The Hardest Choice is Moderation


“Mod-e-rate: not at either end of a range, not extreme.”

We know that the best value in most goods and services is not the most expensive nor the cheapest. It lies somewhere in-between. Similarly, scientists, engineers and economists know from experience that the optimal solution for a given problem is always difficult to compute if only the most extreme data are factored in. Averaging and balancing the whole will often lead the research into a viable middle, or moderate, ground.

The Qur’an teaches, “We [God] made you [O Muslims] a midmost nation” (2:143).

In other words, the Qur’an here is describing moderation, which is considered an Islamic virtue — with but one exception. The intensity of the true believer’s love for the One God, the desire to know Him, to be conscious of Him, and to continually remember Him, should all be flt and expressed at the highest possible level.

Islam teaches that moderation — unlike its Western implications of undemanding neutrality — is the hardest choice for so many situations in life.

When it comes to basic practices of the faith, for example, Islam teaches moderation by suggesting guidelines for minimum and maximum responses in a given situation.

A Muslim is asked to communicate with the Creator through a structured discipline of prayer (called Salah) a minimum of five times daily. But a practical maximum should be personally determined so that it does not interfere, for example, with making a living or caring for one’s family, which are also high values in Islam because they denote our basic respnsibility to others.

A Muslim is asked to fast (Seyam) for a minimum of one month, during the day hours of Ramadan (which runs this year from mid-November to mid-December). But one may also adhere to the maximum discipline of fasting every other day, as long it does not interfere with one’s normal obligations and physical health.

A Muslim is also asked to give to charity (Zakah), a minimum of 2.5% of his or her net wealth, when that wealth is in his or her possession for one lunar year. But it is forbidden to give up all one’s wealth, because that would mean becoming dependent on others.

While calling upon all Muslims to exercise moderation with all permissible things, Islam clearly and categoricallly rejects all forms of extremism, including “ghuluw” (excessiveness), “tanatu” (zealotry) and “tashadid” (extreme practices).

Two key sources of Islamic teaching, the Qur’an and the Hadith, explain why extremism is non-productive and has serious moral defects:

It is against human nature; 2. It is usually short-lived; 3. It does not lead to better human beings physically, mentally or spiritually; 4. It harms others.

The Qur’an teaches, for example, that moderation in eating and drinking (7:30-31) contributes to the necessary balance between the material and spiritual needs of human beings (28:77).

Even in faith, Islam considers the Jewish and the Christian views of Jesus to be at two extremes; one believes that Jesus was an ordinary mortal man (although a much-respected teacher to some), while the other believes that he is the Incarnate Son of God, human yet divine, divine yet human. Islam teaches that Jesus was a human Messenger and Prophet created by God Almighty without a father, and given a Divine message to share with humanity.

Islam rejects the imposition of unmarried life (celibacy) upon priests, monks, and nuns because it is too difficult a condition to maintain faithfully for very long.

Islam also teaches that every Muslim should share his or her knowledge of Islam with others, but with full respect toward other people’s beliefs, always remembering that to embrace Islam is an act of God, not of humanpower (56:28).

Islam is second to none among world religions in stressing the importance of moderation in every aspect of life; the following Qur’an passages provide examples — (2:178), (2,185), (4:28), (5:6).

And the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) said, “I warn you of religious extremism; nations before you have perished because of religious extremism” (as narrated by Imams Ahmed, Al-Ne’sa’ee, Ben Maja, Al Ha Kim and Sahih).

Thus, Muslims fully practice their religion only when they make the hardest choice of moderation, for they realize that the Creator has revealed His Last Word and sent His Last Messenger as a means of “Mercy to the Worlds” (21:107), then and now.

Prof. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

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