The Middle Path

Moderate community in Arabic

As we have pointed out before, Islam is often perceived as a religion of extremists and Muslims are almost as a matter of course portrayed as rigid and fixed in their ways. There are Muslims, certainly, who have a more extreme understanding of the faith and believe that it must be practiced in a particular way; however, the vast majority of Muslims follow the principle of moderation in everything, including their faith.

This principle stems from an often-cited verse in the Qur’an. Verse 143 in chapter 2 underscores that moderation is not only something that is encouraged but is a defining characteristic of the Muslim community.

In the same way We made a community of the middle way,  so that you should be witnesses over the people, and the Messenger a witness to you.

According to this verse, Muslims are to live their lives avoiding extremes. In terms of belief, for example, this means that they should not be lax in their practice of Islam nor should they be extreme about every detail by insisting there is only one way to do things. For example, Muslims should not be lax in performing the required five prayers but neither should they spend all their time in prayer. Another example is how Muslims should spend their wealth: they are not discouraged from accumulating wealth, but they should be moderate in how they spend that money. Thus, they should not spend extravagantly nor should they be miserly and refuse to help the less fortunate.

Moderation as a principle of Islam is also highlighted in a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad where he actually warns his followers about the dangers of extremism:

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) pronounced a firm warning, “Never be extreme regarding religion. Many nations have been destroyed before you only because of extremism in religion.” (NisaaiIbn Majah)

Thus, while the Prophet Muhammad spent a great deal of time in worship, he also married, had children, and enjoyed his life with his family and community. This hadith also underscores the fact that extremism has no place in Islam and that if there are extremist Muslims they are deviating from the spirit of the faith. Muslims should always find the middle path in everything they do, and by doing so they perform their duty of being examples for others.

Have you read this verse? Are there other verses in the Qur’an that address the idea of moderation? How do you think the idea of the middle path should be manifested in life?  Do you think that Muslims live by this principle? What do other faith traditions say about moderation? Please share your comments below.

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