One of the challenges of living a balanced and healthy life is to constantly stay in the middle in all things – to not fall into the extremes of too much or too little. Sometimes I find myself feeling satisfaction that I’m staying balanced in one area, but then have to remind myself to look at everything else in my life as inevitably something else is slipping into extremes! It’s a constant struggle, which is what jihad is all about. Prophet Muhammad (saws) told us that the struggle with the self is the greater jihad (jihad al akbar), as it is a constantly, daily condition that every single human being, rich or poor, powerful or insignificant, young or old, must face. No one is immune and no one can escape it.
The Quran also reminds us to stay away from extremes:
“O you who have faith! Do not prohibit the good things that Allah has made lawful to you, and do not transgress.” (5:87).
This is something incredibly important to remember as we look at the state of the world around us, particularly in so-called ‘Islamic’ countries and even in certain Muslim groups. When I was a non-Muslim, I often wondered why on earth people in some of these countries would follow Islam after all the numerous oppressive restrictions it places on its adherents. What I know now is that this severe restriction is not from Islam, but is from those who transgress the bounds of Islam by prohibiting the good things God has allowed for us! In fact, the things that actually are prohibited have been expressly articulated in the Quran and by the Prophet, and constitute the exceptions, not the rule. Everything is allowed except what has been specifically addressed.
Too often we make our lives too difficult in our zeal to please God, in an attempt to forsake everything for the hereafter. Yet, God did not ask us to live a life of asceticism or extreme denial and hardship. Rather, the true test lies in fully participating in life while balancing the very difficult tightrope of moderation. Anyone who has tried to lose weight will know that it is much more difficult to stay away from sweets when you have cookies and cake in your kitchen as opposed to when you have no food in the house whatsoever! Likewise, forcing yourself to have restraint and live life by partaking in only what you need and not going to excess is much harder than getting rid of everything altogether! For instance, it’s hard to balance having a spouse and children with your relationship with God – it’s much easier to reject marriage and lock yourself up in a convent in order to devote your life to God. Some people may not go to such extremes as committing themselves to celibacy, and may get married and have families – yet will devote all their time to furthering the cause of Islam while neglecting their relationships with their families at home!
Rather, our challenge is to avoid going too far as some groups have done by banning things altogether, or by giving up and going off the edge and doing things too much! Instead, we must strive to enjoy the wonderful life God has given us by staying within the healthy parameters of moderation.