Quarterly: Issue No 46
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EXTREMISM – A VICE
Bigotry and intolerance are amongst the first traits of extremism and these traits 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 main purposes of Shari’ah, 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 choose to follow what appears to him most correct. We should 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 should emphatically condemn his attitude if he claims that he alone is right and everybody else is wrong, and subsequently accusing those who have different opinions as people of ignorance and self-interest; and accusing those with a slightly different behaviour of disobedience and ‘fisq’ as if he is an infallible prophet and his words are divinely revealed. This attitude contradicts the consensus of the Ummah that whatever a person says can be totally or partly accepted or rejected; except, of course, the authentic proven ahaadith of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam).
By the way, we are not talking of those who openly deny the plain (muhkamaat) verses of the Noble Qur’an and the authentic Ahaadith. Such people are out of the pale of Islam as they don’t even believe in the fundamentals.
Strangely, though some of our modernists take liberty in exercising ijtihaad in the most complicated matters and critical issues of our Deen and pass notional and whimsical judgments; yet they would deprive the contemporary expert 'ulama' - singly or collectively - of the right to exercise ijtihaad 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 predecessors Sahabas & Fuqaha, or subsequently arrived at by contemporary ‘ulama’. This indifference is due to their presumption to be on an equal footing with Caliph Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, Ali, and Ibn Abbas (May Allah be pleased with them).
Bigotry is the clearest evidence of extremism. An extremist seems to address people in this way: "I have the right to lead; your duty is to follow. My opinion is right; it can never 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 him, the further he moves away from you. The issue becomes even more critical when such a person develops the tendency to coerce others, not necessarily physically but by accusing them of bid’ah, shirk, laxity, deviation, kufr and the proponents of the kuffaar. Such intellectual terrorism is as terrifying as physical terrorism.
Perpetual commitment to excessiveness manifests itself as the second trait of extremism; and in attempts to force others to do likewise despite the existence of good reasons to make things easier and the fact that Allah (Subhanahu) has not ordained it. A person motivated by piety and caution may - if he so wishes - choose a hard-line opinion in some matters or on certain occasions. But this should not become so habitual that he rejects facilitation (making things easier) when it is required. Such an attitude is not in keeping with the teachings of the Qur'an or Sunnah as is clear from what Allah says: “Allah intends for you ease, and He does not want to make things difficult for you.” (Surah Al-Baqarah: 185) The Prophet (SAW) also said in a Hadith: “Facilitate things to people (make it easier for people), and do not make it hard for them and give them good tidings and do not make them run away (from Islam).” (Sahih Al-Bukhari: Vol1: 69). It is also reported that “Whenever Allah's Messenger was given the choice of one of two matters, he would choose the easier of the two, as long as it was not sinful to do so.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari: Vol4: 760). Complicating matters for people and causing constraint in their lives are contrary to the most outstanding qualities of our beloved Prophet. These qualities have been mentioned in earlier scriptures and later revealed in the Qur'an: He (the Prophet) allows them as lawful At-Tayyibaat (i.e. all good and lawful), and prohibits them as unlawful Al-Khabaa'ith (i.e. all evil and unlawful), he releases them from their heavy burdens (of Allah's Covenant), and from the fetters (bindings) that were upon them. (Surah Al-A’raaf: 157). This is why the Prophet (SAW) used to prolong his salaah only when he was alone. In fact, he used to offer salaah throughout the night until his feet were swollen. But when leading people in salaah he used to shorten it, taking into consideration the circumstances of his followers and their varying levels of endurance. “A Bedouin came to the Prophet and said: “Tell me of such a deed as will make me enter Jannah, if I do it.” The Prophet (SAW) said: "Worship Allah, and worship none along with Him, offer the (five) prescribed compulsory prayers perfectly, pay the compulsory Zakaah, and fast the month of Ramadan.” The Bedouin said: “By Him, in Whose Hands my life is, I will not do more than this.” When he (the Bedouin) left, the Prophet said: “Whoever likes to see a man of Paradise, then he may look at this man.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari: Vol2: 480). The Qur'an also says: “Verily, the good deeds remove the evil deeds (i.e. small sins). That is a reminder (an advice) for the mindful (those who accept advice).” (Surah Hood: 114), and in another verse: “If you avoid the great sins which you are forbidden to do, We shall remit from you your (small) sins, and admit you to a Noble Entrance (i.e. Paradise).” (Surah An-Nisaa: 31). In view of the above evidence from the Qur'an and Sunnah, how could we look down upon a Muslim merely because of his actions that are of a controversial nature, of which we are not sure that they are halaal or haraam; or because of his failure to observe something of which we are not certain that it is waajib or mandoob (recommendatory)? This is why there are objections to the tendency of some pious people who adopt and cling to hard-line opinions, not only in their own personal practice but also in forcing others to do the same.
The third trait 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 reverted to Islam as well as to the newly committed Muslims. In these circumstances, emphasis should not be put on minor or controversial issues, but on the fundamentals. This is the hikmah of a sincere da’ee. Efforts should be made to correct their concepts and beliefs (aqaa’id) and a proper 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. His entire lifestyle then becomes an embodiment of what is pleasing to Allah (Subhanahu). This fact was recognized by the Prophet himself when he sent Muadh bin Jabal to Yemen. He told him: “You will come to the people of Scripture, and when you reach them, invite them to testify that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger. And if they obey you in that, then tell them that Allah has enjoined on them five prayers to be performed every day and night. And if they obey you in that, then tell them that Allah has enjoined on them Sadaqa (i.e. zakaah) - wealth that is taken from the rich amongst them and given to the poor amongst them.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari: Vol5: 634). The norms of behaviour and the betterment 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 one Islamic Centre in North America, people were creating a considerable fuss over the showing of historical and educational films in a separate building forming part of the masjid courtyard, claiming that "the masaajid have now been turned into movie "theatres". They have forgotten that the purpose of the masjid is to serve the worldly as well as spiritual interest of Muslims. During the time of Prophet the masjid was the centre of da’wah, state activities and 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 our mother Aishah to watch them. (Sahih Al-Bukhari: Vol5: 634).
The fourth trait 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 (Subhanahu) commands us to call to Islam and to His teachings with wisdom, not with foolishness but with amicability, not with harsh words: “Invite (mankind, O Muhammad SAW) to the Way of your Lord (i.e. Islam) with wisdom and fair preaching, and argue with them in a way that is better. Truly, your Lord knows best who has gone astray from His Path, and He is the Best Aware of those who are guided.” (Surah an-Nahl: 125). It also describes the Prophet thus: “Verily, there has come unto you a Messenger (Muhammad SAW) from amongst yourselves. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or difficulty. He (Muhammad SAW) is anxious over you, for the believers (he SAW is) full of pity, kind, and merciful.” (Surah at-Tawbah: 128). The Qur'an also addressed the Prophet defining his relationship with his companions:
“And by the Mercy of Allah, you dealt with them gently. And had you been severe and harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about you; so pass over (their faults), and ask (Allah’s) Forgiveness for them. (Surah ‘Aal-Imraan: 159)
Firmness and harsh-heartedness are mentioned only in connection with two issues in the Qur'an.
Firstly in connection with war when a successful military strategy necessitates fortitude and the shelving of leniency until the war comes to an end. “Fight those of the disbelievers who are close to you; and let them find harshness in you.” (Surah at-Tawbah: 123).
Secondly in connection with the execution of punishment on the guilty in accordance with Shari’ah, there is no room for compassion in applying Allah's injunctions:
“The woman and the man guilty of illegal sexual intercourse, flog each of them with a hundred stripes. Let not pity withhold you in their case, in a punishment prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day.” (Surah an-Noor: 2).
But in the field of da’wah, there is no place for violence and harshness.
This is evidenced in the following hadith: “Allah is kind and lenient and likes that one should be kind and lenient in all matters.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari: Vol9: 61). “Kindness is not to be found in anything but that it adds to its beauty and it is not withdrawn from anything but it makes it defective.” (Sahih Muslim: Book32 Hadith6274).
Violence and harsh words can do nothing more than distort da’wah to the path of Allah (Subhanahu). Da’wah seeks to penetrate the innermost recesses of man and to transform him into a godly person in his conceptions, emotions and behaviour by altering his thoughts, feelings and his will; as well as his whole lifestyle, thereby shaping him to be 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 obstinacy, resistance to change and argumentation. 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 Qur’an as having been followed by earlier prophets and sincere believers who called people to the ibadah of Allah. Read the examples in the Qur’an of Ibrahim's call to his father and people, in Shu'aib's call to his people, in Musa’s call to Pharaoh, in the Believer's call to Pharaoh's people, in the Believer's call (in Surah Yaseen) to those who disbelieved.
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 leads to a sin, and a sin leads to 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 misbehaviour, and to help them improve their words and deeds.
The religious sincerity and integrity of those who disagree with such an extremist are always questioned. 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 himself. Not even learned Muslim scholars and 'ulama' are spared such accusations. If a Faqeeh gives a fatwa which facilitates matters for Muslims, he is considered lax on religious issues; if a Muslim da’iyyah tries to call to Islam in a manner suitable to the spirit and the taste of the age, she 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. Even the four great jurists (Fuqaha) 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 decline. 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.
The gravest shortcoming of the contemporary extremists is suspicion. Had they understood and comprehended the Qur’an and Sunnah, they would have discovered that they should 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: "So ascribe not purity (piety) to yourselves. He (Allah) knows best him who fears Allah and who keep his duty towards Him". (Surah an-Najm: 32). The Prophet also said: “A Muslim is the brother of a Muslim. He neither oppresses him nor humiliates him nor looks down upon him. The piety is here, (and while saying so) he pointed towards his chest thrice. It is a serious evil for a Muslim that he should look down upon his brother Muslim. All things of a Muslim are inviolable for his brother in faith: his blood, his wealth and his honour.” (Sahih Muslim: Book32 Hadith6219).
Vanity is one of the human traits which causes degeneration and which our Muslim scholars call the "sins of the hearts." A true Muslim never takes pride in his work or actions, since he is never sure that Allah will accept them. The Qur'an describes the charitable people: “And those who give that (their charity) which they give with their hearts full of fear (whether their alms and charities, etc., have been accepted or not), because they are sure to return to their Lord (for reckoning).” (Surah al-Mu’minoon: 60). It is reported in Hadith literature that this Qur'anic verse is about people who do righteous deeds but have the fear that Allah may not accept them.
May Allah guide us all in understanding Islam in its pristine purity! Ameen!
I request your humble du'aas.
Abdul Haq Abdul Kadir
Umhlanga Rocks, KZN