Irrational Conservatism Versus Irresponsible Liberalism

By Khalafalla Osman

This article was inspired by Imam Suhaib Webb’s discussion on Allah’s Apostle regarding how the loving Mercy to Mankind dealt with his community. At the North East ICNA conference in March 2014, he introduced a phrase known as “Irrational Conservatism versus Irresponsible Liberalism” which I found very powerful and by the will of Allah I hope to explain the issue with justice.


In the modern episode of the Muslim community, we face several complex challenges, including issues of disunity between our fellow brothers and sisters. When I observe these issues within the community though, I can sum all of them up with a general issue that acts as an umbrella – lack of religious knowledge. When individuals act while raising the banner of Islam, meanwhile having very little knowledge regarding the deen — regardless of passion, one can cause more harm than good; that is why it is extremely important to understand the root of the problem we’re facing.  

Many different complex issues have divided the ummah – the ummah has become politicized, disenfranchised, and infected by even a somewhat sub-sectarianism. To elaborate, many of our houses of Allah (SWT), have also transformed into an entity of exclusivity. It’s an unfortunate reality. As Muslims we should understand that to bring someone closer to Allah can be our ticket to paradise. But we must also understand that to push one further from Allah can be our ticket to severe punishment. We should pray that Allah protect us all from that, Ameen. As an ummah, some of us acquire knowledge before adab (manners). Recently studying at the Qur’an Intensive program in Dallas, I heard a gem that is just profound. Ustadh AbdulRahman Murphy said to us, “Adab is the vessel of knowledge. If knowledge is water, then adab is the cup. You can not retain knowledge without adab.” The way some of our students of knowledge from different backgrounds argue is just terrible. The irony is – the teachers of these students, their elderly scholars, when they see each other to discuss matters of Islamic jurisprudence and other scholarly matters – they will never disrespect each other, and they will never disrespect their teacher’s academic background.

Imam Suhaib Webb describes the current state of our ummah with this phrase he coined: “Irrational conservatism versus Irresponsible Liberalism”. We live in a time where moderation seems somewhat rare in the global ummah; those that are irrationally conservative divide us. People whom rather than preserving the traditional Islamic principle with some consideration to the changing of times become irrationally rigid. Rasulullah (SWS) was described as one who spoke compassionately, reaching out to people’s problems. He acknowledged the social pressures and hardships in his community. Through Islam he equalized the playing field; it was through Islam that you as an individual became free from the invisible shackles of the dunya, of the imposing societal norms. Moreover, as an ummah, those that are irresponsibly liberal weigh us down. People whom rather than preserving Allah (SWT)’s pre-ordained lifestyle would rather allow man-made theoretical perspectives to overrule our religious values. This is al-Islam, a lifestyle that primarily submits to Allah (SWT) through the guidance of Rasulullah (SWS).

As an ummah that follows the Qur’an and Sunnah, Rasulullah (SWS)  always endorsed a lifestyle of moderation. And let us be clear, moderation means not the picking and choosing of some religious values as if Islam is a buffet. Allah (SWT) says in the Qur’an, “And, [moreover], this is My path, which is straight, so follow it; and do not follow [other] ways, for you will be separated from His way. This has He instructed you that you may become righteous (Qur’an 6:153).” Moderation isn’t to pick and choose with our religious values. Rather, Islam is a religion made to bring peace and ease in our lives. Allah (SWT) begins surah Ta-Ha with the following verses, “Ta Ha. We did not send down the Qur’an to you to make you miserable,” (20:1).

The one who’s moderate is the one who truly understands Islam for what it is, according to the foundation that our learned scholars established. To be moderate, we must understand the sunnah of Rasulullah (SWS). We must understand the entire context of the hadith, rather than just acting based off hawwa (desire) and frankly, moderation is the absolute only Islam there is. Islam and moderation are one, once we consider ourselves conservative or liberal — we adulterate and alter the authenticity of the “Islam” we are practicing. Is the Prophet (SWS)’s sunnah through Allah (SWT)’s divine ordinance not good enough? Of course it is, and that is why if we’re truly comprehending the religion of Islam that we’re practicing — our natural disposition would be in the middle of the line. Irrational Conservatism is un-Islamic, and so is Irresponsible Liberalism, these are manufactured, pseudo-Islamic insights and they must be acknowledged as such to fix the problem at hand.

The crucial pillar for community is functionality. Rather than having hostility between those we disagree with, let us follow the loving merciful footsteps of our Messenger Muhammad (SWS) which is to be one who is basheer and nadheer, one who gives glad-tidings but at the same time knows when to be serious and warns people. It’s all about how we deliver our message that makes the difference. To conclude, I would like to leave you all with a strong example. The Companions of Prophet Muhammad (SWS) weren’t all the same — some had many differences of opinions. What’s so powerful about it though, is they still remained respectful of one another because they didn’t want an argument to cause their unity’s destruction. As Muslims, let’s avoid causing fitnah within the community and may we all humble ourselves. This is a reminder to myself first. JazakumAllahu Khairan.

Wa Allahu Musta’an (And in Allah we seek aid).

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