While it is true that not all extremists are terrorists but extremism is the hallmark of terrorism and terrorism is a form of extremism.
This posting seeks to clarify the inherent characteristics of simplicity, tolerance, gentleness and peace in Islam in contrast of extremism and terrorism embraced by some Muslims. The objective is to highlight the virtue of moderation and the abhorrence of extremism.
While the arguments put forth in this writing may not convince the hardcore among the extremists and the terrorists because they will always have their version of interpretation, but the arguments will help to instill guiding principles in the general members of Muslim community which will protect them from the influence of the extremists and terrorists.
Fellow Muslims, Why Moderation and Tolerance?
God requires that simplicity and moderation be the hallmarks of the Muslim ummah (community), as mentioned in the Quran:
“Thus, have We made you an Ummah justly balanced, that you might be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness over yourselves… ” (The Quran 2:143)
The ulama interpret the phrase Ummatan Wasatan as the just (Al-`Adl) and chosen (Al-Khiyar) people. These two interpretations do not contradict each other, as justness is a criterion for being chosen by God. This definition is also in line with the meaning of simplicity, tolerance and moderation as opposed to extremism, as something is said to be just, when it is balanced away from extremes.
Moderation in Islam is characterised as follows:
1. Islam is a religion which is easy to practise, and simplicity is preferred in practising it.
The Quran says:
“… and has not laid upon you any hardship in religion.” (The Quran 22: 78)
“Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties.” (The Quran 2:185)
“Allah does not wish to place you in a difficulty, but to purify you, and to complete his favour on you, that you may be grateful.” (The Quran 5: 6)
Prophet Muhammad warned against complicating the practice of Islam, as it was meant to be easy:
“Indeed this religion is easy and it will defeat anyone who makes it difficult. “ (Narrated by Al-Bukhari)
Here, ‘defeat’ means that someone who tries to make the practice of Islam difficult will find himself unable to continue practicing it.
The Prophet also said:
“Indeed the religion most favoured by Allah is one which is convenient and tolerant.” (Narrated by Al-Bukhari)
In sending off his messenger on a mission, the Prophet advised, “Make it convenient and do not make it difficult, tell them the good news and do not make them run away” (Narrated by Al-Bukhari)
In addition, the Prophet also reminded, “Indeed, you have been sent to make things easy (for the people), not to make things difficult for them.” (Narrated by Al-Bukhari)
“When the Prophet is given two choices, he will choose the one that is more convenient between the two, so long as it is not sinful.” (Narrated by Al-Bukhari)
Among the hallmarks of convenience in practicing Islam as a faith, is the provision of rukhsah (exemptions), when one faces difficulty in fulfilling certain requirements.
2. Tolerance is a characteristic that cannot be isolated from Islam.
This characteristic is based on the commandment that there is to be no compulsion to accept Islam. The Quran says,
“Let there be no compulsion in religion.” (The Quran 2: 256)
“Will you then compel mankind, against their will, to believe?” (The Quran 10: 99)
Islam encourages respect for other faiths, and does not interfere in other faiths’ acts of worship. The Quran says:
“Say : O you who reject Faith ! I worship not that which you worship. Nor do you worship that which I worship. And I will not worship that which you have been worshipping. Nor will you worship that which I worship. To you be your Way, and to me, mine.” (The Quran 109: 1-6)
Another Islamic injunction which aims to inculcate respect for others, is the prohibition against rebuking or insulting other faiths. This is mentioned in the Quran:
“Do not revile those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest they out of spite, revile Allah in their ignorance. Thus have We made alluring to each people its doings. In the end will they return to their Lord, and We shall then tell them the truth of all they
did.” (The Quran 6: 108)
In the effort to foster tolerance, Muslims are encouraged to counter wrongdoing with good deeds.
“Nor can Goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: then will he between whom and you were hatred, become as it were, your friend and intimate!” (The Quran 41: 34)
“Repel evil with which that which is best: well are We acquainted with the things they say.” (The Quran 23: 96)
In addition, Islam enjoins forgiveness both within the ummah and to others. Even in the extreme injustice of murder, the family of a murder victim is encouraged to forgive and in so doing, spare the murderer from capital punishment. The Quran says:
“O you who believe! The law of equality in prescribed to you in cases of murder…But if any remission is made by the brother of the slain, then grant any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude.” (The Quran 2: 178)
The Quran also says:
“But if you forgive and overlook, and cover up (their faults), verily, Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. ” (The Quran 64: 14)
God describes forgiveness as a characteristic of the dwellers of heaven; this is mentioned in the Holy Quran:
“Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Garden whose width is that (of the whole) of the heavens and of the earth, prepared for the righteous – those who spend (freely), whether in prosperity, or in adversity; who restrain anger, and pardon (all) men; for Allah loves those who do good; (The Quran 3: 133 – 134)
God Himself is Most Forgiving. Prophet Muhammad said that God declared:
“O, son of Adam, as long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for whatever you have done, and I shall not mind. O, son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O, son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth, and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me (syirik) I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as the earth is.” (Narrated by At-Tarmizi)
Tolerance in Islam may also be seen in the manner Prophet Muhammad treated those who committed offences; surely his behaviour is the best example and reference for the Muslim ummah.
Abu Hurairah related an occasion when a Bedouin urinated in the mosque, and the people angrily went to ask Prophet Muhammad to reprimand him. The Prophet calmly replied:
“Let him be. Pour over his urine a dipper of water. Indeed, you have been sent to make things easy and not to make them difficult.” (Narrated by Al-Bukhari & Muslim)
A man sneezed during a prayer led by Prophet Muhammad. Muawiyah b. Al-Hakam As-Salami, who was in the congregation, narrated as follows:
I then said, “May Allah bless you”. People around me looked at me with disapproval. I asked, “Why are you all looking at me like that?”. They then slapped their thighs with their hands. When I realised that they were trying to quieting me, I kept quiet. Prophet Muhammad completed his prayers. Indeed, I have never before or after this, seen a teacher who showed such a good example. By God, he did not scold, hit or reprimand me, but said :
“Indeed, no word from man is suitable in solat (prayers). Solat is tasbih, takbir, and recitation of Al-Quran.” (Narrated by Muslim & Abu Daud)
Muslims are not allowed to converse with others during their prayers, and so the rest of the congregation tried to signal to Muawiyah to keep quiet. Yet, Prophet Muhammad kept his patience till prayers were over, before explaining it to Muawiyah.
Adaptation from Seminar Paper 3 presented in the Convention of Ulama organised by PERGAS on 13 – 14 September 2003 which was written by me.
Read also Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, Islamic Awakening between Rejection and Extremism, available at http://www.youngmuslims.ca/online_library/books/iabrae/index.htm