By Marwa Abdalla
14 March 2014
WHAT God requires from a Muslim is not overly burdensome. He prescribes moderation in every walk of life.
I remember a conversation I recently had with my neighbour and friend who happens to be a non-Muslim.
I had just returned from an Islamic conference. When she came to know about it, she looked worried, and asked: “No one advocates extremism at these sorts of things, do they?”
I almost laughed, but realizing the seriousness of her concern, I reassured her that advocating any kind of extremism was definitely not on the agenda.
I was struck by the unfortunate irony that extremism is often associated with Islam when in fact, moderation is supposed to be one of the most fundamental aspects of the Muslim’s creed. Allah Almighty says: “Thus We made you a “Wasat” (moderate) nation, that you might be witness for all of humanity, and the messenger a witness over yourselves.” (Qur’an, 2:143)
The word “Wasat” in Arabic can be defined in several ways. It means just, balanced, moderate, and the best. [i]
This verse clearly explains the view Muslims have that God wants them to be a balanced and moderate nation so that they may serve as a “witness” or model for the rest of humanity. So what, exactly, does moderation in Islam mean?
The Opposite of Moderation
It will be appropriate to understand extremism before we value the concept of moderation in Islam.
Extremism in any form, of anything, in brief is an abnormal human behaviour, which is far from reasonable, or acceptable in a civilized society.
Being too liberal or too harsh in understanding Islam is also an exercise in extremism, which is again not in line with normative Islam. Either of the approaches hence greatly hurts the image of Islam in its own way.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “I fast but not every day, I pray at night but not all night, and I am a married man; whoever does not wish to follow my way, he is not from me.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim, 143)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) therefore often warned his companions against extremism and always advocated moderation in everything. When given two choices, he always chose the easiest, so long as it did not violate the rules of Islam. [ii]
Islam advocates a middle course in everything. This includes the way Muslims follow God’s commands, the way they think about God and the way they interact with and invite others to Islam.
Often, out of enthusiasm and ignorance, a Muslim may take on much more than he or she can handle in the way of acts of worship.
Imagine a person who one fine morning begins enthusiastically all the prayers, including all the Sunnah and Nafl prayers, waking up in the night for prayers and keeping fasts twice a week and reading Qur’an everyday without fail. He suddenly went to the extreme level in worshipping God, only to later find himself spiritually drained, which in turn made him indifferent and disappointed.
Many Muslims will relate, at least in part, to what this man has gone through.
Enthusiasm coupled with ignorance may cause a man to abruptly change his entire lifestyle overnight. Not only did this wreak havoc on him physically, but it almost destroyed him spiritually. He felt like a failure, and even began to doubt in the mercy of God.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said regarding Islam: “This religion is one of ease and not restrictions; no one tries to make it strict or difficult, he will be overburdened; therefore do what is right, and do what you are capable of, and be happy, and seek help by performing prayers.” (Al-Bukhari, 39)
A person might make things so difficult for himself/herself that in the end, he/she is “overcome” and almost loses his/her faith. One might compare this to someone who has only just jogged a few miles in his life trying to train himself for a marathon (a race the distance of 26.2 miles, or 40 km) in just one week. This person, regardless of his intentions, would definitely fail, and may even hurt himself so much physically in the process that he would be unable to jog or run again for years. Running a marathon is challenging, sure, but it’s not impossible. However, even serious runners must train for months before successfully completing such a race.
Moderation in Islam
And thus, Islam is similar. The requirements that God puts upon every Muslim are not overwhelming or overly burdensome.
Believing in the Oneness of God, praying to Him and remembering Him, being good to others — these are the basic daily obligations that God has put upon His servants (in addition to other obligations, like fasting in the month of Ramadan, for example). When Muslims want to add to these, they must remember the wisdom of the Prophet (peace be upon him) when he said: "The good deeds of any person will not make him enter Paradise (i.e., no one enters paradise only through his good deeds)." The Prophet's companions asked: "Not even you?"
The Prophet (peace be upon him) replied: "Not even me, unless God bestows His favour and mercy on me." (Al Bukhari, 6467)
And when his wife, Ayesha, asked him what deeds were most beloved to God, he (peace be upon him) said: “The deeds that are done on a regular and constant basis, even if little.”
The spiritual journey a Muslim takes to God requires work at both the physical and spiritual levels.
Lastly, he emphasized that moderation is key to achieving our goals when he said:
"Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately. Always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course, whereby you will reach your target (of Paradise)." (Al Bukhari)
In these three sayings we find the perfect combination of belief in the mercy of God and moderation and consistency in religious deeds as the best way for a Muslim to achieve his or her goals. Abiding by these principles would mean that when a Muslim wants to increase his/her worship, he/she should begin gradually, adding little by little to the obligatory acts of worship, and should strive to remain consistent. Furthermore, he should look what he/she is realistically capable of and not burden himself/herself with more than he/she is ready for.
The spiritual journey a Muslim takes to God requires work at both the physical and spiritual levels. Thus, one should couple increases in action with increases in spiritual knowledge. Subsequent acts of worship become much easier because they are now being done out of an increased level of faith and love for God, rather than a sense of obligation and duty alone.
We should remember that when we try to draw closer to God, He facilitates things for us. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) states in a Hadith Qudsi (divine Hadith, which is a saying that comes directly from God but is not a part of the Qur’an): "I [God] am as My servant thinks of Me. I am with him when he remembers Me. If he mentions Me within himself, I mention him within Myself. If he mentions Me in an assembly, I mention him in a better assembly. If he comes near to Me a hand span, I come near to him the distance of a cubit. If he comes near to Me the distance of a cubit, I come near to him the distance of two outspread arms. If he comes to Me walking, I come to him running." (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)