The following is a paraphrased summary of Sayyidil Habib Umar bin Hafiz’s discussion of his book, Al-Wasotiyyah fil Islam (Moderation in Islam), co-organised by PERGAS, held at Madrasah Aljunied on 3 November 2016
Al-Habib began by reminding the audience that the biggest amanah (trust) is the amanah of the revelation from Allah, the amanah of guiding mankind to Allah. He also reminded of the importance of calling purely unto Allah and not unto any particular group or individual.
From amongst the examples of Wasatiyyah (moderation or balance) in religion are the words of the Caliph Sayyidina ‘Umar ibn Abdul Aziz who said, “Matters which are clear for you the guidance it contains, follow them, matters which are clear to you the misguidance therein, avoid them and matters which are unclear, stop until its guidance or misguidance becomes clear to you.”
And from the manifestation of this Wasatiyyah in religion are the verses,
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنْ جَاءَكُمْ فَاسِقٌ بِنَبَإٍ فَتَبَيَّنُوا أَنْ تُصِيبُوا قَوْمًا بِجَهَالَةٍ فَتُصْبِحُوا عَلَىٰ مَا فَعَلْتُمْ نَادِمِينَ ، وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ فِيكُمْ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ۚ لَوْ يُطِيعُكُمْ فِي كَثِيرٍ مِنَ الْأَمْرِ لَعَنِتُّمْ
“O you who believe! If an evildoer comes to you with a report, look carefully into it, lest you harm a people in ignorance, then be sorry for what you have done. And know that among you is Allah’s Messenger: were he, in many matters, to follow your (wishes), you would certainly fall into misfortune” [Hujarat: 6-7]
It is therefore understood that travelling the straight path requires a connection with the Prophet ﷺ not mere reliance on one’s intellect and judgement.
Allah has set for us the ideal and perfect examples, and warned us against going to extremes as well as being too lax. The lowly passion of man inclines towards extremities.
When people start to follow their hawa (whims and fancies) in matters of creed instead of basira (spiritual insight), we find statements such as this coming from Imam Shafi’e (which affirm the need to always seek guidance from one’s whims and fancies),
آمنت بالله وما جاء عن الله على مراد الله
“I believe in Allah and what has come regarding Him according to what He intends…”.
The Wasat and the Awsat
Wasat and awsat of anything refer to the preferred and the best respectively; wasat is used when something lies between two extremes, and awsat is used when something is most superior and perfect.
قَالَ أَوْسَطُهُمْ أَلَمْ أَقُلْ لَكُمْ لَوْلَا تُسَبِّحُونَ
“The awsat (most moderate) among them said: “Did I not say to you, ‘Why not glorify (Allah)?'” [Al-Qalam: 28]
The awsat here does not refer to physical body or age but heedfulness and understanding.
Wasatiyyah also has the meaning of rising from lowly inclinations.
If a drop of hawa can spoil an ocean of knowledge… how then if knowledge is one drop and hawa like an ocean?
We find that all the divine laws and in particular, the last one i.e. the Shari’ah of Our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ – which is the seal of the previous laws, directed to the whole creation – is at the peak of moderation, balance, and perfection.
The matter becomes clear in the issue of claiming love where we see some falling into either extremism or total carelessness – the Prophet ﷺ said to ‘Ali, two groups of people are destroyed concerning you, the extreme lover and hater. The fanatical lover goes beyond bounds and make false claims like those who say that Jibril made mistake in sending the revelation to Sayyidina Muhammad ﷺ instead of ‘Ali r.a. This is in contradiction to the religion of ‘Ali r.a., how then is this love for ‘Ali r.a.?
Extremism in love is going beyond the limits of love and falling into whims and delusion.
As for true love for another believer, if it increases, Allah’s love for you will increase.
The Quran and Sunnah calls us to love Allah and His Messenger ﷺ more than our parents, children, spouse, and everything else. Wasatiyyah is to prefer Allah and His Mesenger ﷺ above all else.
Likewise, the claims of the Christians regarding Isa, the son of Maryam, are in contradiction to the teachings of Isa a.s. himself. How can they be lovers of him?
Hence, we find the Prophet ﷺ said, “We have greater right over Musa a.s. than the Jews.”
This is because the Jews innovated in their religion while the Prophet ﷺ and the Muslims tread the same path as Musa. True love is with us. We love both the form and its reality, while they only magnify the form. We love and follow, they love but contradict.
Hence, Wasatiyyah is not measured simply by the intellect… the companions who loved him to the limits and praised him through poetry, none of them ascribed divinity to him. They loved him in a way loved by Allah. This is Wasatiyyah. There are those who say we love the Prophet but only 50-50 i.e. we can’t love him too much. This is also not Wasatiyyah.
Wasatiyyah is the correct and proper understanding of the khitob (words) of Allah and His Messenger ﷺ, and performing it ideally as required regardless of the circumstances, transformation around us, and new developments.
These days there are organisations associated with propagation of Islam who, from time to time, change their opinions, fatwas (edicts), and way of interaction. They can change their stance even several times a year or even within a month.
The Wasatiyyah of the Sufis
Throughout the ages, the people of Tasawwuf have held on to Wasatiyyah. They are united in their understanding despite coming from different turuq (spiritual chains).
Wasatiyyah applies in different aspects of life. In worship, there must be balance. The balance (in the beginning of one’s journey) could be; to restrain oneself in defiance of one’s lower self so as to prevent a return to disobedience… or doing acts of worship gradually; increasing, moving along without getting bored or tired. This is moderation or the middle ground. Wasatiyyah here results in balance; being neither too lax and not doing much in the beginning nor giving up totally in the end.
Understanding Wala’ and Bara’
The proper understanding of the words of Allah establishes for us a scale with regards to wala’ and bara’ (loyalty and disavowal) or love and hatred for the sake of Allah.
Loving for the sake of Allah doesn’t mean allowing others to transgress the law of Allah. Likewise, hating for the sake of Allah doesn’t mean to hate the person himself or violate his rights. Not giving your loyalty or allegiance to the kuffar (disbelievers) does not mean you break your oaths with them.
The Prophet ﷺ did not harm any envoy sent to him as part of observing the norm of the times.
Only one of the Prophet’s ﷺ envoy was killed, this event led to the battle of Mu’tah which saw 3,000 companions against about 250,000 enemies. Fighting with this small number of men was not against the principle of Wasatiyyah. The companions won the battle, took the booty with only about 14 people killed amongst them. When they returned to Madinah, the people thought that they had fled the battlefield but the Prophet ﷺ said, “They have not fled. They shall return to fight, if Allah wills it.”
Loyalty and disavowal is best exemplified by the Prophet ﷺ. Every group that went astray regarding this matter did not actually take from his ﷺ example. He lived with non-believers in Makkah and Madinah and left the hypocrites i.e. he ﷺ did not kill them.
He ﷺ prohibited his companions from killing enemies who turn away from battle, from killing their women and children. The prisoners of Badr were given the opportunity to gain their freedom by teaching Muslim children (to read and write). They were treated well during their imprisonment and were given better food than the one the Muslims had. We do not know of any nation till today which provides for their prisoners better food than the food they themselves eat.
Understanding Shiddah and Ghilzoh
So how was the shiddah (severity) and the ghilzoh (harshness) mentioned in the Quran towards the disbelievers interpreted by the Prophet ﷺ in his dealings with others? He was the master of those who disavowed the disbelievers and disbelief yet he did not allow people to violate the rights of and oppress others. The rightly guided caliphs were like that too. During the caliphate of ‘Umar r.a., the son of ‘Amr ibn Al-As (who was the governor of Egypt at that time) hit a Coptic boy with a whip unjustly, Sayyidina ‘Umar gave the boy a whip to retaliate against the son of ‘Amr and even told the boy to hit ‘Amr himself as his son had done the wrong on account of his father’s authority.
Not all disbelievers are the same, they have different rights according to their status with respect to the law. Allah praised some of His pious servants from previous communities of Christians and Jews in the Quran saying,
لَيْسُوا سَوَاءً ۗ مِّنْ أَهْلِ الْكِتَابِ …
“They are not the same, amongst the People of the Book… ” [Ali Imran :113]
We do not hate them just because their are called Christians or Jews. True bara’ (disavowal) is to protect yourself and your family from the evil influence in their programmes or shows.
Watch full lecture video on Youtube: