By Shaykh Mohammed Mahmoud, Senior Imam at the East London Mosque

Indeed Allah elevated the nation (Ummah) of His final Messenger ﷺ. He raised their rank among the nations, but not unconditionally. He said:

كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّـهِ
You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is evil, and believe in Allah.

These conditions for this virtue and advantage, are to be understood, and applied within certain parameters; the parameters of – الوسطيةmoderation.

Moderation, or the middle path, which Allah determined to be a defining characteristic of this nation. Not an option, not voluntary, or a choice, but rather, by Divine appointment. He said, describing this Ummah in the middle verse of Al Baqarah:

وَكَذَلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا
Thus We have appointed/made you a middle nation (a nation of the middle path)

To subscribe as a full member, to qualify as a representative of this Ummah, moderation is the condition. 

So, what is الوسطية?

It is the quality that protects the individual and society from deviating towards conflicting extremes, characterised, respectively, by excess and neglect, whether in religious or worldly affairs. And, it isn’t a new command, issued only to this Ummah. Allah says:

يَا أَهْلَ الْكِتَابِ لَا تَغْلُوا فِي دِينِكُمْ غَيْرَ الْحَقِّ
“O People of the Scripture, do not exceed limits in your religion beyond the truth…”

And the scholars said, “moderation is the hasanah between two sins”. They also say: moderation is the third option after the extremes of excess and neglect, which takes the best qualities of both ends of the spectrum. For example: Praiseworthy charity is that which lays between miserliness/stinginess, and luxury/extravagance. Allah says about spending/charity:

ولا تجعل يدك مغلولة إلى عنقك ولا تبسطها كل البسط فتقعد ملوما محسورا
And do not make your hand [as] chained to your neck or extend it completely and [thereby] become blamed and insolvent

والذين إذا أنفقوا لم يسرفوا ولم يقتروا وكان بين ذالك قواما
And [they are] those who, when they spend, do so, not excessively or sparingly but are ever, between that, [justly] moderate.

Another example is when Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqaas wanted to leave all his wealth to charity after his death. The Messenger ﷺ capped his donation at a third, and said even a third is alot. And all noble traits and virtuous characteristics are the middle path between two extremes. Bravery is the middle ground between cowardice and recklessness/irresponsibility.

The penalties that Allah legislated are fair, just and moderate too. In qisaas for example, retribution for an assault or murder, Allah commands the family of the murdered not to exceed the limit.

وَمَن قُتِلَ مَظْلُومًا فَقَدْ جَعَلْنَا لِوَلِيِّهِ سُلْطَانًا فَلَا يُسْرِف فِّي الْقَتْلِ ۖ إِنَّهُ كَانَ مَنصُورًا 
And whoever is killed unjustly - We have given his heir authority, but let him not exceed limits in taking life. Indeed, he has been supported [by the law].

In all forms of dispute, Allah has commanded us to respond in a measured and moderate manner. Even in the case of divorce, it is impermissible to issue more than one talaaq in one go. It is when we exceed the limits do we then regret our actions. 

Even in matters that may seem mundane or unimportant to some, the criteria is still moderation. Allah made clear for us the limit in consumption for example when He said:

يَا بَنِي آدَمَ خُذُوا زِينَتَكُمْ عِندَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍ وَكُلُوا وَاشْرَبُوا وَلَا تُسْرِفُوا ۚ إِنَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُسْرِفِينَ 
O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess.

Meaning- dress nicely, eat and drink good food, but don’t overindulge and exceed the acceptable limits. And the Messenger pbuh recommended when eating for us to fill one third of our stomachs with food, leave the second third with water, and the remaining third for air i.e. empty space, so that we don’t feel sick or lethargic after eating. 

Moderation is the principle we live our lives by in general, whether with friends or foes. Thus, we do not befriend everyone, nor do we take everyone as an enemy. Ali said “Love your beloved within reason, lest he one day becomes an enemy. And hate your enemy within reason, lest he one day becomes a friend”. So do not love excessively, nor hate excessively.

Divine legislation is inherently moderate in nature as we previously mentioned. Allah doesn’t task a soul with more than it can bear.

لَا يُكَلِّفُ اللَّـهُ نَفْسًا إِلَّا وُسْعَهَا
Allah does not charge a soul except [with that within] its capacity.

The prescribed acts of worship are legislated through the absolute knowledge and wisdom of Allah the Almighty. Wisdom dictates that you commission an individual with a task that is not too easy, and not too difficult. Like the wise teacher who devises an exam that is not too easy for the students, nor too difficult, but challenging enough for it to be considered a test. Allah’s commands are not difficult that it is impossible for us to obey them.

Nor has Allah granted the soul free reign to act with absolute freedom, impunity and independence, legislating for itself according to desire and whim. 

Ifraat / Excess

Moderation was the principle and the Sunnah of Allah's Messenger, and as such is the greatest and only approach in all of life’s affairs. Moderation is the middle path between ifraat / excess, and tafreet / neglect. 

An example of ifraat / excess is the common misconception, amongst the youth especially, that the harder and more difficult a task is, the more virtuous it is. That absolute self-denial and abstinence are closer to piety.  

Many fall into the trap of the shaytaan where they say "Leave the dunya for its people, and the aakhirah for its people". So they will adhere to the mosque day and night, despite being able to work. They isolate themselves for worship, and abandon their duties and responsibilities toward their family and society. This monkhood, and absolute devotion to worship, is both excessive and neglectful. Omar saw a young healthy man never leave the mosque and asked him who supported him. When he answer his "brother" did, Omar struck him and told him his brother was better than him. 

There are many examples of ifraat / excess in worship that the Messenger ﷺ nipped in the bud before people assumed the virtue of such practices. Famously the three young men who pledged, respectively, not to eat, sleep or marry. The Messenger pbuh addressed the innovation they were about to perform with great urgency.

“Are you the people who said such and such things? By Allah, I fear Allah more than you do, and I am most obedient and dutiful among you to Him, but still I observe fast and break it; perform Salah and sleep at night and take wives. So whoever turns away from my Sunnah does not belong to me".

Salman Al-Farisi said to Abu-Dardaa’. “Your Lord has a right over you, and your self has a right over you, and your family has a right over you, thus give all their due rights”.

Abdullah Ibn Amr Ibn Al Aas used to fast every other day. When the Prophet ﷺ noticed this he advised him to fast moderately. Later during old age, Abdullah regretted not taking the Messenger’s initial recommendation when this level of worship had become too taxing on his frail body.  

Tafreet / Neglect

Then on the opposite end of the spectrum are the mufarritoon – the negligent and lax. They make little effort, claiming that the heart is more important than outer expressions of faith. They say “Belief / imaan is enough, and worship isn't necessary!” Whereas worship is the evidence of faith and cannot be divorced from it. Allah's says:

قُلْ إِن كُنتُمْ تُحِبُّونَ اللَّـهَ فَاتَّبِعُونِي يُحْبِبْكُمُ اللَّـهُ وَيَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ ذُنُوبَكُمْ
Say, [O Muhammad], “If you should love Allah, then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins.”

And belief is the condition for the acceptance of worship. You find others who will happily pray, give charity and fast, and do all forms of righteous deeds without embracing Allah! That rejection of Allah renders righteous deeds insignificant on the day when nothing will weigh heavier on the scales than “la ilaaha illa Allah”.

The neglectful often hang on to excessive hope in Allah- despite their defiance and rebellion against Him and His Messenger, they say Allah is all forgiving and merciful. Yet they offer nothing to glorify and magnify Allah.The negligent adopt extreme liberal ideologies that diminish/minimise the role of the Islam in people's lives. They reduce Islam to a list of customs or traditions rather than submission and obedience of Allah. They blaspheme Allah by equating their opinions to His command.  Their path of doubt and self-legislation ultimately leads them to deviate so far from Islam. These are the neglectful.

The middle path

The subject of moderation is a great one my dear brothers and sisters, and one that necessitates deep study and constant practice.

Let us begin by educating ourselves and our youth about the middle-path, far from neglect and excess. Let us nurture in them the love for a balance life, where they reconcile the pursuit for Allah and the hereafter, with their pursuit of the dunya. Where the love of Allah and the hereafter occupy their hearts, and the dunya is possessed (figuratively) in their hands to do with it that which pleases Allah. 

The “go hard or go home” rule doesn't apply in Islam. The choice is not between the mosque and the club only. The nation of the middle path didn't succeed in science, mathematics and medicine by never leaving the mosque. Nor did they neglect Allah and their obligations towards Him. 

We are commanded to go steadily upwards, not to propel ourselves to great heights in record time, only to burn out and crash, and abandon the pursuit of Allah's pleasure.