May 11, 2015 Abdul Haqq

Part 1: The Roots of Extremism in Islam

Part 1: Understanding terminology

Extreme beliefs and practices in the religion fall on either side of what constitutes the Straight Path (Siratul Mustaqeem) as has been confirmed in the Qur’an:[1]

And, [moreover], this is My path, which is straight, so follow it; and do not follow [other] ways, for you will be separated from His way. This has He instructed you that you may become righteous.

The companion, Ibn ‘Abbas reported from the Prophet that he said; “Beware of exaggeration in the Religion, for indeed, those before you were destroyed due to exaggeration in the Religion.” [2]

 Al – Ghulu – its linguistic meaning: This form of extremism or excessiveness generally relates to exceeding religiously prescribed boundaries and can be either belief or behavioural. These characteristics are not mutually exclusive and can also combine to form part of an individual’s psychological/physiological mosaic.

Innovation (bid’ah) and some of the reasons behind its practice: Many discourses have warned about the perils of innovations and how they are a cause for deviated practices within the parameters of worship. These types of bid’ah should not be confused with innovations related to technology and the like, used to facilitate religious practices, (i.e.  utilising microphones for extending or improving the amplification of the imam’s voice in prayer etc.) The latter type are markedly different and not the subject of this particular paper.

The nature of innovation under discussion here falls under two general categories; Bid’ah Haqiqeeyah – Actual innovation and Bid’ah Idarfiyyah – Associated innovation. The first type has no precedent whatsoever in the religion, i.e. standing in the sun all day in order to worship, fasting every day of the year or, slitting the ears of cattle etc.

The second type contains acts of worship that emanate from the Sharia, however it is the manner in which the act is performed and the fact that it is newly invented that makes it a bid’ah.  For example, the contentious issue of celebrating the Prophet’s ﷺ birthday – Milad Un Nabee – was never celebrated by the Prophet himself nor his companions etc. It is therefore widely considered a newly invented matter. On this occasion, in order to remember the Prophet ﷺ many Muslims read literature relating to the life (seerah) of the Prophet ﷺ while also distributing or providing food for the needy etc. Both deeds are ordinarily praiseworthy acts by themselves; however, initiating them on this specific occasion with the intention to celebrate the Prophet’s ﷺ birthday is what constitutes a bid’ah in this instance.

One of the more prominent companions – Ibn Mas’ood’s observation regarding another incident after the Prophet’s ﷺ death is pertinent at this point: “How many people intend good but never reach it.”[3]

The prescribed acts of worship in the religion must be done in accordance with the Sunnah (practice, statements and tacit approvals of the Prophet ﷺ) in order for them to be correct and acceptable within the Sharia’s expansive legislative framework. Otherwise, such newly invented practices risk falling under the category of bi’dah.

Some of aspects of extremism and innovation are caused as a result of the following:

  1. Ignorance regarding the sources of the Sharia, e.g. an individual may use Qiyas (analogical deduction) when there exists unequivocal texts or precedents from primary sources of Legislation; the Qur’an, Sunnah and Ijma – consensus of recognised scholars.
  1. Adherence to spurious edicts: An individual may search for inauthentic evidence to substantiate or justify their particular belief/practice in spite of established evidence to the contrary. In addition to this, they may also misinterpret or distort legislative sources such as the Qur’an and hadeeth to try and further these beliefs or practices, i.e. an early breakaway group called the Mutazillah attempted to alter the well-known and established meaning of a verse in Surah (Chapter) An – Nisaa (4:164), where Allah states having spoken directly to Moosa:

 Transliteration 1:  Kalaama Allahu Moosa Takleema – “And to Moosa Allah spoke directly.”

The Mutazillah changed the diacritical mark – known as the ‘Domma’ in Arabic lexicography – over the final Arabic letter of the word ‘Ha’ and replaced it with the diacritical mark called the ‘Fathah’ which in effect, alters the meaning to:

 Transliteration 2: Kalaama Allaha Moosa Takleema – “And Moosa spoke to Allah.”

 This adjustment is unacceptable and was done to accord with their erroneous belief that Allah does not speak – Speech being among the many divine attributes, (the nature of which are unique only to Allah), that they either deny or reject.

  1. Following the unspecific (Mutashaabih) verses of the Qur’an: By focussing solely on these types of Quranic verses to the exclusion of other more literal or specific (Mukham) verses, one is prone to misinterpreting or misunderstanding particular meanings of the Qur’an. The Mukham verses usually explain or provide context to the Mutashaabih verses.[4] The Mukham verses often have one distinct meaning, whereas the Mutashaabih may have more than one explanation or exegesis (tafseer) to it.

The Christians of Najran made an error under this particular category when they visited the Prophet ﷺ. They understood Allah’s reference to Himself as “We” to be plural and a confirmation of the Trinitarian concept of Christianity, as in Arabic this term (we) can represent, in its smallest linguistic diminution, three. In order to remove such confusion, they only had to refer to Mukham verses that provided a comprehensive context explaining the Mutashaabih, i.e. “Say He is Allah the One, the Eternal the Absolute…[5]

Part 2 will examine the historical emergence and extremism of the Khawarij – Dissenters.


[1] Chapter An – An’am (The Cattle ): 6:153

[2] Ahmad, an-Nasaa’ee and Ibn Maajah – graded as saheeh (authentic).

[3] Ad – Darimee in his Sunan (1/79)     

[4]  It is He who has sent down to you, [O Muhammad], the Book; in it are verses [that are] precise – they are the foundation of the Book – and others unspecific. As for those in whose hearts is deviation [from truth], they will follow that of it which is unspecific, seeking discord and seeking an interpretation [suitable to them]. And no one knows its [true] interpretation except Allah. But those firm in knowledge say, “We believe in it. All [of it] is from our Lord.” And no one will be reminded except those of understanding.”  Chapter Ali – Imran (The Family of Imran): 3:7

[5] Chapter Ikhlas (Sincerity):  112:1-2


A couple of weeks back, Monday morning was suddenly cooler and slightly hazy.
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