Role and Relevance of Moderation in Islam

The great eighteenth century reviver or Mujaddid of Islam, Shah Wali Allah Dehlavi (1703-1762CE), has made on a variety of religious edicts, most of which concern acts of worship, that he has censured acts of excessiveness, by terming them as Ta’amuq; and stating that the wise Sharīʿah takes care to prevent the entry of excessiveness into such acts, writes N M KHAILD.


In his book, ‘Holding Fast to the Qur’an and Sunnah,’ the term Imam Bukhari has used to describe lack of moderation (Ta’amuq) in the chapter titled, Baab ma Yakrah min Ta’amuqwa Tanaza’ is al-Ulu’ (or ‘exceeding the proper bounds’), which shows that the term Ta’amuq is used in the sense of al-Ulu,’ and in using it thus, Imam Bukhari is our exemplar.

In a particular hadith, the word tanta’ appears which connotes the same meaning as al-Ulu.’ It is related from Abdullah bin Masoud that the Prophet (saws) said: ‘Halqa al-Muntat’iun,’ which means that those who are immoderate in religion are destroyed. And he repeated this three times.” [Sahih Muslim, Kitab al Ilm, Vol.4, P. 2055]

In this context, the thing that stands out prominently is what Shah Wali Allah mentions in the chapter on Moderation in Deeds and Action, the following:

“The major maqasid that have been kept in view while legislating rules of the Shar’iah are that the door of extremism and immoderation in the religion is closed, so that people do not adhere strongly to the non-essentials so that after them comes a people who consider adhering to it as mandatory and sent from above, and then they will be followed by another group who will start to believe what was conjectured as fact and feel at ease with it; through such means the religion will become distorted.”

This has been succinctly expressed in the Quran in this verse, “…and monasticism, which they innovated; We did not prescribe it for them…”(57:27)

It was for these reasons that the Prophet (saws) exhorted the entire Ummah to adopt moderation and temperance in practicing the religion; and that people do not transgress the limits to such an extent that it leads to weariness and suspicion in the religion and causes the neglect of the Irtifaqat (supports of civilization). These meanings and concepts were alluded to by the Prophet explicitly or implicitly. [Ibid, Vol. 2, pp 668-669]

Shah Wali Allah in the Chapter, ‘Fortifying the Religion against Distortion,’ [Chapter 71, English translation,p.346] writes:

“One of the reasons for distortion is excessiveness or immoderation. Its reality is that a person from the Ummah hears a directive from the Law-Giver to do something or to abstain from something and he comprehends the directive appropriate to the level of his intellect, and then he extrapolates the command on to certain debatable matters based on some similarities with the first directive.

“And when such a matter becomes doubtful due to the contradiction with the earlier command, then he chooses to adopt the ruling which is based on an extreme interpretation and considers it binding (Wajib) on him; furthermore, he takes every act of the Holy Prophet (saws) to be a part of worship (Ibadaat) and considers it mandatory to be acted upon; whereas the fact is that the Prophet did certain actions based on the existing customs (Urf); but, this notwithstanding, he reckons that these actions of the Prophet also qualify to be those from which permissions and prohibitions can be deduced. Consequently, he begins to announce openly that Allah (swt) has commanded this and prohibited that; as in the instance where the Lawgiver mandated fasting (Saum), so that the Nafs (self) can be reined in (brought in control)…

“Another reason that leads to distortion in the religion is involvement in acts of worship which are strenuous and which the Sharīʿah did not mandate, like fasting continuously, constant night vigils, abandoning worldly affairs, refraining from marriage, and acting upon the Sunnan and ‘Adab (non-essential etiquette) like the Faraid and Wajib (compulsory). A hadith reports that the Prophet (saws) forbade Abdullah bin Umar and Usman bin Maz’oun from excessively strenuous acts of worship.

“Therefore, the Prophet said, ‘…and whoever makes the religion a rigour, it will overpower him.’ If such a person, who opts for immoderation in religion, were to be appointed teacher or ruler, people will begin to believe that this, too, is a decree of the Sharīʿah and is approved by it. Similar was the disease that had permeated the Jews and the Christians.”[Hujjatullah al Baligha, Vol. 1, pp 377-378]

The following hadith of the Prophet (saws) serves to discourage excess in religion:

“What is wrong with people who restrain themselves from doing something which I do? By Allah, I know Allah (swt) better than they do and I fear Him more than they do!” [Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 4, hadith 1829. See Hujjathullah al-Baligha, Vol. 1, P. 520]

In certain sections of his book, Izalatul Khafa’an Khilafatul Khulafa, Shah WaliAllah has explicated on the methodology of moderation and temperance. In discussing the qualities needed to guide and lead the Ummah, he writes:

“Those deeds and traits that are related to guidance of the Ummah cannot emanate from the ruler (Khalifa) of the time with full proficiency, unless the ruler is cognizant of fair procedures and the straight path. This notion has been revealed in the following verse of the Qur’an:‘… this (faith) being the nature designed by Allah on which He has created mankind.’ (30:30)

“Here, too, as in the previous point, is a subtle notion which is that moderation is required in deeds too. Hence there is a need for compromise between the animalistic and the angelic forces which are to be found in all humans. Neither should the angelic be considered futile nor can complete distance be adopted from the animalistic. This is that just balance that was adhered to by all the Prophets.” [Izalatul Khafa’an Khilafatul Khulafa , Vol.2, p. 380]

The practical examples that Shah Wali Allah mentioned in ‘Hujjatullah Al-Baligha’ to explain this general objective include acts of worship which find mention in the discussions concerning the rules of fasting. One of the important purposes enumerated in the Chapter on Fasting is to close the door by means of which excessiveness (Ulu’) enters, and to reject things that have been innovated by those who prefer excessiveness (Ulu’).

Since this act of worship (Ibadah) was common and widely accepted among the Jews, Christians and the Arabs; and, knowing that the real purpose of fasting was to bring the Nafs in control, these people took to extreme measures and introduced conditions which they believed will help control the Nafs more effectively, which only resulted in misrepresentations in the religion. The extreme measures involved increase in quantity or in quality.

At times, the quantity was increased. In this regard, the Prophet said:

“Do not observe Saum (fasting) for a day or two days preceding Ramadan. However, if a person is in the habit of observing Saum on a particular day (which may fall on these dates), he may fast on that day.”[Sahih al Bukhari, Vol. 4, p. 128 and Sahih Muslim, Vol.2, p. 762, No. 1082]

Similarly, the Prophet forbade the keeping of fast on the day of Eid al-Fitr or on the Day of Doubt, since there is no gap between this day and Ramadhan, and if the people who incline to exaggeration in religion were to consider this as a Sunnah, then the people after them and those after these will also consider it a Sunnah, and this will lead to distortion in religion.

Inclining to exaggeration or excess in religion is doing something on a day when that thing was discouraged to be done by way of caution. And that is the day of doubt.[The Day of Doubt is that day on which due to weather conditions the moon cannot be sighted and people are in doubt if the crescent has been sighted or not].

“And as for prevention of excess in quality, an example is the prohibition of continuous fasting and the encouragement to partake of the Suhoor, and the delaying of it, and the encouragement to hurry in breaking the fast on its time. Committing an excess in any of the above and taking recourse to unwanted rigour, constitute immoderation and intemperance, all of which have their origin in the times of Jahiliyya.” [Hujjatullah al-Baligha, Vol.2, pp, 751-753]

On the same pattern, the people of Jahiliyya considered doing trade during Hajj as abominable, since they believed that involving in commercial activities during the days of Hajj will cause dilution in sincerity. In response to this the Quran revealed, “There is no sin on you that you seek the grace of your Lord (by trading).”[2:198]

In like manner, these people (of Jahiliyya) would embark on the Hajj without any provisions for the journey considering it a noble thing; and they would say that we are reliant on Allah (swt) for our means, but they would become a burden on others. Thus, Allah (swt) revealed the verse, “Take provisions along, for the merit of (having) provision is to abstain (from begging), [the best of provisions is right conduct].”[2:197]

Belonging to the same category (genre) are the comments that Shah Wali Allah makes concerning the hadith in which the Prophet said, “None of you should observe fast on Friday except that he should observe fast either one day before it or one day after it.” [Sahih al Bukhari, Vol. 4, p. 232, and Sahih Muslim, Vol.2, p. 801]

He writes, “Inherent in this command are two secrets: one is to block the means that lead to excessiveness and intemperance. Given the fact that the Lawgiver has mentioned many virtues of Friday and recommended specific acts of worship on this day, there existed the possibility that the ‘extremists’ would make fasting as one of the virtuous acts to be observed on a Friday. And the second of the two is to communicate the meaning of a day of joy and festivity.”[ibid, Vol.2, p.757]

And another illustration of the same genre is his explanation of the words of the Prophet (saws), “The days of Tashriq (the three days following ‘Idul Ad-ha, i.e. 11th, 12th and 13th of Dhul Hijjah) are days of eating, drinking and remembering (dhikr) of Allah (swt).”

About this Shah Wali Allah remarks,

“In my opinion this command is the realization of the meaning of Eid, and is meant to rein in their dry asceticism (represented in their animal sacrifice done without zest) and excesses in religion.”[Ibid, Vol. 2, p. 758]

In the chapter titled, ‘The Secrets of the Ruling (Hukm) and the Reasons for Legislation (‘illa),’ he says,

“…people becoming hair-splitters concerning the permissible interpretations, and ultimately their sound taste, which was found among the pure Arabs, has become spoiled.” [Hermansan, K. Marcia, ‘The Conclusive Argument from God,’ International Research Institute, Islamabad, 2003, Vol.1, p. 279]

It becomes clearly evident from this that exaggeration (Ulu’) is against the spirit of concessions allowed in Islam. Commenting on the following statement of the Prophet: “Pure soil is ablution for Muslims even if there is no water for ten years,”[Abu Dawood, Vol.1, pp.206-207, and Tirmidhi, Vol. 1, pp.387-388] Shah Wali Allah says,

“The purpose for this injunction is also to prevent exaggeration, since people inclined to exaggeration exceed the limits even in matters for which concessions are allowed by the Sharīʿah.”[Hujjatullah al-Baligah, Vol. 1, p. 561]

Further, commenting on the following statement of the Prophet, “When the Iqamah are pronounced, do not come to it running, you should walk calmly with tranquility to join the congregation,” [Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol.2, p. 390 and Muslim, Vol.1, pp. 320-321]he writes:

“According to me, even in this command, the intent is to eliminate Ulu’ in devotional practices.”[Hujjatullah al-Baligha, Vol. 1, 598]

It is clear from the comments that Shah Wali Allah has made on a variety of religious edicts, most of which concern acts of worship, that he has censured acts of excessiveness, by terming them as Taummuq; and stating that the wise Sharīʿah takes care to prevent the entry of excessiveness into such acts.

He has demonstrated in his book, ‘Izalatul Al-Khafa,’ that people’s consideration of a Mustahab (desirable) deed as mandatory and necessary will lead to problems in the future; since people will begin considering it as a Sunnah, that is, a mandatory law, which leads to distortion of the true Sharīʿah. [Izalatul Khifa, Vol.2. p. 379]

At this stage, I want to point out that hair-splitting in secondary matters is a kind of knowledge in which there is no benefit to a person, rather it is merely an intellectual indulgence; such deliberation will be considered an extravagant act in regard to knowledge and action.

In this regard, the Shah Sahib has written at one point in his book ‘Izalat Al-Khafa,’

“Just as moderation is required in action, moderation and balance are considered very important in knowledge, too. Sometimes, hair-splitting loquacity lowers the significance of knowledge of the Millat of the Prophet.”[Ibid, Vol. 2, p. 379]

In summary, committing excess in accumulating knowledge is similar to excess in practice, both of these are called Al-Ulu’ and Tanta’ (excessiveness).

Thus, in both – deeds and knowledge – the real standard is moderation.



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