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Volume 6, No 2, Summer 1996 [back]

Book: Islamic Awakening between Rejection and Extremism

Yusuf Al-Qaradawi; reviewed by Ayse Gül Yesilyurt

English edition Revised and Edited by A. S. Al Shaikh-Ali, Ph.D. and Mohamed B.E. Wasfy
Published by International Islamic Publishing House and the International Institute of Islamic Thought as Issues of Islamic Thought Series No. 2

In this book, Al-Qaradawi searches for answers to questions of "what is extremism, what causes it, what would rectify the spread of it?". His classifications and explanations are enriched with examples of hadiths, verses and anecdotes from his own experiences.


According to the author, extremism contradicts human nature and cannot be tolerated for too long. Although it has a short life, it jeopardizes other obligations and rights.

Al-Qaradawi carefully warns readers not to confuse extremism with simple observation of religious values such as covering hair or growing beard which are regarded by some rejectionists as signs of extremism.

Bigotry and intolerance of other views than one's own are a symptom of extremism, Al-Qaradawi writes. An extremist is "perpetually committed to excessiveness" and forces others to follow his lead. His expectations are "out of time and out of place", he overexpects from new muslims and newly committed muslims. He is very harsh in his treatment of people (such as arguing others are in kufr (disbelief) and crude in calling to Islam. He is very suspicious and distrustful of others contrary to the Islamic teachings in a way resembling how Iblis was suspicious of the first human. The author argues that much of the above can be linked to arrogance.

Al-Qaradawi explains that to overcome extremism muslims must understand the reasons as well as manifestations of it. He lists some of the causes and argues that no single cause is wholly responsible for the spread of extremism. They may be religious, political, social, economic, psychological, intellectual, or a combination of all of these.


Relations within the family or within the society and the contradictions between faith and behavior, ideals and reality, religion and politics, words and actions, aspirations and achievement, secular and divine can cause extremism.

Al-Qaradawi sees lack of knowledge of and insight into the purposes, spirit, and essence of din as one of the main causes of extremism. "Semi-knowledge coupled with vanity and pride is more dangerous an subversive than an admitted total ignorance, because the former is the ignorance of a person who is not aware of their limitations" he writes. Failure in seeing the relation between the ahkam (legal verdicts in the Shariah) and their reasons will lead to dangerous contradictions when we differentiate between similar ones and equate the variants.

He thinks intellectual shallowness and lack of religious insight lead to intense interest in marginal issues at the expense of major ones (unnecessary talk on beard, clothes below ankle, moving finger during tashaaddud, acquisition of photos etc.) At a time when muslims are confronted by unrelenting hostility and infiltration of secularism, communism, Zionism and Christianity as well as deviationist groups among themselves, he sees this as a dangerous trend.

Al-Qaradawi thinks of excessive extension of prohibitions, calling makruh (hated) haram (prohibited), as and indication again of shallowness and lack of thorough knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence and Shariah. He warns making things difficult by such prohibitions is clearly against Qur'an and sunnah of Muhammad (s.a.w.).

Linguistic complexities or a lack of mastery of the Arabic language by some people have contributed to important misconceptions on concepts such as "Islam", "iman", "kufr", "nifaq", and "jahiliyah" etc. in the author's opinion. He observes that these sort of people cannot distinguish between figurative or metaphoric and literal meanings. He gives examples that some of those cannot realize the difference between absolute iman and limited iman, between perfect Islam and limited Islam, between major kufr leading to leaving Islam and the kufr of disobedience, between major shirk (associating partners with Allah) and minor shirk, between hypocrisy of belief and hypocrisy of action.


Dr. Al Qaradawi argues that the root cause of extremism today and in the past has been the emphasis on allegorical texts (with implicated and unclear meanings) and disregard of the categorical ones (clear and defined meanings).

He points out the dangers of not respecting specialization in Islamic studies. Extremist, he writes, simply read, "understand", and then deduce what they wish. They have, in his opinion, ignored the fact that if they want to study Shariah, they must seek the help of reliable muslim scholars. "They cannot venture into this extensive and sophisticated discipline without the guidance of such reliable scholars who can interpret and explain obscurities, define terms, and point out similarities and the relationships between the parts and the whole". Al-Qaradawi laments that some contemporary ulema (scholars) are responsible for the youth being driven this method. Seeking popularity by appealing to the desires of the masses and the "elite" they contributed to the loss of confidence.

Failure of understanding history, reality and the sunan (laws and patterns in Universe) of Allah has a negative impact and contributes to extremism according to the author. He argues that wisdom is not drawn from the history of the believers alone, but from that of the atheists as well as from both the pious and profligate because Allah's sunan -- like natural patterns -- operate upon both parties without any favoritism towards monotheist or the pagan. Al-Qaradawi observes that hasty, enthusiastic muslims usually overlook two important sunan -- gradation and that achieving goals requires the allowance of due time. By becoming better believers he argues the success will be assured.

The author calls Islam "a stranger in its homeland". He asserts the lack of adherence to the teachings of Islam in muslim countries where perversion, corruption and falsehood are rampant, are alarming factors. "Islam has been made a din (religion) without Shariah, religion without state, a Qur'an without authority". He remarks in the past although the power didn't always transfer hands according to Shariah, all personal disputes were settled according to Shariah. Even the most despotic rulers had to justify their actions with fatwas (opinions of scholars). He is convinced that imposition of secularism is the reason for all this.

He finds discontent and resentment of the masses in conflicts such as Arab-Israeli another reason for extremism. Even the previously sceptical Islamic intellectuals are realizing, he argues, that the "crusade spirit" is alive and well in the West.


To find a cure to extremism Al-Qaradawi has a few suggestions. "Society needs to acknowledge and confirm its genuine commitment to Islam" he writes. He observes not just slogans such as "Islam is the answer" but the true adherence to the Islamic teachings can help. Paying attention to the youth and leveling with them, not disregarding or showing superiority toward them will join them into the ranks of solution makers. Remedies must show balance, justice and open-mindedness, in his opinion. Exaggeration and excessiveness needs to be avoided. Atmosphere of freedom produces ideas which can be rationally discussed and analyzed by the learned. Study of fiqh (Islamic Law) is absolutely essential. Both young and old people should study it.

Al-Qaradawi points out that it is necessary to be aware of the complexity of this world. Diversity must be taken into account when fatwas are issued. However, matters on which there is consensus among scholars clearly from Qur'an and Sunnah, are not negotiable. But also there are issues with a division of opinion even among the same madhhab's scholars. Ethics of disagreement must be learned from the companions of Muhammad (s.a.w.) and imams of the past. Objective disagreement poses no threat if it is with open-mindedness and free of fanaticism, accusations and narrow-mindedness. Ulema are fallible, but they still can qualify to produce ijtihad. When they have the best of intentions at heart and sincerely use their knowledge of Islam, their reward is guaranteed (example of two sets of sahaba, one group followed Muhammad's (s.a.w.) order and didn't pray until a certain time, the other group finding this order impractical prayed, and both of those actions were accepted by the Prophet (s.a.w.)).

In the author's opinion, the decadence in Islamic world is due to neglecting collective duties such as scientific, military etc. advancement and excellence without which Ummah cannot attain power and strength. Neglecting "fard-i ayn (obligations on everyone)" such as "commanding common good, prohibiting evil and undesirable" is another factor. Prioritizing five pillars such as fasting over praying, or praying over zakat (poor due); giving more importance to nawafil (ibadah that is not obligatory or wajib (essential)) than to the furud (obligations) and wajibs (Sufis concentrated on dhikr and tesbih neglecting their duties to condemn of corrupt); paying more attention to individual ibadah such as salah and dhikr and neglecting the collective ibadah like jihad, fiqh, reconciliation between people, piety, compassion and tolerance are all reasons for this decay.

Al-Qaradawi explains that prohibitions are classified as makruhat (hateful), muharramat (prohibited) and mutashabitat (doubtful). The prohibitions are divided into two: major and minor, the minor ones can be expiated by ibadah and charity, whereas a major sin, shirk is never forgiven. Other major sins are fornication, disobedience to parents, bearing false witness, sorcery, murder, usury, taking liberty with the money and property of orphans, and false accusation -especially of fornication of chaste muslim women. He argues the confusion is due to the following: first, people are busy trying to correct makruhat or mutashabihat than muharramat and negligence of wajib, and they are more concentrated on areas of disagreement not on actions/things that are categorically haram, secondly, many people are so absorbed in resisting the minor rather than major and mortal sins such as fortune-telling, sorcery, consecration, using tombs of certain people as places of salah and ibadah, making animal sacrifices for dead people, seeking help from the dead etc.

Al-Qaradawi points out next that another forgotten aspect of fiqh is to cherish a sympathetic understanding of and a deep appreciation for varying levels of individual abilities, limitations and circumstances which may hinder other muslims in coping with the requirements of ideal Islamic life. It is too much to expect "everyone" will be able to firmly stand up against oppression and injustice, and sacrifice everything for the cause of da'wah.

"Shariah justifies -even requires- silence on seeing munkar (evil), if it will lead to a greater munkar" he remarks. An example is the story of Israelites beginning to worship a calf in Musa (a.s.)'s absence and Harun (a.s.), finding them adamant, keeping silent and later explaining his actions to his furious brother by his fear of causing division between his people (20:94).

Gradation, fortitude and maturity are goals of Islam, the author points out. Haste is a characteristic of man, especially young. Changes take time. An ideal Islamic state is not going to be established overnight. Victory will come if the struggle to improve ourselves and try to be better believers continues, Al-Qaradawi argues. In a dialog with a young enthusiast, he explains that victory of muslims fighting batil has certain sunan and conditions. There has to be a united body of the righteous and brotherly people who believe in Allah (s.w.t.) (8:62-63). He points out that Allah's angels will help only if there is this group of believers struggling on earth. Fight of a muslim against thousands is futile, he asserts, because the maximum number of unbelievers that a true believer can stand up to is ten (8:65). But in the times of weakness, this number is even smaller (8:66). He underlines the significance of patience with verses from Qur'an and with a quote from Ibn Abbas "the patience is a prerequisite of victory". Instructing an ignorant person, guiding someone to the right path, leading another to repent are the things we should concentrate on until the numbers sought are achieved, Al-Qaradawi concludes.

In his last chapter, the author gives advice to muslim youth. He underlines that the reawakening of muslim youth is a healthy phenomenon, a return to fitrah (inborn nature), to the roots. He believes public opinion is firmly made up about the inevitability of the Islamic solution, i.e. applying Shariah in all aspects of life. He also argues that manifestation of rigidity and strictness in some youth cannot be rectified by violence, threats or allegations.

Learning Islamic knowledge is very important but youth should respect the specialization of ulema as well, according to Al-Qaradawi. The competition between muslim and non-muslims in mastery in secular sciences is also raging. When a muslim seeks to learn, to excel and acquire insight into such sciences for the sake of Allah (s.w.t.), he would be performing ibadah and jihad, he writes. He also warns everyone to carefully examine their motivations and strategies to check if they are self-serving or spiritual.

Eschewing excessiveness and extremism, and committing themselves to temperance and facilitation, especially dealing with lay people who are not expected to react as the righteous and pious do, are the Al-Qaradawi's advice to the youth. He reminds them there are manners to be followed in "commanding common good and forbidding evil and undesirable". Parental and kinship rights must be observed, none of those should be treated with coarseness or disrespect on the grounds that they are transgressors, innovators or deviants. These actions do not cancel their rights on their family members (31:15). Elderly must be shown more respect, young deserves more compassion. Consideration must be given to people who were once very active in the field of da'wah. Their contribution must not be forgotten nor be defamed and discredited. Youth must come down to earth from their daydreams and unrealistic expectations. And lastly, Al-Qaradawi calls to them to liberate themselves from the fetters of pessimism and despair and assume innocence and goodness in fellow muslims. He ends with following words of Prophet Shuayb (a.s.):

"I only desire [your] betterment to the best of my power; and my success [in my task] can only come from Allah. In Him I trust, and unto Him I look." (11:18)


I think the book is a must-read. It is full of examples from Qur'an and sunnah of Muhammad (s.a.w.) and written almost like a textbook. The hadith and verses are clearly referenced. There is an index of Qur'anic verses along with a general index.

©1996 anadolu
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