Tuesday 14 July 2020 \

 

Islam as the “Middle Path”

“Thus We have appointed you a middle nation.” (Surah Baqarah, 2:143)

Thus We have appointed you a middle nation.”

(Qur’an, Surah Baqarah, 2:143)

Islam teaches balance in thought and action.  Although some practitioners may go to extremes[i], the religion itself does not condone any form of extremism or fanaticism.  In fact, finding the middle path is a general principle of behavior in Islam.  The Qur’an and Sunnah contain specific guidelines steering people away from extremes in particular cognitive, social, and behavioral areas.  Furthermore, Islam endorses sociopolitical and socioeconomic systems that represent a balanced, middle ground.      

Moderateness as a General Principle in Islam

As a general principle, Islam teaches its followers that any given issue has polar extremes to which devils calls people according to their individual weaknesses.  For example, if a person tends to be harsh, Satan will use this to seduce him into committing tyranny.  On the other hand, if a person tends to be sensitive, Satan will use this to plague him with excessive worries and sadness.  Therefore, Muslims must search for and adhere to the middle ground in every issue in order to avoid the snares and deceptions of the accursed devils.  This general principle helps guide Muslims away from extreme mannerisms and behaviors. 

Beyond the general principle of moderateness preached by Islam, Muslims find guidance in specific cognitive, social, and behavioral issues. The Qur’an and statements of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) contain straightforward prohibitions reproaching extremism in many contexts.  The position promoted by Islam always represents the middle path.  Here are just a few examples of these guidelines. 

1-Worship

In religious practices, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) pronounced a firm warning, “Never be extreme regarding religion. Many nations have been destroyed before you only because of extremism in religion,” (NisaaiIbn Majah).  This includes matters of worship.  The Prophet (peace be upon him) loved worship and referred to prayer as the apple of his eye, an ascension for the believer, a comfort in times of worry or distress, a meeting with the Almighty, and other praises and encouragements.  Yet he warned his followers not to go to extremes in worship.  The Prophet (peace be upon him) was known to perform long, supererogatory night prayers.  However, when a Muslim declared that he would never sleep and instead pray all night, the Prophet (peace be upon him) reproached him[ii].  Likewise, the Prophet (peace be upon him) would offer supererogatory fasts.  But when he discovered that one of his companions, Abdullah ibn Amr al-Aws, fasted every day, he forbade him from doing so and limited his fasts to a maximum of alternative days[iii].   

2-Sexuality

Islam prohibits the two extremes of sexuality: celibacy and “free love”.  There are no monasteries in Islam.  It was narrated, “Uthman ibn Mazun decided to live in celibacy, but God’s Messenger (peace be upon him) forbade him to do so.”[iv]  The opposite extreme, sexual looseness and animalism, is likewise prohibited.  Fornication and adultery garner dire punishment.  But marriage, the middle ground, is a sensible and right place for expression of human sexuality according to Islam.

3-Personality

Other specific examples of moderate preaching in Islam include issues of character and personality.  A person should avoid extreme strictness or extreme laxity, bearing to the middle ground of flexibility.  It is outside of Islamic character to fanatically pursue minor details, obsessing over nonsensical matters or repeating actions “just to make sure” they were done.  This is said to be a kind of “was-wasah” in Arabic, literally whispers from devils to distract the person from matters of higher importance in life.  A person who experiences these compulsive drives is advised to seek refuge in God’s protection, repulse these intrusive thoughts, and ignore instead of act upon them.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, a lackadaisical person is encouraged to seek refuge in God from his laziness, push himself toward self-discipline, and seek ways to become less forgetful and apathetic.  Both obsessiveness and indolence are viewed as traps to divert the worshipper from what is truly valuable in his or her life. 

Likewise harshness versus sensitivity must be balanced at the middle path.  To be cruel with others or oneself is generally prohibited in Islam.  Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Shall I inform you who the people of the Fire are? They are all those violent, arrogant, and stubborn people.”[v]  

Islamic texts encourage the Muslim to be cheerful and optimistic, but not so jubilant and carefree that they become superficial or thrill-seeking and unconcerned with serious matters in life.  The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “When you speak to your brother (in faith), show him a cheerful face.”[vii]  The Prophet himself exemplified a cheerful disposition.  He was optimistic and cheerful despite personal adversity.   

4-Interpersonal Relations

When dealing with others, Islamic manners disallow both aggressiveness and passivity.  Instead of aggression, Islam endorses various alternatives such as patience, tolerance, dialogue, and withdrawing oneself from harmful company. 

For example, the Qur’an does not exonerate the apostasy of those who die in a state of rejection due to social pressure, indicating that they should have migrated, saying, “Lo! As for those whom the angels take (in death) while they wrong themselves, (the angels) will ask: ‘In what were ye engaged?’ They will say: ‘We were oppressed and weak in the land.’ (The angels) will say: ‘Was not God’s earth spacious enough that ye could have migrated therein?’”[x]  Instead of passivity, Islam permits—and in some cases prescribes—self-defense.  The decision to act defensively, however, is relative and depends on the greater wisdom.  For example, verbal self-defense during argumentation is permitted but not preferable, as indicated in the verse, “God loveth not the utterance of harsh speech save by one who hath been wronged.  God is ever Hearer, Knower.”[xi]  The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) provided further clarification about verbal argumentation, saying that the person who knows he is right but avoids argumentation by silence is rewarded by God.  A person should not fight simply to have the last word.  He also taught that patience without vengeance wins support from God and His angels.[xii]  In other instances, however, assertive pro-action is the appropriate manner, such as in the case of protesting a serious evil or thwarting a pattern of recurrent harm. 

In terms of emotional commitments, Prophet Muhammad warned against loving or hating to any extreme.  He explained, “Do not love your friend excessively; he may one day become your enemy.  Do not hate your enemy excessively; he may one day become your friend.”[xiii] Islam also asks its followers to set proper priorities in love and affection, placing love for God above all else, and thereafter placing affectionate companionship to one’s mother (the vessel of creation) as a lifelong duty and high priority.  Honoring one’s mother is a strong Islamic ethic, which shows one’s thankfulness for life.  In modern times and societies, wherein peer groups dominate young adult life and social time, Islamic reminders tying the person to his or her family bonds are well-appreciated by parents.  Prioritizing parental bonds makes good sense to balance the person’s thought and social behavior because one’s parents have their best interest and mature develop in mind while friends merely want to have fun.       

Islamic texts encourage the Muslim to be a good team player and recognize the value of social networking.  Ideally, a Muslim man or woman is someone willing and able to focus on a group goal and work together as a group to meet mutual aims.  The Muslim is also instructed to care about and strive to preserve family ties, recognizing one’s rights and responsibilities according to a role as mother, daughter, wife, father, son, husband, etc.  There is also encouragement to look beyond the home, into the community, and even around the globe. 

The Muslim is intimately tied to his family, community, and society.  However, Islam also requires the Muslim to form individual convictions and the ability to resist peer pressure and group effect in order to preserve one’s personal values.  So the Muslim is both able to get along easily with others and able to stand independently.  Overall, Islamic teachings mold the individual into a well-rounded and positive personality, not self-centered, egotistical, or reclusive nor overly dependent on others.    

References :

[i] At various times and in various places, widespread ignorance of the religion of Islam has set the stage for extremism to flourish.  Indeed the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) prophesized about some of them, foretelling their mischief and corruption and warning against them.  Unfortunately, several such groups exist today, and their poor modeling of Islamic practices reflects badly on Muslim and on Islam.  However, the religion itself did not cause or support extremist movements, and those groups and individuals require correction and education in their religious understanding. 

[ii] The full narration can be found in Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 7, Book 62, Number 1.

[iii] The full narration can be found in Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 61, Number 572.

[iv]  (Sahih Muslim, 008, 3239) 

[v] (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 6 , Book 60, Number 440)

[vi] (Qur’an, Surah Kahf, 18:6)

[vii] (Sunan Abu Dawud, 32:4073)

[viii] (Sahih al-Bukhari, 5:59:730)

[ix] (Sahih al-Bukhari, 1:11:648)

[x] (Qur’an, Surah of Women, 4:97)

[xi] (Qur’an, Surah of Women, 4:148) 

[xii] (See Sunan Abu Dawud, 41:4878)

[xiii] Recorded by At-Tirmidhi; Bayhaqi

 

 

 

 

 

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