Wasatiyyah -The Balanced Median


Linguistically: The term 'wasatiyyah' comes from the root word 'wasata' which means ...

  • Balance or moderation, also implying being exemplary - "We have made you a median global community; in order that you may serve as a testimony/example to humanity [Qur'an 2:149]
  • The 'awsat' is the centre most part of anything, the median between extremes. The wise expression documented in the hadith collection of Bayhaqi, we find the best being linked to the centrist rather than the extreme ... The best of affairs are the (awsatuha) middle ones.
  • 'Wasat' is also synonymous with good merit, virtue, goodness, justice, and balance. "The awsatuhum/ most balanced among them said "Did I not tell you, 'Will you not extol God's limitless glory?' " [Qur'an 68:28]

It is the absence of the balance provided by wasatiyyah that deviation arises and extremism in all its forms tend to creep in.

Antidote to Extremism

Extremism is condemned as the Prophet said; I warn you regarding ghuluww/extremism, because communities before you were destroyed due to extremism [Nisa'i] Greater still is the warning against extremism in religion, as Allah warns "la taghlu fi dinikum" / do not be extreme in your religion. [Qur'an 4:171]

Wasatiyyah is fundamental to the Islamic Way

Moderation is inherent to the very fundamentals of Islam and the practice thereof. We are thus obliged to acknowledge that ...

i) "there is no compulsion in religion" [Qur'an 2:256] {and the unique context of this revelation where Ansar women wanted to convert their "Jewish" children living with Banu Nadir who were brought up in the Jewish tradition. This verse was revealed against forcefully converting those youth to Islam}

ii) that the Prophetic directive of altruism... "loving for others what you love for yourself" [Bukhari] ought to be an inextricable part of the Muslim psyche.

iii) Islam promotes balance and moderation ....

- between physical and spiritual dimensions of the human being; not one at the expense of the other. {Note Prophetic response to companion who neglected his physical needs, focusing purely on the "religious" aspect of life. The Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, joined Salman and Abu'd-Darda' together in brotherhood. Salman visited Abu'd-Darda' and saw Umm ad-Darda' poorly dressed and said to her, 'What's the matter with you?' She said, 'Your brother Abu'd-Darda' has no need of this world.' Abu'd-Darda' came and made some food for him. Salman said, 'Eat.' He said, 'I am fasting.' Salman said, 'I will not eat unless you eat.'" He said, "He ate. In the night, Abu'd-Darda' went to stand in prayer and Salman said to him, 'Sleep!' and he slept. Then he got up again and Salman said, 'Sleep!' At the end of the night, Salman said, 'Now get up and we will pray.' Salman said to him, 'Your Lord has rights over you and your self has rights over you, so give those with rights their due.' Abu'd-Darda' came to the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and mentioned this to him and the Prophet said, 'Salman spoke the truth.'" [al-Bukhari]

- between huquq-Allah and huquq-al-'ibad (rights we owe to God and the rights we owe to the creation of God)

- between rights of the individual and consideration for others. {eg when Mu'adh bin Jabal lengthened his prayer and the Prophet received a complaint regarding it, he advised Mu'adh to shorten public prayers ..because among those praying behind you are the elderly, the weak and those who may have need [Bukhari]. The Prophet himself practiced what he preached as Imam Muslim reported that Jabir Bin Samurah said, "We use to observe the prescribed prayers with the Messenger of Allah and his prayer was of a moderate length....the sermon of the Messenger and his prayers were brief. The Prophet said; I, at times, intend to prolong the prayer then I hear a child crying so I shorten my prayer out of consideration for the mother of the child. [Muslim]

- between iman/internal faith and 'amal/outward action [Qur'an 103:3])

- between what we practice and what we preach [Qur'an 41:33]

- between the needs for peace and the reasons for war [Qur'an 2:191][Qur'an 22:39]

- in our engagement in this world and our perception of the Hereafter.[Qur'an 2:201][Qur'an 7:32]

- between indulgence and over-indulgence, as in the directive ...eat and drink but do not be wasteful/extravagant [Qur'an 7:31]

- in holding one's views and communication with those who may differ. [Qur'an 16:25] [Qur'an 2:83]

- between religious duty and overzealous religiosity (eg. The three companions who vowed to engage in obsessive ritual and abstention and the Prophet responded ... By Allah, I fear Allah more then you do, and I am most obedient and dutiful among you to Him, but still I fast (some days) and I don't fast (other days), I pray at night and I also sleep (meaning he does not pray all night), and I married. So, whoever does not follow my sunnah (way of life) does not belong to me." [Bukhari]

- between fulfilling duty and sensible judgement (eg. 'Amr ibn al-'Ās narrated that he was participating in an expedition. He had a wet dream during an extremely cold night, and was afraid that if he performed ghusl he would die. He prayed the morning prayer with his companions (having made tayammum). He then went to the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, to ask him about this. Muhammad said, "O 'Amr, did you pray with your companions while you needed a post-nocturnal bath?" 'Amr mentioned the verse, "Do not kill yourselves, Allah is merciful to you" to the Prophet. The Prophet just laughed and didn't say anything. [Related by Ahmad and Abu Dawud]

- between our abilities and responsibilities [Qur'an 2:286] (eg. Prayer is an obligation, but its performance needs to be done only to the best of the individual's ability, standing, if not possible, then sitting, if not then laying down because Allah does not place a burden upon you more than you can bear [Qur'an 2:286]. Furthermore, religion is not intended to cause difficulty or unnecessary inconvenience [Qur'an 22:78]

- between the need for consistency in goals, objectives and principles and the wisdom of employing flexibility for appropriate implementation, taking into consideration the variability of time and circumstance. [Prophet's stance at the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah]

- between limitation of engagement [Qur'an 7:33] and co-operation on the basis of that which is beneficial for society [Qur'an 5:2]

- between over-exertion and underperformance ( eg. In charity, neither over-spending nor being stingy but expending what is intermediate and appropriate [Qur'an 25:67]  "And let not your hand be tied (like a stingy person) to your neck, nor stretch it forth to its utmost reach (like the squanderers of money), so that you become blameworthy and impoverished." [Qur'an 17:29]

- between this world and the next ... seek the Hereafter through the opportunities provided in this world but do not forget your worldly tasks [Qur'an 7:33]

iv) that from the outset, Islam has always been pluralistic and inclusive* rather than monolithic and exclusive**.
* First 5 Muslims = Khadijah (woman, wife and employer of the Prophet), 'Ali (youth and family member of the Prophet) Abu Bakr (friend of the Prophet, wealthy, high status and elder of the community), Zaid (foreigner and poor).
** Treaty of Madinah which considered Muslims, Jews and heathens as one society and aimed at working for the welfare of all. Reference also later in history, when Jews were persecuted in Europe, they found refuge in Muslim Spain which ushered in the "Golden Age" for the Jews; and when Christians preferred to be ruled by Muslims in the Holy Land at the time of Caliph 'Umar. If we do not perpetuate these trends established by the Prophet then we are undermining the very spirit of our Deen. The Prophet thus warned ...My intercession will not be availed two categories of my community; an oppressive/unjust ruler and a rebellious extremist. [Tibrani]

v) Taysir Ease & Tabshir Good news/Positivity are integral to Wasatiyyah
The deen of Islam is easy to understand and simple to implement; as per the saying of the Prophet (pbuh) "Surely, this deen is easy" [Bukhari and Muslim]. Allah desires no difficulty for us ...Allah does not wish any difficulty or hardship upon you [Qur'an 5:6] Infact, Allah wishes ease for you and He does not want difficulty for you [Qur'an 2:185]; so much so that Allah promises ease even after difficulty ...Certainly with hardship there is ease, surely with hardship there is ease [Qur'an 94:5-6] Furthermore, our leader, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) advised ...Make things easy, do not make things difficult [Bukhari] Taysiir & Tabshiir was practiced by the Prophet in his daily life; as his wife responded when asked about the Prophet's habits, she said... whenever the Prophet had a choice between two things, he would always choose the easier of the two. [Bukhari] The Prophet further advised positivity rather than negativity ... Convey glad tidings rather than negativity that drives people away. [Bukhari] The famous tradition "This deen is easy, and anyone who is severe/harsh/extreme regarding it, it will overcome him" that Prophetic tradition has a second part which paves the way for ideal social interaction.... "so reach out with moderation (saddidu), seek the best means of approachability and conciliation (qariibu), and give glad tidings." [Bukhari] Scholars of language define "saddiidu" as the middle way in deeds and "qariibu" as doing something as best as one can and as close to perfection as possible.

Wasatiyyah as a fundamental Principle

  • We note that wasatiyyah implies moderation, gentleness, temperateness, keeping within bounds, calmness, reasonableness, peacefulness; above all, it implies balance and justice/fairness. Hence the Qur'anic and Prophetic terms for "moderation" are captured in terms such as wasatiyyah and i'tidaal which translate to the "middle way between extremes" and "upright without losing balance".
  • As a principle of life; this "wasatiyyah/moderation" is the ideal mean of social interaction, manifesting the Universal Golden rule of "treating others as you wish to be treated"; of being respectful and respectable, balanced in disposition.

Refinement required

We certainly need to refine the way we infer our scholastic legacy and how we can modify our understanding of the application of the principles from our texts in contemporary society, while considering the challenges posed by the post-modern era. But this does not mean that we should apologize for our Islam or that we are here to "reform" Islam.

We do however need to reform the way we understand our universal dīn, for Islam is a way of life that is shamilun and kamilun /comprehensive and all-encompassing, ever-relevant, always practical. Our legacy is a chorus for the collective reiteration of the core values of Islam that is tolerant of others, respectful of life and valuing the rights of all.

So, when defining wasatiyyah we are not talking merely about the linguistic dimension of the term, but also of a fundamental principle of life integral to the implementation of our faith.

The logical path for the faithful is Wasatiyyah ... the Middle Way, The Median Path, the Balanced Approach, Neither Extremes, as the prophet warned thrice ... "the extremists are destroyed/ annihilated" [Muslim]

Let's Live the Original Spirit of Islam 

Islam intends to solve issues, not create problems and magnify difficulties. The Prophet came to facilitate ease, as he (pbuh) personally confirmed regarding his noble mission; I have been sent to you to make things easy, I have not been sent to make things difficult. [Bukhari] May Allah make us of those who are of benefit, who are a source of alleviating hardships and facilitating ease; those who are just, neither deviant nor extreme. The Prophet (pbuh) said:"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." [Al-Bayhaqi]

We reiterate that moderation is an Islamic principle for social life; this wasatiyyah is an antidote to ... ghuluww (excessiveness), tanattu' (harshness), tashaddud (severity), tatarruf (extremism) ... in all its forms. Wasatiyyah should not, however, be misconstrued as compromise on principles or undermining of universal ethics; for what practical, social and ethical value can person of faith have in the absence of principles.

The Believers were intended to be a ummah / community that serves as a standard / model for others; may Allah make each of us worthy of being such characters that meet the requirements of what the Qur'an describes ....And we have made you a median community / a people of moderation / a balanced medium in order that you may be a testimony/model for humanity. [Qur'an 2:143]

*****

Sadullah Khan completed memorization of the Quran and furthered his studies in Law in South Africa, Journalism in England and Islamic Studies in Egypt. As a motivational speaker he addresses issues of spirituality, empowerment. He is the author of the book "Dimensions of the Qur'an" and translator of "Message For The Seekers Of Guidance". He has served in several roles in Universities and Islamic Centers in Southern California and is currently involved with Impower Development International based in South Africa.


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  6 Comments   Comment

  1. Anne M from USA

    One of the first things that struck me when I started looking at Islam, was its sense of balance and moderation. No lip service allowed, sincerity required, true effort needed, but it also encompasses realistic expectations and compassion. This made me happy because I have always believed that God is strict but not unreasonable, and does not delight in setting us up to fail. This religion takes everyone's ability into consideration, for any instruction you cannot follow, there is an alternative one provided that you can. Salat is a perfect example. Can't stand for prayers? Pray sitting down. Can't sit? Pray lying down. Can't talk? Say them silently. It all counts. Since I am slow, Salat takes me about an hour a day altogether. What is that, about seven percent of my waking hours everyday? Is seven percent, as some insist, extreme? Really? It's certainly no more time than I spend at my local coffee house during the day. Just imagine if Allah only paid attention to us seven percent of the time.

  2. Siddeeque Zainuddeen from SA

    Islam is religion of moderation. In everything we have to be moderate. We should eat keeping a portion of the stomach empty. We should care our spiritual and physical needs.We should work, but also should sleep, in time. We should earn only through rightful means and should spend in moderation. We should be kind to other fellow beings. At the same time, we should be aware of the evil aways of lives which some members of the human family are following. We should be best towards our family which doesn't mean that we should ignore their serious flaws in action.

  3. Kevin Owens from USA

    Biblical Christianity is still the better choice then Islam.

  4. Mazhar Islam from Pakistan

    Comment on Ramesh Chandar's Comment

    It seems that his comment is kind of hasty and rash before even considering what thisarticle is about.

    1 month /12 month = 1/12 which to me is more than balance; rather balance is tilted towards the human being...and in Ramzan if you are elderly, have some kind of medical condition and traveling you can skip fasting or give equivalent amount of money to poor...again benefiting human beings. And if your hurt (bleeding or vomiting due to some) you can also skip

    As for prayers...it takes on the average 10-20 minutes from short to long prayers...

    20x5=100 min / 24 hrs * 60 min = 100/1440..

    that is all and prayers cleanse, refreshes the person and provide minimum amount of body and soul activity. To me that is scientifically balanced and tilted toward human side

    this is not the place to go into details of fasting or prayers but please do at least research before you just want to comment or ask a muslim...and do not comment for the sake of comment only

    AND I AM not sure about your sense of balance...may be you would like 1/365 day activity as suitable but for any logical mind this is more than balance

  5. Kam from -

    I think we all have to these motivational speakers' interpretation with lots of salt. Prophesy after looking at Tea leaves' can do the same job.

    Kam

  6. Romesh Chander from USA

    Islam promotes balance and moderation .

    Nah. Praying 5 times a day and fasting for a whole month. If that is balanced and moderate, I wonder what will NOT be considered balanced and moderate then.