Does Islam teach extremism?

Contrary to common belief, Islam does not teach extremism. It, actually teaches its adherents to follow the mean or the balanced path.

In the fourth chapter of the Quran the following injunction has been given:

“Do not go to excess in your religion.” (4:171)

The same point has been made in a hadith. The Prophet of Islam observed:

“You should restrain yourselves from committing excesses (ghulu) in religion. For it was due to their having gone to extremes in religion that the previous communities were destroyed.” (Al-Nasai, Ibn Majah, Musnad Ahmad, 1/215, 347)

Ghulu means extremism. The way of extremism is wrong, whatever the circumstances, for it goes against the spirit of religion. Indeed, it is proneness to extremism, which at times culminates in war and violence. Those who suffer from extremist tendencies remain dissatisfied with the path of moderation, since this strikes them as being far from the ideal. That is why they so easily incline towards violence, and are ever ready to open hostilities in the name of achieving their objectives.

Moderation, which is the opposite of extremism, is closely interlinked with peace. When people possess the virtue of moderation, they necessarily think in terms of peace and will engage in their struggle in a peaceful manner. Where there is moderation there is peace, and vice versa.

According to a Hadith, the Prophet Muhammad observed: The moderate action is the best of all actions. Hazrat Ali advised the people: ‘Adopt the middle path.’ (Tafsir Qurtubi, 154/2)

The middle path means the path of moderation. One instance of it can be seen in the following verse of the Qur’an:

‘Be neither miserly nor prodigal, for then you should either be reproached or be reduced to penury.’ (17:29)

The same point, worded differently, has been made in another verse which characterizes “the true servants of the Merciful” as “those who, when they spend, are not extravagant and not niggardly, but maintain a just balance between those extremes” (25:67).

According to this verse, moderate spending means neither lavishness nor miserliness but rather a balanced expenditure, which will make life much easier to lead. In the same way, as regards optional fasts, prayers, etc., a middle path is desirable for man, as this enables him to maintain such a pattern of behaviour over a long period of time.

The middle path, to put it differently, is the non-emotional way. If a man loses his mental balance when confronted with any difficult situation in life, he goes to one extreme or the other. But if he keeps his feelings under control, he will be able to determine the proper course of action by giving it ample thought. A well-considered deed is always a moderate one. One who does not follow a moderate path will exceed all bounds both in friendship and in enmity. He will also be given to undue optimism and pessimism in respectively positive and negative situations, and will unnecessarily regard some individuals as too bad and others as too good. However, it is the verdict of nature that in this world a moderate approach in life always succeeds, while taking the path of extremes inevitably leads to failure.

So far as Islam is concerned, it is an entirely tolerant religion. Islam desires peace to prevail in the world. The Qur’an calls the way of Islam ‘the paths of Peace’ (5:16). The state of peace can never prevail in a society if a tolerant attitude is lacking in the people. Tolerance is the only basis for peace; in a society where tolerance is absent, peace likewise will be non-existent.

Describing the evil of murder, the Qur’an has this to say:

“Whoever killed one human being, should be looked upon as though he had killed all mankind; and whoever saved a human life should be regarded as though he had saved all mankind.” (5:32)

This has been expressly stated in the scripture because, when a man commits a crime of this nature, he breaks the tradition of respect for life. This tradition in society serves as a kind of psychological check against one man making a murderous assault on another. Once this check is removed, there is no barrier left in the way of indulging in such criminal activities. People become emboldened when such a precedent is set by a wrongdoer. That is how the murder of one man opens the door to more murders.

In order to understand the full implications of this point, let us take some examples from Muslim Spain. Towards the end of the Muslim rule in Spain, the Muslims, weakened by infighting, had divided themselves into different states, which fell, one after another. Later they established a kingdom in Granada under the rule of Sultan Naser bin Yousuf, better known as Ibn al-Ahmar (It was this king who built the famous palace known as Al-Hamra palace in Granada). Now the most dreadful part of this history is that the third ruler of Granada was put to death by his brother, Naser bin Muhammad in AH 710, as a matter of political rivalry. This killing broke the tradition of respect for life in the royal palace, throwing open the floodgates of murder in high places. Sultan Abdul Walid was subsequently killed by his own nephew in 725 Hijrah. Sultan Ahmad followed him to the throne, but was killed by a relative in AH 733. His successor, Sultan Yousuf, the ruler of Granada, was speared to death in AH 755. The next ruler, Sultan Ismail was killed by his own brother in AH 761.

In short, this chain of killing continued till 1492 AD when the state of Granada itself was eliminated. Safeguarding tradition is safeguarding humanity. The breaking of tradition could mean the end of humanity.

Peace is basic to all religions. Let us all strive then to establish peace in the world, for that is the bedrock on which all human progress rests.

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