A Brief Look at Wasatiyyah in Islam | Wasat No. 46 / December 2022

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Wasat 46-3

A Brief Look at Wasatiyyah in Islam

01 December 2022 12:03 am // Written by Amruu Hussein

This paper seeks to investigate the significance of wasatiyyah in Islam, with specific attention to the wasatiyyah in religious life. The approach taken will be through investigation of scriptural evidence (the Qur’an and Hadith) that enjoins balance and condemnation of any kind of extremism in religious activity.

This paper is written on the view that Islam views wasatiyyah as the ideal measure for human activities that would bring about peace, harmony, and pleasure for people and the optimum measure for every aspect of human activities; religiously, politically, financially, and socially. Thus, wasatiyyah is to be regarded as fundamental character of Muslim.

Wasatiyyah briefly

Wasatiyyah refers to striking a balance between two extremes and avoiding either one completely (The Oxford Dictionary of Current English, 1992; Munir Al- Ba’labaki, Almawrid 1989). It signifies excellence, just, fair and devoid of any excessiveness.

Wasatiyyah is considered to be one of key precepts of Islam. It is used in the Qur’an to describe the ideal Muslim ummah – “ummattan wasatan” which means a nation that has attributes of justice, excellence and balance in order to serve as Allah’s trustworthy “witness over mankind” (shuhada ‘ala al-nas) in this world and the hereafter (Al-Baqarah, 143).

In this context, wasatiyyah may be interpreted as “the justly balanced character” of Islam and the community of Muslims as a whole (Muhammad Kamal Hasan, 2013). Wasatiyyah (popularly known as moderation) has attained a great deal of notoriety in contemporary Muslim discourse and lecture, particularly after the terrorist attacks that took place in the United States of America on September 11, 2001, which caused the deaths of thousands of people.

According to Al- Zuhaili (1991), wasatiyyah must be fundamental trait of Muslims in line with the role divinely mandated to them – to be God’s vicegerent (khalifah) to flourish this worldly life with obedience and worship of the Almighty Allah that would lead to life in paradise in the hereafter. To achieve this, Muslims should strive to uphold Islamic ethic and morality, demonstrate fairness and balance, reject all forms of excessiveness and extremism in the name of the religion.

Two pillars of wasatiyyah in the Qur’an

The Qur’an regards justice (al-`adl) as a pillar for wasatiyyah – to be just to Allah taala, the religion, self, fellow human beings, other creatures and to whole universe, because just is what makes Muslim ummah suitable to become “witness over mankind”. Also, the Qur’an clearly states that Allah taala despises injustice and unfairness,

“Thus, have We made of you an Ummah that is justly balanced, so that you may be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger may be a witness over yourselves; and We appointed the Qiblah to which you were used, only to test those who followed the Messenger from those who would turn on their heels…” (Al-Baqarah, 143)

“Behold, God enjoins justice, and the doing of good, and generosity towards [one’s] fellow-men; and He forbids all that is shameful and all that runs counter to reason, as well as envy; [and] He exhorts you [repeatedly] so that you might bear [all this] in mind.” (Al-Nahl, 90).

Another pillar of wasatiyyah found in the Qur’an is balance between worldly life (dunya) and hereafter (akhirah).

This is found in Qur’an endorsement for Muslim to enjoy all world blessings that Allah taala has bestowed on them in this temporary world as long as it doesn’t go to extremes and neglect of the life to come. Thus, Muslims are enjoined to integrate matters of dunya with matters of akhirah and vice versa, such that the aspect of dunya is related profoundly to the aspect of akhirah in a moderate manner, and akhirah is to have the ultimate and final significance. This is abundantly mentioned in the Qur’an such as,

“O you who believe! When the call to prayer is broadcast on Friday (the Day of Assembly), rush urgently to the Remembrance of Allah and put off business (and traffic): That is best for you if you but knew it! And when the Prayer is finished, then may you disperse throughout the land, and seek of the Bounty of Allah, and celebrate the Praises of Allah frequently (and without restraint), that you may prosper. And when the Prayer is finished, then may you disperse throughout the land, and seek of the Bounty of Allah.” (Al-Jumu`ah, 9-10)

“But seek, with the (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on thee, the Home of the Hereafter, nor forget thy portion in this world: but do good, as Allah has been good to thee, and seek not (occasions for) mischief in the land: for Allah does not love those who do mischief.” (Al-Qasas, 77)

According to these verses, Muslim shouldn’t get too carried away with his activities in this world while ignoring the life to come, or vice versa.

Wasatiyyah in Muslim religious life

Islam recognizes the value of every facet of life and does so in a manner that is neither excessive nor unbalanced. The treatment of the material, social, spiritual, cultural, and intellectual components of life is characterized by a sense of equilibrium.

Islam does not require Muslims to limit their attention to either the spiritual or the material aspects of their lives only. Islam deals with both and seek to place each where it should be. For this, Islam provides rules and guidance for the fulfillment and satisfaction of the needs associated with each facet of life.

As a result, the focus of this section will be narrowed to analyze the significance of wasatiyyah and moderation in religious practice, with particular attention paid to Islam. Indeed, it is essential to keep in mind that extremism is not a newly emerging phenomena and can be found in each and every religion.

The roots of extremism could be found in the early history of Islam. In fact, there have been a great number of extremist schools and sects throughout history. The most well-known early extremist sects are the Al-Khawarij and the Al-Murji`ah.

Example of early extremist manifestation of religious life and Islam’s command of wasatiyyah could be found in a hadith. Anas related the following story:

“A group of three men came to the houses of the wives of the Prophet inquiring about how the Prophet worshipped Allah. When they were informed about that, they considered their worship to be insufficient and said: Where are we from the Prophet as his past and future sins have been forgiven? Then one of them stated: I will offer the prayer throughout the night forever. The second individual said: I will fast for the whole of this year and I will not break my fast at any point. The third one said: I won’t have anything to do with women, and I won’t get married for the rest of my life. The Prophet of Allah appeared before them and questioned: Are you the same individuals who made such a statement? I fast and break my fast. I sleep and I marry women. I fear Allah more than you do. By the name of Allah, I am humbler to Allah and more fearful of Him than you are. Therefore, he or she who does not adhere to my religious customs cannot be considered one of my followers since they are not from me.” (Narrated by Al-Bukhari).

This hadith informs Muslim to avoid engaging in any kind of excessiveness or exaggeration in the performance of ibadah or religious practices.

The Qur’an warns Muslims not to follow the erroneous way of some followers of past holy prophets due to extremism in their believe in their prophet by ascribing him with divinity. The Qur’an says,

“O People of the Book! Do not go to extremes regarding your faith; say nothing about Allah except the truth.1 The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was no more than a messenger of Allah and the fulfilment of His Word through Mary and a spirit ˹created by a command˺ from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers and do not say, “Trinity.” Stop!, for your own good. Allah is only One God. Glory be to Him! He is far above having a son! To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And Allah is sufficient as a Trustee of Affairs.” (Al-Nisa’, 171)

Wasatiyyah in general ibadah

An example of Islam’s wasatiyyah approach to make ibadah easy for Muslims.  Although Islam makes five-times-a-day prayer, fasting in a month of Ramadan and has obligatory for Muslims, they are permitted to abstain from completing such acts if they are in a state of some difficulty.

The Qur’an says,

“O believers! When you rise up for prayer, wash your faces and your hands up to the elbows, wipe your heads, and wash your feet to the ankles. And if you are in a state of full impurity, then take a full bath. But if you are ill, on a journey, or have relieved yourselves, or have been intimate with your wives and cannot find water, then purify yourselves with clean earth by wiping your faces and hands. It is not Allah’s Will to burden you, but to purify you and complete His favour upon you, so perhaps you will be grateful.” (Al-Ma’idah, 6)

The verse implies a general ruling that an obligation may be dropped when a Muslim face difficulty to perform it in normal circumstance. In such situation, the Muslim is only required to do as much as it is possible. Thus, if someone has a problem and cannot achieve the actually required level of cleanliness due to some unavoidable circumstances, there is no compulsion in this matter, and one can do as much as it can.

In the verse, Allah taala has made it clear that He has no intention of making our lives more difficult in any way, and that His only objective is to look out for our best interests. Thus, Muslim should act the same way – not making difficult to himself and others in their religious life.

Wasatiyyah in solah (prayer)

Wasatiyyah applies in performing solah too – the most important obligation in Islam. One aspect of wasatiyyah in solah is ensuring the recitation of our prayers neither too loud nor excessively mild.  This is mentioned in the Qur’an, “In your prayer, do not recite too loudly nor too quietly; rather, seek a route away from them.” (Al-Isra’, 110)

Abu Musa narrated the following on this regard,

“We were in the company of Allah’s Messenger s.a.w (during Haj). Whenever we went up a high place we used to say: None has the right to be worshipped but Allah, and Allah is Greater, and our voices used to rise, so the Prophet said, O people! Be merciful to yourselves (i.e. don’t raise your voice), for you are not calling a deaf or an absent one, but One Who is with you, no doubt He is All-Hearer, ever Near (to all things).” (Narrated by Al-Bukhari)

Another illustration wasatiyyah by the Prophet s.a.w when performing solah can be seen in the way he led the prayer and delivered the sermon on Friday. He would be lead the prayer and deliver the sermon that was lengthy enough for the audience to learn or be reminded of something significant, but not so lengthy that it would bore or cause hardship to them. It was related by Jabir ibn Samurah, “I was praying with the Messenger of Allah s.a.w and the length of his prayer and the length of his sermon were both reasonable.” (Narrated by Muslim)

With regards to non-obligatory ibadah, the Prophet often instruct his companions to reduce the amount of additional worship they undertook so that they might fulfill their responsibilities to their families and stay in good physical shape.

Concluding remarks

Wasatiyyah, which could be translated to “moderation in all things” is an important virtue of Islam. Practicing it requires Muslim to embrace balance in every activity, regardless of whether it is religious or social, performed by an individual or by a group. It requires the attainment of equilibrium between the individual and the collective, between life and religion, between the power of the intellect and the power of the body, between idealism and realism, between spirituality and materialism, etc.

The opposite of wasatiyyah is extremism, which could be defined as going beyond the normal or acceptable limit set by Allah taala and the Prophet, even if it is in the name of faith and belief. In fact, extremism could only be regarded as anathema Islam.


 

References 

  • Abdullah Yusuf Ali (1938), The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary, Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf
  • `Ali Abdul Hamid Balatji (1991), Riyad Al-Salihin, Damascus: Darul
  • Encyclopedia Britannica (1994-199), CD 99 Standard
  • Muhammad Asad (1980), The Message of the Qur’an, London: Darul
  • Muhammad Kamal Hasan (2013), The Need to Understand Al-Wasatiyyah, Kuala Lumpur: IIUM
  • Munir Al- Ba’labaki (1989), Almawrid (Qamus- English –Arabic), Beirut: Dar Al-`Ilm Li Al-Malayin.
  • Sayyid Qutub (1993), Muqawwimat Al-Taswwur Al-Islami, Beirut: Dar- Al-Shuruq.
  • The Oxford Dictionary of Current English (1992), Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Yusuf Al-Qardawi (2010), Fiqh Al-Wasatiyyah Al-Islamyyah Wa Al-Tajdid:  Ma`alim Wa Manarat, Cairo: Dar Al-Shuruq.

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