Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qardawi on Excessiveness (Ghuluw) in Religion

Posted on November 20, 2006


Note from Rafik Beekun: At times, some Muslims may be excessive in their practice of deen in the workplace, their personal life and elswhere. The current rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and their extreme viewpoints (with respect to the rights of women in Islam and their lack of tolerance for any other Islamic interpretation by other Muslims for example) are particularly alarming. Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qardawi, one of the leading Islamic scholar globally, analyzes the threat of extremism in the current awakening of Islam. I have excerpted some of the arguments advanced by Sheikh Qardawi in his analysis of the causes of extremism by Muslims, and his implicit thesis about how these causes can be avoided.

Source: Islamic Awakening: Between Rejection and Extremism by Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qardawi and published by American Trust Publications, USA.

Extremism does not originate haphazardly. It must indeed have causes and motivation. Like living organisms, events and actions do not come out of the blue and cannot germinate without seeds. Rather, they are governed by the law of cause and effect–one of Allah’s sunan–in His creation. Knowledge of the causes in this respect is essential to enable us to define the remedy which, medically speaking, must always be preceded by diagnosis. But diagnosis is impossible-at least extremely difficult–when causes are not known. With this in mind, we endeavor to examine the causes and the motives which have generated extremism–a term which has become synonymous with ghuluw, i.e., excessiveness in religion.

We must realize at the outset that no single cause is wholly responsible for the spread of extremism. It is a complex phenomenon with numerous interrelated causes, some of which are direct, others indirect, some found in the distant past, others in the present. Consequently, we should not focus on one cause and totally ignore the others, as do people who advocate some schools of thought. Psychologists, and especially psychoanalysts, for instance, attribute all behavior to certain subconscious psychological causes. Meanwhile, sociologists point to man’s helplessness vis-a-vis social and environmental influences; for them, man is simply a lifeless puppet whose strings are in the hands of society. The advocates of historical materialism emphasize economic forces which, they argue, create events and change the course of history. On the other hand, others who hold a more comprehensive and balanced view believe that the causes are complex and interrelated, producing various effects which, although differing from one cause to another, have their undeniable impact in the final analysis. It is important that we should not concentrate on one cause of extremism, as its causes are varied and could be direct or indirect, manifest or latent. The causes of extremism may be religious, political, social, economic, psychological, intellectual, or a combination of all of these. The main cause may be in the extremist himself, in his relationship with the members of his family, or–if deeply analyzed–may be found in his society and all its contradictions between faith and behavior, ideals and reality, religion and politics, words and actions, aspirations and achievements, the secular and the divine. Naturally, if these contradictions are tolerated by the old they, cannot be tolerated by the young. If some young people do tolerate and bear contradictions, they do so only temporarily.

Extremism may also be initiated by the corruption of regimes, i.e., the despotism of rulers, their egotistic pursuits, their adherence to the views of corrupt counselors and advisers as well as various foreign enemies of the Ummah, and their total disregard for the rights of their peoples. These practices have severed the bond between religion and the state.

Undoubtedly, one of the main causes of extremism is a lack of knowledge of–and insight into–the purposes, spirit, and essence of deen (i.e. Islam). However, such a lack, which does not imply total ignorance, does not lead to extremism or excessiveness, but rather to their opposites, i.e., degeneration and laxity. It implies, however, semi-knowledge. A person may presume–and sometimes genuinely believe–that he knows all there is to know; that he is a scholar, a faqih. But actually he has no more than a hodgepodge of undigested and unassimilated “knowledge” which neither enhances insight nor clarifies vision. A person possessing such “knowledge” concentrates on marginal and trivial issues only, and thereby fails to see the relationship between the parts which form the whole (and the whole itself) or between the categorical and fundamental texts vis-a-vis the allegorical ones. Further, this person cannot synthesize or give preponderance to evidence over mere considerations. Aware of the danger of such semi-knowledge. Abu Ishaq al Shatibi’ (r) discussed it in his book al l’tisam. He argued that self-presumption and conceit are the root causes of bidah as well as the disunity of the Ummah, and could lead to internal schism and gradual disintegration. He asserted that when a person unduly presumes himself or is presumed to be knowledgeable in religious matters and capable of exercising ijtihad. and when he acts accordingly, claiming that he has the right to present different opinions and interpretations, whether the verdicts and opinions pertain to minor aspect or to major aspect of din, thus he cites major aspects, to pull down major ones; he is indeed a mubtadi’. In the following hadith, the Prophet (s) warned against such a person:

Allah does not take away the knowledge by taking it away from [the hearts of] the people, but takes it away when none of the ‘ulama’ remain, and people will take as their leaders ignorant persons who when consulted will give their verdict without knowledge. So they will go astray and will lead the people astray.

Some of the learned infer from the above hadith that people are never led astray by genuine ‘ulama: but in the absence of the latter people turn to semi ‘ulama’ who lead them astray by giving incorrect advice. Thus it has been said that a trustworthy person never betrays a trust, but the traitorous one does. We add to this: a genuine ‘alim never innovates, but a semi-‘alim does. […]

[For example,] the Prophet (s) also did not permit a Muslim who had been away from his family for a long period of time to arrive back at night. He himself used to return only in the mornings or early evenings. There are two reasons for this. First, arriving home unexpectedly after a long absence may indicate that the husband mistrusts his wife and intends to take her unawares. This kind of mistrust is not acceptable in Islam. Secondly, it is argued that the prohibition seeks to give the wife the right to know of her husband’s arrival so that she may beautify herself for him. But in modern times a traveler can come home any time he likes, on the condition that he informs his wife by telephone or by letter, telex, telegram, etc. Further, today’s traveler cannot always choose when to travel, for he is governed by schedules and timetables. Therefore, such a prohibition cannot be taken at its face value; it must be analyzed on the basis of its original purpose and intent with regard to the circumstances of time and place.

[…] In conclusion, failing to see the relevance between the ahkam and their reasons will lead to dangerous contradictions when we differentiate between the similar ones and equate the variants; this is contrary to the justice which is the basis of Shari’ah. It is true that psuedoscholars too often indulge in such complex issues seeking (without knowledge or insight) reasons for ahkam, and thus unjustly extend their domain without authentic evidence. This should not hinder our endeavor to give people their due right, or to open the gate of ijtihad for those who are qualified and capable, warning at the same time against intruders and parasites.