous than the first group but more than the third; that is why they have been mentioned second.

(3) Those excelling in good deeds: They are the people of the first rank among the heirs to the Book, and they are the ones who are doing full justice to the inheritance. They are in the forefront in following and adhering to the Book and the Sunnah; in conveying the message of God to His servants, in offering the sacrifices for the sake of the true Faith, and in every pious and good work. They arc not the ones who would commit a sin deliberately, but if they happened to commit a sin inadvertently, they would be filled with remorse as soon as they became conscious of it. They are less numerous than the people of the first two groups, and therefore, have been mentioned last, although they merit the first place in the matter of doing justice to the heritage of the Book of Allah.

Conservative, moderate and liberal:

Recently in a discussion a participant described that Muslims are divided in three categories namely conservatives, moderates and liberals and are sitting at three different poles of a triangle. He considered the ‘moderates’ as true followers of Islam. Do we see any similarity here with Quranic classification? Who is conservative? Is he unjust to himself, or he is a follower of middle course or he is the one excelling in good deeds? Similarly who is moderate and who is liberal?

Real moderate?

In all our prayers five times a day while reciting surah fatiha we ask Allah, “show us the right way, the way of those You have favored, who did not incur Your wrath, who are not astray”.

‘Serat e Mustaqeem’ is not just a thin straight line on a drawing. It is a broad highway that can lead man to eternal success. Alas, conservatives try to narrow it to the size of their mean understanding and liberals think the verbal recitation of kalm-e-shahdat has put them on an expressway of limitless width. There are others who think being complacent to their religion is moderation and one who is devout and steadfast is conservative. Real moderate is not the one who is carried away with prevalence and contemporariness of life but the one who after adopting the right way excels in good deeds with sincere intention to please his Lord. Limits prescribed by Allah are not to curtail material progress of mankind but it is to protect the mankind from its harms.

[By the Time! Man is surely in loss, except those who believed and did good works, and exhorted one another to Truth, and exhorted one another to patience. Surah Al Asr]

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