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Ijtihad, Rethinking Islam ( 19 Feb 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Islamic Preachers Need to Strengthen the Foundational Islamic Principle of Moderation (Wasatiyyah)



By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam

19 February, 2014

A Welcome Initiative by Moderate Ulema

It was quite heartening to catch up with a recent story in the mainstream media detailing the Sufi-oriented organisation, the Pakistan Ulema Council’s gigantic task of dealing with contemporary issues and methods incorporated in the sermons of the Muslim clerics and imams. Recently, the Pakistan Ulema Council (PUC) has launched a comprehensive book to provide guidance and sophisticated counselling to the imams, preachers and other clerics of Islam. Indeed, the book should be seen as a welcome sign of moving forward and not remaining stagnant to the obsolete ways of preaching and unnecessarily emotional and fiery speeches that most of our traditional Ulema and even modern Islamic preachers and televangelists are accustomed to.

With our prophet’s historical sermon of Hajjatul Wida as an ultimate guide for imams to deliver Friday sermons, the contents in the book range from resolving environmental issues to the methods of dealing with moral problems by applying theological edicts. In a nutshell, the book is an instructive appeal to present day Ulema to concern themselves with inter-faith dialogue, inter-sectarian harmony, women’s rights, girls’ education, disassociating jihad with terrorism and other major contemporary issues to be sagaciously dealt with, in full synergy with the holy Quran and Prophetic traditions. 

At the very outset of his statement pertaining to the book the PUC Central Chairman Hafiz Muhammad Tahir Mahmood Ashrafi, a Sufi-minded Pakistani cleric, says: “mosques and seminaries have a pivotal role to play when it comes to guiding the public”, therefore, he avers, “the PUC aims to ensure that the preachers associated with mosques and seminaries keep an eye on modern-day challenges and problems.” This way, he opines, “a positive change can be observed in society.” 

Muslim Preachers and Their Sorry State of Affairs

The Pakistan Ulema Council’s initiative of educating imams and Muslim clerics comes at a time when most, if not all, Muslim preachers and televangelists are intense in intellectual decay and ideological extremism. Islam is not preached as it is, as a moderate narrative of spiritual enlightenment and eternal salvation. Instead, it is globally defamed, by many Muslim preachers themselves, as an extremist, fascist, exclusivist and political ideology out to conquer the earth rather than the human hearts. One wonders why Islam, a religion of universal human values, has been reduced to a cult of dogmas and ritualistic practices with no heart and soul. This widening gap between the body and brain of the religion is the root-cause of all evils and dangers rearing their ugly head in the name of Islam. The only way for Ulema to bridge this gap is strengthen the spiritual foundation of moderation (Wasatiyyah) on which the entire edifice of Islamic jurisprudence is based.

Doctrine of Moderation (Wasatiyyah) in Islam

Wasatiyyah or moderation in Islam is that one doesn’t go to the extreme; that is the extent where the limits determined by God are transgressed. Islamic moderation requires from us to completely adhere to Sirat-e-Mustaqeem (the middlemost or the moderate approach) which is the essence of the beginning of the Quran called Surah Al-Fatiha. This fundamental Islamic principle of Wasatiyyah is an antidote to all forms of extremism (Tatarruf), harshness (Tanattu), violence (Tashaddud) and exaggeration (Ghuloow) in religion. However, this doctrine should not be misconstrued as compromise on principles or undermining of universal ethics.

While teaching the believers the best way to invoke God, the holy Quran exhorts them to begin it by asking for divine guidance towards the Sirat-e-Mustaqeem: “O God, guide us to the Straight Path (Sirat al Mustaqeem).” (Surah al-Fatiha: verse: 6). The entire Quran is an explanation of this verse, as it has been revealed to show mankind exactly what is the straight or moderate path (Sirat al Mustaqeem). Going by this Qur'anic verse, a Muslim must be constantly a true seeker of God’s guidance to the “middlemost way” or “straight path” which can be aptly defined as the path of moderation, the path of easiness, the path of balance, the path of mercy and harmony and the path of enlightenment and intellectual openness. A true Muslim should always follow the moderate way of life introduced by the Prophet (pbuh) and stay away from all sorts of Ghuloow (extremism) which he strongly condemned even in minor affairs of life, let alone the serious matters of religion. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “The religion of Islam is easy, and whoever makes the religion a rigour, it will overpower him. So, follow a middle course (in matters of religion); if you can't do this, do something near to it and give glad tidings to people (especially when you go out to preach religion) ” (Bukhari).


As regards preaching religion and calling people towards God, the holy Quran has given a clear and mandatory injunction to the religious preachers: “Invite to the Way of your Lord 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. – (An-Nahl: 125)

Addressing His last Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in particular, God here issued a general ruling to the Islamic preachers to call people to the path of Deen with Hikmah (wisdom). It is essential to clarify the meanings of the various words and terms used in the above Qur'anic verse. The first word in the above verse is Ud’u (أدعوا), which is an Arabic verb and has been driven from the root word Da’aa (دعا) meaning to invite, to call, to bid, to summon, to recall, to purport, to plead, to beckon etc. None of these words denotes any shade of meaning approving of irrationality, rigidity, violence, coercion or compulsion as involved in the nefarious process of “proselytising” in which exclusivist and extremist preachers and televangelists attempt to convert someone from one religion, belief, or opinion to their own.

 Not to speak of proselytising and inducing others to change their religion or way of life against their free will, Islam does not allow resorting to any coercive, aggressive or violent efforts even while exhorting people to the common good of whole mankind. In fact, the Quran has made it clear explicitly and repeatedly that the method of both Islamic call (Da’wah)  and preaching (Balagh) should be fair, balanced, moderate, peaceful and non-violent. The present day menace of proselytising has no room in any chapter or verse of the holy Quran. As a matter of fact, Islamic call or preaching, wherever mentioned in the Quran, has been termed as Da’wah or Balagh. While the Qur'anic term "Balagh" means "to convey the message”, and not to convert as outlined in the Surah Yasin, verse: 17, "Dawah" (calling people to God) implies fair invitation, which is a far gentler discourse with the requisites of wisdom (Hikmat) and beautiful exhortation (Mauazat) to the common good of mankind.

The Quran has made some similar exhortations that enjoin upon the Islamic clerics and preachers to present Islam as a moderate narrative of spiritual faith rather than an extremist, rigid and fascist ideology. He addressed Ulema and Islamic preachers of all times through the Prophet (pbuh) in various places in the Quran such as:

“And speak to him mildly, perhaps he may accept admonition or fear (Allah)” (20: 44).

 “You cannot guide whoever you please: it is God who guides whom He will” (28:56)

 “It is not up to you to guide them, but Allah guides whom He wills.” (2:72)

The above verse makes it clear that God already knows who is blessed or destined for paradise and who is doomed for hell. This has already been written with Him and the matter is finished, so Islamic preachers have to call people to God, but with no insistence, force or coercion, for it is not their task to guide them. All they have to do is try to convey the Message, not to convert, and it is God Who will bring them on the right path.

“And do not argue with the People of the Book, unless it be with that which is best, except for those who purposefully do wrong.” (29:46). Here, Allah commanded the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to speak gently to people of Dawah, as He commanded Musa and Harun to do so when he sent them to Pharaoh.

Islam Asks Religious Preachers to Convey, not to Convert

Besides obligating wise methods and beautiful preaching while calling people to God or good, the above verses also clarify that it is God who knows who have strayed from His Path, and who have received guidance. Therefore, cleric or preacher has no right to declare others deviant from the path of God and thus try to forcefully convert them to his own belief or opinion arrogantly believing that he/she is on the path of guidance and righteousness. This is the unfavourable emotion in a preacher that leads him to opt for the path of extremism to preach his religion. As a result, a divine faith that has been sent as complete ease and mercy for the world is being turned today into a very difficult way of life. Prophet Mohammad PBUH had warned against the very danger looming large throughout the Muslim world today. He is reported to have said: "Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself/herself in matters of religion will not be able to carry on with it. So, be not extremists, but try to attain perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded." (Bukhari)

In the above prophetic tradition, religion refers to the broader notion of Islam i.e. Deen, a complete code which encompasses all aspects of human life. Deen is primarily categorised into Iman (faith), Islam (practice) and Ihsan (a sense of social responsibility borne from religious convictions). Islam propounds that there should be complete moderation, perfect ease and full liberty in all matters of faith and religious practices. This universal principle is basically enshrined in the holy Quran:  “And God has not laid upon you any hardship in matters of religion” (22:78).

This verse has been further explained by more Qur'anic injunctions such as: “God does not burden a soul beyond its capacity” (Quran: 2:286) and “God intends for you ease, and He does not want to make things difficult for you.” (Quran: 2:185).

Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is an Alim and Fazil (classical Islamic scholar) with a Sufi background. He has graduated from a leading Sufi Islamic seminary of India, Jamia Amjadia Rizvia (Mau, U.P.), acquired Diploma in Qur'anic Arabic from Al-Jamiat ul Islamia, Faizabad, U.P., and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies, Badaun, U.P. He has also graduated in Arabic (Hons) and is pursuing his M. A. in Comparative Religion from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.