You live in such a time that if any of you abandon even a tenth of what you are urged, you will be ruined. But a time will come when, if a person fulfills only a tenth of what is enjoined, they will be saved. Prophet Muhammad
(Tirmidhi, Book 34: Fitan (Sedition), Section 79, No. 2267)
In the above hadith (saying of the Prophet), the Prophet was referring to times like ours when we were living in great strife and facing tough challenges to balance religion with modern imperatives and a social environment enveloped in strife cultural and social distress. This Prophetic advice emanates from the Holy Qur’an:
“And God has not laid upon you any hardship in matters of religion” (Q22:78).
The Qur’an further says, “God intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship.” (Q2:185)
The Qur’an reinforces this message again, “God does not burden a soul beyond its capacity” (Q 2:286).
The theme of moderation has been the leitmotif in Islamic literature since the time of the Prophet. The application of restraint covers all aspects of our lives, both worldly and otherworldly. The Qur’an and the Prophetic traditions amplify the various injunctions in this regard.
Muslim women and men are called upon to exercise moderation in all aspects of their religious life. The Prophet confirms the essence of the Qur’an’s message: “Make things easy, do not make them difficult.” One of the most commonly cited examples is of easing the obligation to fast during the month of Ramadan for travelers as a way of cautioning believers against excess. Such Islamic provisions have guided most Islamic scholars to understand the Qur’anic quotation describing Muslims as the “community of moderation.” We are repeatedly urged to follow the Middle Path and shun the radical alternatives.
Islam instructs its followers to believe in this world and the world to come in such a way as not to have one overpower the other. The Muslim has the right to enjoy the pleasures of this world because it was created for him. “But seek the abode of the Hereafter in that which Allah hath given thee and neglect not thy portion of the world, and be thou kind even as Allah hath been kind to thee, and seek not corruption in the earth; lo! Allah loveth not corruptors” (28:77).
During the first Islamic century, two interpretations of religious practice sprang up: ahl al-‘azîma, which interpreted spiritual practices (as reflected in shari’a rules, precepts and injunctions) and applied them strictly (to the letter of the law) without benefiting from exemptions under specific circumstances; and ahl ar-rukhas, which considered, apart from these factors, the need for flexibility vis-à-vis the social context of the day, not to mention instances of condition (hâja) and necessity (darûra).
Over the centuries, most Islamic scholars and Muslims worldwide (whether Sunni or Shia, irrespective of legal school) have preached and followed the path of moderation in the practice of religion. While strictly devoted to fundamental principles (such as the content of the creed, or aqîda, including five prayers a day and fasting in Ramadan, and prohibitions such as avoiding alcohol and pork), they have adapted to changing times (for example, integrating aspects of new cultures, producing legal opinions for the latest scientific or technological challenges, and so on).
A unique feature of the Qur’an is that while it spells out an ethical code, a moral path, a political system, a social norm, economic order, and legal philosophy, it also presents in the life of Prophet Muhammad the practical exposition of an ideal model it postulates. There is hardly any aspect of life that the Qur’an has not touched upon. In a similar vein, the Prophet’s life penetrates with remarkable versatility every domain of human life, both public and private.
This striking parallelism between the message of the Qur’an and the life of Prophet Muhammad indicates that it was to illustrate beyond doubt for every follower of the Qur’an that the pattern of life enunciated in the Qur’an is capable of being practiced by every individual. The Prophet was, in fact, a human incarnation of the Qur’an. For what we find a great philosophy in the static words of the Qur’an, we have a dynamic living counterpart in the life of Prophet Muhammad.
For the Qur’an, Muhammad was an individual through whom every word of it shone like a gleaming star. The Qur’an was the focal object of Islamic virtues and the life of the Prophet, a mirror that reflected in the purest form the impressions of the Book. As the Qur’an says,
“O Prophet! Lo: We have sent thee as a witness and a bringer of good tidings and a warner. And as a summoner unto Allah by His permission, and, as a lamp that giveth light.” (Q33:45-46)
Found in numerous hadith collections, but perhaps made most famous for its mention in al-Nawawī’s renowned collection of forty hadith, the Prophet Muhammad said,
“Be in the world as though you were a stranger or a wayfarer” (122-3, Hadith 40).
The Qur’an spells out a life that is a harmonious blend of the otherworldly and mundane. It emphasizes that a perfect model of religious life is not based on the mere performance of rituals. One must also integrate oneself with the family and the community. The synthesis is attempted in a manner that one gives meaning and content to the other. The Qur’an recognizes two essential obligations of an individual: one to God and the other to society, thereby ruling out any possibilities for a life of asceticism and monasticism.
The Qur’an also disapproves of the other extreme of lifestyle-luxurious and pleasure-seeking. It calls for moderation in all spheres to achieve a complete and wholesome life.
The Prophet himself was convenient and realistic in his approach. Once, the Prophet saw a wretched, ugly man with torn clothes. He asked the man the reason for his pathetic state. The man replied, “O Messenger of God, I prefer giving all in charity, contenting myself with this shabby dress.” The Prophet exclaimed in disapproval: “Not like that; God likes to see the traces of his benefit on his slave!”
The middle way describes the middle ground between attachment and aversion, between being and non-being, between form and emptiness, between free will and determinism, between hedonism and asceticism, and between harsh self-denial and sensual pleasure-seeking.
The Prophet stated: “For a prudent person he must have some moments; moments when he should commune with God, moments when he should be reflecting over the mysteries of creation, and also moments spared for the acquisition of the wherewithal.”