We might hear the term “moderate Muslim” on the news, or we may have an image of what that means. What we hear on tv or radio actually represents a very thin slice of Islamic teachings on balance and moderation. Islamic scholars are often at pains to stress that Islam stands for moderation. That is because concepts of balance and moderation permeate right across the religion. Indeed, the very first page of the Qur’an can be understood as a prayer for balance and moderation.
Several Arabic words apply here, such as wasat, qasd, or iqtisad. Together, they open up a wide range of meanings like: balanced, centred, moderate, normative or middle. Islamic scholars often describe Islam as being of “the middle way”, and this is often accompanied by another description, “the straight way”, which denotes: righteousness. So, Islam calls one to lead balanced, righteous lives. And their opposites – extremism and wrong – go against Islamic teachings.
The middle way of what, though? Islam calls upon us to apply a sense of balance (and avoid extremes) to: prescribed religious practices, to family life, to spending one’s wealth, to our health and eating, to entertainment and the lighter side of life, and more.
But how does one know what the right balance is? This can be troubling for some, especially as Islamic teachings may not spell every area of life out. It is the principle of having balance that matters, and, as a person develops their own understanding of what being Muslim means (which is a personal journey for each), a sense of balance should seem natural. People are different, places are different, the times one lives in can be different, and cultures can be different. Therefore, what feels right, balanced and moderate is largely personal.
It is understandable that some who become Muslim will want more specific guidance to help them along. A trusted guide can be enriching. At the same time, a guide may not truly understand the cultural or personal context of another person, however sincere they may be. Women who marry can also find their sense of balance being ‘mansplained’ to them.
Islamic teachings should sit harmoniously within a person, and should feel comforting, natural and balanced. One should not be afraid to listen to one’s own heart about these things. Indeed, this reflects advice about listening to one’s heart from the Prophet himself.
The Prophet Muhammad’s Sunnah, his life example, offers the most important examples of balance and moderation. He was appointed by God with the most important mission of all. And yet, he could be found doing ordinary ‘boring’ chores around the house. He would caution his followers against excessive praying and fasting. He was known to laugh and smile. He warned against being too miserly or too extravagant. He found time for politics, for community issues, for friends, for commerce, for life at home, for chores, for personal grooming, and for time alone. His very example represents balance.
Similarly, one should balance using one’s time, money and skills in a way that brings contentment and personal integrity.