The Role of Moderateness in Political Stability
The Criteria of Political Stability
All nations and people aspire to achieve political stability as it sets the necessary climate for security, development, and prosperity. The concept of political stability is relative to different societies in terms of how it”s expressed the same way it is among researchers in terms of its definition and criteria. But its essence lies in the political system”s ability to successfully deal with the crises that it faces as well as its ability to manage the conflicts that arise within the society so that in the end it is able to keep them to a level that would enable it to carry out the changes necessary for meeting citizens” minimum expectations and needs.
In other words, political stability is the extent to which the political system is able to gather the sufficient resources for controlling conflicts that arise within society to prevent the outbreak of violence which according to researchers is a major phenomenon of political instability.
One criteria of political stability is the increase in opportunities for political openness and democracy along with moderateness demonstrated by political and civil parties in their stands and behavior.
Thus, it becomes clear that political stability is not attained through the intensification of military power or security measures, although they may play an important role. Nor is it attained through deterrence policies, more prohibitions, or pressure. Rather, it is achieved through a healthy political life which raises people”s level of satisfaction and increases their trust in political life and the institutions of the state and society,
Many nations that possess a huge military arsenal, advanced security systems and many other forms of material power, are in fact fragile in their political stability and vulnerable to collapse from any pressure or change. On the other hand, there are those countries that enjoy strong or at least acceptable degrees of stability, relying on their own capabilities when facing crises and resisting conspiracies, even though they may neither possess huge military arsenals nor advanced security systems. It is as if the nations with fragile political infrastructures try to compensate for their fragility by intensifying their military power and security measures. But these forms of suppression rather than creating more security and stability increase the causes of political and social tension, or even lead to their outbreak.
The Concept of Wasatiyyah
The term wasatiyyah is related to the word wasat (Arabic for middle) and its meanings. Thus, we will use it to explain the concept. Ibn Mandhur says: “The wasat of something is what lies between its two extremes.” It may be used as an adjective, although it is originally meant to be a noun, when describing the middle of something is its best. For example, the wasat of a pasture is better than its edges since it is usually more fertile, or the wasat of an animal is the best position for riding because it gives the rider more control. It is also referred to in the Quran when Allah says what can be translated as: “And among mankind is he who worships Allah upon the (very) edge…(The Pilrimage: 11),” i.e. with doubt. The verse describes the weak believer as one that is standing on the edge of his religion, which makes him less firm in holding on to his religion. Another example is in the saying: “The best of all matters is their middle.” So when the wasat of something means its best or most just aspect, it may be considered an adjective as in the verse where Allah says what can be translated as: “And thus We have made you a middle nation (The Cow: 143),” i.e. just.
Al-Ragheb al-Asfahany”s interpretation is based on the meaning of wasat as sometimes being the middle of two unfavorable extremes as generosity being the middle of stinginess and wastefulness, to stress that the term implies that which is far from both excessiveness and negligence. Hence it is a form of praise, that has the same usage of the terms equity, justice, and impartiality, as in Allah”s saying: “And thus We have made you a middle nation (The Cow: 143).”
The adjectives good and just, which according to interpreters are referred to by the term wasatiyyah in the verse above, are the end results of avoiding the extremes of excessiveness and negligence. This is what notable scholars have assured. Ibn Jarir explained that Allah described Muslims as wasat because of their moderateness in religion and the best of all matters for Allah is their wasat. As for Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, after stressing the moderateness of Allah”s religion, and that the best type of people are those who are moderate, he says: “Therefore, Allah made this nation wasat, and it is the best and most just because of its moderateness between the two extremes of oppression and abandonment.”
Thus, wasatiyyah is a state of balance between extremism and deviance on the one hand and negligence and slackness on the other. It is an approach that relates to all domains of human life, a methodology for understanding Islamic law, applying religion, carrying out political action, and dealing with others.
The moderate trend is not a new one that has emerged as a result of the current social and historic conditions. Rather it is a result of the dynamic Islamic revival led by the different scholars and thinkers of different ages throughout history.
Even though Islamic societies through their different phases have been familiar with the emergence of extremist ideas and behavior which focused on and exaggerated the importance of the most difficult aspects of religion to the extent that some thought they were the most important matters of their life and religion, the moderate trend had always remained the most popular throughout history. In this regard, the Quran and the Prophet (peace be upon him) established a clear, unambiguous moderate methodology that cautions against extremism, encourages simplification, and discusses the principles and rules that make the moderate approach so genuine and deep-rooted in Islamic history.
There are different approaches in Islamic political thought, some more open than others, hence the necessity for bringing the moderate approach into view by discussing its most important characteristics and effects.
The Characteristics of the Moderate Approach to Politics
There are several schools of thought within the moderate approach to politics as there are many characteristics that it becomes difficult to discuss all of them. Therefore, we will focus here on introducing the most important among them.
Political thought and practice in the moderate school is a topic for research and development as scholars of legislative politics have proven. It is also a matter of aims since it involves dealings or customs (as called by scholars) which was referred to in the fundamental rule: “The general rule for acts of worship and abilities is worship, and the general rule for customs is judgment and consideration of aims.”
Therefore, political legislative rulings found in the Quran and sunnah (sayings and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) are very limited. The wider scope remains open to creative thinking within the Islamic boundaries. Islam did not specify a certain form of state, its institutions, and the nature of relations between them. Nor did it specify a particular method for rotating power or choosing the ruler in addition to many other basic topics in political thought.
For notable scholars, the procedures of legislative politics aim at people”s well-fare and the warding off evil within the legitimate boundaries whether or not they have been established in the Quran or by the Prophet (pbuh). With regards to this, Ibn Qayyim quotes Abu al-Wafaa” ibn “Uqayl saying: “Politics as action taken by the will of people is nearer to good and farther from corruption, even if it was not legislated by the Prophet (pbuh) nor revealed in the Quran.”
Therefore, politics is a field that requires great caution, because rigidity in it, like slackness, could mean conflicting with Islamic law. For this reason, Ibn el-Qayyim criticized those who were rigid saying: “they eliminated correct approaches to truth and its execution, despite their acknowledgment and others acknowledgement that it is the definite truth that conforms to reality, assuming that these approaches conflict with Islamic law. By Allah, it does not conflict with the Prophet”s message; rather it conflicts with their understanding of it which is based on their slackness in knowledge of Islamic law, knowledge of reality, and the application of each to the other.”
The field of politics is subject to various research efforts and opinions, and it is a Muslim”s obligation to obey Allah in this field as much as he is able, and seek the well-fare of people as much as he is able. He may or not be correct “but Allah does not hold you responsible except for that which is within your potential, so if a Muslim fears Allah as much as he able, Allah rewards him for that and forgives his mistakes, and such a person can not be insulted nor criticized nor punished….” The companions had agreed in matters of conflict to acknowledge each others” understanding and practice. This implies carrying out political action based on a relative approach that considers the priorities, opportunities, and capabilities available, rather than adopting an absolute approach and taking rigid stands.
Thus, political pluralism and parting of the closed monist system is one of the fundamentals of moderateness, which in essence implies the acknowledgement of the plurality of viewpoints and differing opinions considering that it is a reality as well as a right for all parties, which no person or authority can deprive them from. It should not be viewed as a problem or hindrance, but rather as richness and enrichment.
Moderateness is a result of the combination of religion”s firmly established political matters and the contributions of human experience. These fixed matters are basically the political values mentioned in the Quran and sunnah. Among these values are the respect of human dignity and his civil liberties, freedom of expression, integrity, transparency, justice, and the establishment of shura (consultation). The means for putting these principles into practice in real life remain open to the nation”s creativity and efforts which differ from age to age and from place to place.
This combinatory characteristic could also be called “renewalism,” which requires overcoming many of the outdated human efforts of understanding and application of religion that were tied to the specific circumstances, customs, and level of civilization at that time. Among these old schools of political thought was that which placed people under two categories, “Islam” and “War”, or three categories by adding “Covenant.” Another example is the consideration of non-Muslims in the Islamic state as ahl el-dhimma (Protected People) who had their own rights and duties different from those of Muslims. Also there was the old assumption that the ruler governed as long as he lived. These were schools of thought that responded to the needs of a certain reality which has changed, thus they no longer apply.
Moderateness is renewable by its nature, and its mechanism for renewal relies on learning from the achievements of others and the contributions of human civilization, enabling its continuous interaction with reality and its needs, as well as thought and its development.
Moderate political discourse is distinguished by its gentleness, easiness, and tolerance. It is assuring, lenient, simple, kind, and loving as shown in the verses which can be translated as: “Call (This is addressed to the Prophet) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair admonition, and dispute with them in the way (which is) fairest… (The Bee: 125),” and “Repel with that which is fairest; then, only then, he between whom and you there is enmity will be as if he were an intimate constant patron (Expounded: 34),” and as mentioned in the hadith (Prophet”s saying) which can be translated as: “A believer is friendly, and there is no good in he who is neither friendly nor befriended.” The lack of these characteristics makes political discourse a source of apprehension and fear, and maybe even fright and horror, which could lead to the loss of friends, increase of enemies, and the opening up of unnecessary battle fronts.
Part of being moderate is acting in an organized, gradual, and gentle manner that keeps reality in consideration, and tries to lift it towards an optimum level moving gradually and according to the ability and scope of action available while avoiding making abrupt moves because the world “sometimes ordains and other times forbids; and sometimes permits and other times neither ordains nor forbids nor permits,” and it may “delay a declaration until it is ready to be made the same way Allah delayed the revelation of certain verses and rulings until the Prophet (pbuh) was ready to announce them.” “So when the executive figures of religion, be they scholars, leaders, or both, reach conclusions, their declaration of these conclusions which are, in fact, drawn from the Prophet”s message should be gradual as the Prophet”s announcements were of the revelations which were gradually revealed to him. And it is well-known that the Prophet does not announce except that which is ready to be known and applied. Hence, Islamic law was not revealed all at once. As they say: “If you want to be obeyed, then ordain that which can be done.” The same applies to he who renews his religion and revives the sunnah: he should not announce except that which is ready to be known and applied…”
The reason for that is that achieving desired reforms gradually and through the adoption of a moderate approach is an established rule for success which enables progress and the realization of achievements. Whereas rush rather than leading to the goal, either ruins the process or gets in its way. History narrates that the son of the Caliphate Omar Ibn Abd el-Aziz had once asked him to resolve the grievances and corruptions that had accumulated all at once without delay no matter what the consequences were, saying: “Why do you not execute the orders. By Allah, I do not care if you and I boiled in pots for the sake of what is right.” But Omar Ibn Abd el-Aziz replied: “Do not rush, son, for Allah denounced wine in the Quran twice then prohibited it on the third. And I fear that if I bear the whole truth to people, they will turn away from it all together, and that will cause turmoil.”
The Interactions of Moderateness and Stability
By a simple comparison of the criteria of political stability and the characteristics of moderateness, it becomes apparent why the moderate approach provides the best conditions for achieving and maintaining political stability through four different channels which we will discuss here.
- Building Trust and Positive Competition
The first mechanism through which moderateness affects stability is a balanced methodology for relating with others around us. Drawing from the characteristics of moderateness, these relations should be based on balance, moderateness, open dialogue with all, and strife towards finding the common grounds between all the ideological and political trends in the arena. The moderate trend by its nature refuses the logic of regency, isolation, and monism.
Moderate Islamic thought believes in the other and does not reject him, and works continuously towards building a refined interactive conversational relationship with the other, reaching out to different people from different place throughout different times without losing hope. This form of dialogue is deliberate and free of quick judgments. These characteristics of dialogue with the other are referred to in the Noble Quran throughout a variety of rich scenes of conversations carried out between the Prophets and reformers, and the other. The sunnah is also an eyewitness to a variety of dialogues between all kinds of people. Therefore, the moderate trend must carry out continuous dialogue in order to draw from the experiences of other trends in its society as well as other societies.
One of the fruits of moderateness in relating with others is the building of trust between the different components of political action within all citizens of a country. The reason for that is that moderateness by its gradual and gentle nature has tangible effects on society that range from the spread of love to the building of positive relationships, the avoidance of fanaticism and hatred, the building of trust in as well as the kind treatment of others. All these characteristics play an important role in creating a society that is secure and stable so that it can devote itself to making achievements and contributions.
Similarly, moderate discourse by its gentle nature resists the discourse of political bidding which is based on exclusion, eradication, and hatred which poison the social atmosphere through the spread of conspiracies, disaccord, and conflict rather than harmony, integration, and positive competition. Through the building of trust and providing a healthy environment for competition, the moderate methodology contributes to the creation of a harmonious climate that endorses political stability.
- Balanced Relations With the Political System
The moderate trend adopts the methodology of participation within the society”s institutions, especially the political ones. Similarly, it adopts a democratic and peaceful approach to reform. It works towards expanding the scope of human rights and liberties, both individual and collective the same way it denounces violence and refuses to adopt alternatives other than peaceful political and social struggle.
The relations between political systems and societies and between political systems and political movements have been marked by tension and sometimes clashes in many instances throughout our modern history. This led to many periods of instability and mutual violence which led to the immense waste of money and efforts as well as the loss of souls, which turned out to be the greatest loss which could have otherwise been invested in reform and development. But instead of continuing on the path of independent and effective reform, some parties had melted in the pots of the political systems submitting to their dictations.
Moderateness in this case is achieved through parties” independence in thought, strength in principles and executing plans, opposition of wrong policies, supporting the true, legitimate interests of the country and its majority. On the other hand, they should be flexible in carrying out their programs keeping into consideration national security, stability, and interests in addition to opening the channels for dialogue and cooperation over the common matters.
The moderate approach does not forsake the alternative of occupational resistance. Nor does it call for the submission to dominant world powers that are fighting against peoples” independence. Subservience has never led but to the negligence and loss of rights.
- Gradual Change Rather Than Making Leaps
Carrying out reform gradually is a distinctive characteristic of the moderate trend and is a fundamental aspect of the Islamic methodology in tackling current issues. This is because changing the status quo from a state of heavy lagging tothat which is lively and saturated with sound religious and modern values, requires two important matters:
– Gradual transfer towards the desirable values without interruptions or bumps.
– And the maintenance of balance between modern and Islamic values, so that our identity and civilization are not lost.
All reformist movements which rushed the process of change, and resorted to means that conflicted with the logic of gradualness by skipping phases and leaping over reality, ended in failure which proves that true power is not the mere domination over people, but rather their persuasion and winning of their hearts.
- Resolving Conflicts Within Societies Without the Outbreak of Violence
Both extremism and excessiveness have negative and proportionate effects on both the individual and society through the stir up of violence and different conflicts.
– At the individual level, the extremist becomes unstable and is in disaccord with his self, while the moderate is reconciled and at peace with his self as well as stable which leads him to be more inclined towards adopting peaceful means for resolving conflicts and less inclined towards violent means.
– At the collective level, moderateness helps to prevent conflicts as well as resolve and overcome them with the least losses. Similarly, it helps to contain collective extremist behavior which is often destructive. Moreover, it has a social, economic, and political benefit of spreading reassurance, improving effectiveness, and increasing enthusiasm for work and production, as well as strengthening the trust between workers by facilitating negotiations, compromises, and the formation of agreeable solutions to problems.
Deviance from moderateness can be reflected at the different levels and through the different forms of human society causing disturbances and sowing the seeds of turmoil and fear. This, in turn could trigger reactions that could grow sharper, more extreme, and often more violent.
This article is a paper by Dr. Sa”d el-Din el-Othmany, Head of the National Council for the Moroccan Justice and Development Party, which he presented in the lecture titled “Moderateness in the Methodology and Ideology of Islamic Parties” that was organized by the Center for Studies of Islam and the Modern World in Khartoum on Sunday 10/8/2008 on the occasion of his attendance in the General Conference for the Sudanese Islamic Movement that was held on August 10-12, 2008 and which was attended by a number of delegates from movements and parties that use Islam as their reference point as well as thinkers from Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon, Yemen, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Mauritania, Tunis, Albania, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and other countries.