Islam’s Antidote to Extremism

Islam addresses the topic of extremism much more than many people think. What’s interesting about the Islamic approach is that it solves the problem at its roots instead of attempting to solve the symptoms. My motivation for writing this piece is two fold. First is to counter what has become a fact in the minds of many non-Muslims that Islam is synonymous to extremism. Second and more importantly is to address some relatively recent examples of Muslim extremism and the fact that this goes against the very essence of Islam.

The Qurʾān does use the word Ghulow which can fairly be translated as extremism. In an address to the People of the Book, the Jews and Christians, it says:

“Oh People of the Book, don’t go extreme in your religion, and do not say about God except the Truth. Indeed, the Messiah Jesus the son of Mary is the Messenger of God, His Word revealed on Mary, and a spirit sent from Him” [Surah An-Nisa’ : 171]

In essence, the Qurʾān is saying that people can go into extremes in how they show love to a person. A good example is Prophet Jesus – peace be upon him. While one group went extreme in opposing Jesus, another went extreme in loving Jesus to a point that they worshiped Jesus and claimed that he was God or the Son of God.

Now this type of extremism is not limited to the People of the Book. This is why Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) warned his followers of the same. In a Hadith narrated by Bukhari he said,

“Do not exaggerate in praising me like the Christians have exaggerated in praising Jesus the son of Mary. Rather, say that I’m the Servant of God and His Messenger”

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That doesn’t mean the Muslims later always followed this injunction. You still find examples of such exaggeration in Madeeh or Muslim poetry praising Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). For example, in a rather famous poem called al-Burda praising Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), the author claims:

So it’s from your generosity this life and the Hereafter

And from your knowledge, is the knowledge of the Tablet and the Pen

According to Islam, the [Preserved] Tablet has a record of what’s going to happen since the creation of this World till the Day of Judgment. Now, to claim that Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) has all this knowledge is not only an exaggeration but it goes directly against the Qurʾān that clearly states that only God knows the unseen or the future. The Prophet’s knowledge on the other hand is limited to what God revealed to him.

The Islamic history is not void of figures which Muslims went extreme over either. A prime example, an example that has quite a resemblance to the Jesus example in fact, is the person of Ali bin Abi Talib raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), the cousin of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). As one group fought Ali, mostly due to political reasons, another group started showing extreme love towards Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) and his family, till believing that they are infallible or even divine. Although the group that showed enmity or hatred towards Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) has very much dissolved in history, there are still sects nowadays that show the extreme and undue love towards Ali raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) such as the Shia and the Alawite.

In fact, going extreme in showing love or hatred towards anyone is the foundation of the many examples of extremism we see out there. Going extreme in loving a leader or a religious figure leads to blind following and to the conviction that they can never err. Again, Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) warned us against such tendencies. He said in a Hadith found in Tirmidhi:

“Love the one you love a little easy, for he could turn into someone you hate one day. And hate the one you hate a little easy, for he could one day turn into someone you love”

In other words, we always need to take it easy when it comes to matters of love and hate. Don’t be blinded by either love or hatred.

I keep marveling at this invaluable advice that we Muslims can’t seem to follow these days. We Muslims have turned into a very emotional people. Even when we claim to be defending the honor of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), we violate the very advice of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). When our Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is insulted, we see people bursting into the streets full of anger. They burn flags, they destroy property, and they scream their lungs out. Is this really how the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) would like us to show our love towards him? Or is it better shown through following his example? No doubt, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) had emotions. But his emotions were controlled by intellect and reason, and were controlled by the Qurʾān and wisdom.

When we love our sheikhs (religious leaders) we love them too much. But when we turn against them, we hate them to death. We don’t have to go too far in history for this one. Only a few days ago, as I was watching the news coming out of Egypt, something appalling struck me. As painful as it was watching the undoing of democracy through a military coup led by General Sisi, what was more painful to me was how Muslim scholars and their students were treating each other. No one was spared, not even uniting figures like Sheikh Abu Ishaaq al-Huwaini or Muhammad Hassan, who were attacked for their so-called neutral position towards recent events. Of course, the main motivation for the stance of those two figures is to avoid bloodshed at any cost. But I guess no-one values that any more! The worst I saw, however, was on Facebook where one follower of Sheikh Salah Hazim Abu Ismail (who was wrongly jailed) was making du’a against Sheikh Yasir Burhami (the spiritual leader of Hizb an-Noor) to burn in Hellfire forever!! What a deranged mentality!

The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) taught us to be moderate even when it came to simple rituals. In casting rocks during Hajj symbolizing the casting of the devil out of our lives, he advised that we use small rocks. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) in fact made using big rocks a sign of extremism. Nowadays we see some Muslims throwing even sandals during Hajj thinking they’re getting at the devil. Perhaps, they don’t realize that it might be the devil playing them since they’re not following the way of their Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Another example is how we scream “Allah Akbar” for any occasion. One time the Companions were going over a hill and they started shouting “Allah Akbar”. The Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) commanded them to calm down and he said, “take it easy on yourselves! For sure the One you’re calling is neither deaf nor absent. Indeed the One you’re calling is all-hearing and very near”.

We Muslims nowadays need to take it easy, but with intellect and reason!

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18 responses to “Islam’s Antidote to Extremism”

  1. Mahmud says:

    Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    JazzakAllahu khair. I like these types of articles-ayat, hadith, and nice, concise analysis.

  2. Zaheer says:

    As-salaamu ‘alaykum

    Sub’haanallah, very well written article, bringing up a good point. Due to the title I thought it was going to address the issue of terrorism, but instead was about the broader topic of extremism, using Islam as a cloak. In that sense it’s a better reminder, as it covers terrorism, and the more common form of extremism practiced by ‘normal’ Muslims everyday.

    I especially loved the part where the author says “We Muslims have turned into a very emotional people.” I cannot think of a better way to describe certain groups of Muslims. If we’re not apathetic, non-practicing, ‘Ramadan/Hajj/Eid-only Muslims’, then we’re extremist, emotionally unstable, lack of impulse control, and downright angry, aggressive Muslims. Where has the balance gone, where has the moderation gone, where has the middle-path gone, where has the Sunnah of Allah’s Rasul (s.a.w.s.) gone indeed…

    I don’t think I can over-emphasise enough how important this topic is today. In an age of increasing Islamic awareness, by the Muslims and non-Muslims, it is important that in the process of increasing our spirituality, ‘reviving’ our Islamic identity, we ensure we do not fall into the dangers of extremism, portraying Islam in an incorrect light, taking ourselves away from what Muhammad (s.a.w.s.) has come with, away from the Qur’an and Sunnah, and earning the displeasure of Allah (s.w.t.)

  3. mig says:

    “Although the group that showed enmity or hatred towards Ali raḍyAllāhu ‘anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) has very much dissolved in history, there are still sects nowadays that show the extreme and undue love towards Ali raḍyAllāhu ‘anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) such as the Shia and the Alawite.”

    I find this a little disturbing – are you Mr Hlayhel saying Shia/alawites are inherently extremeists and in effect there beliefs invalid? We should be very careful cause statements like that can be seen as secterian.
    Most of the extremism today are perpetrated by sunni extremists

    • gunal says:

      I think the word extremism in this article can easily be misconstrued. Because it doesn’t directly talk about the extremism we are made to think of ourselves through reading the western views of our belief. Rather, it deals with the most dangerous one in my view: The one that many of us can easily FALL by behaving similarly to our forefathers, how they (our Christian forefathers) FELL by over glorifying our leaders to whom was given the gift of wisdom by Allah. For ‘their’ fathers (our forefathers’ fathers) I am certain this wasn’t an issue. They could glorify without making them equal to Allah. But the problem was they couldn’t see their children (us, today) who were misinterpreting this love/the over glorification. I liken it to the game Chinese whispers.

      I am supposed to be from the Alawite sect. I respect my lineage whoever that might be. As children my mother had not disclosed what sect we are from to us because of the threats from Sunni sects. I must remind you all that Sunni’s are supposedly Muslims as I thought I was one too. Even if she explained the situation then, I wouldn’t have understood, as I cannot understand it even now.

      Talking to one young Alawite who had been brought up openly as one, she feels Quran is been stolen and been changed by Sunnis so she feels she shouldn’t read it. (Sounds familiar? Christian history might be repeted?). She also feels Ali was like God Himself on this earth. (Sounds familiar?) When I confronted her with certain points, she said something like a Jehova’s witness person once said to me; “well this is what we believe.”

      Sunnis are no different. Hearing some of the songs written makes me cringe when I hear how Muhammed (sav) is glorified and how much he is loved and even some of the prayer books demands us to love him more than anyone in this world. I can’t find such love to give. I insist to give all my love to my Allah (swt).

      • Anas Hlayhel says:

        I applaud your courage writing openly about your beliefs. I think if we are too sensitive to discuss those issues, we will never resolve any matter. As you pointed out, I have brought several examples of Sunni extremism and I have much more. Likewise, it’s not sectarian to say that considering Ali either a deity or infallible is extremism. How else would we correct extremism if we don’t call it out. Claiming that Ali is infallible is almost equivalent to saying that he was a Prophet since this is a unique attribute to Prophets.

        • Syed Haider says:

          I apologise but these things must be said, I am sorry if I cause offence.

          You’re conflating way too many issue to be fair to anyone and you have no real authority to call anyone extremist. If people have a 1400 years of theology to back them up and they’ve been discussing something for that long – you are in no position judge whether is extreme or not. I respect your talent and your learning , but compared to the great Shiekhs of either Sunnah or Shia you’re quite young and do not have the standing.

          I’m Shia but I’m not going to debate the theology with you, as I’m even less qualified to make a judgement. But I’ll be very clear that no serious Shia scholar places Ali above the Prophet Muhammad. Infalibility is a very complex concept and need to be understood in Arabic with the appropriate theological exploration to be tossed around so simply. We love the Prophet because Allah loves the Prophet as totally Habibullah, we love Ali because the Prophet loved him totally. That’s the order of hierarchy God first, the Prophet next.

          If anything you can accuse us of loving the Prophet too much, in that we do not accept that he was “just a man” and will not contemplate he was “like you and me”. He was the ultimate example of the human condition in submission to God. The complete creation, Rahmat to the world. Yes, he was man but he was what the perfect man should be. We will never reach that level of submission.

          I would rather have my love for the Prophet called as “extreme” than treat him like some lawyer who turned up with a set of dry laws about how distribute zakat and conduct commerce. Which is what people seem to have don to him recently. We have become a people fixated on legalism and process – rather than realising that Allah gives us this great faith because of his love for us and his ultimate creation epitomized in the person of Rasoolillah.

          With the Druze, their theology is very very different from Ithan=asheri and Ismaili. You should know enough not to conflate the two together – even if the other brother does so. You are in danger of letting the current state of politics in the levant cloud your judgement in terms of analysing the precepts of these separate sects.

          W’salaam and may Allah reward your efforts in fostering understanding.

  4. Baaghi says:

    I totally agree with this, Islam doesn’t allow extremism, if someone is extremist, then its his personal thoughts & actions & we cannot label the whole nation. Respect & Prayers are sent from Pakistan. Stay Blessed.

  5. Barsawad says:

    Note the Ayah from Surat Al Nisa quoted is not – 71 but 171 {4:171} ( Please correct it.

  6. Mohammad Abdul says:

    Thank you for the article, it has raised some important points and issues, but i do think that we must separate some issues out. The Prophet (saw) did discuss extremism within Islam but i think this is different from the extremism which Muslims are being accused of by particular governments and commentators. The extremism which governments and commentators are accusing Muslims about is because of political agendas and not necessarily true, certain governments and commentators accuse Muslims of extremism to demonise them and Islam an i think these contexts need to be kept in mind while discussing extremism.

    • Anas Hlayhel says:

      You are correct .. in fact this was somewhat intended. What’s happened is that western media has dictated what the definition of extremism should be. But, if Islam has a different or more comprehensive definition, we should revive that definition.

      Having said that, Islam does address the extremism you have in mind as well. Inshaa’Allah I’ll try to write a second installment on this topic with this in mind

  7. Thank you for this article. But now in this time the definition of extremism itself has shifted. In the time of Prophet, extremism is exaggeration in practicing religions, but now those who are against the Western imperialism in Muslim lands are deemed “extremists” by mainstream Western media.

    Agree too that now Muslims are greatly divided because of extreme polarity of love/hatred. It’s sad really when a muslim treat his brothers and sisters with vile namecallings, “may you burn in hell” or such just because they don’t share the same view.

    • Anas Hlayhel says:

      You are right but I don’t think we can blame all our extremism on Western propaganda. I think some of it is true. We are killing each other, we are excommunicating each other, don’t you think?

      BTW, what I wrote about could lead into the modern version of extremism. I don’t we can or should separate the two. Extreme love/hate or extreme practice can be one of the root-cause of modern extremism and Allah knows best

  8. Irfan Rashid says:

    You presented the case of Ali(R.A) as an example of extremism, please clarify that it was the kharijites who were on the wrong side, Muawiyah(R.A) actually did not start the war. It was actually the rebels(mostly allied with Ali(R.A)) that did so and created misunderstandings.

  9. Hanifah says:

    Alhamdulillah. Thank you for writing this.

  10. adeeb says:

    Assalaamu alaikum
    I read a fatwa in by shaykh bin baz which says non muslims(other than people of book) can be forced to embrace islam & the verse of no compulsion & all verses of peace are abrogated. It says we should fight polytheists till they become muslim! Is this fatwa correct and how should we refute it? The following fatwa claims that its abrogated, is it correct? the fatwa’s link::

    • Fitzgerald Mistral says:

      Bin Baaz is not a reliable scholar. He’s in the pocket of the BinSaud mafia, and by extension the controllers of the BinSaud mafia. He issues fatwas that are in line with the politics of the desert thugs currently in power in Occupied Arabia.

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