Islamic Perspectives

Ibn Rajab on Moderation

The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Moderation, moderation! Through this will you attain your goal!” This statement encourages us to be moderate in worship in a way that avoids both extremes of excess and deficiency. It is for this reason that he (pbuh) repeated it twice. Al-Bazzar records the hadith on the authority of Hudhayfah (radiyAllau ‘anhu) that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Excellent indeed is moderation in poverty. Excellent indeed is moderation in affluence. Excellent indeed is moderation in worship.”[1]

Mutarraf b. ‘Abdullah b. Shikhkhir had a son who would perform a great deal of worship, expending great effort in doing so. He counselled him, ‘The best of affairs is the middlemost. A good deed lies between two evil deeds and the worst journey is one where a person tries so hard that he kills his mount and is left stranded.’[2] Abu ‘Ubaydah explained this saying, He means that excessiveness in worship is evil, deficiency is evil, and moderation is praiseworthy.

This meaning is supported by the hadith reported on the authority of ‘Abdullah b. ‘Amr (radiyAllau ‘anhuma) that Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said, “This religion is powerful, so walk in it with gentleness.[3] Do not let the worship of Allah overburden you because a person who falters and is unable to continue has neither shortened the journey nor preserved his mount.[4] Emulate the deeds of a man who believes that he will die as an old man and beware of the fear of a man who believes that he will die tomorrow” (narrated by Ibn Zanjawayh and others).[5]

In his (pbuh) repeatedly mentioning the command to moderation lies an indication that one should persist in moderation. This is because a strenuous journey in which one tries too hard is prone to ending suddenly before its end; a moderate journey, however, is more likely to reach its goal. This is why the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) stated that the result of moderation was the achievement of the objective, “through this will you attain your goal.”

In this world, the believer is travelling to his Lord until he reaches Him: “You, verily, O man, are working towards your Lord - painfully toiling - and you shall meet Him.”[6]

Al-Hasan said, ‘People! You must persist, you must! It is the time just before your death that Allah has set as the point when you stop doing deeds.’ Then he recited the verse: “And worship your Lord until the Certainty comes to you.”[7] He also said, ‘Your souls are your mounts so tend to your mounts. In this way they will convey you to your Lord, Mighty and Magnificent.’

The meaning of tending one’s mounts is to be easy on them, to keep them fit and healthy, and not to overburden them. Therefore, if one feels that his soul is coming to a halt in its travel, he should tend to it by inculcating in it the desire to finish the journey or by inculcating in it the fear of not finishing the journey, as the situation may demand. One of the Salaf (people of early generations) said, ‘Hope is the guide and fear is the driver, the soul is between the two like a headstrong animal.’ If the guide is weary and the driver ineffectual, the soul will stop and it will then require gentle treatment and “song” to encourage it into restarting its journey. In this respect the camel leader, who drives his herd forward by singing to it, said: “Tomorrow you will see bananas and mountains.”

Fear is like a whip and when a person excessively whips the animal, it could well die. As such, he must also strike it with “songs” of hope that would encourage it to revitalise its efforts and reach the destination. Abu Yazid said, ‘I have driven my soul to Allah without letting up, it weeping all the way, then I urged it on and it did so gladly.’[8] It is said, “It complained of the journey’s burdens so he promised it the relief of arrival so it revitalised its efforts.” (from Ibn Rajab, al-Mahajja fi Sayr al-Duljah, translated and annotated by Shaikh Abu Rumaysah Refi Shafi, revised by Zafarul-Islam Khan --

[1] Bazzar #2946 on the authority of Hudhayfah.
[2] Bayhaqi #3888 and Abu Nu’aym, vol. 2, p. 209.
[3] This sentence was also recorded by Ahmad #13052 on the authority of Anas ibn Malik.
[4] This amount is recorded by Bazzar and Suyuti #2509.
[5] Bayhaqi, Sunan al-Kubra #4520-4521, al-Shu’ab #3886.
[6] Al-Qur’an 84:6
[7] Al-Qur’an 15:99
[8] ibn Mulaqqin, Tabaqat al-Awliya´, p. 278 #117.