Strangely, though some of these people take liberty in exercising ijtihad in the most complicated matters and issues and pass notional and whimsical judgments yet they would deprive the contemporary expert 'ulama' singly or collectively-of the right to exercise ijtihad regarding statements which contradict theirs. Some of them never hesitate to give ridiculous opinions on, and interpretations of, the Qur'an and Sunnah; opinions which are contradictory to those handed down to us by our forefathers, or subsequently arrived at by contemporary ulama' This indifference is due to their presumption to be on an equal footing with Abu Bakr, 'Umar, Ali, and Ibn Abbas (RA'A). This presumption might be less grave if these people admits that their contemporaries who uphold different views or approaches are also capable of ijtihad like themselve; but they would not.
Bigotry is the clearest evidence of extremisim. An extremist seems to address people in this way: "I have the right to lead, your duty is to follow. My opinion is right, it cannot be wrong. Your opinion is wrong, it can never be right."
Thus, a bigot can never come to terms with others. Agreement is possible and can be reached when people hold moderate positions, but a bigot neither knows nor believes in moderation. He stands in relation to people as the East stand in relation to the West-the nearer you get to one, the further you move away from the other.
The issue becomes even more critical when such a person develops the tendency to coerce others, not necessarily physically but by accusing them of bidah, laxity, kufr, and deviation. Such intellectual terrorism is as terrifying as physical terrorism.
The second characteristic of extremism manifests itself in a perpetual commitment to excessiveness, and in attempts to force others to do likewise, despite the existence of good reasons for facilitation and the fact that Allah (SWT) has not ordained it. A person motivated by piety and caution may, if he so wishes, choose a hard-line opinion in some matters and on certain occasions. But this should not become so habitual that he rejects facilitation when he needs it. Such an attitude is not in keeping with the teachings of the Qura'an or Sunnah as is clear from the following verse: "Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties".
The Prophet (SA'AS) also said in ahadith already quoted: "Facilitate [matters to people] and do not make [things] difficult."
He also said: "Allah loves that His dispensations [to make things easier] be accepted, as He dislikes [to see people] committing disobedience.
It is also reported that "whenever the Prophet (SA'AS) was given a choice between two options, he always chose the easiest unless it was a sin."
Complicating matters for people and causing constraint in their lives are contrary to the most outstanding qualities of the Prophet Muhammad (SA'AS). These qualities have been mentioned in earlier scriptures and later revealed in the Qur'an:
He [Muhammad] allows them as lawful what is good [and pure] and prohibits them from what is bad [and impure], he releases them from their heavy burdens and from the yokes that are upon them.
This is why the Prophet (SA'AS) used to prolong his salah only when he was alone. In fact, he used to offer salah throughout the night until his feet were swollen. But when leading people in ,salah, he used to shorten it, taking into consideration the circumstances of his followers and their varying levels of endurance , He said in this respect, "If any of you leads people in salah, he should shorten it, for among them are the weak, the sick, and the old; and if any of you offers ,salah alone, then he may prolong [it] as much as he wishes.
Abu Mas'ud al Ansari narrated that a man said to the Prophet (SA'AS): "O Messenger of Allah, I keep away from Salat al Fajr only because so and so prolongs it." The Prophet (SA'AS) became very angry and said: people, some of you make people dislike good deeds [ in this case salah]. Whoever leads people in salah should shorten it because among them are the weak, the old, and those who have business to attend to.
As we have already mentioned, the Prophet (SA'AS) reacted in the same way when a man complained to him that Mu'adh (RA'A) prolonged the ,salah. Anas Ibn Malik narrated: "The Prophet (SA'AS) said: "When I stand for ,salah, I intend to prolong it, but I cut it short on hearing the cries of a child, because I do not like to trouble the mother".
It is also strict, excessive and overburdening to require people to observe supererogatories in the same way as they would observe the obligatories, or hold them accountable for the things which are mukrahat as if these were muharramat. In fact, we should demand that people observe only what Allah (SWT) has categorically commanded. The extra and additional forms of ibadah are optional.
The following incident shows that this was also the Prophet's opinion. A bedouin once asked the Prophet (SA'AS) about the obligatory prescriptions required of him. The Prophet (SA'AS) mentioned only three: salah, zakah, and siyam. When the bedouin asked if there was anything else which he must do, the Prophet (SA'AS) replied in the negative, adding that the bedouin could volunteer to do more if he so wished. As the bedouin was leaving, he swore never to increase or decrease what the Prophet (SA'AS) had asked him to do. When the Prophet (SA'AS) heard this he said, "If he is saying the truth, he will succeed or [said] 'he will be granted jannah. If a Muslim in this age observes the wajibat and eschews the most heinous of the muharramat, he should be accommodated in the fold of Islam and regarded as one of its advocates so long as his loyalty is to Allah (SWT) and His Messenger (SA'AS). Even if he commits some minor muharramat, the merits gained by his observance of the five daily salawat, salat al jumuah (Friday prayers), siyam, etc. will expiate his small faults.
The Qur'an says: "Good deeds remove those that are evil", and in another verse: If you [but] eschew the most heinous of the things which are forbidden, We shall expel out of you all the evil in you and admit you to a state of great honor.
In view of the above evidence from the Qur'an and Sunnah, how could we expel a Muslim from the fold of Islam merely because of his commitment to certain controversial matters which we are not sure are ,halal or haram, or because of his failure to observe something which we are not certain is wajib or mandub? This is why I object to the tendency of some pious people to adopt and cling to hard-line opinions, not only in their own personal practice but also in influencing others to do the same. I also object to the charges levered by such people against any Muslim 'alim who disagrees with their line of thought and opts for facilitation in the light of the Qur'an and Sunnah in order to relieve people of distress and undue restrictions in their religious practice.
The third characteristic of extremism is the out-of-time and out-of-place religious excessiveness and overburdening of others, i.e., when applying Islamic principles to people in non-Muslim countries or to people who have only recently converted to Islam, as well as to newly committed Muslims. With all these, emphasis should not be put on either minor or controversial issues, but on fundamentals. Endeavors should be made to correct their concepts and understanding of Islam before anything else. Once the correct beliefs are firmly established, then one can begin to explain the five pillars of Islam and gradually to emphasize those aspects which make a Muslim's belief and practice compatible, and his entire life an embodiment of what is pleasing to Allah (SWT).
This fact was recognized by the Prophet Muhammad (SA'AS) himself when he sent Muadh (RA'A) to Yemen. He told him: You are going to [meet] people of a [divine] scripture, and when you reach them call them to witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger. And if they obey you in that, then tell them that Allah has enjoined on them five salawat to be performed every day and night. And if they obey you in that, then tell them that Allah has enjoined upon them sadaqah [zakah] to be taken from the rich amongst them and given to the poor amongst them.
Notice the gradation in the Prophet's advice to Mu'adh (RA'A). I was shocked and dismayed during a tour of North America to find that devout young Muslims-who belong to some Muslim groups-have initiated a great controversy because Muslims sit on chairs during theSaturday and Sunday lectures in mosques instead of sitting on mats on the ground, and do not face the Ka'bah as Muslims do and also because those who attend wear shirts and trousers rather than loose outer coverings, and sit at dining tables to eat rather than on the ground. I was angered by this kind of thinking and behavior in the heart of North America. I, therefore, addressed these people: It would be more worthwhile in this materialistic society to make your paramount concern the call to monotheism and the ibadah of Allah (SWT), to remind people of the hereafter, of the noble Islamic values, and to warn them of the heinous acts in which the materially-developed countries have been totally immersed. The norms of behavior and the ameliorations in religious practice are governed by time as well as place, and should be introduced only after the most necessary and fundamental tenets have been firmly established.
In another Islamic center, people were creating a considerable fuss over the showing of a historical or educational film in a mosque, claiming that "mosques have been turned into movie "heaters," but forgetting that the purpose of the mosque is to serve the wordly as well as spiritual interest of Muslims. During the time of Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) the masjid-or the mosque-was the center of dawah and of the state, as well as of social activities. We are all aware of the Prophet's granting permission to a group of people from Abyssinia to sport with their spears in the middle of his masjid, and that he allowed Aishah (RA'A) to watch them.
The fourth characteristic of extremism manifests itself in harshness in the treatment of people, roughness in the manner of approach, and crudeness in calling people to Islam, all of which are contrary to the teachings of the Qur'an and Sunnah. Allah (SWT) commands us to call to Islam and to His teachings with wisdom, not with foolishness, with amicability, not with harsh words:
Invite [all] to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching, and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious.
It also describes the Prophet (SA'AS), thus: Now has come unto you a Messenger from among yourselves. It grieves him that you should perish, ardently anxious is he over you. To the believers he is kind and merciful.
The Qur'an also addressed the Prophet (SA'AS), defining his relationship with his companions:
It is part of the mercy of Allah that you [Muhammad] deal justly with them. If you were severe and harsh-hearted they would have broken away from about you.