Chapter One
Extremism: The Accusation and the Truth

Logicians argue that one cannot pass a judgment on something unless one has a clear conception of it, because the unknown and the undefined cannot be judged. Therefore, we first have to determine what "religious ,extremism" means before we can condemn or applaud it. We can do so by considering its reality and its most distinguishing characteristics. Literally, extremism means being situated at the farthest possible point from the center. Figuratively, it indicates a similar remoteness in religion and thought, as well as behavior. One of the main consequences of extremism is exposure to danger and insecurity.! Islam, therefore, recommends moderation and balance in everything: in belief, ibadah, conduct, and legislation. This is the straightforward path that Allah (SWT) calls al Sirat. al mustaqim, one distinct from all the others which are followed by those who earn Allah's anger and those who go astray. Moderation, or balance, is not only a general characteristic of Islam, it is a fundamental landmark. The Qur'an says:

Thus have we made of you an Ummah justly balanced, that you might be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness over yourselves.

As such, the Muslim Ummah is a nation of justice and moderation; it witnesses every deviation from the 'straightforward path' in this life and in the hereafter. Islamic texts call upon Muslims to excerise moderation and to reject and oppose all kinds of extremism: ghuluw (excessiveness), tanattu' (trangressing; meticulous religiosity) and tashdid (strictness; austerity). A close examination of such texts shows that Islam emphatically warns against, and discourages, ghuluw. Let us consider the following ahadith:

  1. Beware of excessiveness in religion. [People] before you have perished as a result of [such] excessiveness. " The people referred to above are the people of other religions, especially Ahl al Kitab [the People of the Book]; Jews and Christians and mainly the Christians. The Qur'an addresses these people: Say: O People of the Book! Exceed not in your religion the bounds [of what is proper], trespassing beyond the truth, nor follow the vain desires of people who went wrong in times gone by who misled many, and strayed [themselves] from the even Way".

    Muslims have therefore been warned not to follow in their steps: he who learns from the mistakes of others indeed lives a happier life. Furthermore, the reason behind the above hadith is to alert us to the fact that ghuluw may crop up as an insignificant action which we then unwittingly allow to continue and develop into a menace. After reaching Muzdalifah-during his last hajj-the Prophet (SA'AS) requested Ibn 'Abbas to gather some stones for him. Ibn 'Abbas selected small stones. Upon seeing the stones, the Prophet (SA'AS) approved of their size and said: "Yes, with such [stones do stone Satan]. Beware of excessiveness in religion". This clearly indicates that Muslims should not be so zealous as to believe that using larger stones is better, thus gradually allowing excessiveness to creep into their lives. Al Imam Ibn Taymiyah argues that this warning against excessiveness applies to all forms of belief, worship, and transaction, and notes that since the Christians are more excessive in faith and in practice than any other sect, Allah (SWT) admonishes them in the Qur'an. "Do not exceed the limits of your religion" .

  2. "Ruined were those who indulged in tanattu'" And he [the Prophet (SA'AS)] repeated this thrice. Imam al Nawawi said that the people referred to here, "those indulging in tanattu:" i.e., those who go beyond the limit in their utterance as well as in their action. Evidently the above two ahadith emphatically assert that the consequence of excessiveness and zealotry will be the complete loss of this life and of the hereafter.

  3. The Prophet (SA'AS) used to say: "Do not overburden yourselves, lest you perish. People [before you] overburdened themselves and perished. Their remains are found in hermitages and monasteries. Indeed, Prophet Muhammad (SA'AS) always condemned any tendency toward religious excessiveness. He cautioned those of his companions who were excessive in ibadah, or who were too ascetic, especially when this went beyond the moderate Islamic position. Islam seeks to create a balance between the needs of the body and those of the soul, between the right of man to live life to its full, and the right of the Creator to be worshipped by man; which is also man's raison d'etre.

    Indeed, Prophet Muhammad (SA'AS) always condemned any tendency toward religious excessiveness. He cautioned those of his companions who were excessive in ibadah, or who were too ascetic, especially when this went beyond the moderate Islamic position. Islam seeks to create a balance between the needs of the body and those of the soul, between the right of man to live life to its full, and the right of the Creator to be worshipped by man; which is also man's raison d'etre.

    Islam has laid down certain forms of `ibadah to purify the human being both spiritually and materially, individually and collectively, thereby establishing a harmonious community in which feelings of brotherhood and solidarity rule, and without hindering man's duty to build culture and civilization. The obligatory duties such as salah, zakah,' siyam' and hajj are simultaneously personal as well as social forms of ibadah. While performing these obligations, a Muslim is neither cut off from the mainstream of life nor is he alienated from his community. On the contrary, his ties are emotionally and practically strengthened. This is the reason why Islam did not prescribe monasticism, a practice which requires alienation and seclusion, thus preventing man from enjoying the blessings and al tayyibat of normal life and from sharing in its development and promotion.

Islam considers the whole earth a field for religious practice; or the very business of religion. Islam also considers work a form of ibadah and a jihad' when one's intention is genuinely committed to the service of Allah (SWT). As a result, Islam neither approves of the pursuit of spirituality at the expense of materialism nor of the tendency to "purify the soul" by neglecting and punishing the body, which other religions and philosophies prescribe and advocate. This is made very clear in the Qur'an: "Our Lord! Give us good in this world and good in the hereafter", as well as in the following hadith "O, Allah, set right for me my religion which is the safeguard of my affairs; and set right for me the affairs of my [life in this] world wherein is my living; and set right for me my hereafter on which depends my afterlife; and make life for me [a source] of abundance for every good and make my death a source of comfort for me protecting me against every evil;" and: "Your body has a right over you."'

Moreover, the Qur'an disapproves of and rejects the tendency to prohibit tayyibat and beautification zinah', which Allah taala has provided for his servants. In a verse revealed in Makkah, Allah (SWT) says: O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer. Eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not those who waste. Say: who has forbidden the beautiful gifts of Allah which He has produced for His servants, and the things clean and pure which He has provided for sustenance?

In another surah, revealed in Madinah, Allah (SWT) addresses the believers in the same way: O you who believe! Make not unlawful the good things which Allah has made lawful for you. But commit no excess, for Allah does not like those excess. Eat of the things which Allah has provided you, lawful and good, but fear Allah, in Whom you believe.

These ayat explain to the believers the true Islamic way of enjoying tayyibat and of resisting the excessiveness found in other religions. It is reported that the situational context for the revelation of these two ayat was when a group of the Prophet's companions decided to castrate themselves and to roam the land like monks.

Ibn 'Abbes (RA'A)' also reported: "A man came upon the Prophet (SA'AS) and said, 'O Messenger of Allah, whenever I eat of this meat I [always] have a desire to make love, therefore, I have decided to abstain from eating meat" Consequently the ayat were revealed.

Narrated Anas ibn Malik (RA'A): "A group of men came to the houses of the wives of the Prophet (SA'AS) asking about his ibadah, and when they were informed about that, they considtheir ibadah insufficien. One of them said, 'I will offer Salah throughout the night forever.' The other said, 'I will do siyam throughout the year and will not break my siyam. 'Allah's Messenger came to them and said, '...By Allah, I am more submissive to Allah and more afraid of him than you; yet I do siyam and I break my siyam, I sleep and do night salah and I also marry women. So he who does not follow my sunnah is not with me [i.e., not one of my followers].' The Prophet's Sunnah signifies his understanding of the faith and its application; i.e., his duty toward his Lord, himself, his family, and his followers-giving each the due right in a balanced and moderate way.

1. Defects of Religious Extremism

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 (SA'AS) 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 (SA'AS) 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 (SA'AS) 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 can not 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 (SA'AS) used to do siyam during the day and spend the whole night in iqamah. The Prophet (SA'AS) 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 (SA'AS) 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 (SA'AS) 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 (SA'AS) 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 SA'AS) who said: "Salman has spoken the truth."

2. The Concept of Religious Extremism

A correct expose and definition of-and an insight into-extremism is the first step toward outlining the remedy. There is no value for any judgment or exposition not based on genuine Islamic concepts and the Shari'ah, but on mere personal opinions of individuals. The Qur'an says in this respect: "If you differ on anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if you do believe in Allah and the Last Day". Throughout the history of the Ummah there has always been an ijma Referring differences between Muslims to Allah (SWT) and to His Messenger means referring them to His Book, the Qur'an, and to the Sunnah of the Prophet (SA'AS). Without such authentication based on Shariah, the Muslim youth-who are accused of "extremism" will never pay any attention to the fatawa of this or that Muslim scholar, and will deny and refuse to accept such accusation. Furthermore, they will themselves accuse others of ignorance and of falsification.

It is reported that al Imam Muhammad ibn Idris al Shafi was accused of being a rafidi. Outraged by such a cheap accusation, he defiantIy read a verse of poetry which is paraphrased as follows: "If love for all ahl al bayt' is rejectionism, let the humans and the jinn bear witness that I am a rejectionist "

A present-day Muslim daiyah said, on hearing that he had been branded a reactionary: "If adherence to the Qur'an and Sunnah is reactionism, I wish to live, die, and resurrected as a reactionary."

In fact it is very important to define accurately such common terms as "reactionism:'" rigidity "'extremism" "bigotry 'etc., so that they may not constitute ambiguous concepts which can be hurled randomly by one group of people against another, or be interpreted differently by various intellectual and social forces whether on the extreme right or left. Failure to define and comprehend "religious extremism" and to leave the issue to the whimsical desires of people will lead to discord among Muslims. The Qur'an says:

If the Truth had been in accord with their desires, truly the heavens and the earth and all the beings therein would have been in confusion and corruption!.

I would like at this point to draw attention to two important observations. First: The degree of a person's piety as well as that of the society in which he lives affect his judgment of others as far as extremism, moderation, and laxity are concerned. A religious society usually produces a person sensitively aversive to any deviation or negligence, however slight it may be. Judging by the criteria of his own practice and background, such a person would be surprised to find that there are Muslims who do not offer 'ibadah during the night or practice siyam. This is historically obvious. When examining the deeds and practices of people, the nearer one gets to the time of the Prophet (.SA'AS), his companions and the Tabiun the less worthy seem the deeds and practices of the pious among the later generations. Hence the gist of the saying: "`The merits of those nearest to Allah are but the demerits of the righteous."

This reminds one of what Anas ibn Malik (RA'A) used to tell the Tabiun of his contemporaries, "You do things you consider trifling. But during the time of the Prophet (SA'AS) these same actions were seen as mortal sins."

The same attitude was expressed by Aishah (RA'A), who used to recite a line of verse by Labid Ibn Rabiah, the well-known poet, which laments the disappearance of those people who provided exemplary patterns of righteous living, thus leaving people to the mercy of the stragglers, whose company is as contagious as a scabby animal. Moreover, she always wondered how Labid would have felt had he lived to witness the practices of a later generation. 'Aishah's nephew, 'Urwah ibn al Zubayr, also used to recite the same line of verse and wonder how both Aishah and Labid would have felt had they lived in his own age.

On the other hand, a person whose knowledge of and commitment to Islam is little, or who has been brought up in an environment which practices what Allah (SWT) has forbidden and neglects Shariah, will certainly consider even minimal adherence to Islam a kind of extremism. Such a person-who quite often feigns godliness-would not only question and criticize, but would even deny the validity of a certain practice. He would also accuse those who are committed to Islam, and initiate arguments on what is haram and what is halal. His attitude would, of course, depend on his distance from the fundamentals of Islam.

Some Muslims-those who are influenced by alien ideologies and practices-consider adherence to clear-cut Islamic teachings concerning eating, drinking, beautification, or the call for the application of Shariah and the establishment of an Islamic state as manifestations of "religious extremism." For such a person, a young Muslim with a beard or a young girl wearing hijab are both extremists! Even the commanding of the common good and the prohibition of evil are regarded as forms of extremisim and interference with personal freedom.

Although a basis of faith in Islam is to believe that our religion is right and that those who do not believe in it are wrong, there are Muslims who object to considering those who take a religion other than Islam 'as kuffar, considering this as extremism and bigotry. This is an issue upon which we must never compromise.

Second: It is unfair to accuse a person of "religious extremism" simply because he has adopted a "hard-line" juristic opinion of certain fuqaha.' If a person is convinced that his opinion is right and that he is bound by it according to Shariah, he is free to do so even if others think that the juristic evidence is weak. He is only responsible for what he thinks and believes even if, in so doing, he overburdens himself, especially since he is not content with only limiting himself to the categorical obligations required of him but seeks Allah's pleasure through supererogatory performances.

People naturally differ on these matters. Some take things easy and facilitate matters, others do not. This is also true of the Prophet's companions. Ibn 'Abbas, for instance, facilitated religious matters, while Ibn 'Umar was strict. In view of all this, it would be enough for a Muslim to support his conviction with evidence from one of the Islamic madhahib, or with a reliable ijtihad, based on sound evidence from the Qur'an or Sunnah. Therefore, should a person be labeled an extremist because he adopts a law derived by one of the four great jurists of Islam -al Shafi', Abu Hanifah, Malik, and Ahmad ibn Hanbal-and commits himself to it because he differs from that which various scholarsespecially the contemporary-expound? Do we have any right to suppress another person's choice of ijtihad, especially if it relates only to his personal life and behavior?

A great number of Muslim jurists contend that a woman should wear a dress that covers the whole of her body with the exception of her face and hands. The exception of the hands and face is based upon this Qur'anic verse: " . .that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what [must ordinarily] appear thereof". They further emphasize this by supporting it with ahadith, events, and traditions. Many contemporary ulama: including myself, favor this verdict.

On the other hand, a number of eminent Muslim 'ulama' argue that both the face and the hands are awrah and must be covered. They cite evidence from the Qur'an, hadith literature, and established traditions. This argument is advocated by many contemporary 'ulama: especially in Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states. They call upon every Muslim woman who believes in Allah (SWT) and the hereafter to veil her face and wear gloves. If a woman believes in this. and coneiders it part of the teachings of Islam, should she be branded an extremist? If a man persuades his daughter or his wife to abide by this, should he also be looked upon as an extremist? Do we have the right to force anyone to abandon what he/she believes to be Allah's injunction? Are we not, in this way, asking him/her to seek the anger of Allah (SWT) in order to satisfy our whims and in order to avoid being accused of "extremism"?

The same could also be said of those who adhere to hard-line opinions pertaining to singing, music, drawing, photography, etc. These opinions do not only differ from my own personal ijtihad in these matters but also from the ijtihad of many renowned 'ulama' However, such opinions remain in tune with the views of a number of early and contemporary 'ulama'

However, much of what we criticize in those whom we brand "extremists," such as wearing a short thawb instead of a shirt and trousers, or refusing to shake hands with women, which may be considered "excessive,' finds its evidence in usul al fiqh and the traditions of the Ummah. In that capacity they have been accepted, advocated, and propagated by some of our contemporary ulama' Consequently, some devout young Muslims have responded to this in the hope of Allah's mercy and in fear of His punishment. We should not, therefore, condemn the practice of any Muslim or accuse him of "extremism" if he adopts a hard-line opinion based on juristic judgement through which he seeks Allah's pleasure. We have no right to force him to abandon his opinion or ask him to follow a line of behavior which is contrary to his convictions. Our duty is to appeal to him with wisdom, argue with him patiently and nicely, and try to convince him by citing evidence in the hope that he may change his mind and accept what wbelieve to be the truth.

3. Manifestations of Extremism

The first indications of exttemism include bigotry and intolerance, which make a person obstinately devoted to his own opinions and prejudices, as well as rigidity, which deprives him of clarity of vision regarding the interests of other human beings, the purposes of Shariah, or the circumstances of the age. Such a person does not allow any opportunity for dialogue with others so that he may compare his opinion with theirs, and chooses to follow what appears to him most sound. We equally condemn this person's attempt to suppress and discard the opinions of others, just as we condemn the similar attitude of his accusers and opponents. Indeed, we emphatically condemn his attitude if he claims that he alone is right and everybody else is wrong, accusing those who have different ideas and opinions of ignorance and self-interest, and those with different behaviour of disobedience and fisq as if he were an infallible prophet and his words were divinely revealed. This attitude contradicts the consensus of the Ummah, that what every person says can be totally or partly accepted or rejected, except, of course, the ahadith of Prophet Muhammad (SA'AS).

Strangely, though some of these people take liberty in exercising ijtihad in the most complicated matters and issues and pass notional and whimsical judgments yet they would deprive the contemporary expert 'ulama' singly or collectively-of the right to exercise ijtihad regarding statements which contradict theirs. Some of them never hesitate to give ridiculous opinions on, and interpretations of, the Qur'an and Sunnah; opinions which are contradictory to those handed down to us by our forefathers, or subsequently arrived at by contemporary ulama' This indifference is due to their presumption to be on an equal footing with Abu Bakr, 'Umar, Ali, and Ibn Abbas (RA'A). This presumption might be less grave if these people admits that their contemporaries who uphold different views or approaches are also capable of ijtihad like themselve; but they would not.

Bigotry is the clearest evidence of extremisim. An extremist seems to address people in this way: "I have the right to speak, your duty is to listen. I have the right to lead, your duty is to follow. My opinion is right, it cannot be wrong. Your opinion is wrong, it can never be right."

Thus, a bigot can never come to terms with others. Agreement is possible and can be reached when people hold moderate positions, but a bigot neither knows nor believes in moderation. He stands in relation to people as the East stand in relation to the West-the nearer you get to one, the further you move away from the other.

The issue becomes even more critical when such a person develops the tendency to coerce others, not necessarily physically but by accusing them of bidah, laxity, kufr, and deviation. Such intellectual terrorism is as terrifying as physical terrorism.

The second characteristic of extremism manifests itself in a perpetual commitment to excessiveness, and in attempts to force others to do likewise, despite the existence of good reasons for facilitation and the fact that Allah (SWT) has not ordained it. A person motivated by piety and caution may, if he so wishes, choose a hard-line opinion in some matters and on certain occasions. But this should not become so habitual that he rejects facilitation when he needs it. Such an attitude is not in keeping with the teachings of the Qura'an or Sunnah as is clear from the following verse: "Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties".

The Prophet (SA'AS) also said in ahadith already quoted: "Facilitate [matters to people] and do not make [things] difficult."

He also said: "Allah loves that His dispensations [to make things easier] be accepted, as He dislikes [to see people] committing disobedience.

It is also reported that "whenever the Prophet (SA'AS) was given a choice between two options, he always chose the easiest unless it was a sin."

Complicating matters for people and causing constraint in their lives are contrary to the most outstanding qualities of the Prophet Muhammad (SA'AS). These qualities have been mentioned in earlier scriptures and later revealed in the Qur'an:

He [Muhammad] allows them as lawful what is good [and pure] and prohibits them from what is bad [and impure], he releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them.

This is why the Prophet (SA'AS) used to prolong his salah only when he was alone. In fact, he used to offer salah throughout the night until his feet were swollen. But when leading people in ,salah, he used to shorten it, taking into consideration the circumstances of his followers and their varying levels of endurance , He said in this respect, "If any of you leads people in salah, he should shorten it, for among them are the weak, the sick, and the old; and if any of you offers ,salah alone, then he may prolong [it] as much as he wishes.

Abu Mas'ud al Ansari narrated that a man said to the Prophet (SA'AS): "O Messenger of Allah, I keep away from Salat al Fajr only because so and so prolongs it." The Prophet (SA'AS) became very angry and said: people, some of you make people dislike good deeds [ in this case salah]. Whoever leads people in salah should shorten it because among them are the weak, the old, and those who have business to attend to.

As we have already mentioned, the Prophet (SA'AS) reacted in the same way when a man complained to him that Mu'adh (RA'A) prolonged the ,salah. Anas Ibn Malik narrated: "The Prophet (SA'AS) said: "When I stand for ,salah, I intend to prolong it, but I cut it short on hearing the cries of a child, because I do not like to trouble the mother".

It is also strict, excessive and overburdening to require people to observe supererogatories in the same way as they would observe the obligatories, or hold them accountable for the things which are mukrahat as if these were muharramat. In fact, we should demand that people observe only what Allah (SWT) has categorically commanded. The extra and additional forms of ibadah are optional.

The following incident shows that this was also the Prophet's opinion. A bedouin once asked the Prophet (SA'AS) about the obligatory prescriptions required of him. The Prophet (SA'AS) mentioned only three: salah, zakah, and siyam. When the bedouin asked if there was anything else which he must do, the Prophet (SA'AS) replied in the negative, adding that the bedouin could volunteer to do more if he so wished. As the bedouin was leaving, he swore never to increase or decrease what the Prophet (SA'AS) had asked him to do. When the Prophet (SA'AS) heard this he said, "If he is saying the truth, he will succeed or [said] 'he will be granted jannah. If a Muslim in this age observes the wajibat and eschews the most heinous of the muharramat, he should be accommodated in the fold of Islam and regarded as one of its advocates so long as his loyalty is to Allah (SWT) and His Messenger (SA'AS). Even if he commits some minor muharramat, the merits gained by his observance of the five daily salawat, salat al jumuah (Friday prayers), siyam, etc. will expiate his small faults.

The Qur'an says: "Good deeds remove those that are evil", and in another verse: If you [but] eschew the most heinous of the things which are forbidden, We shall expel out of you all the evil in you and admit you to a state of great honor.

In view of the above evidence from the Qur'an and Sunnah, how could we expel a Muslim from the fold of Islam merely because of his commitment to certain controversial matters which we are not sure are ,halal or haram, or because of his failure to observe something which we are not certain is wajib or mandub? This is why I object to the tendency of some pious people to adopt and cling to hard-line opinions, not only in their own personal practice but also in influencing others to do the same. I also object to the charges levered by such people against any Muslim 'alim who disagrees with their line of thought and opts for facilitation in the light of the Qur'an and Sunnah in order to relieve people of distress and undue restrictions in their religious practice.

The third characteristic of extremism is the out-of-time and out-of-place religious excessiveness and overburdening of others, i.e., when applying Islamic principles to people in non-Muslim countries or to people who have only recently converted to Islam, as well as to newly committed Muslims. With all these, emphasis should not be put on either minor or controversial issues, but on fundamentals. Endeavors should be made to correct their concepts and understanding of Islam before anything else. Once the correct beliefs are firmly established, then one can begin to explain the five pillars of Islam and gradually to emphasize those aspects which make a Muslim's belief and practice compatible, and his entire life an embodiment of what is pleasing to Allah (SWT).

This fact was recognized by the Prophet Muhammad (SA'AS) himself when he sent Muadh (RA'A) to Yemen. He told him: You are going to [meet] people of a [divine] scripture, and when you reach them call them to witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger. And if they obey you in that, then tell them that Allah has enjoined on them five salawat to be performed every day and night. And if they obey you in that, then tell them that Allah has enjoined upon them sadaqah [zakah] to be taken from the rich amongst them and given to the poor amongst them.

Notice the gradation in the Prophet's advice to Mu'adh (RA'A). I was shocked and dismayed during a tour of North America to find that devout young Muslims-who belong to some Muslim groups-have initiated a great controversy because Muslims sit on chairs during theSaturday and Sunday lectures in mosques instead of sitting on mats on the ground, and do not face the Ka'bah as Muslims do and also because those who attend wear shirts and trousers rather than loose outer coverings, and sit at dining tables to eat rather than on the ground. I was angered by this kind of thinking and behavior in the heart of North America. I, therefore, addressed these people: It would be more worthwhile in this materialistic society to make your paramount concern the call to monotheism and the ibadah of Allah (SWT), to remind people of the hereafter, of the noble Islamic values, and to warn them of the heinous acts in which the materially-developed countries have been totally immersed. The norms of behavior and the ameliorations in religious practice are governed by time as well as place, and should be introduced only after the most necessary and fundamental tenets have been firmly established.

In another Islamic center, people were creating a considerable fuss over the showing of a historical or educational film in a mosque, claiming that "mosques have been turned into movie "heaters," but forgetting that the purpose of the mosque is to serve the wordly as well as spiritual interest of Muslims. During the time of Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) the masjid-or the mosque-was the center of dawah and of the state, as well as of social activities. We are all aware of the Prophet's granting permission to a group of people from Abyssinia to sport with their spears in the middle of his masjid, and that he allowed Aishah (RA'A) to watch them.

The fourth characteristic of extremism manifests itself in harshness in the treatment of people, roughness in the manner of approach, and crudeness in calling people to Islam, all of which are contrary to the teachings of the Qur'an and Sunnah. Allah (SWT) commands us to call to Islam and to His teachings with wisdom, not with foolishness, with amicability, not with harsh words:

Invite [all] to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious.

It also describes the Prophet (SA'AS), thus: Now has come unto you a Messenger from among yourselves. It grieves him that you should perish, ardently anxious is he over you. To the believers he is kind and merciful.

The Qur'an also addressed the Prophet (SA'AS), defining his relationship with his companions:

It is part of the mercy of Allah that you [Muhammad] deal justly with them. If you were severe and harsh-hearted they would have broken away from about you.

Firmness and harsh-heartedness are mentioned only in connection with two issues in the Qur'an.

First, in connection with war, when a successful military strategy necessitates fortitude and the shelving of leniency until the war comes to an end. "Fight the unbelievers who gird you about and let them find firmness in you" (9:123).

Second, in connection with the execution of punishment on the guilty in accordance with Shaniah, there is no room for compassion in applying Allah's injunctions:

The man and woman guilty of adultery or fornication, flog each of them with a hundred stripes: Let not compassion move you in their case, in a manner prescribed by Allah, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. But in the field of dawah, there is no place for violence and harshness.

This is evidenced in the following ahadith: "Allah loves kindness in all matters and, "Kindness makes things beautiful, violence makes them defective," as well as in the following wisdom of our forebears: "Whoever desires to command the common good, let him do it gently."

Violence can do nothing more than distort dawah to the path of Allah (SWT). Dawah seeks to penetrate the innermost recesses of man to transform him into a godly person in his conceptions, emotions, and behavior by altering his thoughts, feelings, and will as well as the whole of his being, thereby shaping him into a different person. It also shakes up the structure of the society and alters its inherited beliefs, well established traditions, moral conventions, and prevailing systems.

All this cannot be achieved without wisdom and amicability, and without taking into consideration human nature-man's obstinancy, resistance to change, and argumentativeness. These characteristics necessitate the exercise of kindness and gentleness when attempting to reach man's heart and mind so that his hardness can be softened, his rigidity abated and his pride checked. This approach was described for us in the Quran as having been followed by earlier prophets and sincere believers who called people to the ibadah of Allah (SWT).

Examples can be found in Ibrahim's call to his father and people, in Shu'aib's call to his people, in Musas call to Pharaoh, in the Believer's call to Pharaoh's people, in the Believer's call-in Surat Yasin -as well as in the calls of others who directed people to the truth and righteousness.

Let us listen to and contemplate the spirit in which the Believer-a man who possesses iman from among Pharaoh's people-addresses Pharaoh and the people expressing his sense of belonging to them and his concern for their destiny and for the permanence of their dominion and glory:

O my People! Yours is the dominion this day: You have the upper hand in the land: but who will help us from the punishment of Allah should it fall upon us?.

Then he reminds them of earlier nations who refused to listen to the message of Allah (SWT): O my People! Truly I do fear for you something like the Day [of disaster] of the Confederates [in sin]-Something like the fate of the people of Nuh, and 'Ad and Thamud, and those who came after them: but Allah never wishes injustice upon His servants.

Then he describes the disaster which might befall them on the Day of Judgment, a day which they believe in, one way or another:

And O my People! I fear for you a Day when there will be mutual calling [and wailing], a Day when you will turn your backs and flee: no defender shall you have from Allah. Any whom Allah leaves to stray, there is none to guide.

He continues his earnest beseeching in a manner dominated by gentleness and compassion; he warns, but he also inspires with hope:

O my People! Follow me! I will lead you to the Right Path. O my People! This life of the present is nothing but [temporary] convenience. It is the hereafter that is the home that will last... And O my People! How [strange] it is for me to call you to salvation while you call me to the Fire. You do call upon me to blaspheme against Allah and to join with Him partners of whom I have no knowledge, and I call you to the Exalted in Power, Who forgives again and again!.

Then he ends his advice with the following:

Soon will you remember what I say to you [now]. My [own] affair I commit to Allah, for Allah [ever] watches over His servants.

This is the approach and manner which contemporary Muslim duah should emulate and adopt with the stubborn, and with people of other religions. This is also embodied in Allah's advice to His two messengers, Musa ('AS) and his brother Harun ('AS), who were sent to preach to Pharaoh:

Go, both of you, to Pharaoh, for he has indeed transgressed all bounds. But speak to him mildly, perchance he may take warning or fear [Allah].

Accordingly. Musa ('AS) addressed Pharaoh very gently: Would you that thou should be purified [from sin]. And that I guide you to your Lord, so that you should fear Him?.

No wonder then that experienced people in da'wah reject and disapprove of the young peoples' manner in arguing with those who hold different opinions! Rather than calling people to the Way of Allah (SWT) with wisdom, they are quite often harsh, rough, and crude. No distinction is made between the old and the young; no special consideration is given to those whose age or status deserves special respect, that is, parents, teachers, the learned, or those who have precedence in da'wah and jihad. Nor do the young people differentiate between those sectors in the community-such as the laity, the illiterate, and the misled-who are ceaselessly batto earn a living, and those who actively resist Islam out of malice or treason, not ignorance.

Such lack of insight is still dominant in Muslim society, despite the fact that the early scholars of ahadith literature distinguished very clearly between the common innovators who did not call others to their innovation and those who deliberately publicized and defended their bidah (condemned innovations). The reports of the former were accepted, while those of the latter were rejected.

Suspicion and distrust are also manifestations of extremism. An extremist readily accuses people and quickly passes judgement contrary to the generally accepted norm: "innocent until proven guilty." He considers a person guilty the moment he suspects him of something. He jumps to conclusions rather than looking for explanations. The slightest mistake is blown out of all proportions; a mistake becomes a sin, and a sin kufr. Such a reaction is a stark violation of the spirit and teachings of Islam which encourage Muslims to think well of other Muslims, to try to find an excuse for their misbehavior, and to help them improve their words and deeds.

The religious sincerity and integrity of those who disagree with such an extremist are always called into question. An extremist would depict people as being guilty of transgression, innovation, or disrespect for the Prophet's Sunnah even if their views are solidly based upon authentic Islamic texts.

One could cite many examples: If you argue that carrying a stick or eating while sitting on the ground has nothing to do with the Sunnah, you would be accused of disrespect for the Prophet (.SA'AS) himself. Not even learned Muslim scholars and 'ulama' are spared such accusations If afaqih gives a fatwa which facilitates matters for Muslims, he is considered lax on religious issues; if a Muslim daiyah tries to cal to Islam in a manner suitable to the spirit and the taste of the age, h is accused of succumbing to and patronizing Western civilization.

Moreover, these accusations are not only hurled at the living but also at the dead, who are unable to defend themselves. No one holding different opinion can escape unjust indiscriminate accusations, such a being a Freemason, a predeterminist, a Jahmi, or a rationalist Mu'tazili Even the four great jurists of Islam who established the main Islamic juristic schools and who have earned the respect of the majority

Muslims throughout the centuries have not escaped the venomous slander of the extremists. Indeed, the whole history of the Muslim Ummah after the fourth century AH, with its glorious legacy and unprecedented civilization, has been a target of unjustified criticism. It is considered by the extremists as being the source of contemporary evils, the root of our malaise. To some extremists, it was a period of conflict and discord, of struggle for personal power; for others, a period of ignorance and even kufr.

This destructive tendency is not new. Extremists existed even during the time of the Prophet (SA'AS). Once, an extremist among the Ansar (the Muslims of Madinah) accused the Prophet (SA'AS) of favoritism in his divisor and distribution of the spoils of war.

The gravest shortcoming of the contemporary extremists is suspicion Had they understood and comprehended the Quran and Sunnah, they would have discovered that both seek to foster in the mind of each and every Muslim the confidence and trust of other fellow Muslims. A Muslim is not even allowed to publicize the minor mistakes and faults of others or become blind to their merits; thus some people are interested in criticizing others and in praising themselves: "Therefore, justify not yourselves: He knows best who it is that guards against evil".

Indeed, Islam strongly warns against two characteristics: despairing of Allah's mercy and suspecting fellow human beings. Allah (SWT) says:. O you who believe! Avoid suspicion as much [as possible]: for suspicion in some cases is a sin .

The Prophet (SA'AS) also says in this respect: "Avoid suspicion, for suspicion is the false element in a talk."

The origins of all this include suspicion as well as arrogance and the despising of other people. These are the basis of the first act of disobedience-that of Satan; he refused Allah s command for him to pro strafe himself to Adam, claiming: "I am better than he 1ist".

It is worthwhile to heed the warning embodied in the following hadith: "If you hear a person saying that people are ruined, he himself will be ruined for being vain and conceited." And in another narration ".the himself caused their ruin," i.e., by his suspicion and snobbery, and by causing them to despair of Allah's mercy.

Vanity is one of the human traits which causes degeneration and which our Muslim scholars call the "sins of the hearts." The Prophet (SA'AS) warned us against these sins: "There are three deadly sins-unrestrained avarice. desire, and vanity." A true Muslim never takes pride in his work or actions, since he is never sure that Allah (SWT) will accept them.

The Qur'an describes the charitable people: "And those who dispense their charity with their hearts full of fear, because they will return to their Lord". It is reported in hadith literature that this Qur'anic verse is about people who do righteous deeds but fear that Allah (SWT) may not accept them. Ibn Ata said: "Allah may open up for you the gates of obedience, but He may not open up for you the gates of acceptance. He may ordain you a state of disobedience which may happen to lead you to the right path. The disobedience which teaches you humility is better than the piety which vests you with vanity and arrogance!" . This derives from the following saying by ALI ibn Abu Talib (RA'A): "A mishap that befalls a person is better in the sight of Allah than a good action which initiates pride."

Ibn Mas'ud also said: "Ruin is caused by two traits-pride and despair. Happiness cannot be attained without effort and stuggle. A vain person does not make any effort because he believes that he is perfect; a despairing person does not make any effort because he believes it is useless."

Extremism reaches its utmost limit when a single group deprives all people of the right to safety and protection, and instead sanctions their killing and the confiscation of their lives and property. This, of course, occurs when an extremist holds all people-except those in his group-to be kuffar This kind of extremism severs any bond between such a perscn and the rest of the Ummah. This is the trap into which the Khawarij fell during the dawn of Islam, although they were known for their strict observance of religious duties such as salah, siyam, and recitation of the Quran. However their thinking rather than their conscience was distorted and corrupt. Hence they were so infatuated with their belief and behavior that they, unintentionally, deviated from the right path.

The Prophet (SA'AS) described the devotion of such people by saying: "One of you would hold insignificant his own salah compared wit their [the Khawarij] salah, and his qiyam compared with their qiyam, his recitation [of the Qur'an] compared with their recitation." Nevertheless, he said of them: "They would recite the Qur'an but it would not go beyond their throat, and they pass through religion without a mark." This means that they would slip out of religion as an arrow would slip out of its bow.

The Prophet (SA'AS) also said of them that they regard it as their duty to "destroy adherents of Islam and save the idol-worshippers."

This is why when a Muslim fell into their hands and was asked about his identity, he replied that he was a mushrik curious to find out about Allah's message and book. On hearing this the Khawarij told the man that they would protect him and grant him safe passage. In support of their decision, they recited the following verse from the Qur'an:

If one amongst the pagans asks you for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the Word of Allah; and then escort him to where he may be secure. That is because they are men without knowledge. The irony is that if the man had admitted that he was a Muslim twould have killed him.

Unfortunately, some Muslims have not yet learned this lesson. The Jamaat al Takfir wa al Hijrah group seems to be following in the footsetps of the Khawarij. They readily brand as kafir anybody who commits a sin and does not immediately repent. More condemned in their view are the rulers who do not apply Shariah, as well as the people who submit to such rulers. Still more sinful in their view are the 'ulama' who do not openly condemned both as kuffar, as well as those who reject the group's beliefs and submit to the laws elaborated by the four great jurists of Islam on the basis of ijma: qiyas, maslahah mursalah, or istihsan. Moreover any one who first pledges support for their cause and joins their group, then decides to leave it-for one reason or another- is considered a murtadd and must be put to death. Indeed, they hold all the Islamic periods succeeding the fourth century A.H. as periods of ignorance and kufr, worshipping the idol of tradition rather than Allah (SWT) , In this way, the group became so excessive in accusing people of kufr that they spared neither the dead nor the living. The group thus have run into deep trouble, because accusing a Muslim of kufr is a very serious matter which entails very serious consequences-his killing and the confiscation of his property become lawful. As a kafir, he must be separated from his wife and children; there can be no bond between him and other Muslims; he must be deprived of his inheritance and cannot be inherited from; he must be denied the Islamic burial and the salah for the dead person; and he must not be buried in a Muslim graveyard.

The Prophet (SA'AS) said: "When a Muslim calls another Muslim kafir, then surely one of them is such." This means that unless the accusation is validated and substantiated, it will fall back on the accuser, who will face great danger in this world and in the hereafter.

Usamah ibn Zayd said: "If a man says, 'I witness that there is no god but Allah,'he has embraced Islam, and [consequently] his life and property should be granted safety. If he said so in fear or to protect himself from the sword, he will account for that before Allah. We should [judge] the apparent."

The Prophet (SA'AS) rebuked Usaimah when he discovered that the latter had killed a man who had uttered the shahadah following a battle in which the man's tribe was defeated. When Usamah argued that he thought-at the time-that the man did so as a shelter and in fear, the Prophet (SA'AS) said: "Did you look into his heart after he had confessed that there is no God but Allah?" Usamah relates: "He [the Prophet went on repeating this to me till I wished I had not embraced Islam before that day" Shari'ah teaches that those who embrace Islam with certainty of mind can only be expelled from its fold by proven and substantiated evidence Even major muharramat such as murder, fornication, and drinking alcohol do not justify the accusation of kufr, provided that the person concerned does not show disrespect for, reject, or refuse to recognize the Shari'ah.

This is why the Qur'an established brotherly love between the person who commits a premeditated murder and the next of kin to the murdered as this verse shows:

And for him who is forgiven somewhat by his [injured] brother, prosecution according to usage and payment unto him in kindness.

The Prophet (SA'AS) also addressed a person who cursed an alcoholic who had already been punished several times for alcoholism: "Do not curse him; he loves Allah and His Messenger"

Further, the Shariah has prescribed different punishments for crimes such as murder, fornication, and drunkeness. Had all of these been k' then they would have been punished in accordance with the law of riddah. All the obscure and vague evidence on which the extremists base the accusations are refuted by fundamental and categorical texts in both Qur'an and Sunnah. This issue was settled by the Ummah centuries agoit is futile to try to revive and renew it.