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Dangers of Excess, Extremism among Muslims

by Imam Ghayth Nur Kashif

Ghayth Nur Kashif is Resident Imam for Masjidush-Shura in Washington, D.C

Allah says in the Qur'an , "Thus we have made of you an ummah justly balanced, that you might be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness over you." (HQ 2:143) The Prophet (s.a.a.w) reportedly said, "Beware of excessiveness in religion before you perish as a result of such excessiveness in religion." (Reported by Ahmad). Allah states in the Qur'an that: "He Intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you in difficulties". (HQ 2:185)

"Religion," the Prophet is reported to have said, "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 timing (in being rewarded for your regular deeds)." (Bukhari)

The people of the Book were warned: "O people of the Book, commit no excesses in your religion, nor say of Allah anything but the Truth...." (HQ4:171) Allah warns the Muslims likewise: "O you who believe! Make not unlawful the good things which Allah has made lawful for you, and commit no excess; for Allah loves not those given to excess. (HQ 5:87)

Until recently Muslims in America have been spared much of the tradition-bound and sectarian divisions that have led to violent oppression and fratricidal warfare among various Muslim proponents, leading often to mutual slaughter, "In the Name of Allah." Allah forbid that they should invoke His Name, or the name of the Prophet as "partners" in their mutual disputes and violence. These are "inventions against Allah’s Name." Just as the early pagans and their partners acted, making "alluring the slaughter of their children in order to lead them to their own destruction and cause confusion in their religion."

Allah warned them that "He will requite them for their invention." (HQ 5:137-8) Unfortunately, this "traditional baggage" has now entered into the ethos of the Islamic growth in America, where we find innocent Muslims being caught up in the negligence and excesses of the worldwide "Ummah" following them in their schisms, ranging from claims of "sacred" cultural mores to disputes of the interpretation of the Sunnah (and ahadith) of the Prophet (s.a.a.w), to claims of the supremacy of ahadith over the Qur`an. Allah Forbid! Then we now have claims of supremacy of one "School of Thought" over the others. And again claims of supremacy of one community over the other in the knowledge of Qur`an and Sunnah. How are we caught up in this? Allah forbid.

We fear that we stand in great danger of going the way of societies before us unless we pause and take heed to Allah’s command: "Hold fast all together, by the rope which Allah stretches to you, and be not divided among yourselves." (HQ 3:103.5) Allah has warned: "And obey Him and His Messenger; and fall not into disputes, lest you lose heart and your power depart..." (HQ 8:47) Allah warns in another Ayah: "(their doom is) because Allah sent down the Book in truth but those who seek causes of dispute in the Book are in schism, far (from the purpose)." (HQ 2:176). As He said of the People of the Book: "There is among them a section who distort the book with their tongues. You think that it is a part of the book, but it is no part of the book, and they say, This is from Allah, but it is not from Allah. It is they who tell a lie against Allah." (HQ 3:48)

Should not Muslims in America reflect upon the relevant examples in the Quran? Why should Muslims in America take on the historic and manifest failures of the ummah, following their manifestations of divisions and disputations over this or that fatwah, this or that purported hadith, in contradistinction of another? Muslim opponents have taken delight in this and have come to mock the Muslims in America and elsewhere for these circus-like conflicts. Should Muslims in America become partisan to these conflicts between proponents of the so-called schools of thought, or to the Sunni/Shia disputes of historical renderings.

When these parties are questioned about their circus-like tendencies and the exaltation of traditions canonized by their fathers, they retort to reckless slander: charging that the people who question them do not believe in the Sunnah. What audacity! We should not fall into the trap laid by the evil seducer, Shaitan himself, who "whispers, then withdraws" -- then comes later as an arbitrator to settle the disputes with cunning and flowery speech. Let us not be deceived, nor think that we can out-flank Shaitan while indulging in the schisms he sets up. Allah says that: "Shaitan and his tribe watch you from a position where you cannot see them..." (HQ: 7:27)

Cannot we see that these forged disputes are an attempt to move the innocent Muslim away from his commitment to take in the orphan, to feed the poor, to clothe the naked, to feed the homeless, and to build a balanced community? His "religion" has thus become one of criticizing and attacking Muslims with whom he differs, often on insignificant issues. Unfortunately from these individual differences, exploited as such, grows the seeds of sectarianism and shirk, followed by fitnah (subversion and rebellion). This is shameful, indeed!

Let us beware: Remember those before us who took idols, angels, and even prophets, making them partners with Allah and equal in the Godhead. They began to mention them exclusively at every mention of Allah. Think of the case of Issa (a.s). They began by declaring stories (ahadith) written about him, such as the New Testament (by Mark, Luke, John and Paul) to be Divine, or in fact the Injil (Revelation) itself. Gradually, over time, they began to include Issa as a co-equal with Allah Himself. They have thrown the injil behind their backs, just as they threw the Torah behind their backs. Allah, however, has cleared His Prophet Issa (a.s) of any such charge. May Allah be praised forever! He distinguishes His Revelation from all else. He is One. His Revelation is One. He is Allah. None is like Him. No partners, no associates.

Muslims in America must be aware of the "baggage" of extremism exported to North America as legitimate Sunnah and fiqh. This "baggage" is propagated by zealots (innocent and otherwise) who insistently accuse others of "bid`ah" (innovation in religion), wantonness, unbelief and deviation. They are known to claim piety for themselves, exalt the Sunnah over the Qur`an and engage others in endless arguments.

Imam al Nawawi reported that the Prophet (s.a.a.w) repeated three times: "Ruined are the people who indulge in hair-splitting." Thus it is important to identify the mode operandi of these mercenaries because of the harm they bring to the innocent Muslims in America. We find that they make a grandiose show of their recital of selected ahadith in Arabic; often da`if (weak) or highly contextual in time and circumstance. Their display of their "erudition" is supposed to confirm their "hikma" (wisdom or implied piety) in the Deen (Al-Islam). Yet sincerity lies in the heart and breast. They make an impressive show of embellishing their arguments with Arabic, particularly to the new Muslims who understand little more than As-Salaamu-Alaikum and Al-Faatihah. Yes, it IS time for the (balanced) Muslim communities to put a stop to the purveyors of deliberate confusion and disunity.

Please note: In no way does this imply that learning to read and recite the Qur`an in Arabic is not essential to the deeper understanding and practice of our Deen. IT IS, and Muslims must strive to acquit themselves, especially in the study of Qur`anic Arabic. No excuse, however, can be given to those whose intent is to obfuscate. (HQ: 3:78)

What then must be done? How may we express our differences? How do we correct a wrong? We take note here of the utter abuse and misapplication of the reported Hadith of the Prophet (s.a.a.w) i.e.: "To correct a wrong with your hand, your heart or your tongue." Often lacking adequate knowledge, we tear into others with the belief that our particular perspective or rendering of an issue, ritual, or interpretation of Hadith or Qur`an is unquestionably right or authentic.

This crude approach often masks, or excuses an aggressive, ill-reasoned action or response to something we differ about that has long been in question, even at the highest levels of the scholarly ummah over the centuries. Another overworked hadith is that the scholar is "worth more than a thousand ignorant worshippers." In most cases, it is exalted by those whose scholarship has become the end goal, rather than the means. It (scholarship) has become the objective, and not for the pleasure of Allah. Allah is no longer the goal of such pursuers, but sophistic scholarship is! Thus we have fallen into disputes of the so-called "learned": like that of Western Philosophers, i.e.: "How many angels can sit on the head of a pin?"

These "extremes," among the literate and the illiterate become a perverse "religion." Yet they understand not. Allah knows best: whenever we begin to exalt anything as equal to Him or His Words (Guarded Revelations), then we are truly gravitating toward Shirk. Let us consider some advise found on page 428 of the Encyclopedia of Seerah, (vol. 6). The author writes: "If there is any difference of opinion, it cannot be on the Truth of the Qur`an and its Message, which is one and the same for all time. If there is a difference among Muslims, it can only be in their imperfect understanding of the Qur`an and its Message; but if this difference of opinion is within limits of acceptable interpretations, it is not bad nor evil, nor is it dangerous or injurious to the collective." If however, people go beyond the acceptable limits and start arguing on a political, sectarian, or sophistic basis (for argument sake), then there is no cure for such disputes and wrongdoing.

The different opinions of the companions of the Prophet were of the former (above). This type of difference is called a mercy. But if these differences or details are considered as al-din (compulsory) and made the means of dispute between different sections of people, then even this type of difference becomes condemned. Truth is only the Qur`an, and people's opinions are only opinions, and as such may be right or wrong.

According to Ibn Kathir, Allah's Prophet disliked these things: "Unnecessary disputes and arguments, questioning and inquiring without any need, and wastage of wealth." Having grown weak from disputes, many Muslims have lost their sense of purpose in bringing glad tidings to the believers and warning the rulers and citizens of the land. They are content to rail, and mock them instead, becoming obsessed with simply calling them "Kufar". They exhibit little evidence of dawah, such as feeding the poor, or working collectively with any Muslim community to establish a good life in society. Rather, they are bent upon trying to "convert" the converted. They demonstrate a lack of Iman by raising doubts of others. Could this be hypocrisy in disguise? Could this be subversion in disguise? Allah Knows.

Muslims are obligated to warn, to argue in the best manner (words, manners, conduct): "To call for justice, for the release of the slave (mentality), for the feeding of the hungry, for the housing of the homeless, for the sharing of wealth." We must warn against Riba, against arrogance, against mis-education, against waste and lack of economic productivity. Cannot we hear? Are we deaf? Do we not know that we have Watchers over our souls?

Posted September 17, 1998. This article is based on a speech delivered at the First Annual ISNA/Dar Al-Hijrah Conference in April 1994. A revised edition was printed in the August 1994 issue of the Voice of Islam newsletter. (This newsletter is published by the Islamic Society of the Washington Area).


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