In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful
Moderation in Islam, following the path of Ibrahim, is a necessary condition for a nation to excel where other nations fail. Only a moderate nation can appropriately address mankind’s concerns and provide leadership:
وَكَذَٰلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِّتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا
Thus We have made you a nation justly balanced that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you.
Surat Al-Baqarah 2:143
Although the principle of moderation is an essential tenet of Islamic belief, it does not seem to have a clear definition in minds of many Muslims today. This ambiguity has indirectly supported extreme approaches by not providing an alternative to a younger generation who might be easily influenced by preachers aggressively citing verses without grasping their true meanings.
Some people make the case that the verses themselves cited by extremists do not represent the true spirit of Islam, but we disagree. All verses represent the true spirit of Islam when understood properly, comprehensively, and consistently. We take this even further by saying that it would be enough to find single contradictory verse for the entire divinity of the Quran to be invalidated, yet this is not the case:
أَفَلَا يَتَدَبَّرُونَ الْقُرْآنَ ۚ وَلَوْ كَانَ مِنْ عِندِ غَيْرِ اللَّهِ لَوَجَدُوا فِيهِ اخْتِلَافًا كَثِيرًا
Then do they not reflect upon the Quran? If it had been from any other than Allah, they would have found within it much contradiction.
Surat An-Nisa 4:82
The problem of extremism is not due to the text of the Quran itself, but rather in the lack of a balanced, comprehensive, and consistent understanding of all its verses.
Moderation has been stated many times as the way to challenge extremism. However, it is very difficult to find one clear definition that resonates with those who preach it. The lack of a clear definition indicates that the concept of moderation is actually not well established in the minds of people who are seeking it.
Allah has informed us that knowledge was given to us within the scope of language, as He taught Adam the names of all things. This tells us that we would only have knowledge of anything if we have terminology for it with a clear definition. For moderation, this means that we will only realize something when we know its definition, or else it is simply a word without reality. So what is the definition of moderation?
The natural law of polarities
The essence of monotheism is that God is one, nothing can compare to Him and nothing can overcome Him. The implication of those statements is that everything else besides God has something that can be compared to it or compete with it, and this is called a polarity:
وَمِن كُلِّ شَيْءٍ خَلَقْنَا زَوْجَيْنِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَذَكَّرُونَ فَفِرُّوا إِلَى اللَّهِ ۖ إِنِّي لَكُم مِّنْهُ نَذِيرٌ مُّبِينٌ وَلَا تَجْعَلُوا مَعَ اللَّهِ إِلَٰهًا آخَرَ
Among all things We created two pairs that perhaps you will remember. So flee to Allah, for I am a clear warner to you from Him. Do not make another god alongside Allah.
Surat Adh-Dhariyat 51:49-51
God stated clearly in the Quran that He created everything with its own polarity, leaving Himself as the only true singularity. Everything (kul shay) means all things whether it be lifeforms, objects, ideas, and even the values He commanded us to embrace.
This verse also has another profound hidden meaning: everything will always appear with its polarity in some way, shape, or form. God is addressing the polarity in His creation and is telling us to rush to Him, indicating that we can never escape the polarities of things we pursue, everything is coupled and will manifest with its polariy. It is only God who can provide what we are looking for free of any polarity.
For example, if one seeks wealth in this life, he will get it by the deprivation of something else. He might amass great wealth at the cost of his time, health, or family. In many cases, a polarity may be subtle, which means people ignore them with dire consequences.
Since everything except God has its own two poles, pushing anything to the extreme will exacerbate their differences. Harmony can be achieved only when the two poles are balanced with each other. Understanding this balancing act is essential to the definition of moderation.
The values which God created and ordained for us likewise have polarities. God even tells us to embrace values which seem to conflict with one another. He loves justice and mercy, He wants us to fear Him and hope in Him, He asks us to uphold truth while also being gentle, and so on. Such polarities are often mentioned in the Quran together:
وَالَّذِينَ إِذَا أَصَابَهُمُ الْبَغْيُ هُمْ يَنتَصِرُونَ وَجَزَاءُ سَيِّئَةٍ سَيِّئَةٌ مِّثْلُهَا ۖ فَمَنْ عَفَا وَأَصْلَحَ فَأَجْرُهُ عَلَى اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الظَّالِمِينَ
They are those who, when tyranny strikes them, they defend themselves, for the retribution for an evil act is a punishment similar to it, but whoever pardons and makes reconciliation will have his reward from Allah. Verily, He does not love wrongdoers.
Surat Ash-Shu’ara 42:39-40
Similar to these verses, one can find numerous places in which God discusses polarities in values to bring to our attention to what we might compromise if we adhere to one value alone without considering its polarity. Our concern for justice might cause us to shun mercy when it is warranted, whereas our concern for mercy might cause us to be negligent when people’s rights are violated. Rather, we ought to find the balance between them such that the values of justice and mercy are in harmony.
Definition of moderation
Based upon this understanding of polarity, with God alone as the only singularity, moderation can be defined as any approach that balances all the values which God has ordained for us without ignoring any of them. Focusing obsessively on one value would naturally diminish the others which God also loves.
It should be clear that moderation has many ways in which it can be actualized as long as the condition of balance is satisfied. None of God’s values should be neglected at the expense of others. If one loves justice so much that he ignores mercy, he would be in danger of falling into cruelty. And if one loves forgiveness without paying attention to justice, he would be in danger of facilitating oppression.
Conversely, extreme occurs when one of God’s values are chosen above others. If we are to list all of the values which God tells us to embrace, extremism will immediately be identified due to the number of values it defies. Many ordinary Muslims can clearly identify acts of extremism within Islam when core values of the faith are violated, even if they are unable to articulate a rebuttal in the legal and theological language of Muslim scholars. However, those who lack this understanding of moderation only adhere to values which matter to them, thereby leading some of them to commit horrible atrocities in the name of Islam despite the protestations of scholars and the Muslim community at large.
The fruit of moderation we need in our times is its ability to bolster the resilience of common people. It provides all people with a very strong defense against extremist propaganda, regardless of their level of technical knowledge in Islamic sciences. If one constantly tries to balance all of the values which God loves and bring their polarities into harmony, he will always be close to the truth.
A case of extremism
We have all heard of radical militant groups who have recently emerged and are ruthlessly targeting any individual whom they consider an infidel. They intend to cleanse the earth from unbelief as they understand it. In doing so, they are attempting to eliminate a polarity which God has decreed:
هُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَكُمْ فَمِنكُمْ كَافِرٌ وَمِنكُم مُّؤْمِنٌ ۚ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ
It is He who created you and among you are believers and unbelievers, for Allah sees what you do.
Surat At-Taghabun 64:2
The presence of faith and unbelief is part of the test of life. If God had wanted to, He could have forced everyone to be a believer but instead He intended for people to use their free will:
وَلَوْ شَاءَ رَبُّكَ لَآمَنَ مَن فِي الْأَرْضِ كُلُّهُمْ جَمِيعًا ۚ أَفَأَنتَ تُكْرِهُ النَّاسَ حَتَّىٰ يَكُونُوا مُؤْمِنِينَ
Had your Lord willed, those on earth would have believed, all of them entirely. Then would you compel the people to become believers?
Surat Yunus 10:99
For this reason, compulsion in religion and violence against people just because of their different faiths has always been strictly forbidden in Islam since the very beginning. Ibn Al-Qayyim, a classical Muslim scholar whose words are often twisted by extremists, noted this fact in the 14th century long before modern human rights were a reality:
وَلَمْ يُكْرِهْ أَحَدًا قَطُّ عَلَى الدِّينِ وَإِنَّمَا كَانَ يُقَاتِلُ مَنْ يُحَارِبُهُ وَيُقَاتِلُهُ وَأَمَّا مَنْ سَالَمَهُ وَهَادَنَهُ فَلَمْ يُقَاتِلْهُ وَلَمْ يُكْرِهْهُ عَلَى الدُّخُولِ فِي دِينِهِ امْتِثَالًا لِأَمْرِ رَبِّهِ سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى حَيْثُ يَقُولُ لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ قَدْ تَبَيَّنَ الرُّشْدُ مِنَ الْغَيِّ
The Prophet never forced the religion upon anyone, but rather he only fought those who waged war against him and fought him first. As for those who made peace with him or conducted a truce, then he never fought them and he never compelled them to enter his religion, as his Lord the Almighty had commanded him: There is no compulsion in religion, for right guidance is distinct from error (2:256).
Hidāyat al-Ḥayārá 237
Yet the extremists have ignored all of these teachings in the Quran, the Prophet’s traditions, and Islamic heritage because they obsessively pursue their misguided view of justice. Believing they can, in fact, eliminate the polarity God created and ascribe their illegal actions to God’s law puts them at risk of idolatry themselves.
Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
إِنَّ مَا أَتَخَوَّفُ عَلَيْكُمْ رَجُلٌ قَرَأَ الْقُرْآنَ حَتَّى رُئِيَتْ بَهْجَتُهُ عَلَيْهِ وَكَانَ رِدْئًا لِلإِسْلامِ غَيَّرَهُ إِلَى مَا شَاءَ الِلَّهِ فَانْسَلَخَ مِنْهُ وَنَبَذَهُ وَرَاءَ ظَهْرِهِ وَسَعَى عَلَى جَارِهِ بِالسَّيْفِ وَرَمَاهُ بِالشِّرْكِ
Verily, I fear for you that a man will recite the Quran until his delight is seen and he takes Islam as a cloak. Then, he changes to whatever Allah wills for him such that it is stripped from him and he throws it behind his back, assaulting his neighbor with the sword and accusing him of idolatry.
It was said, “O Messenger of Allah, which one is closer to idolatry? The accused or the accuser?” The Prophet said:
Rather it is the accuser.
Ironically, the extremists have become the very sin they attempted to eliminate.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.