We find in Allah’s book at the beginning of ayat 43 of Surat al-Baqara a phrase which means: “In this way we have made you a middlemost community…” an “ummatan wasata”. The great commentator of the Qur’an, al-Qurtubi, along with many others, says that the word wasata, “middlemost”, means just and balanced, taking the middle way between two extremes, neither falling short nor going to excess. And in Sahih Bukhari we find the hadith in which the Prophet @ said words which mean: “…always adopt a middle, moderate, regular path whereby you will reach your goal.” And he @ emphasised this in the well-known incident when he addressed three Companions, one of whom spent the whole night in prayer, another who fasted all the time and one who insisted on being celibate. He told them, “Look at me. I have more fear and taqwa of Allah than any of you but I fast and break my fast, I pray and take my rest and I marry women. Anyone who dislikes my sunna is not with me.” It is absolutely clear that in everything he did @ he was the most balanced and moderate of men and in virtually every situation would himself take the middle way and encourage all those with him to do the same. I have started by going right back to the root sources of Islam concerning this matter – the Book and
This has demonstrably been the case throughout Islamic history and it has been so often borne out by the harmonious juxtaposition, under Islamic governance, of so many belief systems and cultural forms in so many different parts of the world for so many centuries as to show beyond doubt that it is the normal state of affairs wherever and whenever Islam is properly and comprehensively implemented. This is in stark contrast to what has happened in many of these places once Islamic governance was replaced by other political systems. It was very well expressed by one of the great ulama of Islam – ironically one who has been adopted as an authority by people who truly can be called extremist – the prominent student of Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn al-Qayyim, who said, “There is nothing that Allah has commanded us to do except that Shaytan comes to us in one of two ways – either by encouraging us to fall short and abandon it, or encouraging us to go to excess in it. The deen of Allah lies in the middle between those who abandon action and those who are extreme and excessive. It is like a valley between two mountains, guidance between two sources of misguidance, a praiseworthy way between two ways that are
I am labouring this point at the beginning of
this talk for two reasons. Firstly to disassociate Islam from any behaviour that truly is extremist in nature – and I will address this directly later on – and secondly, equally importantly, to state unequivocally that any behaviour that genuinely falls within the parameters of authentic Islamic practice definitely cannot be called extremist. It is necessary to say this is because the word “extremism” is being bandied about everywhere at the present time in connection with Islam, in such a way that the normal, orthodox behaviour of ordinary Muslims is now frequently being considered extremist by many non-muslims. In one recent case in Britain, for instance, a young Muslim nurse who had not previously worn a headscarf but then started to do so was reported because of that for displaying extremist tendencies and subjected to intensive interrogation by the intelligence services. Another example was in an English school where 90% of the pupils are Muslim. Posters with Arabic calligraphy on them were put up on some walls and that was considered by government inspectors to be a sign of extremism.
The truth is that there is a lamentable ignorance on the part of most non-muslims about what ordinary Muslims actually do and believe, even on the part of people, who have every reason
This would not really matter if it were not for the fact that our governments talk about the “threat of extremism” and declare their determination to “defeat extremism at all costs”. However, because extremism is never clearly defined, it is, as we have seen, all too easy to apply the label of extremist to ordinary Muslims who are doing no more than simply going about their daily lives. How are non- muslims supposed to know what is extremist and
The point I am getting at by all of this is that by turning a totally undefined extremism, directly tied to Islam, into the public enemy number one of this time, there is a very real danger of all Muslims being labeled extremists. This is something that affects both Muslims and non-Muslims. When a Birmingham Muslim mother of three was asked about a speech the British Prime Minister gave about extremism last year she said, “I have a question for David Cameron: does he think it’s OK
So why, when Islam is by definition non- extremist and categorically a balanced middle way, is it so now so easy to accuse ordinary Muslims of being extremist. What has happened is that in the last fifty years or so the fulcrum of what is balanced human behaviour has shifted dramatically. Up until beyond half way through the last century the moral landscape of the vast majority of the human race was, as it had been for centuries, firmly based on attitudes largely derived from Divinely revealed texts. My grandparents, for instance, who were by no means prudish or moralistic or religious, would have been far more at home in the moral world inhabited by the vast majority of Muslims than that advocated by the liberal orthodoxy of 2016. In fact
No, balance and moderation in human behaviour lie in holding to the Sunna of the Prophet @ not in adopting what is now being sold to us by politicians and the media as moderation. We must ignore their definitions and forget trying to please them. They will never be pleased with us until we have completely abandoned our deen. And we must instead focus on pleasing our Lord and living within His parameters, clearly laid out for us in the example of the first community. That is our middle way; that is the middle way. And the way of the Prophet @ and his Companions (r), is a broad highway, allowing great diversity and difference of opinion, from the strict adherence to the letter of the law of Ibn Umar, to the ijtihad and broad interpretation of Ibn Abbas, from the rigour of Umar ibn al-Khattab to the gentleness of Abu Bakr. All of them fell within the balanced middle way that is Islam. And this brings us to what was said by Ibn al-Qayyim that I quoted earlier: that the true extremists are those Shaytan misguides into abandoning the deen or going to excess in it.
The other extreme, however – those who go to violent excess in the name of Islam – are seen as extremists by both Muslims and non-muslims alike. And to look at these deviant people, I would like to borrow freely from a khutba my son Shaykh Habib delivered on the subject. I feel justified in doing this because of an exchange I had with our beloved shaykh when I saw him in Cape Town in April. Shaykh Habib had come up in the conversation and I said to Shaykh Abdalqadir that he says what I would like to say but says it better. Like a flash came the shaykh’s verbal riposte: “No, he says what
Shaykh Habib said that the extremists such as al-Qa’ida, ISIS and those influenced by them, limit the scope of the deen and place it inside the narrowest of parameters. They turn the deen from something organic and alive and make it into something black and white, something not found in real life but just in the pages of their books and the rigid contours of their inflexible minds. Everything and anything they learn of the deen is divorced from circumstance and removed from its historical context and the global and social realities of our time. Their literalist interpretations, lacking both knowledge and wisdom, are simply transplanted into their own lives and environments. They are like an untrained heart surgeon who cuts the heart from one body, but has no concept of how to keep it alive and insert it and attach it to the body of the person who needs it. So all he ends up doing is killing them completely.
And that is what we see with ISIS and their ilk. The true implementation of the Qur’anic ayats they wrongly use to justify their appalling crimes is to be found in the actions of the Prophet @ not in the rigid confines of their own minds. What did the Prophet @ do when he entered Makka? Did he kill all those idolaters who had fought against him and
These extremists have taken certain ayats out of context and have insisted upon their literalist unrestricted interpretation of them, a mindset not uncommon in this age of excessive information and insufficient knowledge. There are a whole host of internet alims whose studies of the deen are limited to an unguided, uncontextualised reading of texts and treatises. They are aided and abetted in their task of perverting Islam by the liberal and neo- conservative media in which the values and truths of the deen are continually being attacked and criticised. Because of this many psychologically vulnerable young Muslims are seduced by an extremist ideology that in reality owes virtually nothing to authentic Islamic knowledge, certainly not to that balanced, middle way, which has always been the true path of Islam. The extremists leave the true deen and create a new deen with new
Although the extremists at both end of the spectrum always come up with specious fiqhi justifications for the positions they take, the root cause of what they do in every case is in reality to be found in psychological imbalance not religious doctrine. Many who abandon the deen by compromising to an unacceptable extent with kufr do so out of a desire to give unchecked free rein to their physical appetites. Others do so out of an overwhelming wish to conform to dominant social norms; in other words it is concern for what other people think of them rather than what is pleasing to Allah and his Messenger that dominates their beings. Those who go to the other extreme and adopt the path of violence are very often people with a frail sense of their own identity and act as they do out of the need for self-aggrandisement. Others take that path in order to indulge deep- seated impulses of aggression and cruelty.
The only cure for these serious imbalances lies in people integrating the whole deen into their lives, more specifically in consciously including the element of ihsan into their implementation of it. It is
This is not the time or place to talk at length about tasawwuf. In fact it always seems ironic to me that so much has been said and written about a matter whose reality can no more be described in words than, say, the taste of honey. You can be as eloquent as you like about it but in the end only the actual experience of tasting it will let you know what it really is. One thing, however, as Shaykh Abdalqadir has made clear to us again and again in recent times, is that the reality of tasawwuf always appears outwardly in the form of elevated
It refines the character of its companions and by it those who lack resolve are guided to resolve. Someone whose hand did not know how to give becomes magnanimous,
and someone unforgiving becomes forbearing when enraged.
Explaining this verse Shaykh Ibn ‘Ajiba said: Evil character is replaced by good character and laziness is replaced with energy and vigour. Avarice and miserliness are replaced by generosity and open-handedness. Anger, rancour, rashness, and violence are transformed into forbearance, sound heartedness, tranquillity, deliberateness and gravity. Fear, anxiety and dismay are changed into courage, certainty and independence from everything but Allah. Doubt and confusion are transformed into certainty and calm. Excessive management and choice are changed to contentment, submission and serenity under the blows of fate. Pride and love of elevation, rank and leadership are replaced by humility, peace of mind, love of obscurity. Love of this world, greed and improbity are replaced by
In other words all those dangerous defects of the nafs that find their disastrously negative expression in extremism are transformed by tasawwuf into at worst harmless foibles and at best actively positive characteristics. The thing is that these qualities of character engendered by the practice of tasawwuf, by the active implementation of all three elements that make up the deen of Allah, are in no way abstract. They have an immediate and dynamic effect in and on the lives of all who embody them and come into contact with them. Imam Sulami listed just some of the ways this happens:
They are easy-going with their companions.
This is the true picture of Islam in action and it is a million miles away from the crazed atrocities perpetrated in the name of Islam by the extremists of ISIS and al-Qa’ida and their criminal followers. It is by the extent to which we embody these qualities, or our failure to do so, that our implementation of Allah’s deen must be measured. We are brought back time and time again to the hadith of the Prophet: “I was only sent to perfect noble qualities of character.” Of course it goes without saying that we must live within the broad legal parameters mapped out for us so clearly in the Book and
They keep their word and protect what is entrusted to their safekeeping.
Allah tells us in Surat ar-Rahman:
He erected heaven and established the balance
so do not transgress the balance. 55:7-8
The balance has been transgressed. The world we live in is in a state of dangerous imbalance. States of natural balance have been disastrously overstepped in every sphere of human activity and behaviour. The only possibility of restoring balance lies, as Muslims, in our hands.
Allah bears witness that there is no god but Him
as do the angels, and the people of knowledge, upholding the just balance.
There is no god but Him,
the Almighty, the All-wise
The deen in the sight of Allah is Islam. 3:18-1