For years now I have heard the word “extreme” become extremely popular. In the mid to late 90s, the word extreme was used as a prefix to excite young risk takers and to promote everything from candy to sporting events. Post 9/11, the suffix “ist” – someone who is proficient, or a skilled practitioner, at a particular task – was peppered all throughout the media and became the new precursor when describing national security threats. In American media today, the word extremist almost always follows the title of Islam; an error that threatens to inappropriately label Muslims who profess to live in accordance with the Qur’an and the way of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Consequently, this “extreme” reaction of xenophobia is making many Muslims run to an extreme of their own – self-denial of religious expression.
As a perfectly understandable defense mechanism, many Muslims in the West (being the minority) feel it necessary to promote a so-called “Moderate Islam”. A large portion of Muslims in our country are immigrants who have come to lead productive lives as opportunity-seekers and contributors. The last thing they would want is for their neighbors to fear them and/or persecute them (something that many of them witnessed first-hand in their countries of origin). And as for the percentage of Muslim converts, many born and raised in the U.S., they have chosen Islam as a way of life, as an aid to be better people, and to even assist in solving societal problems. In order for us to have a fairly sober, or moderate, perspective on this issue we must look at it from a wide view. Life is literally a continuum. On a continuum there are extremes at both ends. According to the Prophet Muhammad extremism is not healthy. He said, “Beware of extremism…” He also encouraged his followers to be moderate and balanced in their practice of Islam giving every person, place, or thing its due rights. To recreate a brand new Islam called “moderate” is insinuating that the way of Prophet Muhammad (saw) was at one extreme in The Continuum of Life. And this could not be farther from the truth! Allah (ta) says, “And thus we have made you a just community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you…” (Qur’an, 2:143).
To better understand moderation in religious vs. worldly life, Muslims and God-conscious non-Muslims alike need to examine the life of Prophet Muhammad. My reasoning for saying God-conscious is because that’s what Islam is – a movement in the God-consciousness of mankind. The goal of the Qur’an is to further guide those God-seekers to a straight way of life and to spark contemplation in those who might be unconscious or unaware. A lot of the time you see views and opinions of people with very little knowledge or understanding of the Prophet Muhammad being broadcasted (Muslims and non-Muslims) because of their over-the-top comments and ability to entertain the masses. The product of such individuals usually results in the misrepresenting or defaming of Islam. Two prime examples of each extreme would be the maniacal “super-jihadi” terrorist group ISIS and the illegitimate “Gay Mosque” start-ups. Neither one of them is supported by legitimate, scholarly teachings from the Qur’an (or even recognized scholars) but has been hyperbolized and manipulated by biased journalism. Furthermore, neither one of their exploits are examples of the Way of Muhammad. The byproduct of political instability and cultural preference, in conjunction with those who wish to alter and belie Islam (to align with their personal beliefs), have pirated Islam’s true call to Allah; while xenophobia and straight bigotry are trying to extinguish His Magnificent Light.
All throughout history we have seen the pure teachings of every prophet, philosopher, or guru become misinterpreted. Those at both extremes use the profoundness of their predecessors to justify their own lack of adherence and hypocrisy or their absoluteness and fanaticism. Even the terms secular and orthodox have been introduced as prefixes to ease the conscious of those who fail to actualize balance in their self-proclaimed religious tenets. Also, these terms have allowed two cancers to develop that have plagued God-conscious communities since ancient times – sectarianism and elitism.
In regards to the natural disposition of Islam it is written, “So direct your face toward the religion, inclining to truth. The fitrah (natural way) of Allah upon which He has created people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah. That is the correct religion, but most of the people do not know. [Adhere to it], turning in repentance to Him, and fear Him and establish prayer and do not be of those who associate others with Allah. Of those who split up their religion, and became sects, each sect rejoicing in that which is with it” (Qur’an, 30:30-32).
Without the actualization of balance, people will overcompensate to be normal, or “popular”. Many people simply seem to follow the crowd. But there is also a false middle that we have a tendency to create. The false middle is a phenomenon among people to publicly affiliate with a religious brand, or group, but mostly follow anecdotes rather than actual doctrine; many of which are contradictory to traditional texts. The false middle is usually justified by sayings such as, “But I’m a good person.” or, “God knows my heart.” This is how we find Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, and even Muslims together, being indifferent to (or openly practicing) some of the same immoral behaviors that their founders, or prophets, came to purge the world of. We must stop trying to use the flaws of human habit as interpretation of religious doctrine. Hence, this brings us back to Islam.
If anyone were to objectively study Islam they would see a perfected design that transcends time, continent, and ethnicity. And when I say, “…objectively study Islam…”, I mean to study and analyze the Glorious Qur’an and the way the Prophet Muhammad lived as a model human before his receiving revelation and then being the Vessel of the Qur’an afterward. Study how he conducted himself as a man of three eras. He lived one-third of his life as a well-respected citizen and contributor among his people, second as a revolutionary thinker and conscientious objector to immorality and inequality, and last as a statesman and the proven, undeniable Messenger of God. At each stage of his life there are well-preserved accounts on how he applied rationale and adherence to the command of Allah to bring about God-consciousness in his society.
In conclusion, the Way of the Prophet Muhammad is an example for anyone who wishes to actualize balance. All of our lives revolve around rights and responsibilities. Rights and responsibilities of ones body, family, society, and spirit are not compartmentalized according to Islam; rather they exist along, and inside one another, when maintained for pleasure of Allah. My prayer is that we as Muslims, and God-conscious people alike, do not be made to believe that to love Allah and to obey Him is extreme. We must accept the Clear Guidance of Allah and admit our irresponsiveness; being sincere and courageous for self-improvement. But refuse to be bullied (or allow others to be bullied) by those who would impose their expectations of religiousness on us. May Allah guide us all.