We are publishing for your attention a report by Mufti of RAMU “Umma” Mr.Said Ismagilov that he made at the III International conference “Islam and Islamic Studies in Ukraine” held in Donetsk on September 19, 2013, as the principles described in it are crucial as never.
In the end of XX and the beginning of XXI century, the Muslim Ummah influenced by globalisation faced the phenomenon of secularisation formed and matured within the Western-European cultural-civilizational aerial. In Europe, secularisation forced the religion out of the public sphere to the sphere of each individual’s private attitude. This phenomenon, foreign for Islamic world, started its penetration into Arab Muslim countries, giving rise to the opposite phenomenon of strengthening conservatism and radicalisation of some groups of Muslims started gaining threatening scales. Islam itself, being not just a religious system but an ultimate pattern of life, denies separating religious regulation from the social life. For those reasons, Islamic society faced the challenge of preserving its Islamic principles and identity without rushing to radicalism and extremism. As a self-regulated system, Islam has internal instruments able to balance the system in case of any inner or outer threats. Al-Wasatyyah principle is one of those instruments.
Al-Wasatyyah is one of the basic Islamic principles meaning moderation, golden mean, denying extremities and radicalism. The phenomenon of Al-Wasatyyah is not something new for Islam, and this Shariah term was first mentioned in the Holy Qur’an. Allah Almighty characterises the Islamic Ummah with the following words: “And thus we have made you a just, moderate community that you will be witnesses over the people and the Messenger will be a witness over you” [Qur’an, 2:143]. Pay attention that in this verse Allah doesn’t command but rather states the fact that Muslims are the community of moderation and balance.
Which means, being a Muslim is being an adept of the al-wasatyyyah principle, and this isn’t even a point for discussion as Allah himself has made us the community based on such principle. According to this verse, every extremity, intemperance and radicalism in their broadest meaning don’t correspond the image of a Muslim, both in personal and public level.
The meaning of this term is wide enough as well. It institutionalizes both the inner-confessional rules and interfaith relations. As for the Islamic rulings, here the Wasatyyah prohibits such extreme forms of piety as hermitage, monkery and full asceticism, and their antipode, the so-called “secular religion” when a person formally associates oneself with Islam without bothering to obtain the moral prescriptions and ceremonies.
For instance, we can find in the hadiths that Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, got really upset when he learned that some of his companions go to extremities in religion. One of them swore to be fasting all of his life, the other set himself to spend all of his nights praying, and the third gave the vow of chastity. At that point the Prophet of Islam explained the al-wasatyyah principle with the following words: “Indeed, I sometimes fast and sometimes don’t; sometimes I pray at night and sometimes I don’t, and I get married. And those not willing to follow my example (sunnah), has nothing to do with me.” In the given context the words “has nothing to do with me” should be explained as “has nothing to do with the principles of Islam Allah sent with me”. It’s inappropriate, from Islamic point of view, to be more pious than the Prophet or to pretend to have a more correct understanding of Islam.
As for the Islamic attitude to non-Islamic society, here the wasatyyah principle demands to take into account, acknowledge and have a tolerant attitude towards the cultural and religious differences of human civilisation. The Qur’an says: “And if your Lord had willed, He could have made mankind one community; but they will not cease to differ” [11:118] But Allah Almighty provided people with free will and freedom to choose religion. Freedom, from Islamic point of view, is the greatest value granted by God, and only a human being as the best of all creation has a full freedom of choice. The freedom, however, is not only a value, but also a trial, as it means responsibility; everyone is responsible for the choices one makes.
The Muslims must accept the differences between people both spiritually and intellectually, and must have an active position of defending the mankind from the possible religious, ethnic, racial and linguistic-based conflicts. And, of course, Muslims must not be the ones to initiate such conflicts, as in that case they act against the God’s will, as He made every human being free, different and having freedom of religious choice. Allah says in the Holy Qur’an: “And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge” [30:22]. The al-wasatyyah principle teaches people to respect and accept each other, welcomes the pluralism of opinions, as unwilling to be involved in a dialogue and take other opinions into account makes controversies between people even bigger and more unsolvable.
This is what a perfect Muslim society must be.The reality, however, differs greatly. In the late XX century the Muslim civilisation faced the new phenomenon, unbelievable for the Muslims of the past centuries. Both outer and inner factors caused the rise of religious radicalism within Islamic Civilisation, which sometimes takes forms of extremism and terror. Why unbelievable? Because due to the Islamic principles, both wasatyyah and the others, it’s sinful and strictly forbidden to go for lawlessness, terror, violence and mass destruction of innocent people. Manipulating words and phrases of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah out of context for a purpose, the radicalism ideologists never mention those principles, but use the discontent, poverty, desperation, ignorance and lack of religious knowledge in the Muslim countries and making the allegedly permitted violence for a greater good a key pillar. In Islam, however, the end doesn’t justify the means. Killing innocent people in order to build a wealthy society is as unacceptable as stealing in order to give charity. The world, created by God, is too fragile and sensitive to try to fix it with a butcher’s axe.
Islam put a high, yet achievable rate of its demands. Yet people don’t correspond the high demands of their religion - because of their ambitions, ignorance, imperfection and a wide range of other factors. It hasn’t always been like that, and the al-wasatyyah principle had been implemented fully in different times and in different countries, and those are the fragments of that “Golden Age of Islam” the believers are unconsciously longing for.
The human being is imperfect, but this doesn’t justify one’s extremities and radicalism. Knowing that any person can fall and commit sins, the Lord creates the checks and balances system which makes Islamic tradition everlasting and self-regulated system. When some extremity reaches dangerous rates, the inner balancing mechanisms turn on, trying to balance the system and face off threat. This is why the wasatyyah principle is so important, and it has become more actual over the past decades when some radical movements became more active.
Some think that al-wasatyyah is something new and brought from the outside. Some say that this is an artificially popularised teaching having nothing to do with Islam, but making Muslims too soft, flexible and unable to stand for their interests. Those opinions are wrong. Islam, according to its theologists and followers, has actualised this ancient principle automatically, protecting the Muslims from closing in their own little world by themselves and from the harsh reaction of the rest of the world’s community. While there are forces advertising extremities, violence and radicalism, there will be forces standing for peace, cohesion and dialogue. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said that the war was the extreme measure to be applied only when all the other means had been exhausted and the threat was still there. The radical individuals say quite the opposite: war, violence and terror are the one and only means of achieving the goals.
Many researchers think that the wasatyyah principle is actively promoted by the islamic party “Muslim Brothers”, as it really is one of the basic principles of their programme. However, they are not alone to promote this principle, as many other organisations, unions, and broad strata of educated Muslims call for actualising this principle as they see protection for themselves and their children from radicalism and extremism in it. It’s also worth noting that the Islamic principles can not be privatised and taken as only the part of our intellectual and spiritual heritage, as those were given by Allah Almighty to all the mankind. Despite that, it’ll be just to note that it was the “Muslim Brothers” party who started calling for moderation among the first people who did so, as they estimated the real danger of extremism and international isolation.
In perspective, educating young Muslims on the principle of al-wasatyyah must neutralize the influence of radical ideas in the Islamic society. This process, however, has to be mutual - the world community must also stop casting aspersions on Muslims and Islam, recognise Muslims tradition as a part of General cultural heritage and respect Muslims as equal and worthy people. Unfortunately, demonising Muslims is still observed in certain Media, in the programme speeches of certain politicians, officials and clergymen, which plays into the hands of extremists who never fail to mention the hostile attitude towards Muslims when searching for new adepts. For the rapprochement and peaceful coexistence of the world community, the al-wasatyyah principle has to be global, and Islamic world has to be ready to share it.