Defects and Harmful Consequences of Religious Extremism

From “Islamic Awakening: between Rejection & extremism” (Yousuf Al Qardhawi) Chapter 1: Part: 2

All these warnings against extremism and excessiveness are necessary because of the serious defects inherent in such tendencies. The first defect is that excessiveness is too disagreeable for ordinary human nature to endure or tolerate. Even if a few human beings could put up with excessiveness for a short time, the majority would not be able to do so.

Allah’s legislation addresses the whole of humanity, not a special group who may have a unique capacity for endurance. This is why the Prophet (ﷺ) was once angry with his eminent companion Mu’adh, because the latter led the people one day in salah and so prolonged it that one of the people went to the Prophet and complained. The Prophet (ﷺ) said to Mu’adh: “O Mu’adh! Are you putting the people on trial?” and repeated it thrice.

On another occasion he addressed an imam with unusual anger: “Some of you make people dislike good deeds [salah]. So, whoever among you leads people in salah should keep it short, short because amongst them are the weak, the old, and the one who has business to attend to.

Furthermore, when the Prophet (ﷺ) sent Mu’adh and Abu Musa to the Yemen, he gave them the following advice: “Facilitate [matters to people] and do not make [things] difficult. Give good tidings and do not put off [people]. Obey one another and do not differ [amongst yourselves].”

Umar ibn al Khattab (ra`a) also emphasized this by saying: “Do not make Allah hateful to His servants by leading people in salah and so prolonging it that they come to hate what they are doing.”

The second defect is that excessiveness is short-lived. Since man’s capacity for endurance and perseverance is naturally limited, and since man can easily become bored, he cannot endure any excessive practice for long. Even if he puts up with it for a while, he will soon be overcome by fatigue, physically and spiritually, and will eventually give up even the little he can naturally do, or he may even take a different course altogether substituting excessiveness with complete negligence and laxity.

I have often met people who were known for their strictness and extremism; then I lost contact with them for a while. When I inquired about them after a period of time, I found out that they had either deviated and taken the opposite extreme, or had, at least, lagged behind like the “hasty one” referred to in the following hadith: He [the hasty one] neither covers the desired distance nor spares the back [of his means of transport].”

So is the Prophet’s guidance embodied in another hadith: “Do those deeds, which you can endure, as Allah will not get tired [of giving rewards] till you get bored and tired [of performing good deeds]…and the most beloved deed to Allah is the one which is done regularly even if it were little.”

Said Ibn ‘Abbas: A female attendant of the Prophet (ﷺ) used to do siyam during the day and spend the whole night in iqamah. The Prophet (ﷺ) was informed of this, and he said, “In every deed [or action] there is a peak of activity followed by lassitude. He who in his lassitude follows my Sunnah is on the right path, but he who in his lassitude follows another [guidance] has [erred and] gone astray.”

‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Umar said: “The Messenger of Allah was told of men who were exhausted by ‘ibadah. He said, ‘This is the maximum of Islam and peak of its activity. Each maximum has a peak of activity, and each peak of activity is followed by lassitude…he whose lassitude is in tune with the Book [the Qur’an] and Sunnah is on the right path, but he whose lassitude is for disobedience will perish.”

How superb is the Prophet’s advice to all Muslims not to overburden themselves in ‘ibadah and to be moderate so that they may not be overcome by fatigue and finally fail to continue. He said: “Religion is very easy, and whoever overburdens himself will not be able to continue in that way. Be right [without excessiveness or negligence], near [perfection], and have good tidings [in being rewarded for your deeds].”

The third defect is that excessive practice jeopardizes other rights and obligations. A sage once said in this respect: “Every extravagance is somehow bound to be associated with a lost right.” When the Prophet (ﷺ) knew that ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Umar was so absorbed in ‘ibadah that he even neglected his duty toward his wife, he said to him: “O ‘Abd Allah! Have I not been correctly informed that you do siyam daily and offer ‘ibadah throughout the night?” ‘Abd Allah replied, “Yes, O Messenger of Allah!” The Prophet (ﷺ) then said: “Don’t do that, but do siyam and then break your siyam, offer ‘ibadah during the night but also sleep. Your body has   a right on you, your wife has a right on you, and your guest has a right on you…”

The incident between Salman al Farisi (ra`a), the eminent companion, and his devout friend Abu al Darda’ (ra`a) is another case in point. The Prophet (ﷺ) made a bond of brotherhood between Salman and Abu al Darda’. Once Salman paid a visit to Abu al Darda’ and found Umm al Darda’ (his wife) dressed in shabby clothes. He asked her why she was in that state, and    she replied, “Your brother Abu al Darda’ is not interested in [the tayyibat of] this world.” In the meanwhile, Abu al Darda’ arrived and prepared a meal for Salman who requested Abu al Darda’ to eat with him, but the latter replied: “I am doing siyam. Salman then said: “I am not going   to eat unless you do.” So, Abu al Darda ate [with Salman]. When it was nighttime Abu al Darda’ got up to offer iqamah, but Salman told him to go back to sleep, and so he did. Again Abu al Darda’ got up and once again Salman told him to go back to sleep. Toward the end of   the night, Salman told Abu al Darda’ to get up, and both offered salah. Salman then told Abu    al Darda’: “Your Lord has a right on you, your self has a right on you, your family has a right   on you. So, give each the due right.” Abu al Darda’ narrated this to the Prophet (ﷺ) who said: “Salman has spoken the truth.”

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