In this age of extremes, it is important to remind ourselves that our religion is the religion of the middle way. Allah SWT says in the Qur’an:
“And thus have We willed you to be a community of the middle way, so that [with your lives] you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind, and that the Messenger might bear witness to it before you.” (2:143)
Departing from this middle way, humans naturally go into extremes. On one side is the extremism of atheism, devoid of religiosity and spirituality. On the other side is religious extremism. Some adherents to our religion, Muslims, are not immune to that as well. However, being the final message to humankind from their Lord, Islam has an in-built mechanism of dealing with extremism. It also clearly defines this undesirable tendency so that Muslims can recognize it and stay away from it.
Our Messenger, Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah (SAW), warned us about three types of religious extremism:
(1)Ghuluww وُ لُالغ (excessiveness in religion)
(2)Tanattu’ (transgressing; meticulous/detailed religiosity)
(3)Tashdid or tashaddud (harshness)
First of these is ghuluww, which refers to someone who is so excessive in practicing religion that he or she goes out of the boundaries set by the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The Prophet SAW said:
وُ إّّياكمّلُمُ بّالغكَقَّبلكّْانمَّنَكَمَّا هّلوُ فّي اّلدين فّإنِلُوالغ فّي اّلدين
“Beware of excessiveness in religion. People before you have perished as a result of such excessiveness” (Musnad Ahmad)
The example of this can be seen during the Hajj, when some people take huge rocks to stone the Jamarat (pillars, representing the Devil), even though small pebbles would suffice, as explained in the Sunnah.Second concept related to extremism, which Rasulullah SAW warned us about, is known as tanattu’ (meticulous religiosity), and he SAW said:
عِونّهلك اّلمتنط ,قالها ثّلاثا
“Ruined were those who indulged in tanattu’ “ (he said it three times) (Sahih Muslim)
Imam al-Nawawi RA said: “[The meaning of this word is,] Those who go beyond the limit in their speech as well as in their action”
The third of these concepts is tashdid or tashaddud (harshness). The Prophet SAW said:
إٌّلا غّلبهاّلدين أّحديَّسر ،ّ وّلن يّشادهَّّذا اّلدينإن
“This religion is easy, indeed. And no one will be harsh in religion, except that he will be overcome [he will not be able to sustain it for long]” (Al-Nisa’i)
Harshness breaks down the people and they will be burned by it over a long time. That is why it is common to see people who become harsh in religion giving up on it altogether after some time, because such harshness is not natural to our religion.
We should clarify what is not religious extremism. Someone praying five times a day, fasting in the Ramadan, a man having a beard by following the Sunnah, or a woman wearing a headscarf who follows the command of her Lord – none of these things is extremism. These are essential teachings of our religion and are in line with the Qur’an and Sunnah.
The easiest way is to say that extremism is anything that departs from the Sunnah of Rasulullah SAW. That is why, when he SAW was informed that some people said they would pray all the time, or fast all the time, or not get married, he SAW rebuked them and said that he prays and takes rest, and he fasts and eats, and he also gets married, so “whoever does not follow my Sunnah is not from me”. In other words, departing from his Sunnah leads a person into extremism and away from the community of the believers. That is why the extremists often seek to separate themselves from the community.
When we look at contemporary extremists, people who call themselves ‘the Islamic State,’ we can see that they are outside the Sunnah. Killing prisoners is not the Sunnah, executing women and children is not the Sunnah, killing other Muslims is not the Sunnah, bombing indiscriminately is not the Sunnah etc. All reputable Muslim scholars, including the Bosnian Reis-ul-Ulema, Husein ef. Kavazović, have declared these people to be extremists.
We need to stay away from these types of extremism. It is normal, in these difficult times, to be concerned with the state of the Ummah and to be willing to help. But the help is best done at home. Help in your mosque, in your community: feed the hungry, provide for the needy, teach those who don’t have knowledge, build a better mosque, a better school, a better community center. You can also help the people back home: refugees and returnees in Srebrenica and many other places where children do not even have enough books and families do not have enough firewood in the winter. Do not fall prey to the extremists’ propaganda. May Allah SWT protect us all from extremism and guide us to be productive members of our communities.