|Logicians argue that one cannot pass a judgment on
something unless one has a clear conception of it, because the unknown and the undefined
cannot be judged. Therefore, we first have to determine what "religious
,extremism" means before we can condemn or applaud it. We can do so by considering
its reality and its most distinguishing characteristics. Literally, extremism means being
situated at the farthest possible point from the center. Figuratively, it indicates a
similar remoteness in religion and thought, as well as behavior. One of the main
consequences of extremism is exposure to danger and insecurity.! Islam, therefore,
recommends moderation and balance in everything: in belief, ibadah, conduct, and
legislation. This is the straightforward path that Allah (SWT) calls al Sirat. al
mustaqim, one distinct from all the others which are followed by those who earn Allah's
anger and those who go astray. Moderation, or balance, is not only a general
characteristic of Islam, it is a fundamental landmark. The Qur'an says:
Thus have we made of you an Ummah
justly balanced, that you might be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness
As such, the Muslim Ummah is a nation of justice and moderation; it witnesses every
deviation from the 'straightforward path' in this life and in the hereafter. Islamic texts
call upon Muslims to excerise moderation and to reject and oppose all kinds of extremism:
ghuluw (excessiveness), tanattu' (trangressing; meticulous religiosity) and tashdid
(strictness; austerity). A close examination of such texts shows that Islam emphatically
warns against, and discourages, ghuluw. Let us consider the following ahadith:
- Beware of excessiveness in religion. [People] before
you have perished as a result of [such] excessiveness. " The people referred to above
are the people of other religions, especially Ahl al Kitab [the People of the Book]; Jews
and Christians and mainly the Christians. The Qur'an addresses these people:
Say: O People of the Book! Exceed not
in your religion the bounds [of what is proper], trespassing beyond the truth, nor follow
the vain desires of people who went wrong in times gone by who misled many, and strayed
[themselves] from the even Way".
Muslims have therefore been warned not to
follow in their steps: he who learns from the mistakes of others indeed lives a happier
life. Furthermore, the reason behind the above hadith is to alert us to the fact that
ghuluw may crop up as an insignificant action which we then unwittingly allow to continue
and develop into a menace. After reaching Muzdalifah-during his last hajj-the Prophet
(SA'AS) requested Ibn 'Abbas to gather some stones for him. Ibn 'Abbas selected small
stones. Upon seeing the stones, the Prophet (SA'AS) approved of their size and said: "Yes, with such [stones do stone Satan]. Beware
of excessiveness in religion". This clearly
indicates that Muslims should not be so zealous as to believe that using larger stones is
better, thus gradually allowing excessiveness to creep into their lives. Al Imam Ibn
Taymiyah argues that this warning against excessiveness applies to all forms of belief,
worship, and transaction, and notes that since the Christians are more excessive in faith
and in practice than any other sect, Allah (SWT) admonishes them in the Qur'an. "Do not exceed the limits of your
- "Ruined were those who indulged in
tanattu'" And he [the Prophet (SA'AS)] repeated this thrice. Imam al Nawawi said that
the people referred to here, "those indulging in tanattu:" i.e., those who go
beyond the limit in their utterance as well as in their action. Evidently the above two
ahadith emphatically assert that the consequence of excessiveness and zealotry will be the
complete loss of this life and of the hereafter.
- The Prophet (SA'AS) used to say: "Do not overburden yourselves, lest you
perish. People [before you] overburdened themselves and perished. Their remains are found
in hermitages and monasteries. Indeed, Prophet Muhammad
(SA'AS) always condemned any tendency toward religious excessiveness. He cautioned those
of his companions who were excessive in ibadah, or who were too ascetic, especially when
this went beyond the moderate Islamic position. Islam seeks to create a balance between
the needs of the body and those of the soul, between the right of man to live life to its
full, and the right of the Creator to be worshipped by man; which is also man's raison
Islam has laid down certain forms of `ibadah to purify the human being both
spiritually and materially, individually and collectively, thereby establishing a
harmonious community in which feelings of brotherhood and solidarity rule, and without
hindering man's duty to build culture and civilization. The obligatory duties such as
salah, zakah,' siyam' and hajj are simultaneously personal as well as social forms of
ibadah. While performing these obligations, a Muslim is neither cut off from the
mainstream of life nor is he alienated from his community. On the contrary, his ties are
emotionally and practically strengthened. This is the reason why Islam did not prescribe
monasticism, a practice which requires alienation and seclusion, thus preventing man from
enjoying the blessings and al tayyibat of normal life and from sharing in its development
Islam considers the whole earth a field for religious
practice; or the very business of religion. Islam also considers work a form of ibadah and
a jihad' when one's intention is genuinely committed to the service of Allah (SWT). As a
result, Islam neither approves of the pursuit of spirituality at the expense of
materialism nor of the tendency to "purify the soul" by neglecting and punishing
the body, which other religions and philosophies prescribe and advocate. This is made very
clear in the Qur'an: "Our Lord!
Give us good in this world and good in the hereafter", as well as in the following
hadith "O, Allah, set right for me my religion which is the safeguard of my affairs;
and set right for me the affairs of my [life in this] world wherein is my living; and set
right for me my hereafter on which depends my afterlife; and make life for me [a source]
of abundance for every good and make my death a source of comfort for me protecting me
against every evil;" and: "Your body has a right over you."'
Moreover, the Qur'an disapproves of and rejects the tendency to prohibit tayyibat and
beautification zinah', which Allah taala has provided for his servants. In a verse
revealed in Makkah, Allah (SWT) says: O
Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer. Eat and
drink, but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not those who waste. Say: who has
forbidden the beautiful gifts of Allah which He has produced for His servants, and the
things clean and pure which He has provided for sustenance?
In another surah, revealed in Madinah, Allah (SWT) addresses the believers in the same
way: O you who believe! Make not unlawful the
good things which Allah has made lawful for you. But commit no excess, for Allah does not
like those given.to excess. Eat of the things which Allah has provided you, lawful and
good, but fear Allah, in Whom you believe.
These ayat explain to the believers the true Islamic way of enjoying tayyibat and of
resisting the excessiveness found in other religions. It is reported that the situational
context for the revelation of these two ayat was when a group of the Prophet's companions
decided to castrate themselves and to roam the land like monks.
Ibn 'Abbes (RA'A)' also reported: "A
man came upon the Prophet (SA'AS) and said, 'O Messenger of Allah, whenever I eat of this
meat I [always] have a desire to make love, therefore, I have decided to abstain from
eating meat" Consequently the ayat were revealed.
Narrated Anas ibn Malik (RA'A): "A
group of men came to the houses of the wives of the Prophet (SA'AS) asking about his ibadah, and when
they were informed about that, they considtheir ibadah insufficien. One of them said, 'I
will offer Salah throughout the night forever.' The other said, 'I will do siyam
throughout the year and will not break my siyam.
'Allah's Messenger came to them and said, '...By Allah, I am more submissive to Allah and
more afraid of him than you; yet I do siyam and I break my siyam, I sleep and do night
salah and I also marry women. So he who does not follow my sunnah is not with me [i.e.,
not one of my followers].' The Prophet's Sunnah signifies his understanding of the faith
and its application; i.e., his duty toward his Lord, himself, his family, and his
followers-giving each the due right in a balanced and moderate way.
1. Defects of Religious Extremism
All these warnings against extremism and excessiveness are
necessary because of the serious defects inherent in such tendencies.
The first defect is that excessiveness is too disagreeable for ordinary human nature
to endure or tolerate. Even if a few human beings could put up with excessiveness for a
short time, the majority would not be able to do so. Allah's legislation addresses the
whole of humanity, not a special group who may have a unique capacity for endurance. This
is why the Prophet (SA'AS) was once angry with his eminent companion Mu'adh, because the
latter led the people one day in salah and so prolonged it that one of the people went to
the Prophet and complained. The Prophet (SA'AS) said to Mu'adh: "O Mu'adh! Are you putting the people on
trial?" and repeated it thrice.
On another occasion he addressed an imam with unusual anger: "Some of you make people
dislike good deeds [salah]. So whoever among you leads people in salah should keep it
short, short because amongst them are the weak, the old, and the one who has business to
Furthermore, when the Prophet (SA'AS) sent Mu'adh and Abu Musa to the Yemen, he gave them
the following advice: "Facilitate [matters to people] and do not make [things]
difficult. Give good tidings and do not put off [people]. Obey one another and do not
differ [amongst yourselves].
Umar ibn al Khattab (RA'A) also emphasized this by saying: "Do not make Allah hateful to His servants by leading
people in salah and so prolonging it that they come to hate what they are doing."
The second defect is that excessiveness is short-lived. Since man's capacity for
endurance and perseverance is naturally limited, and since man can easily become bored, he
can not endure any excessive practice for long. Even if he puts up with it for a while he
will soon be overcome by fatigue, physically and spiritually, and will eventually give up
even the little he can naturally do, or he may even take a different course altogether
substituting excessiveness with complete negligence and laxity. I have often met people
who were known for their strictness and extremism; then I lost contact with them for a
while. When I inquired about them after a period of time, I found out that they had either
deviated and taken the opposite extreme, or had, at least, lagged behind like the
"hasty one" referred to in the following hadith: He [the hasty one] neither
covers the desired distance nor spares the back [of his means of transport]."
So is the Prophet's guidance embodied in another hadith:
"Do those deeds, which you can endure, as Allah will not get tired [of giving
rewards] till you get bored and tired [of performing good deeds]...and the most beloved
deed to Allah is the one which is done regularly even if it were little."
Said Ibn 'Abbas: "A female attendant of the Prophet (SA'AS) used to do siyam during
the day and spend the whole night in iqamah. The Prophet (SA'AS) was informed of this, and
he said, 'In every deed [or action] there is a peak of activity followed by lassitude. He
who in his lassitude follows my Sunnah is on the right path, but he who in his lassitude
follows another [guidance] has [erred and] gone astray. 'Abd Allah ibn 'Umar said:
"The Messenger of Allah was told of men who were exhausted by 'ibadah. He said, 'This
is the maximum of Islam and peak of its activity. Each maximum has a peak of activity, and
each peak of activity is followed by lassitude...he whose lassitude is in tune with the
Book [the Qur'an] and Sunnah is on the right path, but he whose lassitude is for
disobedience will perish."
How superb is the Prophet's advice to all Muslims not to overburden themselves in 'ibadah
and to be moderate so that they may not be overcome by fatigue and finally fail to
continue. He said: "Religion is very easy, and whoever overburdens himself will not
be able to continue in that way. Be right [without excessiveness or negligence], near
[perfection], and have good tidings [in being rewarded for your deeds].
The third defect is that excessive practice jeopardizes other rights and obligations.
A sage once said in this respect: "Every extravagance is somehow bound to be
associated with a lost right."
When the Prophet (SA'AS) knew that 'Abd Allah ibn 'Umar was so absorbed in 'ibadah that he
even neglected his duty toward his wife, he said to him: "O 'Abd Allah! Have I not been correctly informed that you do
siyam daily and offer 'ibadah throughout the night?" 'Abd Allah replied, "Yes,
O Messenger of Allah!" The Prophet (SA'AS) then said: "Don't do that, but do
siyam and then break your siyam, offer 'ibadah during the night but also sleep. Your body
has a right on you, your wife has a right on you, and your guest has a right on
The incident between Salman al Farisi (RA'A), the eminent companion, and his devout friend
Abu al Darda' (RA'A) is another case in point. The Prophet (SA'AS) made a bond of
brotherhood between Salman and Abu al Darda'. Once Salman paid a visit to Abu al Darda'
and found Umm al Darda' (his wife) dressed in shabby clothes. He asked her why she was in
that state, and she replied, "Your brother Abu al Darda' is not interested in [the
tayyibat of] this world." In the meanwhile Abu al Darda' arrived and prepared a meal
for Salman who requested Abu al Darda' to eat with him, but the latter replied: "I am
doing siyam. Salman then said: "I am not going to eat unless you do." So Abu al
Darda ate [with Salman]. When it was nighttime Abu al Darda' got up to offer iqamah, but
Salman told him to go back to sleep, and so he did. Again Abu al Darda' got up and once
again Salman told him to go back to sleep. Toward the end of the night, Salman told Abu al
Darda' to get up, and both offered salah. Salman then told Abu al Darda': "Your Lord
has a right on you, your self has a right on you, your family has a right on you. So give
each the due right." Abu al Darda' narrated this to the Prophet SA'AS) who said: "Salman has spoken the truth."
2. The Concept of Religious Extremism
A correct expose and definition of-and an insight
into-extremism is the first step toward outlining the remedy. There is no value for any
judgment or exposition not based on genuine Islamic concepts and the Shari'ah, but on mere
personal opinions of individuals. The Qur'an says in this respect: "If you differ on anything among yourselves,
refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if you do believe in Allah and the Last Day". Throughout the history of the Ummah there has always been an ijma
Referring differences between Muslims to Allah (SWT) and to His Messenger means referring
them to His Book, the Qur'an, and to the Sunnah of the Prophet (SA'AS). Without such
authentication based on Shariah, the Muslim youth-who are accused of "extremism"
will never pay any attention to the fatawa of this or that Muslim scholar, and will deny
and refuse to accept such accusation. Furthermore, they will themselves accuse others of
ignorance and of falsification.
It is reported that al Imam Muhammad ibn Idris al Shafi was accused of being a rafidi.
Outraged by such a cheap accusation, he defiantIy read a verse of poetry which is
paraphrased as follows: "If love for all ahl al bayt' is rejectionism, let the humans
and the jinn bear witness that I am a rejectionist "
A present-day Muslim daiyah said, on hearing that he had been branded a reactionary:
"If adherence to the Qur'an and Sunnah is reactionism, I wish to live, die, and
resurrected as a reactionary."
In fact it is very important to define accurately such common terms as
"reactionism:'" rigidity "'extremism" "bigotry 'etc., so that
they may not constitute ambiguous concepts which can be hurled randomly by one group of
people against another, or be interpreted differently by various intellectual and social
forces whether on the extreme right or left. Failure to define and comprehend
"religious extremism" and to leave the issue to the whimsical desires of people
will lead to discord among Muslims. The Qur'an says:
If the Truth had been in accord with their desires, truly the heavens and the earth and
all the beings therein would have been in confusion and corruption!.
I would like at this point to draw attention to two important observations. First: The degree of a person's piety as well as that of the society in which he lives
affect his judgment of others as far as extremism, moderation, and laxity are concerned. A
religious society usually produces a person sensitively aversive to any deviation or
negligence, however slight it may be. Judging by the criteria of his own practice and
background, such a person would be surprised to find that there are Muslims who do not
offer 'ibadah during the night or practice siyam. This is historically obvious. When
examining the deeds and practices of people, the nearer one gets to the time of the
Prophet (.SA'AS), his companions and the Tabiun the less worthy seem the deeds and
practices of the pious among the later generations. Hence the gist of the saying: "`The merits of those nearest to Allah are but
the demerits of the righteous."
This reminds one of what Anas ibn Malik (RA'A) used to tell the Tabiun of his
contemporaries, "You do things you consider trifling. But during the time of the
Prophet (SA'AS) these same actions were seen as mortal sins."
The same attitude was expressed by Aishah (RA'A), who used to recite a line of verse by
Labid Ibn Rabiah, the well-known poet, which laments the disappearance of those people who
provided exemplary patterns of righteous living, thus leaving people to the mercy of the
stragglers, whose company is as contagious as a scabby animal. Moreover, she always
wondered how Labid would have felt had he lived to witness the practices of a later
generation. 'Aishah's nephew, 'Urwah ibn al Zubayr, also used to recite the same line of
verse and wonder how both Aishah and Labid would have felt had they lived in his own age.
On the other hand, a person whose knowledge of and commitment to Islam is little, or who
has been brought up in an environment which practices what Allah (SWT) has forbidden and
neglects Shariah, will certainly consider even minimal adherence to Islam a kind of
extremism. Such a person-who quite often feigns godliness-would not only question and
criticize, but would even deny the validity of a certain practice. He would also accuse
those who are committed to Islam, and initiate arguments on what is haram and what is
halal. His attitude would, of course, depend on his distance from the fundamentals of
Some Muslims-those who are influenced by alien ideologies and practices-consider adherence
to clear-cut Islamic teachings concerning eating, drinking, beautification, or the call
for the application of Shariah and the establishment of an Islamic state as manifestations
of "religious extremism." For such a person, a young Muslim with a beard or a
young girl wearing hijab are both extremists! Even the commanding of the common good and
the prohibition of evil are regarded as forms of extremisim and interference with personal
Although a basis of faith in Islam is to believe that our
religion is right and that those who do not believe in it are wrong, there are Muslims who
object to considering those who take a religion other than Islam 'as kuffar, considering
this as extremism and bigotry. This is an issue upon which we must never compromise.
Second: It is unfair to accuse a person of "religious extremism"
simply because he has adopted a "hard-line" juristic opinion of certain fuqaha.'
If a person is convinced that his opinion is right and that he is bound by it according to
Shariah, he is free to do so even if others think that the juristic evidence is weak. He
is only responsible for what he thinks and believes even if, in so doing, he overburdens
himself, especially since he is not content with only limiting himself to the categorical
obligations required of him but seeks Allah's pleasure through supererogatory
People naturally differ on these matters. Some take things easy and facilitate matters,
others do not. This is also true of the Prophet's companions. Ibn 'Abbas, for instance,
facilitated religious matters, while Ibn 'Umar was strict. In view of all this, it would
be enough for a Muslim to support his conviction with evidence from one of the Islamic
madhahib, or with a reliable ijtihad, based on sound evidence from the Qur'an or Sunnah.
Therefore, should a person be labeled an extremist because he adopts a law derived by one
of the four great jurists of Islam -al Shafi', Abu Hanifah, Malik, and Ahmad ibn
Hanbal-and commits himself to it because he differs from that which various
scholarsespecially the contemporary-expound? Do we have any right to suppress another
person's choice of ijtihad, especially if it relates only to his personal life and
A great number of Muslim jurists contend that a woman
should wear a dress that covers the whole of her body with the exception of her face and
hands. The exception of the hands and face is based upon this Qur'anic verse: " . .that they should not display their beauty and
ornaments except what [must ordinarily] appear thereof". They further emphasize this by supporting it with ahadith, events, and
traditions. Many contemporary ulama: including myself, favor this verdict.
On the other hand, a number of eminent Muslim 'ulama' argue that both the face and the
hands are awrah and must be covered. They cite evidence from the Qur'an, hadith
literature, and established traditions. This argument is advocated by many contemporary
'ulama: especially in Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states. They call upon
every Muslim woman who believes in Allah (SWT) and the hereafter to veil her face and wear
gloves. If a woman believes in this. and coneiders it part of the teachings of Islam, should
she be branded an extremist? If a man persuades his daughter or his wife
to abide by this, should he also be looked upon as an extremist? Do we have the right to
force anyone to abandon what he/she believes to be Allah's injunction? Are
we not, in this way, asking him/her to seek the anger of Allah (SWT) in order to satisfy
our whims and in order to avoid being accused of "extremism"?
The same could also be said of those who adhere to
hard-line opinions pertaining to singing, music, drawing, photography, etc. These opinions
do not only differ from my own personal ijtihad in these matters but also from the ijtihad
of many renowned 'ulama' However, such opinions remain in tune with the views of a number
of early and contemporary 'ulama'
However, much of what we criticize in those whom we brand "extremists," such as
wearing a short thawb instead of a shirt and trousers, or refusing to shake hands with
women, which may be considered "excessive,' finds its evidence in usul al fiqh and
the traditions of the Ummah. In that capacity they have been accepted, advocated, and
propagated by some of our contemporary ulama' Consequently, some devout young Muslims have
responded to this in the hope of Allah's mercy and in fear of His punishment. We should
not, therefore, condemn the practice of any Muslim or accuse him of "extremism"
if he adopts a hard-line opinion based on juristic judgement through which he seeks
Allah's pleasure. We have no right to force him to abandon his opinion or ask him to
follow a line of behavior which is contrary to his convictions. Our duty is to appeal to
him with wisdom, argue with him patiently and nicely, and try to convince him by citing
evidence in the hope that he may change his mind and accept what wbelieve to be the truth.
3. Manifestations of Extremism
The first indications of exttemism include bigotry and intolerance, which make a person
obstinately devoted to his own opinions and prejudices, as well as rigidity, which
deprives him of clarity of vision regarding the interests of other human beings, the
purposes of Shariah, or the circumstances of the age. Such a person does not allow any
opportunity for dialogue with others so that he may compare his opinion with theirs, and
chooses to follow what appears to him most sound. We equally condemn this person's attempt
to suppress and discard the opinions of others, just as we condemn the similar attitude of
his accusers and opponents. Indeed, we emphatically condemn his attitude if he claims that
he alone is right and everybody else is wrong, accusing those who have different ideas and
opinions of ignorance and self-interest, and those with different behaviour of
disobedience and fisq as if he were an infallible prophet and his words were divinely
revealed. This attitude contradicts the consensus of the Ummah, that what every person
says can be totally or partly accepted or rejected, except, of course, the ahadith of
Prophet Muhammad (SA'AS).
Strangely, though some of these people take liberty in exercising ijtihad in the most
complicated matters and issues and pass notional and whimsical judgments yet they would
deprive the contemporary expert 'ulama' singly or collectively-of the right to exercise
ijtihad regarding statements which contradict theirs. Some of them never hesitate to give
ridiculous opinions on, and interpretations of, the Qur'an and Sunnah; opinions which are
contradictory to those handed down to us by our forefathers, or subsequently arrived at by
contemporary ulama' This indifference is due to their presumption to be on an equal
footing with Abu Bakr, 'Umar, Ali, and Ibn Abbas (RA'A). This presumption might be less
grave if these people admits that their contemporaries who uphold different views or
approaches are also capable of ijtihad like themselve; but they would not.
Bigotry is the clearest evidence of extremisim. An extremist seems to address people in
this way: "I have the right to speak, your duty is to listen. I have the right to
lead, your duty is to follow. My opinion is right, it cannot be wrong. Your opinion is
wrong, it can never be right."
Thus, a bigot can never come to terms with others. Agreement is possible and can be
reached when people hold moderate positions, but a bigot neither knows nor believes in
moderation. He stands in relation to people as the East stand in relation to the West-the
nearer you get to one, the further you move away from the other.
The issue becomes even more critical when such a person develops the tendency to coerce
others, not necessarily physically but by accusing them of bidah, laxity, kufr, and
deviation. Such intellectual terrorism is as terrifying as physical terrorism.
The second characteristic of extremism manifests itself in a perpetual commitment to
excessiveness, and in attempts to force others to do likewise, despite the existence of
good reasons for facilitation and the fact that Allah (SWT) has not ordained it. A person
motivated by piety and caution may, if he so wishes, choose a hard-line opinion in some
matters and on certain occasions. But this should not become so habitual that he rejects
facilitation when he needs it. Such an attitude is not in keeping with the teachings of
the Qura'an or Sunnah as is clear from the following verse: "Allah intends every
facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties".
The Prophet (SA'AS) also said in ahadith already quoted: "Facilitate [matters to
people] and do not make [things] difficult."
He also said: "Allah loves that His dispensations [to make things easier] be
accepted, as He dislikes [to see people] committing disobedience.
It is also reported that "whenever
the Prophet (SA'AS) was given a choice between two options, he always chose the easiest
unless it was a sin."
Complicating matters for people and causing constraint in their lives are contrary to the
most outstanding qualities of the Prophet Muhammad (SA'AS). These qualities have been
mentioned in earlier scriptures and later revealed in the Qur'an:
He [Muhammad] allows them as lawful what is good [and pure] and prohibits them from what
is bad [and impure], he releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are
This is why the Prophet (SA'AS) used to prolong his salah only when he was alone. In fact,
he used to offer salah throughout the night until his feet were swollen. But when leading
people in ,salah, he used to shorten it, taking into consideration the circumstances of
his followers and their varying levels of endurance , He said in this respect, "If
any of you leads people in salah, he should shorten it, for among them are the weak, the
sick, and the old; and if any of you offers ,salah alone, then he may prolong [it] as much
as he wishes.
Abu Mas'ud al Ansari narrated that a man said to the Prophet (SA'AS): "O Messenger of Allah, I keep away from Salat
al Fajr only because so and so prolongs it." The
Prophet (SA'AS) became very angry and said: people, some of you make people dislike good
deeds [ in this case salah]. Whoever leads people in salah should shorten it because among
them are the weak, the old, and those who have business to attend to.
As we have already mentioned, the Prophet (SA'AS) reacted in the same way when a man
complained to him that Mu'adh (RA'A) prolonged the ,salah. Anas Ibn Malik narrated:
"The Prophet (SA'AS) said:
"When I stand for ,salah, I intend to prolong it, but I cut it short on hearing the
cries of a child, because I do not like to trouble the mother".
It is also strict, excessive and overburdening to require people to observe
supererogatories in the same way as they would observe the obligatories, or hold them
accountable for the things which are mukrahat as if these were muharramat. In fact, we
should demand that people observe only what Allah (SWT) has categorically commanded. The
extra and additional forms of ibadah are optional.
The following incident shows that this was also the Prophet's opinion. A bedouin once
asked the Prophet (SA'AS) about the obligatory prescriptions required of him. The Prophet
(SA'AS) mentioned only three: salah, zakah, and siyam. When the bedouin asked if there was
anything else which he must do, the Prophet (SA'AS) replied in the negative, adding that
the bedouin could volunteer to do more if he so wished. As the bedouin was leaving, he
swore never to increase or decrease what the Prophet (SA'AS) had asked him to do. When the
Prophet (SA'AS) heard this he said, "If
he is saying the truth, he will succeed or [said] 'he will be granted jannah. If a Muslim in this age observes the wajibat and
eschews the most heinous of the muharramat, he should be accommodated in the fold of Islam
and regarded as one of its advocates so long as his
loyalty is to Allah (SWT) and His Messenger (SA'AS). Even if he commits some minor
muharramat, the merits gained by his observance of the five daily salawat, salat al jumuah
(Friday prayers), siyam, etc. will expiate his small faults.
The Qur'an says: "Good deeds
remove those that are evil", and in another verse: If you [but] eschew the most heinous of the things
which are forbidden, We shall expel out of you all the evil in you and admit you to a
state of great honor.
In view of the above evidence from the Qur'an and Sunnah, how could we expel a Muslim from
the fold of Islam merely because of his commitment to certain controversial matters which
we are not sure are ,halal or haram, or because of his failure to observe something which
we are not certain is wajib or mandub? This is why I object to the tendency of some pious
people to adopt and cling to hard-line opinions, not only in their own personal practice
but also in influencing others to do the same. I also object to the charges levered by
such people against any Muslim 'alim who disagrees with their line of thought and opts for
facilitation in the light of the Qur'an and Sunnah in order to relieve people of distress
and undue restrictions in their religious practice.
The third characteristic of extremism is the out-of-time and out-of-place religious
excessiveness and overburdening of others, i.e., when applying Islamic principles to
people in non-Muslim countries or to people who have only recently converted to Islam, as
well as to newly committed Muslims. With all these, emphasis should not be put on either
minor or controversial issues, but on fundamentals. Endeavors should be made to correct
their concepts and understanding of Islam before anything else. Once the correct beliefs
are firmly established, then one can begin to explain the five pillars of Islam and
gradually to emphasize those aspects which make a Muslim's belief and practice compatible,
and his entire life an embodiment of what is pleasing to Allah (SWT).
This fact was recognized by the Prophet Muhammad (SA'AS) himself when he sent Muadh (RA'A)
to Yemen. He told him: You are going to [meet] people of a [divine] scripture, and when
you reach them call them to witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is
His Messenger. And if they obey you in that, then tell them that Allah has enjoined on
them five salawat to be performed every day and night. And if they obey you in that, then
tell them that Allah has enjoined upon them sadaqah [zakah] to be taken from the rich
amongst them and given to the poor amongst them.
Notice the gradation in the Prophet's advice to Mu'adh
(RA'A). I was shocked and dismayed during a tour of North America to find that devout
young Muslims-who belong to some Muslim groups-have initiated a great controversy because
Muslims sit on chairs during theSaturday and Sunday lectures in mosques instead of sitting
on mats on the ground, and do not face the Ka'bah as Muslims do and also because those who
attend wear shirts and trousers rather than loose outer coverings, and sit at dining
tables to eat rather than on the ground. I was angered by this kind of thinking and
behavior in the heart of North America. I, therefore, addressed these people: It would be
more worthwhile in this materialistic society to make your paramount concern the call to
monotheism and the ibadah of Allah (SWT), to remind people of the hereafter, of the noble
Islamic values, and to warn them of the heinous acts in which the materially-developed
countries have been totally immersed. The norms of behavior and the ameliorations in
religious practice are governed by time as well as place, and should be introduced only
after the most necessary and fundamental tenets have been firmly established.
In another Islamic center, people were creating a considerable fuss over the showing of a
historical or educational film in a mosque, claiming that "mosques have been turned
into movie "heaters," but forgetting that the purpose of the mosque is to serve
the wordly as well as spiritual interest of Muslims. During the time of Prophet Muhammad
(SAAS) the masjid-or the mosque-was the center of dawah and of the state, as well as of
social activities. We are all aware of the Prophet's granting permission to a group of
people from Abyssinia to sport with their spears in the middle of his masjid, and that he
allowed Aishah (RA'A) to watch them.
The fourth characteristic of extremism manifests itself in harshness in the treatment
of people, roughness in the manner of approach, and crudeness in calling people to Islam,
all of which are contrary to the teachings of the Qur'an and Sunnah. Allah (SWT) commands
us to call to Islam and to His teachings with wisdom, not with foolishness, with
amicability, not with harsh words:
Invite [all] to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue with
them in ways that are best and most gracious.
It also describes the Prophet (SA'AS), thus: Now has come unto you a Messenger from among
yourselves. It grieves him that you should perish, ardently anxious is he over you. To the
believers he is kind and merciful.
The Qur'an also addressed the Prophet (SA'AS), defining his relationship with his
It is part of the mercy of Allah that
you [Muhammad] deal justly with them. If you were severe and harsh-hearted they would have
broken away from about you.
Firmness and harsh-heartedness are mentioned only in connection with two issues in the
First, in connection with war, when a successful military strategy necessitates
fortitude and the shelving of leniency until the war comes to an end. "Fight the
unbelievers who gird you about and let them find firmness in you" (9:123).
Second, in connection with the execution of punishment on the guilty in accordance with
Shaniah, there is no room for compassion in applying Allah's injunctions:
The man and woman guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with a hundred
stripes: Let not compassion move you in their case, in a manner prescribed by Allah, if
you believe in Allah and the Last Day. But in the field of dawah, there is no place for
violence and harshness.
This is evidenced in the following ahadith: "Allah loves kindness in all matters and, "Kindness makes things
beautiful, violence makes them defective," as well as in the following wisdom of our
forebears: "Whoever desires to command the common good, let him do it gently."
Violence can do nothing more than distort dawah to the path of Allah (SWT). Dawah seeks to
penetrate the innermost recesses of man to transform him into a godly person in his
conceptions, emotions, and behavior by altering his thoughts, feelings, and will as well
as the whole of his being, thereby shaping him into a different person. It also shakes up
the structure of the society and alters its inherited beliefs, well established
traditions, moral conventions, and prevailing systems.
All this cannot be achieved without wisdom and amicability, and without taking into
consideration human nature-man's obstinancy, resistance to change, and argumentativeness.
These characteristics necessitate the exercise of kindness and gentleness when attempting
to reach man's heart and mind so that his hardness can be softened, his rigidity abated
and his pride checked. This approach was described for us in the Quran as having been
followed by earlier prophets and sincere believers who called people to the ibadah of
Examples can be found in Ibrahim's call to his father and
people, in Shu'aib's call to his people, in Musas call to Pharaoh, in the Believer's call
to Pharaoh's people, in the Believer's call-in Surat Yasin -as well as in the calls of
others who directed people to the truth and righteousness.
Let us listen to and contemplate the spirit in which the Believer-a man who possesses iman
from among Pharaoh's people-addresses Pharaoh and the people expressing his sense of
belonging to them and his concern for their destiny and for the permanence of their
dominion and glory:
O my People! Yours is the dominion this
day: You have the upper hand in the land: but who will help us from the punishment of
Allah should it fall upon us?.
Then he reminds them of earlier nations who refused to listen to the message of Allah
(SWT): O my People! Truly I do fear for you something like the Day [of disaster] of the
Confederates [in sin]-Something like the fate of the people of Nuh, and 'Ad and Thamud,
and those who came after them: but Allah never wishes injustice upon His servants.
Then he describes the disaster which might befall them on the Day of Judgment, a day which
they believe in, one way or another:
And O my People! I fear for you a Day when there will be mutual calling [and wailing], a
Day when you will turn your backs and flee: no defender shall you have from Allah. Any
whom Allah leaves to stray, there is none to guide.
He continues his earnest beseeching in a manner dominated by gentleness and compassion; he
warns, but he also inspires with hope:
O my People! Follow me! I will lead you
to the Right Path. O my People! This life of the present is nothing but [temporary]
convenience. It is the hereafter that is the home that will last... And O my People! How
[strange] it is for me to call you to salvation while you call me to the Fire. You do call
upon me to blaspheme against Allah and to join with Him partners of whom I have no
knowledge, and I call you to the Exalted in Power, Who forgives again and again!.
Then he ends his advice with the following:
Soon will you remember what I say to you [now]. My [own] affair I commit to Allah, for
Allah [ever] watches over His servants.
This is the approach and manner which contemporary Muslim duah should emulate and adopt
with the stubborn, and with people of other religions. This is also embodied in Allah's
advice to His two messengers, Musa ('AS) and his brother Harun ('AS), who were sent to
preach to Pharaoh:
Go, both of you, to Pharaoh, for he has indeed transgressed all bounds. But speak to him
mildly, perchance he may take warning or fear [Allah].
Accordingly. Musa ('AS) addressed Pharaoh very gently: Would you that thou should be
purified [from sin]. And that I guide you to your Lord, so that you should fear Him?.
No wonder then that experienced people in da'wah reject and disapprove of the young
peoples' manner in arguing with those who hold different opinions! Rather than calling
people to the Way of Allah (SWT) with wisdom, they are quite often harsh, rough, and
crude. No distinction is made between the old and the young; no special consideration is
given to those whose age or status deserves special respect, that is, parents, teachers,
the learned, or those who have precedence in da'wah and jihad. Nor do the young people
differentiate between those sectors in the community-such as the laity, the illiterate,
and the misled-who are ceaselessly batto earn a living, and those who actively resist
Islam out of malice or treason, not ignorance.
Such lack of insight is still dominant in Muslim society, despite the fact that the early
scholars of ahadith literature distinguished very clearly between the common innovators
who did not call others to their innovation and those who deliberately publicized and
defended their bidah (condemned innovations). The reports of the former were accepted,
while those of the latter were rejected.
Suspicion and distrust are also manifestations of extremism. An extremist readily accuses
people and quickly passes judgement contrary to the generally accepted norm:
"innocent until proven guilty." He considers a person guilty the moment he
suspects him of something. He jumps to conclusions rather than looking for explanations.
The slightest mistake is blown out of all proportions; a mistake becomes a sin, and a sin
kufr. Such a reaction is a stark violation of the spirit and teachings of Islam which
encourage Muslims to think well of other Muslims, to try to find an excuse for their
misbehavior, and to help them improve their words and deeds.
The religious sincerity and integrity of those who disagree with such an extremist are
always called into question. An extremist would depict people as being guilty of
transgression, innovation, or disrespect for the Prophet's Sunnah even if their views are
solidly based upon authentic Islamic texts.
One could cite many examples: If you argue that carrying a stick or eating while sitting
on the ground has nothing to do with the Sunnah, you would be accused of disrespect for
the Prophet (.SA'AS) himself. Not even learned Muslim scholars and 'ulama' are spared such
accusations If afaqih gives a fatwa which facilitates matters for Muslims, he is
considered lax on religious issues; if a Muslim daiyah tries to cal to Islam in a manner
suitable to the spirit and the taste of the age, h is accused of succumbing to and
patronizing Western civilization.
Moreover, these accusations are not only hurled at the living but also at the dead, who
are unable to defend themselves. No one holding different opinion can escape unjust
indiscriminate accusations, such a being a Freemason, a predeterminist, a Jahmi, or a
rationalist Mu'tazili Even the four great jurists of Islam who established the main
Islamic juristic schools and who have earned the respect of the majority
Muslims throughout the centuries have not escaped the venomous slander of the extremists.
Indeed, the whole history of the Muslim Ummah after the fourth century AH, with its
glorious legacy and unprecedented civilization, has been a target of unjustified
criticism. It is considered by the extremists as being the source of contemporary evils,
the root of our malaise. To some extremists, it was a period of conflict and discord, of
struggle for personal power; for others, a period of ignorance and even kufr.
This destructive tendency is not new. Extremists existed even during the time of the
Prophet (SA'AS). Once, an extremist among the Ansar (the Muslims of Madinah) accused the
Prophet (SA'AS) of favoritism in his divisor and distribution of the spoils of war.
The gravest shortcoming of the contemporary extremists is suspicion Had they understood
and comprehended the Quran and Sunnah, they would have discovered that both seek to foster
in the mind of each and every Muslim the confidence and trust of other fellow Muslims. A
Muslim is not even allowed to publicize the minor mistakes and faults of others or become
blind to their merits; thus some people are interested in criticizing others and in
praising themselves: "Therefore,
justify not yourselves: He knows best who it is that guards against evil".
Indeed, Islam strongly warns against two characteristics: despairing of Allah's mercy and
suspecting fellow human beings. Allah (SWT) says:. O you who believe! Avoid suspicion as much [as possible]: for
suspicion in some cases is a sin .
The Prophet (SA'AS) also says in this respect: "Avoid suspicion, for suspicion is the false element in a talk."
The origins of all this include suspicion as well as arrogance and the despising of other
people. These are the basis of the first act of disobedience-that of Satan; he refused
Allah s command for him to pro strafe himself to Adam, claiming: "I am better than he 1ist".
It is worthwhile to heed the warning embodied in the following hadith: "If you hear a
person saying that people are ruined, he himself will be ruined for being vain and
conceited." And in another narration ".the himself caused their ruin,"
i.e., by his suspicion and snobbery, and by causing them to despair of Allah's mercy.
Vanity is one of the human traits which causes degeneration and which our Muslim scholars
call the "sins of the hearts." The Prophet (SA'AS) warned us against these sins:
"There are three deadly sins-unrestrained avarice. desire, and vanity." A true
Muslim never takes pride in his work or actions, since he is never sure that Allah (SWT)
will accept them.
The Qur'an describes the charitable people: "And those who dispense their charity with their hearts full of fear,
because they will return to their Lord". It is
reported in hadith literature that this Qur'anic verse is about people who do righteous
deeds but fear that Allah (SWT) may not accept them. Ibn Ata said: "Allah may open up
for you the gates of obedience, but He may not open up for you the gates of acceptance. He
may ordain you a state of disobedience which may happen to lead you to the right path. The
disobedience which teaches you humility is better than the piety which vests you with
vanity and arrogance!" . This derives from the following saying by ALI ibn Abu Talib
(RA'A): "A mishap that befalls a person is better in the sight of Allah than a good
action which initiates pride."
Ibn Mas'ud also said: "Ruin is caused by two traits-pride and despair. Happiness
cannot be attained without effort and stuggle. A vain person does not make any effort
because he believes that he is perfect; a despairing person does not make any effort
because he believes it is useless."
Extremism reaches its utmost limit when a single group deprives all people of the right to
safety and protection, and instead sanctions their killing and the confiscation of their
lives and property. This, of course, occurs when an extremist holds all people-except
those in his group-to be kuffar This kind of extremism severs any bond between such a
perscn and the rest of the Ummah. This is the trap into which the Khawarij fell during the
dawn of Islam, although they were known for their strict observance of religious duties
such as salah, siyam, and recitation of the Quran. However their thinking rather than
their conscience was distorted and corrupt. Hence they were so infatuated with their
belief and behavior that they, unintentionally, deviated from the right path.
The Prophet (SA'AS) described the devotion of such people by saying: "One of you would hold insignificant his own
salah compared wit their [the Khawarij] salah, and his qiyam compared with their qiyam,
his recitation [of the Qur'an] compared with their recitation." Nevertheless, he said
of them: "They would recite the Qur'an but it would not go beyond their throat, and
they pass through religion without a mark." This means that they would slip out of
religion as an arrow would slip out of its bow.
The Prophet (SA'AS) also said of them that they regard it as their duty to "destroy adherents of Islam and save the
This is why when a Muslim fell into their hands and was asked about his identity, he
replied that he was a mushrik curious to find out about Allah's message and book. On
hearing this the Khawarij told the man that they would protect him and grant him safe
passage. In support of their decision, they recited the following verse from the Qur'an:
If one amongst the pagans asks you for
asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the Word of Allah; and then escort him to
where he may be secure. That is because they are men without knowledge. The irony is that
if the man had admitted that he was a Muslim twould have killed him.
Unfortunately, some Muslims have not yet learned this lesson. The Jamaat al Takfir wa al
Hijrah group seems to be following in the footsetps of the Khawarij. They readily brand as
kafir anybody who commits a sin and does not immediately repent. More condemned in their
view are the rulers who do not apply Shariah, as well as the people who submit to such
rulers. Still more sinful in their view are the 'ulama' who do not openly condemned both
as kuffar, as well as those who reject the group's beliefs and submit to the laws
elaborated by the four great jurists of Islam on the basis of ijma: qiyas, maslahah
mursalah, or istihsan. Moreover any one who first pledges support for their cause and
joins their group, then decides to leave it-for one reason or another- is considered a
murtadd and must be put to death. Indeed, they hold all the Islamic periods succeeding the
fourth century A.H. as periods of ignorance and kufr, worshipping the idol of tradition
rather than Allah (SWT) , In this way, the group became so excessive in accusing people of
kufr that they spared neither the dead nor the living. The group thus have run into deep
trouble, because accusing a Muslim of kufr is a very serious matter which entails very
serious consequences-his killing and the confiscation of his property become lawful. As a
kafir, he must be separated from his wife and children; there can be no bond between him
and other Muslims; he must be deprived of his inheritance and cannot be inherited from; he
must be denied the Islamic burial and the salah for the dead person; and he must not be
buried in a Muslim graveyard.
The Prophet (SA'AS) said: "When a Muslim calls another Muslim kafir, then surely one
of them is such." This means that unless the accusation is validated and
substantiated, it will fall back on the accuser, who will face great danger in this world
and in the hereafter.
Usamah ibn Zayd said: "If a man says, 'I witness that there is no god but Allah,'he
has embraced Islam, and [consequently] his life and property should be granted safety. If
he said so in fear or to protect himself from the sword, he will account for that before
Allah. We should [judge] the apparent."
The Prophet (SA'AS) rebuked Usaimah when he discovered that the latter had killed a man
who had uttered the shahadah following a battle in which the man's tribe was defeated.
When Usamah argued that he thought-at the time-that the man did so as a shelter and in
fear, the Prophet (SA'AS) said:
"Did you look into his heart after he had confessed that there is no God but
Allah?" Usamah relates: "He [the Prophet went
on repeating this to me till I wished I had not embraced Islam before that day"
Shari'ah teaches that those who embrace Islam with certainty of mind can only be expelled
from its fold by proven and substantiated evidence Even major muharramat such as murder,
fornication, and drinking alcohol do not justify the accusation of kufr, provided that the
person concerned does not show disrespect for, reject, or refuse to recognize the
This is why the Qur'an established brotherly love between the person who commits a
premeditated murder and the next of kin to the murdered as this verse shows:
And for him who is forgiven somewhat by his [injured] brother, prosecution according to
usage and payment unto him in kindness.
The Prophet (SA'AS) also addressed a person who cursed an alcoholic who had already been
punished several times for alcoholism: "Do
not curse him; he loves Allah and His Messenger"
Further, the Shariah has prescribed different punishments for crimes such as murder,
fornication, and drunkeness. Had all of these been k' then they would have been punished
in accordance with the law of riddah. All the obscure and vague evidence on which the
extremists base the accusations are refuted by fundamental and categorical texts in both
Qur'an and Sunnah. This issue was settled by the Ummah centuries agoit is futile to try to
revive and renew it.