Moderation in Islam
Moderation means the “quality of being moderate and avoiding extremes”; or “to be within limits that are not excessive”. Moderation is always considered an excellent, praiseworthy quality.
Inherent in the concept of moderation is the idea of ‘the means’-i.e. the limit to be observed in every conduct for it to be deemed moderate. What is the nature of the limit that is supposed to govern human life? How do we know about those limits? Why more than often those limits are not known or if they are known not observed? These are the basic questions that need to be answered by anybody dealing with this concept.
Moderation means the praiseworthy character traits situated in between two extremes-excess and deficiency-like generosity, which is between extravagance and stinginess; and courage, which is between foolhardiness and cowardice. Moderation means ‘justice’.
What is meant by “the moderate nation” in the Qur’an (al-Baqarah: 142-143) is ‘the best nation’, ‘the most excellent in virtue’, and ‘the moderate’ in the sense that their religion (Islam) is the moderate religion, hence the best of all religions.
These meanings are obviously inter-related with justice being the controlling idea. Justice presupposes knowledge and freedom (the ability to choose what is good). Without knowledge and freedom it is not possible to be just, to choose what is good, to acquire virtue, and to be moderate.
Because of those qualities the Muslims referred to in the Qur’an have been praised and appointed by God as “the witnesses against mankind”. It is a huge responsibility, and its implication is far-reaching. To be a credible witness means to know and embrace the truth, to have the courage to tell the truth, and to defend it against its enemies among the ignorants, liars and pretenders. A witness should not hide the truth or choose to be indifferent.
Indifference is antithetical to moderation. It betrays ignorance, cowardice and insincerity-in short, it is injustice. Justice, on the other hand, demands that what is true and right be consciously promoted and defended, and what is false and wrong be rejected and eliminated.
The obligation to testify constitutes the very first pillar of Islam, hence every Muslim is basically a witness to the truth of the kalimah shahadah: “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Messenger”. It also means that he has to consciously reject what is contrary to the dictate of the kalimah. This is not possible unless the meaning of the word and its implication is correctly and adequately understood. His truthfulness or otherwise will be witnessed by the angels, his own limbs, the learned, the Prophet and ultimately God himself.
The learned (ulama) among them have an extra responsibility. They have to carry on with the mission of the Prophet, i.e. to make the truth of the shahadah manifest to all nations-they are the ones meant in the verse under consideration as “the witnesses against mankind”.
From the early days they have been committed to preserving the purity of the message of Islam, continuously conveying it, and being in constant guard against the deviants and extremists. According to one hadith, in every generation there will be true possessors, interpreters, defenders and transmitters of the knowledge of Islam. They shall protect it against the falsification of the extremists, the fabrication of the deceivers and the misinterpretation of the ignorant.
These practices, if left unchecked, will corrupt knowledge, and when knowledge becomes corrupted there will be injustice and all sorts of extremism will emerge. It is a situation when truth and falsehood can no longer be distinguished-a state of mind called confusion. Corruption of knowledge, according to Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, is the root cause of corrupt leadership in every sphere of life.
Extremism means transgression of the limit. An extremist has no regard of any limit in his mind, speech or action. Limit means ‘the divider’ and ‘the barrier’ between two things. To tell the limit of something is to describe its difference from others. The limit of something is actually its definition.
The problem of definition is central in logic and the reason is obvious-there is an intimate connection between ignorance or misconception (of something) and extremism (one’s attitude towards that thing).
The problem of definition is fundamental because naturally every theoretical judgement will be followed by certain practical (i.e. moral, social and political) implications.
The Muslims are obliged to observe the limit and not to trespass it. The true Muslims are moderate in religion in the sense that they are not extreme either in term of excess or deficiency. To be extreme in religion means to make religion difficult and that will happen when one trespasses its limit. What is meant by the limit here is what is prescribed by the Religion of Islam which is easy to be understood and practiced.
Further investigation into the meaning of extremism reveals that among other meanings related to it is to transmit something (like wickedness or disease) to others-i.e. they are no longer confined to their limit.
There are many verses of the Qur’an reminding us to know and observe ‘the limits of Allah’. Transgression of those limits is the mark of disbelief, hypocricy, ignorance and injustice.
One should not fail to note here that trespassing the limit, enmity and injustice are inter-related in the sense that the cause of enmity is any act that trespasses the limit, proportion and right/truth.