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.
(Tirmidhi, Book 34: Fitan (Sedition), Section 79, No. 2267)
In the above saying, the Prophet was referring to times like ours when we live in great strife and are facing tough challenges to balance religion with modern imperatives. His advice emanates from the Quran: And God has not laid upon you any hardship in matters of religion (Q22:78). The Quran further says: God intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship. (Q2:185)
The Quran and moderation
The theme of moderation in religious practice has been the leitmotif in Islamic literature from early times. 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. One of the most commonly cited examples 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 Quranic quotation describing the Muslims as the community of moderation. The Quran reinforces this message again: God does not burden a soul beyond its capacity (Q 2:286).
In a way, the Quran reiterates the Greek ideal of the golden mean and nothing in excess. Islam instructs its followers to believe in this world and the world to come in such a way as not to have one overpower the other. The Muslim has the right to enjoy the pleasures of this world because it was created for him. But seek the abode of the Hereafter in that which God hath given thee and neglect not thy portion of the world, and be thou kind even as God hath been kind to thee, and seek not corruption in the earth; lo! God loveth not corruptors (Q28:77). And there is a well-known proverb widely spread among Muslims: Work for this world as though you will live forever, and work for the next world as though you will die tomorrow.
Over the past 13 centuries, most Islamic scholars and Muslims around the world (whether Sunni or Shia, irrespective of legal school), have preached and followed the path of moderation respecting the Qurans words: O children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer, eat and drink but waste not by excess, for God loves not wasters. Say: who has forbidden the beautiful gifts of God which He has produced for His servants and the things clean and pure which He has provided for sustenance. (Q7:31-32)
The Qurans unique features
A unique feature about the Quran 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 the practical exposition of an ideal model it postulates. There is hardly any aspect of life which has not been touched upon by the Quran; and in a similar vein, the Prophets life penetrates every domain of human life, both public and private. The Prophet was, in fact, a human incarnation of the Quran. For what we find a wonderful philosophy in the static words of the Quran, we have a dynamic living counterpart in the life of Prophet Muhammad. The Quran 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 scriptures. As the Quran itself 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 God by his permission, and, as a lamp that giveth light. (Q33:45-46)
Keys to an ideal life
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. Islamic scholars such as the twelfth-century theologian Al Ghazali stress that Muslims should always be prepared for the inevitable and for what is about to occur. Death is not an escape from this short but mortal existence but a gateway to a life of immortality in the afterlife.
The Quran spells out a life which is a harmonious blend of the otherworldly and mundane. It emphasizes that a perfect model of religious life needs to combine both worship and service. Worship is meant to serve God but applying religion to everyday life is intended to fulfill ones obligations to the society. One must also integrate oneself with the family and the community. The synthesis gives meaning and content to the physical and spiritual dimensions of life. The Quran 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 Quran also abhors 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.
The Prophet himself was very practical and realistic in his approach. 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!
Moderation is a fundamental and distinguishing feature of Islam. God says: We have made you a nation justly balanced (Q 2:143). When the Quranic verse As to monasticism which they themselves invented, we did not prescribe any of it for them (Q57: 27) was revealed to him, 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 Yala). In other words, excesses may eventually endanger the community.
The middle ground in Islam
The middle way of Islam 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 Quran insists, and the Prophet himself emphasised, that Muhammad was only a man. What made him human was that he could make mistakes and he was a product of his own time. But Muslims have fetishised the Prophet to such an extreme that all his human qualities have vaporised; his time and context have been frozen into eternal time. The measure of piety for Muslims is, therefore, how diligently one imitates the Prophets physical appearance: his clothes, his beard, the way he walked and brushed his teeth.
The Prophet had foreseen the dogmatic and bigoted future and he warned: And beware of going to extremes in religious matters for those who came before you were destroyed because of going to extremes in religious matters.(Sunan an-Nasai Vol. 3, Book 24, Hadith 3059).