Tuesday March 27, 2012
Practising justice and moderation
By DR MOHD ZAIDI ISMAIL
SENIOR FELLOW / DIRECTOR
CENTRE FOR SCIENCE AND ENVIRONMENT STUDIES
Muslims in general do not find calls for moderation to be opposed to their religion mainly because of certain Quranic verses – the leading one among them being verse 143 of the second chapter – al-Baqarah.
WITH fairly wide, continual coverage in various mainstream media, most Malaysians by now are familiar with the clarion call to be moderate and to practise moderation.
It is also a commonplace, if not entirely common sense, for moderation to be regarded as something in the middle, as equitable balance, as the opposite of extremes, as antithesis to all sorts of extremism.
That Muslims in general do not find such a call to be awkward or opposed to their religion is mainly due to certain Quranic verses and Prophetic sayings, the leading one among them being verse 143 of the second chapter of the Quran, al-Baqarah.
Therein Muslims are characterised as ummah wasa and, as such, are held accountable as witnesses over the rest of mankind while the Prophet in turn acts as a witness over them.
Ummah wasa has been translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, a famous translator of the Quran, as “an Ummat justly balanced”; by Marmaduke Pickthal and Muhammad Asad, both equally famous translators, as “a middle nation” and “a community of the middle way”, respectively.
Such renderings are not without grounds.
For, as is clear in a number of narrations of the Prophetic sayings which clarify the importance of the aforementioned characteristic, by wasa therein is meant justice (adl).
Yet, in what way are the two terms mutually related?
As a verbal noun, justice in Arabic connotes both al-adalah and al-istiqamah.
While al-istiqamah refers to “one’s being steadfast and partial to truth”, al-adalah consists of al-itidal which is itself a cognate of adl and basically signifies “being in a right balance”, pointing to “a state intermediate between two opposing conditions, whether quantitatively (fi kamm) or qualitatively (fi kayf).”
Hence, justice, as al-Sayyid al-Sharif Ali al-Jurjn, a Muslim polymath of 14th Century CE, related in his Kitab al-Tarifat, a famous compilation of definitions of important technical terms, is “an intermediate position between the two extremes of excess and deficiency”.
In that sense, therefore, to be just is to not transgress one’s limit nor fall short of it.
And as such, justice epitomises virtue just as the extreme typify vices.
The aforementioned, however, is only a general outline or a formal structure of justice qua moderation as conceived of in Islam.
In order that such an outline or structure not be reduced to mere slogan or pure rhetoric, one needs to be clear and definite of its contents or substance.
And this, to my mind, has largely to do with what should be identified or regarded as extreme.
In this regard, it is equally important, as rendered explicit by the foregoing definitions, that one be cognisant that in almost all contexts or cases of extremes not only take the form of excess but also that of deficiency.
For an extreme of one form normally breeds an extreme of another sort.
Taking law into one’s own hand, for instance, has on many occasions turned out to be the undesirable consequence of a series of inactions, flippant policies, lackadaisical attitudes, or ineffectiveness, whether real or perceived, on the part of those in power in combating crime.
Yet, both are extremes, though different in kind, and any party who does commit either can be considered to have been involved in some sort of extremism.
Excessively devoting our energies, efforts and monies to fighting extremism and extremists of one kind, therefore, may not bear the fruit that we long for since the other extreme which in one way or another triggers it is not properly dealt with.
Therefore, the way we think, plan, and act against extremists and extremism must itself reflect justice and be rightly balanced.
Otherwise, since the approach we adopt is itself imbalanced and inclined more to an extreme of sorts, the overall result may well be injustice, though varied, which we would have wished to eradicate initially.
And to ensure that this be avoided, or at least minimised, we will have to begin from clear knowledge of both sides of extremism, be they in different contexts or on multiple planes.