Prophet Muhammad’s struggle against extremism
In a brief encounter with one of my facebook friends, Mohammad Majeed, over inhumane treatment of animals on the auspicious occasion of Eid-al Adha, I was called a “liar”, “sycophant”, “ungrateful”, “immoral”, “slanderer”, “backbiter”, “irrational”, “valueless”, and finally labelling me as a follower of a “non-Muslim” for simply uttering “good-bye” instead of the Arabic Assalam-o-alaikum. He was raged over my facebook update which follows thus:
“…The Prophet told his beloved followers to “fear God in regard to these animals who cannot speak their will.”?
Unfortunately, while walking through the streets of different world cities I’ve seen countless sheep/animals in overloaded trucks and sometimes beaten harshly for no reason, as well as animals standing outside in 100 degree weather without any shade or a drop of water to drink.”
Particularly, the “animals standing outside in 100 degree weather” drew his outrageous reactions, and then followed his arguments beyond all logic and rationality.
He quoted verses of the Holy Qur’an at whim and most of them were out of context, packed with negativism.
It was my first encounter with a hardcore extremist. I was motivated to look into what makes a person to be so wicked.
Characteristics of an extremist: An extremist is the person whose behavior is akin to mental disorder. He views the world in ways contrary to the rest of us see it, and insists on the universality of his views. That is how the mindset of an extremist unfolds:
- Distortions and misinterpretations of religious texts to suit his arguments without context.
- His own distorted religoius vision of the world.
- Considers himself as the only truthful person on the earth, thus all else is wrong.
- Low in tolerance to easily brand those who disagree with him as non-believers.
- Prefers to live alone and is unwelcoming to visitors.
- Deserts the family or is deserted by them because of being unsocial.
- Finds faults even in jokes, thus disapproves of such lighter moments.
- Hypocrisy to the core as whatever is from the West is unholy,while enjoying all technological blessings of the West without acknowledgment.
He may also carry an overwhelming desire of revenge and is unwilling to compromise with all those who don’t share his views.
Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) rejection of extremism: Many people don’t know that Islam is averse to extremism. The Qur’an negates it in the strongest of words:
“Oh People of the Book, don’t go to the extreme in your religion…” [Surah An-Nisa’: 171]
It further warns: “There is no compulsion in religion.” [Al-Baqarah: 256]
Extremists are emotional and impulsive individuals. They are short-tempered and lack basics of decorum in arguments.
[An-Nahl:125] of the Qur’an states: “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...”
The Qur’an’s approach to those who disagree or deny is of tolerance and broad-mindedness: Allah says, “And say, ‘The truth is from your Lord, so whosoever wants let him believe and whosoever wants let him deny.” [An-Nahl: 29]
Extremists misuse religion to justify ideological violence, and in fit of rage they often violate the message and act contrary to what Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Beware of extremism in religion, for it destroyed those before you.”
On the authority of Abu Hurayrah, who said: ‘The Messenger of Allah said, ‘Truly, the religion is ease. Anyone who tries to outdo the religion in strictness, it will overcome him…’”
The Qur’an acknowledges diversity among people and sets the tone to tolerate to know each other: “O humankind! We created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other.” [Al-Hujraat:13]
Muhammad (PBUH), the Messenger of God, was a gentle, caring, and tender man. Once the Prophet’s companions attacked a snake in order to kill it. However, it managed to escape. Watching this from afar, the Messenger remarked: “It was saved from your evil, as you were from its evil.”
The Prophet repeatedly warned against the dangers of extremism and taught how to guard against intolerance. The Qur’an mentions: “And do not abuse those whom they call upon besides Allah, lest exceeding the limits they should abuse Allah out of ignorance. Thus have We made fair seeming to every people their deeds; then to their Lord shall be their return, so He will inform them of what they did.” [Al-Anaam:108]
The sacred texts of Islam and sayings of the Prophet (PBUH) are replete with such examples of valuable message in which respect for shared human values as well as differences in expressions of faith occupy prominence.
Conclusion: Sadly, in modern times, much of the Muslim world has lost sight of Islam’s true and essential teachings concerning religious freedom and tolerance. In many cases, extremists enjoy social respect and are viewed to be the only practising individuals to follow Islam in its purity.
Much of the crisis in societies of the Muslim world stems from extremism. Extremists advocate narrow-mindedness and totalitarian belief, while God and His Prophet (PBUH) want mutual respect for each other’s systems and beliefs. The Qur’an says clearly: “To every People have We appointed rites and ceremonies which they must follow, let them not then dispute with you on the matter, but do invite (them) to your Lord: for you are assuredly on the Right Way. If they do wrangle with you, say, ‘God knows best what it is you are doing.’ ‘God will judge between you on the Day of Judgment concerning the matters in which you differ.’” [Al-Hajj: 67-69]
Extremists, driven by irrationality, live in a mood of denial. They interpret Islam within the confines of their narrow vision and work against a common framework toward life and humanity.
To deal with the growing menace of extremism, governments and civil society groups within Muslim communities must draw on Islamic resources that abound in tolerance, shared values and forgiveness.
They must work sincerely to defeat it by placing Islam at the centre of argument as extremists use the same tool with impunity to meet their own subversive ends.
The author teaches in the College of Education,
Islamic University of Al-Asmariya, Zliten, Libya.