As of late, many labels have been thrown about by certain quarters on the rise of Islamic movements and advent of extremism. Before we even discuss how extremism manifests itself, we should keep in mind two crucial points.
The first point is the degree of piety of the person with respect to the society he lives in and how it effects his judgement of others as far as extremism, moderation and laxity is concerned. It is quite easy to understand that a society that is quite religious produces muslims who are overly sensitive to deviations, negligence or even transgressions. This is due to his judgement of the circumstance based on his own experience and exposure. Historically, when we examine the deed and practices of people, the closer we move towards the Prophet (s.a.w.) and his companions, the deeds of the later generations seems less worthy.
Anas bin Malik once told the Tabiins, “You do things you consider trifling. But during the time of the Prophet s.a.w. these same actions were seen as mortal sins.”
On the other hand, a person brought up in a less religious or non religious society will find even a minimal adherence to Islam as a kind of extremism. In both these scenarios, the worldview of the person is shaped by the society and the perception of Islam and adherence.
The second point is the adoption of a hardline juristic opinion of a certain fuqaha (jurist). If he is convinced that the jurist is right and that he is bound by it, then he is free to do so as it only involves him. If it overburdens him, then it is due to his own accord. There is no hard math or principle for this, people naturally differ on these matters.
Some take things easy and facilitate matters, while others do not. We can often see differences among the companions. Ibn Abbas was lenient and facilitated affairs while Ibn Umar was quite strict. In gist, an opinion of a jurist that the person has chosen to follow should not be the sole characteristic that we determine the person as an extremist. It is his choice of ijtihad – especially since it relates only to his personal life and behaviour.
It is my personal opinion that we should not condemn the practice of any muslim or accuse him of “extremism” if he adopts a hardline opinion based on juristic opinion through which he seeks Allah’s pleasure. And it is also my opinion that we nor the government have any right to force him to abandon his opinion or follow the opinion that is acceptable to the society. Our duty is to appeal to him with wisdom and argue with him patiently.
This is the method outlined by Allah swt:
“Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity.” (Ali Imran, 104)
But it is essential to note that this tolerance is limited to his/her personal space and practice. However, when the hardline opinion crosses into the public space and affects others, then a different approach applies altogether.