Al-Wasatiyyah: The Lost Middle Path -Imam Ahmed Saad
Brothers and Sisters, i know this is a long read, but i find it to be quite beneficial, and that is the only reason why I posted it.
It has been many centuries now since Muslims lost their old glory and have been absent from the realm of leading the world and being an active partner in shaping its future. Muslims started a new way of thinking focusing mainly on idle talk and minor issues forgetting the great concerns of the Ummah and the real challenges facing them in the age of technology and globalization. The world’s complaints of Muslims are now competing with the complaints of the true Muslim scholars and reformists who are working for the good of this Ummah. In this labyrinth (muddle) of decadence, the Muslim mind became soaked with superficiality sometimes in understanding the texts of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. This created a strict atmosphere and rigid tone while speaking to the masses. Furthermore, this rigidity has been reacted against in the form of aversion and rejection. The Ummah has found itself torn between the extremists and the rejectionists. The absence of Muslim creativity that has plagued our Muslim Ummah after its golden ages was accompanied or caused by the absence of the concept of Wasatiyyah (moderation-middle path- balanced life and understanding) which is the very well-known distinguishing feature of the Ummah.
The absence of the concept of Wasatiyyah from the Muslim mind and life has led to Muslims entering an intellectual and practical Diasporas. The absence of this concept gave space to extremism in understanding the truth and contributed to the appearance of many extreme political, intellectual and religious groups that curse one another and brand their opponents unbelievers and claim that they are the only true Muslims. It has also given an opportunity to non-Muslims to speak about the existence of ‘many Islams’ rather than ‘one Islam’ and always ask the question: “Which Islam do you represent?”
Even new Muslims find themselves in the dilemma of having many paths within the main path (i.e. Islam) that they chose to follow. The Ummah gained nothing out of all this except internal weakness and intellectual defeat. As a consequence, the Muslim mind became no more able to compete or be creative in the realm of technology and Muslims in general started to play the buyer’s role in all intellectual and material transactions. Terms like ‘consumerism’, ‘following’, ‘backwardness’ and ‘rigidity’ became the best depiction of one party of the Ummah while terms like ‘over-progressiveness’, ‘liberty’, ‘secularity’ and ‘rejectionism’ started to be used as a description of others. The real character of a Muslim was torn in between these terms that disregard the fact that a Muslim is a whole totality and his character is, as described by the Qur’an, a perfect character. Almighty Allah says, “Certainly We created man in the best make.” (Al-Qur’an: 95:4)
According to the author of “In the Shade of the Qur’an”, the reference here is to the spiritual aspect of man. It means that man has been created with a complete character and a balanced self and when he gives weight to one aspect over the other, he loses the balance and starts declining.
Bearing in mind this concept of the whole totality of a Muslim character, we can realize that a true Muslim is not rigid nor too progressive, not a rejectionist nor an extremist. Rather, he is the middle in between these because he treads in the middle path for which he is created and to which he is supposed to stick in order to realize the commands of Allah and fulfill his mission as a vicegerent on earth.
Wasatiyyah: The Term
The term ‘wasatiyyah’ comes from the root word ‘wasat’ which means middle or balanced or moderate. The ‘awsat’ is the mid of every thing. Actually, the ‘wasat’ (middle) is a synonym for ‘virtue’ because ‘virtue’ is defined as “the mid between two bad characters or two bad extremes”. For instance, generosity is the wasat = (virtue) between niggardliness and extravagance. By the same token, bravery is the middle path (at-tariq al-wasat) between cowardice and rashness. Since al-wasat (middle) requires the existence of the mid which is between all ends in a very just way, scholars have said that wasat also refers to justice and fairness and being the best. Almighty Allah said, “The best of them said: Did I not say to you, why do you not glorify (Allah)? "” (Al-Quran: 68:28) The word ‘best’ here refers to the Arabic word ‘awsatuhum’. Therefore, wasat includes moderation, fairness, sticking to virtue and striking balance.
The terminology itself refers to a praised state in which man is kept from falling into extremism. This term of wasatiyyah is as old as history itself and that is why we can find many of its synonyms like moderation, balance, justice and fairness.
Therefore, we can say that wasatiyyah is simply:
leading a life of balance
leading a life of moderation
leading a life very close to fitrah (primordial innate nature)
Wasatiyyah: The Call
Apart from the fact that wasatiyyah is the very feature and characteristic that distinguishes the Muslim Ummah and makes it a witness to mankind, wastiyyah has always been the very essence of the call of the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
Muslims pray 5 times a day performing a total of 17 rak`ahs (prayer units) in each one of which they recite the opening chapter of the Qur’an praying Allah to guide them to the straight path ‘as-sirat al-mustakim’. The eminent Muslim scholar Sheikh Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawi explains that this straight path is simply the ‘middle path’ (wasat) which the Muslim Ummah is instructed to follow in all actions. It is further described by the Qur’an as it says, “And this is the path of your Lord, (a) straight (path); indeed We have made the communications clear for a people who mind.” (Al-Qur’an: 6:126)1
The Qur’an is a rich record of many verses calling upon Muslims to follow moderation and balance in everything, referring to this middle course of action sometimes as ‘straight path’ (sirat al-mustakim) or ‘righteous way of life’ (al-lati hiya aqwam) or ‘moderation and balance’ (al-qasd wal i`tidal).
In this regard, we may cite the following verses revolving around these meanings;
Almighty Allah says, “And thus We have made you a medium (just) nation that you may be the bearers of witness to the people and (that) the Messenger may be a bearer of witness to you;” (Al-Quran: 2: 143) The verse speaks of the Muslim Ummah becoming witness on to mankind and shows that the merit that entitles this Ummah to this great position is being a just and medium (wasat) nation. Therefore, the Ummah has to stick to this merit and never fall into extremism in order to be able to bear the witness. The Muslim Ummah has to abide by wasatiyyah (fairness) because this is the only way of securing justice and maintaining fairness when dealing with global issues. Today’s world is complaining of the absence of justice and fairness, and it is the role of the Muslim Ummah to re-bring such concepts in action back to the life of people by applying the ‘always-theoretical’ concept of wasatiyyah.
Instructing Muslims on the best way of life, the Qur’an teaches believers, “eat and drink and be not extravagant; surely He does not love the extravagant.” (Al-Qur’an: 7:31) It further describes true servants of God saying, “And they who when they spend, are neither extravagant nor parsimonious, and (keep) between these the just mean.” (Al-Qur’an: 25: 67) It is always good to follow a balanced course in everything because this is the healthiest way of life and the most pleasing one to the Creator.
The Islamic-Qur’anic call of wasatiyyah is not detached from the universe and the way it functions. On the contrary, it is supported by many manifestations everywhere that assure us that wasatiyyah is the global and universal phenomena in this great Divinely created panorama and it is only man who is not harping with the universe in its panorama. We, Muslims, are commanded to support our faith and strengthen it by looking into the universe and exploring the Divine signs in it. In regards to wasatiyyah, we can discover that it covers many scopes including:
1. In the life of people and beings:
The life of people and other beings in this universe is based on wasatiyyah (balance) rather than anything else. We read in the Qur’an that Allah created everything in the universe in a balanced way and amount. Allah says, “And the earth We have spread out (like a carpet); set thereon mountains firm and immovable; and produced therein all kinds of things in due balance.” (Al-Qur’an: 15:19) Even the creation of day and night is meant to give people a balanced way of living, since it allows them to work during the day and interact with their fellow humans and rest during the night and get ready for a fresh journey in the realm of life. That is why Allah made day and night to great Signs of His power. Almighty Allah says, “And We have made the night and the day two signs.” (Al-Qur’an: 17:12) If life was a continuous dark night or an everlasting daylight, it would be very difficult for people to live. Shifting between both states is much needed to create the desired balance in the lives of people and make it enjoyable for them. It is because of this that Almighty Allah brings this to our attention saying, “Tell me, if Allah were to make the night to continue incessantly on you till the day of resurrection, who is the god besides Allah that could bring you light? Do you not then hear? Say: Tell me, if Allah were to make the day to continue incessantly on you till the day of resurrection, who is the god besides Allah that could bring you the night in which you take rest? Do you not then see?” (Al-Qur’an: 28: 71-72)
2. In `Aqeedah (Faith and Creed)
Even in their faith and creed, Muslims are privileged to have a wasat (balanced and moderate faith). Muslims stand middle between and balanced between polytheists who believe in many gods or in god composed of parts and those who deny the existence of god altogether. Muslims believe in Allah, the One True God, who is unique, sustaining all that exists, does not father nor is born.
Muslims hold a wasat `aqeedah regarding Prophet Jesus, son of Mary. While Jews consider him a liar and Christians worship him as god, Muslims take a middle view saying that he is a Prophet and a graduate of the same school of other Prophets including Moses and Muhammad. Even with their great love of Prophet Muhammad which could been seen in the last cartoon issue, not a single Muslim ever said that Muhammad can be worshipped. Yes, Muslims love him and revere him so much but still, wasatiyyah is the norm that they follow in all states.
3. In performing acts of Worship
Islam is a religion that respects and considers human instinct and deals with man as a human being not as an angel. Being human means, that man has needs and wishes and abilities. Therefore, while performing acts of worship man is commanded to adhere to moderation. Our mother `Aishah tells us the story of the three young men who came to the house of the Prophet and asked about his acts of worship. When they were told, they thought it is very few and that is why they said to themselves, ‘this is the prophet and we are in no way comparable to him, he does not need much worship while we need it.” The three of them pledged to put themselves in very severe courses of action, one said, ‘I will not marry’, the other said, ‘I will pray all night and will never go to bed’ while the third said, ‘I will fast all my life.’ When told about them, the Prophet showed them that this is not the life a Muslim should live; such an extreme life is not suitable nor is it recommendable. He said, “By Allah, I am the most God-fearing amongst you, yet, I marry women, pray and sleep and fast and break my fast.” He wanted to give them a lesson that what is pleasing to Allah is to lead a life of moderation.
The Prophet always warned us against leading a life of extremism and placing ourselves into hardship. He said, “Never go to extremes in religion, for those before you perished because they went to extremes.”
4. Looking to the Other
What we mean by the other here is non-Muslims. As Muslims, we are commanded to follow this middle path (wasat) while dealing with non-Muslims. Muslims are never commanded to hate others because they adopt a religion or faith or conviction different from theirs, nor they are commanded to judge others on the basis of religion. On the contrary, Islam teaches its followers that they should be just and fair (wasat) even with their enemies. Almighty Allah says, “O you who believe! Be maintainers of justice, bearers of witness of Allah's sake, though it may be against your own selves or (your) parents or near relatives.” (Al-Qur’an: 4:135)
Even in the battle field when Muslims have to fight, they fight to establish justice and remove harm from the ill-treated, women, aged and children. Almighty Allah says, “And what is wrong with you that you fight not in the Cause of Allah, and for those weak, ill-treated and oppressed among men, women, and children (Al-Qur’an: 4:75) This means that Muslims are always asked to fight terrorism which is normally practiced against civilians, the examples of whom are mentioned in this verse.
As a way of life, Islam came to establish a cooperating human society. In order to achieve this goal, Islam teaches its followers that they have to strike a balance between individuality and collectivity. Since we live in a society, we have to respect the other members of the society and respect their rights. It has therefore placed etiquette relating to seeking permission, visiting people, interacting with members of the opposite sex and the like. All this is meant to protect man against falling into extremity while taking his/her role as a member in the society.
5. In Concepts and Ideas
The way Islam defines many concepts can give a clear view on how balanced Islam is in dealing with such concepts. One of the main six beliefs of Muslims is the belief in Divine destiny which means that nothing in this world can happen except with the knowledge of Allah. This concept means that we have to do our best and work and never be lazy, it means we should do our utmost to reach our goal. Yet, when something wrong happens, we should not be upset; rather, we should accept. Therefore, we are exchanging the feelings of over-happiness and over-sadness with feelings of acceptance.
In this way, a Muslim will never fall a prey to depression but will always be an active member in the society. Bearing this concept in mind, a Muslim will make a success of every failure and his life will be a continuous for a brighter future and a better participation.
The concept of knowledge in Islam is also dealt with in a wasat moderate way. Muslims should not all be specialized in religious knowledge; rather, they should strike a balance in this regard, with some specializing in medicine, engineering, pharmacy, physics and chemistry as much as others specializing in hadith, fiqh and tafsir. The history is full of many Muslim names that led mankind in the realm of science at a certain period. When we mention names like Avicenna and Al-Khawarizmy, names of books like ‘the Canon of Medicine’ and ‘the Book of Healing’ and ‘Algorism’ come to mind.
Failure: How and Why?
People may ask, so why are Muslims are so weak and controlled by others if this is what their religion asks them to do. The answer is as simple as this, because Muslims have swerved from this path of wasatiyyah and stopped to practice this great privilege. The aspects of this failure include:
* Superficial look and view of things and focusing on the apparent aspect without delving into true meanings. This led to superficiality in handling religious texts and lack of proper consideration of the supreme goals of Shari`ah (maqasid ash-shari`ah)
* Focusing on minor issues and hair splitting and forgetting about the great challenges facing the Muslim Ummah and the maladies that befall its body. This was caused by disregarding of the Fiqh Al-Awlawiyyat (Fiqh of Priorities)
* Extremity in handling situations and forgetting the fact that this is a religion of easiness. Likewise, claiming that we possess the whole truth and disdaining benefiting the experiences of other people or admitting that we are wrong. This has led to sectarianism and was caused by the lack of Fiqh al-Ikhtilaf (Fiqh of Difference).
* Neglecting Fiqh As-Sunnan (Fiqh of Divine Laws) and closing the door against creativity and innovation.
Extremism and Laziness: The Aftermath
Voices are crying everywhere in the world today complaining of the widespread extremism and counter-extremism. Other voices are crying that Muslims have become so lazy and unable to contribute to the making of a better human future. The fact is that the lack of moderation and the killing of the moderate voices have given space to extremists. The youth are torn between half-scholars who have limited knowledge and scholars who are bought by the governments and speak in its support and the absence of true scholars who are behind the bars sometimes, or being verbally attacked by half-scholar sometimes or given no space many other times. Close mindedness that are stirred and supported by pseudo scholars is a real threat to the wise voices of moderation and balance.
The Ummah is in a real need to:
* Understand its duty as a witness to mankind and stand up to fulfill this duty by being an example in everything, sticking to justice, fairness and moderation.
* Re-introduce to the youth the Fiqh At-Tadarrug (Fiqh of Gradualism) in which people are trained bit by bit on how to lead a true balanced Islamic life.
* Re-prioritize its goals and focus on creating a massive awakening in all aspect of life.
* Reviving Fiqh Al-Tawassut (Fiqh of Moderation and Balance), teaching it to the youth, incorporating it in the curricula encouraging Muslims to practice it in their life so as to gain Allah’s pleasure and amount to leadership.
* Enlightening the young generation about the importance of accepting the other regardless of how different he is and teaching them the ethics of difference. Besides, the youth need to be taught about the comprehensiveness of Islam and how to practice this comprehensiveness in life.
* Respect specialization and encourage every Muslim to be creative in his specialty. Since doctors are the best people to tell about medicine (ahlu dhikr), scholars of Shari`ah are the best people to tell about religious rulings. If everyone is becoming a mufti, there will be no one to seek fatwa and if everyone is playing the teacher, no one will play the student. This may be called Fiqh At-Takhasus (Fiqh of Specialization)
* Opening the door to moderate voices of true Muslim scholars to speak to the youth and instilling those youth with confidence in their scholars and stopping the campaign of discrediting scholars, since scholars are the treasure of the Ummah.
Our Muslim Ummah is in a real need to get back to the long lost middle path of wasatiyyah. Only through getting back to this path, the Ummah can gain supremacy and fulfill the duty of being a witness to mankind.
I would like to conclude with the tradition of the Prophet describing the true heirs of Prophetic knowledge in every generation. The Prophet says, “This knowledge is inherited in every generation by the most just; they will remove from it the interpretation of the ignorant, and the misinterpretation of the deviant and the alteration of the extremists.”
May Allah guide the whole Ummah to what He pleases and consents!
70:28 Lo! the doom of their Lord is that before which none can feel secure
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