This faculty of discernment is an integral part of the essential nature or primordial disposition (fitrah) with which the human being has been imprinted by God and which gives him or her the potential to become His representative (khalifah) on earth. It is a part of human character, for the word 'character' originally meant a stamp. Discernment is stamped, impressed or engraved on the soul as part of the authentic character of the human being who was created by God fi ahsani taqwim, 'in the best of moulds' (Qur'an 95:4), although it is the responsibility of each of us to live according to that divine pattern and to fulfill the sublime purpose for which we were created. At a largely unconscious level, it is simply 'common sense', a faculty possessed by all, "original" in its true sense.
To Adam was imparted the gift of the Names (Quran 2:31), and this knowledge also conferred on us the linguistic faculty of verbal definition and conceptualisation which enables us to make rational choices.
This is not to imply, of course, that we can disregard the whole apparatus of Hadith scholarship and resort to selecting only those Hadith that appeal subjectively to our personal taste, or our prejudices and predilections. The faculty of discernment is a critical faculty that searches out the truth; it is not something that takes us into the comfort zone or panders to a mentality which wishes only to have its inclinations and biases confirmed or its ideological perspective reinforced.
Above all, it is a faculty dedicated to balance and equilibrium. As part of our fitrah, it is fashioned by God, like everything in Creation, in due measure and proportion (Quran 54:49) as a fitting reflection of divine order and harmony. The word taqwim in the phrase fi ahsani taqwim quoted above also has the sense of 'symmetry' as well as 'mould'.
There are many Hadith on this central Islamic virtue of steering between extremes. On one occasion,, the Prophet said to Abu Bakr: "I passed you when you were praying in a low voice." Abu Bakr said, "The One with whom I was holding intimate conversation heard me, O Messenger of God!" He then turned to Umar and said, "I passed you when you were raising your voice while praying." He replied, "Messenger of God, I was waking the drowsy and driving away the devil." The Prophet said, "Raise your voice a little Abu Bakr", and to Umar he said, "Lower your voice a little."
This is a beautiful commentary on the statement in the Quran that Muslims are a community of the middle way (2:143), which suggests, according to Muhammad Asad, "a call to moderation in every aspect of life".
But what is meant by moderation? A dull compromise? A state of mediocrity or half-heartedness? A mere avoidance of difficult choices? Certainly not. Returning again to those verses in the Quran in Surah 39 which urge us to use our reason in validating the truth, we are urged to listen closely to all that is said, and follow the best of it. Certainly, the best of it may often be the position which is most balanced and moderate, but it is not arrived at by a kind of quantitative calculation which finds a mathematical average or apparently equitable compromise irrespective of what is actually just, right and fair, The word 'fair' in English originally meant what is 'fitting' and 'proportionate' and its two modern meanings - 'just' and 'beautiful' - have preserved that connection to its original sense. Moderation and balance are qualitative states which honour what is appropriate and proportionate. The English word comes from Latin modus, 'keeping within due measure', which is related to another word which is also the source of English 'modest'. Etymologically, moderation has the same inherent meaning in English as modesty, a connection which is also truly Islamic. The Prophet himself said that "True modesty is the source of all virtues." He said too that "Every religion has a distinctive feature and the distinctive feature of Islam is modesty."
Charles le Gai Eaton has, himself, written beautifully on the topic of balance and equilibrium:
"But, in talking of beauty and praise, the healing powers of nature and the meaning hidden in sticks and stones, have I left out something important? 'What about the "Do's" and "Don'ts" of religion? They have, ultimately, one purpose, and that is to establish harmony, balance, order within the individual personality as also in society; the same harmony, balance and order visible in creation as a whole, maintaining the birds in their flight, turning the growing plant towards the life- giving sun, and bringing the fruit to ripeness on the tree. In the disordered personality and in the disordered society, the "Do's" and "Don'ts" may have to be imposed, but those are conditions under which the equilibrium inherent in creation has already been disturbed, as happens when people forget who they are and where they are going."
"Let me, in conclusion, emphasise one of the most basic principles of Islam. Balance, both in spiritual life and in our human existence as creatures plunged into the light and shade of this world. As the Muslim sees it, there is another word for balance, and that is peace. The very word Islam is derived from the Arabic word for peace. 'Where balance is lacking there is conflict and disorder, both outward and inward. 'While it is maintained, men and women are free to turn to God as plants turn to the sun."
This is a strikingly beautiful affirmation of the harmony and equilibrium inherent in the created order. If we can remember "who we are and where we are going" and by so doing restore in ourselves that balance, we will have access to that inner discernment which will enable us to be true to the Quranic injunction to listen closely to all that is said, and follow the best of it.
Excerpted from the introduction given by Jeremy Henzell-Thomas for "The Book of Hadith" by Charles le Gai Eaton.
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