Q. What is meant by the middle course in religious matters?
A. The middle course in religious matters means that a person should not be excessive, exceeding the limits set by Allah, the Almighty, the All-Powerful, nor be deficient, by not fulfilling what Allah, the Most Glorified, the Most High has ordained.
The middle course in religious matters is to hold fast to the way of the Prophet salAllahu alayhi wa sallam, while excess in religious matters is to exceed it, and deficiency is not to attain it.
An example of this is that a man says: I want to stand for the night prayer and I will not sleep any of the time, because prayer is one of the best forms of worship, so I love to spend all the night in prayer. We say: This is excess in the religion of Allah, and it is not right, for something like this happened during the life of the Prophet salAllahu alayhi wa sallam: A number of people met and one of them said: I stand in prayer and I do not sleep, while another said: I fast and I do not break my fast, while a third said: I do not marry women. The Prophet salAllahu alayhi wa sallam was informed of this and he salAllahu alayhi wa sallam said:
“What is wrong with people who say such and such? I fast and I break my fast, I stand in prayer and I sleep and I marry women, so whoever dislikes my Sunnah is not from me.” [Bukhari, 6101; Muslim, 1401]
So, these people intended to act excessively in the religion, and the Messenger salAllahu alayhi wa sallam declared that he was innocent of them, because they expressed excessiveness in his Sunnah which includes fasting, breaking the fast, standing in prayer, sleeping, and marrying women.
As for the one who is deficient, he is the one who says: There is no need for me to perform supererogatory acts of worship, so I shall not do so, but will perform the obligatory acts only. He might also be deficient in the obligatory acts. This is the one who is deficient.
The moderate person is the one who acts in accordance with what the Messenger salAllahu alayhi wa sallam and the rightly guided caliphs followed.
Another example would be that of three men before whom is a sinful man, and one of them says: I will not give salutations of peace to this sinner and I will cut him off and stay away from him and not speak to him. The second one says: I will keep company with this sinner and give salutations of peace to him and smile at him and invite him to my house and accept his invitation, and in my opinion he is not but a righteous man. The third one says: I hate this sinner for his sins and love him for his faith and I will not cut him off except when cutting him off is a means of improving him, but if cutting him off does not result in improving him, instead causing him to increase his sinfulness, then I will not cut him off.
We say that the first person is excessive and extreme, while the second is excessively lacking and the third is moderate. This is what we say in all of the acts of worship and in conduct, the people are either deficient or extreme or moderate.
A third example is of a man who is a slave to his wife, she speaks to her husband in any way she wishes and he does not prevent her from doing evil, nor does he encourage her to strive for virtue. She possesses his mind and she becomes master over him. Another man is oppressive and arrogant, and deems himself superior to his wife and he pays no heed to her, and she is even less than a servant in his estimation. A third man is moderate and he treats her as Allah and His Messenger salAllahu alayhi wa sallam have commanded him:
And they (women) have rights (over their husbands as regards living expenses, etc.) similar (to those of their husbands) over them (as regards obedience and respect, etc.) to what is reasonable (Al Baqarah 2:228)”
“A believing man should not hate a believing woman. If there is some characteristic in her that he dislikes, there remains some other characteristic in her which pleases him.” [Muslim, 1469]
This last one is moderate while the first is extreme in his treatment of his wife and the other is deficient. And you should base all deeds and acts of worship upon this example.
- Transcribed from: Fatawa Arkan-ul-Islam | Islamic Verdicts on the pillars of Islam | Volume 1: Creed and Prayer | Shaykh Muhammad bin Saalih Al-‘Uthaymeen