The Middle Path of Moderation in Islam: The Qur’anic Principle of Wasatiyyah
THE MIDDLE PATH OF MODERATION IN ISLAM – Book Sample
Introduction – THE MIDDLE PATH OF MODERATION IN ISLAM
WasaṬiyyah (moderation) is an important but somewhat neglected aspect of Islamic teachings that has wide-ranging ramifications in almost all areas of concern to Islam. “Moderation” is primarily a moral virtue of relevance not only to personal conduct of individuals but also to the integrity and self-image of communities and nations.
Moderation is an aspect, in its Qur’anic projections, of the self-identity and worldview of the Muslim community, or ummah, and also features prominently in almost all major world religions and civilizations. The Graeco-Judaic and Christian creeds refer to it as the “golden mean,” while the Confucians and Muslims refer to it as Chung Yung and wasaṭiyyah, respectively.
Moderation is a virtue that helps to develop social harmony and equilibrium in personal affairs, within the family and society and the much wider spectrum of human relations.
Despite its obvious advantages, moderation is often neglected, however, not only in the personal conduct of individuals but also in social relations, treatment of the natural environment, religious practices, inter- national affairs, and finance.
The need for wasaṭiyyah has acquired renewed significance in the pluralist societies of our time, especially in light of Huntington’s thesis on “clash of civilizations” and the aftermath of the September 2001 terrorist attacks. Restoring balance to many of the disturbing realities of our time has become a pressing calling of the world community and the ummah.
The unprecedented spread of extremism and violence by individuals and states in many parts of the world has further accentuated the importance of wasaṭiyyah. It is worthy of note that the scale of destruction, loss of civilian life, and violence has hitherto been much greater among Muslim the middle Path of moderation in islam countries and populations.
This has increased the urgency of the call for bridge-building by many Muslim leaders, including the former Iranian President Khatami, whose clarion call for a “dialogue of civilizations” at the United Nations General Assembly in 1997 sought to counter the “clash of civilizations” euphoria and called for renewed bridge-building efforts and attention also to the universalist principles and teachings of Islam.
Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington DC, underscored the growing threat the world faces from radicals and extremists against religious tolerance. He wrote that “the role of moderate Muslims is key, and more important than anything else, and if you are going to combat radicalism, in terms of debates and ideas, the arguments should be made by Muslims, because the radical groups don’t know other arguments”1.
Marshall’s point is valid as it stands, yet he is typical of many a Western observer who are inclined to attribute radicalism only to Muslims, which is, however, not supported by the ample evidence that shows—as I examine below—the much wider scope of extremism almost everywhere.
Ahmad Syafii Ma’arif, a former chairman of Indonesia’s Muhammadiyyah movement, added to Marshall’s observations that radi- cal Muslims were in the minority, and therefore the majority of moderates have the power to condemn the radicals. “If Islam is led by the moderates, the enlightened people, then I think Islam can compete with any nation (sic). However, the majority of moderates prefer to be silent rather than counter the radicals”2.
The aftermath of al-Qaeda attacks on Madrid suburban trains in 2004 invoked a most constructive response from the then Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero and his Turkish counterpart Erdogan to call for the formation of an Alliance of Civilisations.
The proposal received the backing of the then Secretary General Kofi Annan, and the UN Alliance of Civilisations was consequently formed in 2005. It was subsequently launched by the United Nations with a view to advancing substantive collaborative efforts that promote shared knowledge and mutual under- standing across cultures. Spain and Turkey, the two countries standing for dialogue, also geographically bridge the Muslim and the Christian parts of the world.
This was followed, in turn, by Prime Minister of Malaysia Najib Razak’s landmark speech on “Global Alliance of Moderates” and wasaṭiyyah at the 65th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in September 2010—and his subsequent launching of the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation at an international conference in Kuala Lumpur in January 2012.
Together, these proposals manifest an affirmative response on the part of prominent political leaders for a constructive civilizational discourse and their earnestness for engagement and cooperation. I shall take up, in the following pages, some of the institutional developments that follow up on these initiatives.
At this juncture, a brief opinion survey may be presented on the historical profile of coexistence of Muslims with other communities, and the contrast that is now seen over the widening scope of extremism—including some comments as to how moderation plays out in world affairs today.
The voice of moderation has resonated, as mentioned earlier, in almost all major world traditions and moral philosophies—hence no civilization can lay an exclusive claim to it.
The golden mean of moderation in all things, so famously made central to philosophic literature ever since the time of Aristotle over two thousand years ago, is, however, easier said in words than it is seen in action, and it is here where differences of major proportions can be seen in the actual behavior of leaders, communities, and nations.
Scott Thompson spoke from experience when he wrote that in the Hindu-majority Bali community of Indonesia, where he currently lives, he has experienced a culture where all good Hindus try to find their inner balance every day in prayers and ceremonies.
Thompson added, however, that the cultural factor alone did not prevent a bloodbath in 1965, when the Balinese killed off around 5 percent (50,000 to 100,000) of their own people who had allied themselves with the extremists. They righted the balance, but at appalling cost3.
Right now the world is watching, Thompson further commented, and it would be scary if a fringe movement in the United States gained enough power to pull the ancient Republican Party off its right-of-center moor- ings. Their view of the world is so distorted, but their lure in a country of evangelists is so great, that the supposedly most powerful country could dangerously lose its balance4.
The call to moderation that we advocate is addressed to the followers of all religious and cultural traditions and communities.
What is needed is a worldwide advocacy of moderation, not only within every religion and cul- ture but more widely among them and across Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and other religious communities to stand for similar principles. God’s words in the Qur’an are as powerful today as they were when they were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, [pbuh]: “Good and
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