You live in such a time that if any of you abandon even a tenth of what you are enjoined, you will be ruined. But a time will come when, if a person fulfills only a tenth of what is enjoined, they will be saved.
- Prophet Muhammad
(Tirmidhi, Book 34: Fitan (Sedition), Section 79, No. 2267)
In the above hadith or prophetic saying, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was referring to times like ours when we live in great strife and are facing tough challenges to balance religion with modern imperatives. This Prophetic advice emanates from the holy Quran:
“And God has not laid upon you any hardship in matters of religion” (Q22:78)
The Qur’an further says: “God intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship.” (Q2:185)
The Qur’an reinforces this message again: “God does not burden a soul beyond its capacity” (Q 2:286)
The theme of moderation in religious practice has been the leitmotif in Islamic literature from the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). In the Quran and the Prophetic traditions that amplify it, Muslim women and men are called upon to exercise moderation in all aspects of their religious life. The Prophet confirms the essence of Qur’an’s message: "Make things easy, do not make them difficult."
One of the most commonly cited example is of easing the obligation to fast during the month of Ramadan for travellers, as a way of cautioning believers against excess. Such Islamic provisions have provided guidance to most Islamic scholars to understand the Qur'anic quotation describing the Muslims as the "community of moderation".
In a way Qura’n reiterates the Greek ideal of “the golden mean” and “nothing in excess”. Over-indulgence in worldly pleasures is discouraged because it leads to ennui and man is inclines to feel a spiritual vacuum if he has not tempered his worldly life with the demands of his soul. Similarly, asceticism to the point of harshness would deprive him of experiencing the subliminal beauty of life which is one God’s great bounties.
A unique feature about the Qur’an is that while it spells out an ethical code, a moral path, a political system, a social norm, an economic order and a legal philosophy, it also presents in the life of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) the practical exposition of the an ideal model it postulates. There is hardly any aspect of life which has not been touched upon by the Qur’an; and in a similar vein the prophet’s life penetrates with remarkable versatility every domain of human life, both public and private.
This striking parallelism between the message of the Qur’an and the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) clearly indicates that it was to illustrate beyond doubt for every follower of Qur’an that the pattern of life enunciated in the Qur’an is capable of being practiced by every individual. The Prophet was, in fact, a human incarnation of the Qur’an. For what we find a wonderful philosophy in the static words of the Qur’an, we have a dynamic living counterpart in the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
For the Qur’an, Muhammad (peace be upon him) was an individual through whom its every word shone like a gleaming star. The Qur’an was the focal object of Islamic virtues and the life of the Prophet a mirror which reflected in the purest form the impressions of the Book. As the Qur’an it says:
“O Prophet! Lo: We have sent thee as a witness and a bringer of good tidings and a warner. And as a summoner unto Allah by his permission, and, as a lamp that giveth light.” (Q33:45-46)
While enjoining his followers to prepare themselves for the life hereafter, the Prophet also admonished them to perform all necessary worldly functions that are essential to his sustenance. The Prophet believed that an ideal life was one which had the right combination of both the essential elements of life: one which could provide dignified life on earth; the other which could provide salvation to him in the hereafter. The essence of his message is contained in his well-known saying: “Do for this world as if thou were to live a thousand years and for the next as if thou were to die tomorrow.”
The Prophet stated:
“For a prudent person it is necessary that he should have some moments;
Moments when he should commune with God,
Moments when he should be reflecting over the mysteries of creation,
And also moments spared for the acquisition of the wherewithal”
Found in numerous hadith collections, but perhaps made most famous for its mention in al-Nawawī’s renowned collection of forty hadith, the Prophet Muhammad reportedly said: “Be in the world as though you were a stranger or a wayfarer” (122-3, Hadith 40).
The Qur’an spells out a life which is a harmonious blend of the otherworldly and mundane. It emphasizes that a perfect model of religious life is not one based on mere performance of rituals. One must also integrate oneself with the family and the community. The synthesis is attempted in a manner that that the one gives meaning and content to the other. The Qur’an recognizes two basic obligations of an individual: one to God and the other to society thereby ruling out any possibilities for a life of asceticism and self-denial.
The Qur’an also disapproves the other extreme of lifestyle - luxurious and pleasure-seeking. It calls for moderation in all spheres so that a complete and wholesome life can be achieved.
Moderation is a fundamental and distinguishing feature of Islam. God says: 'We have made you a nation justly balanced' (Q 2:143). Additionally, when the Qur'anic verse 'As to monasticism which they themselves invented, We did not prescribe any of it for them' (Q57: 27) was revealed, the Prophet Muhammad commented: 'Do not overburden yourselves, lest you perish. People [before you] overburdened themselves and perished. Their remains are found in hermitages and monasteries' (Musnad of Abu Ya'la). In other words, excesses may eventually develop into large problems and even become a threat to the well being and security of the Muslim community.
The Prophet himself was very practical in his approach and in his guidance to his companions. Once the Prophet saw a wretched, ugly man with torn clothes. He asked the man the reason for his pitiable state. The man replied: “O Messenger of God, I prefer giving all in charity, contenting myself with this shabby dress.” The Prophet exclaimed in disapproval: “Not like that; God likes to see the traces of His benefit on His slave!”
The middle way describes the middle ground between attachment and aversion, between being and non-being, between form and emptiness, between free will and determinism, between hedonism and asceticism, between harsh self denial and sensual pleasure seeking.
The Qur’anic philosophy of moderation is best addressed in this advice:
“O children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer, eat and drink but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not wasters. Say: ‘who has forbidden the beautiful gifts of Allah which He has produced for His servants and the things clean and pure which He has provided for sustenance.” (Q7:31-32)
[Moin Qazi is the author of the bestselling book, Village Diary of a Heretic Banker. He has worked in the development finance sector for almost four decades. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]