A good friend of mine sent me the book “Islamic Awakening -Between Rejection & Extremism” written by Yusuf Al-Qaradawi. First published by the International Institute of Islamic Thought, London/Washington way back in the year 1987 and followed by a revised second edition in the year 1991, this book is still very much relevant to the present times. The author, a reputed scholar from Al-Azhar University, Cairo, Egypt traces the complex roots of extremist views and examines in depth the many causes of the path to intolerance, offering a variety of remedies and cures. The author refocuses the reader’s attention on the original and great vision of Islam, to bring peace, unity, and stability and to treat one another with mercy, tolerance, and respect.
This book is different from others since it highlights “moderation” in every sphere of life. Moderation which is an important trait of Islam has been overlooked over a period of time. The author says: “Islam recommends moderation and balance in everything: in belief, worship, conduct and legislation. Islamic texts call upon Muslims to exercise moderation and to reject and oppose all kinds of extremism: ghuluw (excessiveness), tanattu (nitpicking religiosity i.e., pointing out minor faults), and tashdid (strictness, austerity). Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) struck a balance between the spiritual and the material, between the concerns of this world and the concerns of the world to come, and between the individual’s right to life and its enjoyment. “Our Lord! Give us good in this world and good in the hereafter”, says the Qur’an (2:201).
Yusuf Al-Qaradawi says that these warnings against extremism and excessiveness are necessary because of our inherent tendencies. To elucidate this matter, the author tells us about why the Prophet (saw) was once angry with his eminent Companion Mu’adh, because he had led the people one day in prayer and so prolonged it that one of the people went to the Prophet (saw) and complained. The Prophet said to Mu’adh: “O Mu’adh! Are you putting people to the test”? and repeated it three times. On another occasion he addressed an Imam sternly, saying: “Some of you cause people to dislike good deeds…..Whoever among you leads people in prayer should keep it short, because amongst them are the weak, the old, and those who have needs to attend to”.
Yusuf Al-Qaradwi talks about the contention of many Muslim jurists that a woman should wear clothing that covers her entire body with the exception of her face and the hands. The exception of face and hands is based upon this Qur’anic verse: “…..that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what [must ordinarily] appear thereof” (24:31). The author favours this point of view. However, he says, a number of eminent Muslim scholars argue that both the face and the hands are unpresentable and must be covered, and in support of this, they cite evidence from the Qur’an, hadith literature, and established traditions. Likewise, opinions also differ on singing, music, drawing, photography, etc. However, the author makes it clear that we should not condemn the practice of any Muslim or accuse him of disbelief if he has adopted a hardline approach based on juristic judgment. We have no right to force him to abandon his opinion or ask him to follow a line of behaviour which is contrary to his convictions. You can only appeal to him with wisdom and evidence and try to convince him, says the author.
Manifestations Of Extremism
According to the author, the first indications of extremism include bigotry and intolerance. Such people claim that they alone are right and everybody else is wrong. Such people do not allow any opportunity for dialogue with others which contradicts the principle of consensus amongst the Ummah. Let me mention one example here: the heated arguments and counterarguments on various maslak issues that we see in WhatsApp groups, carried on by people who do not have a deep knowledge of the subject. I have read abuses and counter-abuses being hurled at each other. The author’s statement that a bigot neither knows nor believes in moderation becomes relevant here.
Another example of extremism is to call another Muslim a kafir merely because he commits certain actions which may or may not be forbidden, or because he fails to observe something which may or may not be obligatory.
Thinking Ill of Others
Yet another manifestation of extremism is when the extremist considers a person guilty, the moment he suspects him of something. He jumps to conclusions. The slightest mistake is blown out of proportion. Such a reaction is a stark violation of the spirit and teachings of Islam which fosters mutual trust and goodwill among Muslims. If a Muslim sees a fault in a fellow Muslim, he should conceal it in order that Allah might conceal his faults both in this world and the next. If he finds something praiseworthy in another Muslim, he should publicize it and bring it to light.
The author points out that there is rigid adherence to the literal meanings of the texts in total disregard for their essence and purpose. One authentic hadith prohibits a Muslim woman from traveling unless she is accompanied by a maharam. Surely, says the author, the main purpose of this prohibition was to protect women at a time when traveling was a laborious and dangerous experience. Presently, however, the means of transportation used by travelers have considerably reduced the risks faced by a woman traveling on her own.
Preoccupation With Side Issues
The author points out that “intellectual shallowness and lack of religious insight also manifest themselves in an intense interest in marginal issues at the expense of central ones. There is excessive talk about growing a beard, wearing robes below the ankle, moving the finger while reciting the tashahhud in prayer, acquisition of photographs, and so on. Unfortunately, such avoidable debates persist and occupy our thinking at a time when we are being confronted by unrelenting hostility”. Much attention is also given to the issue of prohibiting drinking water while standing up. The author says: “The interpretations handed down to us by the most reliable hadith scholars show that although there is a clear encouragement to drink while sitting, there is no prohibition of drinking water while standing”.
The author explains that in matters related to eating, drinking, and dressing, for example, there are legislative as well as non-legislative pronouncements and examples in the prophetic Sunnah. Eating with the fingers rather than with cutlery is not compulsory. The former method was more natural and suitable to the simple life and nature of the Arabs at the time of the Prophet (saw). However, this does not mean that using a spoon is forbidden or even undesirable.
Atmosphere of Freedom
The author advocates that we must spread and encourage an atmosphere of freedom and welcome criticism. We have an example of this in the life of Hazrath Umar ibn al-Khattab (RA), who declared: “May Allah bless the person who points out my faults to me!” An atmosphere of freedom produces ideas that can be rationally discussed and analyzed by the learned, either to be adopted or to be rejected. Otherwise, this will lead to deviant thoughts which becomes the source of extremism. There is the danger of confronting one form of intellectual or political or religious extremism with another; that is confronting obstinacy with obstinacy, bigotry with bigotry, rigidity with rigidity, or reacting to a misdeed with another misdeed”.
Respect The Ulema
Yusuf al-Qaradawi emphasizes that for engaging in independent reasoning (ijtihad), a profound and thorough knowledge of Islamic texts is required. We live in an age in which specialization has become essential; excelling in one discipline does not necessarily mean excelling in another. Just as a physician cannot be consulted on engineering matters or an engineer on law. It is a mistake to believe that the law of Islam can be interpreted by just anyone. The Qur’an and the Sunnah both teach us to refer to matters of which we have no knowledge to the learned and the experienced.
The author advises young Muslims to acquire their religious knowledge from trustworthy scholars who combine the depth of knowledge with piety, righteousness, and balance in their own lives. The main sources of Islamic knowledge are the Qur’an and the Sunnah. However, no one can enrich his understanding and knowledge of these sources without the insights of Muslim exegetes and the explanations of scholars of Islamic jurisprudence who devoted their lives to the service of the Qur’an and the Sunnah and who also established the fundamentals of Islamic jurisprudence, thereby transmitting to us a legacy which only the ignorant and the arrogant would dare disregard, says Yusuf al-Qaradawi.