Living Islam: Between Indifference and Extremism (Part 2)

The challenge before us is to kick out both laxity and extremism in our midst, and to lead a moderate life obeying Allah in our personal and social lives, serve our communities and society at large, sacrificing both our time and money. If we did this, we will succeed in this life as well as in the Hereafter, writes DR. ZAFRUL ISLAM KHAN. The following is the concluding instalment of the text of a lecture delivered by him at Bangalore in a Qur’an Study Circle meeting on 4th March, 2017. The first part of the same essay was published in the June 2017 edition of Young Muslim Digest.

Examples of Extremism

Here are some examples of extremism prevalent in our societies:

  • Insistence to sit on ground instead of using chairs;
  • Insistence on sitting on ground to eat instead of using tables,
  • Use of hands to eat instead of using spoons and forks;
  • Preference of the long flowing robe (Jilbab) instead of wearing pant and shirt;

Allah has clearly prohibited Ghuluw (excess, immoderation) in matters of religion:

“Commit no excess in your religion, nor say of Allah but the truth.” (Qur’an 4: 171)

The Prophet too warned his Ummah:

“Beware of Ghuluw because people before you perished due to Ghuluw.” [Narrated by Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas (Musnad Ahmad, Sunan al-Nasa’i & Ibn Majah, Mustadrak al-Hakim)]

Islam has rejected Rahbanah (monasticism). It prefers moderation in all religious and worldly matters and enjoins its adherents to work for both this life and the Hereafter:

“Our Lord! Give us good in this world and good in the Hereafter.” (Qur’an 2: 201)

Ghuluw (immoderation) is against human nature. If some prefer it, the majority cannot prefer it for long. Shari’ah is for all, not for a chosen few who can endure hardships. When the Prophet was informed that Mu’adh ibn Jabal, while leading prayers, made them very long, he reprimanded him, saying thrice, “Are you a spreader of Fitnah (trial) O’ Mu’adh?” (Sahih al-Bukhari, narrated by Jabir ibn ‘Abdillah)

Moreover, Ghuluw is short-lived. Persons opting for Ghuluw do not keep it for long and may stop being even moderate in their observance of religion. Also, Ghuluw is at the expense of someone else, like wife and children whose rights, too, are important and should not be overlooked.

Extremists blame others for being lax in Sunnah and Nafl prayers as if these are obligatory. It is enough for an ordinary Muslim to offer his five-times obligatory and Friday prayers, pay Zakat, go for Haj once in a life-time, and fast during Ramadan. Small sins of such persons will be forgiven as Allah has promised,

“If you eschew the most heinous of the things, which you are forbidden to do, We shall remit your evil deeds, and admit you to a Gate of great honour.” (Qur’an 4: 31)


Islam is a moderate and simple faith in all aspects – belief, worship, morals, jurisprudence, behaviour and dealings. This is why Allah described it as al-Sirat al-Mustaqim, i.e., the straight path. It is different from previous revealed faiths and man-made philosophies. Moderation (I’tidal or Wastaiyah) is a major characteristic of Islam. Allah says in the Qur’an:

“Thus have We made you an Ummah justly balanced, that you be witness over the people…” (Qur’an 4: 143)

Moderation includes ‘Adl (justice) in all matters and seeks a middle path in dealing with every issue unless there is a clear injunction or prohibition. Islam warns against extremism (Tatarruf) for which expressions like Ghuluw (excess, immoderation), Tanattu’ (overstringence) and Tashdid (hard-handedness) are used in the Qur’an and Hadith. The idea is found both in verses revealed in Makkah and Madinah, e.g.,

“O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer; and eat and drink, but waste not in excess. For Allah loves not the wasters. Say [O’ Prophet]: ‘Who has forbidden the beautiful (gifts) of Allah which He has produced for his servants)?’” (Qur’an 7: 31-32, Revealed at Makkah)


“O you who believe! Make not unlawful the good things which Allah has made lawful for you, and commit no excess. Verily, Allah loves not those who violate the limits.” (Qur’an 5: 87-88, Revealed at Madinah)

The latter Ayah was revealed after some companions of the Prophet (saws) said to each other that they will live as celibates, castrate themselves and don the clothes of monks. This Ayah was revealed after it was reported to the Prophet that some of his companions were saying, “I will not sleep at night, will not marry women”; some said, “I will not sleep on a mattress…” On hearing this, the Prophet said,

“What has happened to some people who are saying this and this. But I fast and break my fast, I sleep and wake up; I eat meat and marry women. Whoever dislikes my Sunnah (way of life) does not belong to me.” (Sahih al-Bukhari and Muslim, quoted in al-Qaradawi, pp. 28f).

Moderation (Wasatiyah), according to the famous Sudanese Islamic scholar ‘Isam al-Bashir, a major ideologue of this field, advocates all-round goodness, justice and virtue. It seeks to be connected with both its origins and the modern times. While it is steadfast about major and essential parts of Islam, it is flexible about trivial and peripheral issues. It prefers to use all useful old and new ideas and mechanisms in order to strengthen the common human heritage. Al-Bashir says that the bases of Wasatiyah are:

  • Using both revealed and learnt sources of knowledge;
  • Rejection of the Zahiri, e., literalist, approach and concentration on understanding the reasons and the spirit of the texts, unifying both Zahir (outward) and Batin (inward or hidden) meanings of these texts, joining heart with limbs;
  • Islamic heritage should not be elevated to an inviolable status, nor should it be rejected in toto. Wasatiyah deals with the treasures bequeathed to us by our ancestors not by belittling it or by its sanctification. Wasatiyah prefers to use all that is suitable and useful for our times;
  • Wasatiyah believes in diversity and pluralism;
  • It believes in strengthening the basis of joining people together and forging the ethics of difference with others as a means to stop the menace of considering or pronouncing others as Kafir, Fasiq, illiterate, traitor and misguided, etc.
  • Rejection of ‘Asabiyah, blind adherence to old or new ways, or bias in favour of certain Sufis, scholars, sects or Maslaks, etc.
  • To work within the framework of what is possible and achievable as a means to control the enthusiasm and haste of youth;
  • Achievement of harmony in society;
  • Rejection of extremism in adherence to Wasatiyah.
  • Both man and woman are equal as servants of Allah and both complement the human race.
  • Understanding of alternatives;
  • Understating of how to balance between ideas and the way to present them beautifully;
  • Giving everything its due place and correct importance in the light of Shari’ah.

[Abd al-Rahim Balshaqar, ‘Isam al-Bashir: Hadhihi Murtakazat Manhaj al-Wasatiya,’ Al-Islah magazine, 7 August, 2014; Shaikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, in his book Kalimat fi’l-Wasatiya al-Islamiya wa Ma’alimiha, al-Markaz al-‘Alami li’l-wasatiyah, (Kuwait, 2007) mentions 30 characteristics of Wasatiyah].

Moderation means to carry out to the best of one’s ability what Allah has enjoined and to avoid what He has forbidden, to understand the wisdom of Allah’s laws and moral guidance and to grasp and apply the basic Islamic principles to every new situation as it arises. Having complied with the obligatory aspects of worship and moral discipline, a moderate person may attempt to purify himself and come closer to Allah by supererogatory acts of worship in the form of voluntary prayers, fasting, charity, Hajj, Umrah, DhikrAllah and good conduct towards others. [Baba Ali Mustapha, Laxity, Moderation and Extremism in Islam:].

The word “moderate” is sometime taken to mean “half-committed,” which is a mistake. A moderate may be just as deeply committed as an extremist, but he fulfils his commitment in a different way.

Moderation is not a matter of commitment to Islam, or lack of it, but of how to practice Islam in real life; how to interpret and apply its teachings, how to relate to other people and how to go about calling others to the truth. [Baba Ali Mustapha, Laxity, Moderation and Extremism in Islam:]

Until the 1970s, there was a high level of tolerance on the part of Muslims. Student in schools were still generally being taught their religion by traditional teachers. Islam meant how to perform prayers, the rule of fasting, memorization of the Qur’an and so on. [Baba Ali Mustapha, Laxity, Moderation and Extremism in Islam:].

Within a decade this situation began to change. Students now began to get their knowledge of Islam from a variety of sources and books, magazines and newspapers. They also began to follow Islamic programmes on the radio and television, some of them well-informed, some not. This is the common pattern of learning until today. It is the age of the amateur in Islamic studies and anyone can stand up and have a go, even those with very limited knowledge. [Baba Ali Mustapha, Laxity, Moderation and Extremism in Islam:]

The outcome was both good and bad. On the good side, young Muslims came to realise that Islam is not just prayers, fasting and memorization of the Qur’an. Now they had a much broader idea of Islam as a way of life, together with its social, economic and political teachings. The interest generated by these discoveries brought about a reawakening among Muslim youth everywhere. Many of them, with the enthusiasm and the dedication of youth, identified themselves with the Islamic cause and tried to conduct their lives on Islamic principles. [Baba Ali Mustapha, Laxity, Moderation and Extremism in Islam:]

This awakening also had its dangerous sides. Students became confused and often divided through being exposed to a variety of information and views from so many different sources. Young Muslims with poor standards of general education and no firm grounding in Islam were hardly expected to possess a clear judgement with which to assess what they read or were told about Islam. Consequently, they were easily misled by those who claimed to have knowledge, to take up positions of extremism and intolerance, not only towards non-Muslims but also towards fellow Muslims who might not conform to their newly acquired concept of Islam. Those who do not hold the same idea or possess the same fervor were regarded as hypocrites or even unbelievers, instead of brothers and sisters sharing the same faith. [Baba Ali Mustapha, Laxity, Moderation and Extremism in Islam:].


The Muslim youth today are ready to spend their money or offer their lives for an Islamic cause but they do not spare time to deeply study and understand issues. This is the situation of the Muslim society everywhere. We do not have serious institutes and think tanks to deeply and carefully study issues pertaining to Islam, contemporary world and Muslim society. Some youth have to dedicate their lives for serious scholarship and research. Peripheral and shallow knowledge will lead us nowhere. We cannot change ourselves, our societies and the world without deep scholarship. With deep knowledge, we will discover that we alone are responsible for all our problems. Unless we change, the world around us will not change. This is Allah’s law:

“Verily, never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Qur’an 13: 11)

We have to learn Sabr (patience and perseverance) without which no fruit, achievement or victory is possible. We are required to do our duty and leave the result to Allah. He will not ask us why we did not succeed; He will ask us why we did not do our duty:

“And say: “Work (righteousness): soon will Allah observe your work and His Messenger, and the believers.” (Qur’an 9: 105)

A majority of Muslims are confused about their Islamic duties and obligations. All duties are not of the same degree and importance. Some are Mustahabb (desirable). Some are Sunnah Muwakkadah (things which the Prophet emphasised and mostly did himself), while some are Sunnah Ghair-Muwakkadah (things which the Prophet did only sometimes). Some duties are Fard (obligatory). There is Thawab (recompense) if you observe Fard obligations and punishment if you do not.

Even Fard is of two kinds: Fard Kifayah (collective duty of the Muslim community), which if observed by some, will be enough for the whole community, and Fard ‘Ain (individual duty of every Muslim) which has to be observed by everyone. Fard Kifayah, like burial of a dead Muslim or Jihad against foreign invasion, is enough for all if some did it. Fard ‘Ain duties are the five basic pillars of Islam which every Muslim has to observe, viz., pronouncement of Shahadah that Allah is One and Muhammad is His Messenger, offering five-time daily prayers, paying Zakat, fasting during Ramadan and performing Haj if one is financially and physically able to do it. Fard ‘Ain obligations have precedence over Fard Kifayah.

Likewise, prohibited things (Manhiyyat), too, have degrees. Some are Makruh Tanzihi (undesirable by way of precaution), an undesirable act which should preferably be avoided. It is closer to Halaal (permissible acts). Therefore, Makruh Tanzihi is not Haraam, e.g., Muslims are enjoined not to give or take something using their left hands. You are rewarded if you follow this injunction, but will not be punished if you don’t.

Some are Makruh Tahrimi (prohibited undesirable acts) which are closer to Haraam (unlawful acts). To be sure, Makruh Tahrimi is an act which has been forbidden but there is no clear mention of the same in the Qur’an or Hadith, e.g., Muslims are forbidden to outbid a sale concluded by a Muslim or to seek marriage with a woman who has already been approached for the same by another Muslim.

Then there are Mushtabahat (doubtful things or acts about which there is no clear instruction), which some people do though such things are better avoided, for e.g., smoking cigarettes, or eating food offered in non-Muslim eateries or societies where one is not sure if the meat is halaal or if some prohibited ingredients like liquor have been added to the food. Such doubtful things are better avoided.

Haraam, too, is of two degrees, Sagha’ir (small sins) which are erased by one’s prayers, Sawm and Sadaqah. These are minor sins about which Allah said,

“Verily, good deeds remove the evil deeds.” (Qur’an 11: 114)

But the Kaba’ir (major sins) are washed away only by sincere repentance. Kaba’ir, too, have two degrees: major sins like Shirk (association of someone with Allah). Major sins are forgiven by Allah only after a sincere Tawbah (repentance)

“Allah forgives not that partners be made with Him; but He forgives anything else to whom He pleases. Whosoever associates partners with Allah commits a sin most heinous indeed.” (Qur’an 4: 48)

Then there are lesser sins like forsaking and abandoning parents (‘Uquq), giving false testimony, practicing or using magic, murder, consuming or dealing in Riba (usury), eating away the wealth of orphans and defamation of chaste-believing women. A sinner committing these minor sins cannot be called a Kafir.

The problem with most contemporary practitioners of Islamic reform is their indulgence in fighting Makruh and Shub-hat (doubtful matters), instead of fighting against clear sins prevailing in Muslim societies. Thus, they ignore sins like sorcery and magic, foretelling or soothsaying (Kahanah), worship of graves, offering for other than Allah, seeking intercession of the dead etc., while they wage a relentless war on trivial issues like wearing long clothes, saying Amin after reciting Surah al-Fatihah loudly or quietly, or raising hands in Salah (Rafa’ yadain)…

What Should be Done?

In order to lead a moderate and fruitful life, contemporary Muslims, especially youth, have to correct their idea of Islam so that we may move from the present irrational states of laxity and extremism to the state of moderation required by Islam in all conditions and at all times. It is clear that not every Muslim can become a scholar but some in every Muslim community must try to acquire deep Islamic knowledge directly from earliest sources, especially the Qur’an and Sunnah. Leaning of Arabic for this purpose is essential in order to be able to directly read, understand and learn what real Islam requires us to do. Reading of a few general books or attending some lectures is not enough at all to understand the essence and spirit of Islam. Disjointed and shallow knowledge leads to the imbalance we suffer from today.

Cohesive Society

Building of a cohesive and cooperative Muslim society, wherever we live, is a basic requirement of Islam. Islam encourages a communal life (living as a cohesive community). The Qur’an says:

“The believers, men and women, are protectors one of another. They enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil. They observe regular prayers, pay Zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise.” (Qur’an 9: 71)

A Muslim must never help a non-Muslim against his Muslim brother and sister. At the same time, Islam supports and encourages good relations and friendship with non-Muslims who do not persecute and attack Muslims or expel them from their homes:

“Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loves those who are just. Allah only forbids you with regard to those who fight you for (your) faith, and drive you out of your homes and support (others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). Those who turn to them for friendship (in these circumstances) are the transgressors.” (Qur’an 60: 8-9)

Muslims should live as a cohesive community supporting and taking care of each other. Early Muslims in Makkah, Abyssinia and Madinah, had chosen one of them as their Amir (chief or head). We are ordered to choose one of us as Amir even if we are only two out travelling. This communal life is absent today almost totally.

In India, we find that localities and villages in Kerala and Tamil Nadu only have Jama’ats which help and guide local Muslims. Such Jama’ats should be formed in all our villages and localities where Muslims live. Every Muslim should be a living example of Islamic morals.

If we really offer a true example of Islam in our daily lives and dealings, we will need no books to distribute among non-Muslims about Islam. Our actions will speak louder than our words and books.

Simple Test to Know if you are a Muslim or a Munafiq

How do we know if we are Muslims or not? Here is a very simple test taught to us by the Prophet himself:

“A Munafiq (hypocrite) has three signs: he lies when he speaks, he reneges when he makes a promise and he betrays when he is vested with a trust.” [Narrated by Abu Hurairah; Muttafaq ‘alaikh Hadith: Sahih al-Bukhari, Bab ‘Alamat al-Munafiq]

In another Hadith, the Prophet (saws) is reported to have said:

“One is a pure Munafiq if he has four traits, but one has a trait of Nifaq (hypocrisy) if he has even one of these traits unless he shuns it: he lies when he speaks, he betrays when he is vested with a trust, he deceives when he makes an agreement, and he abuses when he argues.” [Narrated by Abdullah ibn ‘Amr: Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim]

Some people these days are befooled by beautiful slogans like establishing Khilafat and Islamic State. A Khilafat or Islamic State on the earliest models (Omayad, Abbasid, Fatimid and Ottoman) is not feasible today and will not be acceptable to the world. We have seen this in the shape of the State of Taliban and now in the shape of ISIS. Any internationally acceptable political change today should come out of the ballot box. Some Islamic movements, like Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Tunisia’s Al-Nahdah Party, have understood this spirit and consensus of the modern age and are trying to bring an Islamic order through this route.

It may take some time for the world to fully accept such a state but there is no shortcut. Waging irrational wars and resorting to terrorism are simply doomed and will never lead to an acceptable political system in the contemporary world. Muslims are required to follow and implement Islam in their own lives. Political power, as in the past, will be a gift from Allah when we make the right efforts and sacrifices and the society is ready to accept such a change.

Coming back to India, where we live as a minority, we have to be loyal to the constitutional system which accords us same rights as it gives to others. We must be loyal to our country and should never play in the hands of a foreign power or take up arms. We may differ with this or that political party or organisation or even the State but we must sort out our internal problems peacefully using the available avenues like political and democratic struggle and judiciary.

Trial in this life is a Sunnat of Allah and we, as Muslims, must never lose faith or patience if we face trials in our lives. Allah says:

“Or do you think that you shall enter the Garden (of Eternal Bliss) without such (trials) as came to those who passed away before you? They encountered suffering and adversity, and were so shaken in spirit that even the Messenger and those of faith who were with him cried: “When (will come) the help of Allah?” Verily, the help of Allah is (always) near.” (Qur’an 2: 214)

To sum it up, the challenge before us is to kick out both laxity and extremism in our midst, and to lead a moderate life obeying Allah in our personal and social lives, serve our communities and society at large, sacrificing both our time and money. If we did this, we will succeed in this life as well as in the Hereafter.