I recently got my first cell phone (an old black and white screen Nokia phone with a torch). Yes, I know, I know. 18 years old and my first cell phone. Addicted though I already am to texting, I'd still ditch it for the good old days when I wasn't a slave to technology (think of my situation like that of a drug addict who really wants to quit). Anyway, Alhamdulillah a few weeks after my first cell, by a stroke of some good luck, I traded my cell for a Nokia E50 with my uncle (moving upstate aren't we? Somebody play the Fresh Prince theme!) Now, my older simpler cell's big keypad was in stark contrast to my current E50 with its greater emphasis on screen size over keypad size. Now, texting has become a pain, which is good, considering I save a lot of time (On the other hand, my replies to texts have become curt, almost rude). On my old cell, I would always reply to 'thank you's' with 'np's' etc. As in, I would pretty much always have the last text, so to speak. With my new cell, this avid replying became difficult. Now I faced a dilemma. Stop replying to thank yous and be considered rude but save a lot of time, or continue with it, and spend a lot more time than I already was on the cell. In the end, I decided to reply to those people whom I felt would get offended if I didn't always reply to thank yous, and hit the delete button immediately the people I thought wouldn't really give a crap if I replied or not.
This is basically what my article is about: The only 2 conceivable options in my mind were extreme and diametrically opposed-either reply to everyone, or reply to no one. Only after some thought did an alternate solution emerge-reply some and don't reply rest. This is a form of extremism that pervades our lives without us realizing it, whilst we continue to decry religious etc. extremism in our world. We think in terms of yes and no, black and white. We choose not to take the middle ground. While the above example is harmless enough, and just required a bit of lateral thinking, other larger problems are not simply solved by some creative thinking and have much more serious repercussions if not dealt with correctly. They require us to completely change our way of thinking and require a complete paradigm shift. Let me elucidate:
The other day, I was listening to the tafseer (explanation) of the Quran when I came across the following verse:
"Those who live on usury will not rise up before Allah except like those who are driven to madness by the touch of Shaitan. That is because they claim: "Trading is no different than usury, but Allah has made trading lawful and usury unlawful…" (2:275)
This ayat highlights the type of argument many of us use to try to justify our actions, not just to others, but to ourselves as well. Yes, we all lie to ourselves. We become like that group of Bani Israel (the Jews) mentioned in the Quran who were not allowed to work on the Sabbath. Allah (SWT) tested them by making the biggest fish swim in the nearby sea on this day. So the Jews cast nets and left them all day to net fish, while they observed Sabbath. So technically they weren't working, but they were breaking the commandment. But they were convinced themselves that they weren't. Similarly, we look for common elements between usury and simple business transactions, and then use these to convince ourselves that usury is legal in Islam.
A similar story is seen in Verse 49 of the 9th Chapter of the Quran, Surah Tauba, where a companion, Jad-bin-Qais wanted exemption from the battle of Tabuk at the Prophet (PBUH)'s time, because he did not want to expose himself to the beauty of Roman women, for fear he would yield to the temptation and fornicate with them. Allah (SWT) aptly replies in the same verse, "…Have they not fallen into temptation (of telling lies, double dealings and hypocrisy) already?..." Look, we're not saying jump into a strip club, but don't shirk on your other obligatory duties just to avoid being exposed to a sin. Have some self-control for God's sake. Which reminds me of something else I hear a lot from fellow Muslims: "Let's go to parties and expose ourselves to drugs, sex and rock & roll, just so we can get our curiosity about them out of our system, and then avoiding these will become much easier.' A) Avoiding these things is a test from Allah (SWT). B) We're not supposed to do them. Ever. Period. Doing things to avoid doing them? I'm confused. C) And what if you don't get it out of your system? What then? You've injected yourself with the flu virus to get immune to it. What if you don't? Why the heck did you risk it in the first place? If you ever encounter the flu virus for the first time, take it from there. Don't be an idiot and leap into the disease's outstretched arms (or encapsulated DNA material) instead.
I encounter extremist arguments frequently when I debate with people over various religious and moral issues. For example, Islam does not permit free mixing of members of the opposite sex. Therefore, I try to avoid parties where there is mingling of the sexes (a palindrome easter egg ). Yet, I study in a co-educational school. People wonder aloud at this seeming hypocrisy. Yet again, this is a case of extremist thinking. Parties are social events. School is not. There's the difference. To treat them as one and the same would mean I would have to stay shut up in my house forever, as going outside would possibly expose me to contact with a member of the opposite sex (that really makes girls sound like they're a disease. Ah yes, cooties).
Another completely illogical spin-off of this type of thinking is the 'If you sin in this, you might as well sin in that' philosophy. I have come across this very frequently, when people say, yet again about the above example, 'Faysal, you don't mind chatting with girls; you might as well come to XYZ's party with us.' While I recognize that chatting freely with unrelated women is a no-no, and it will count as a sin in the eyes of Allah (SWT), this does not give me license to go to parties. Just because I smoke pot, does not mean I should go the 10 yards and do heroin. Taking this extremist thinking a step further: 'I borrowed my friend's pencil without asking; I therefore have permission to commit murder.' Ridiculous isn't it? Well, I've seen it a lot, and as a debater who has to use this tactic a lot in debates, I out of habit, unfortunately bring it into my 'real-world' arguments as well.
On a not completely unrelated note, this same habit of humans manifests itself in the field of science- 'Correlation does not necessarily imply causation', i.e. just because 2 things are correlated, that does not necessarily mean that one is the cause of the other. For example, at a certain point in time in a nation's history, crime rates may be going up. Simultaneously, poverty is also increasing. Human beings, in a rush to reach conclusions, tend to say that the cause of crime increase is due to poverty increase, ignoring the possibility that instead of poverty, the cause may actually be a decrease in the police budget. This is again a form of extremist thinking.
One final example: recently there was a hullaballoo raised in the US about something talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger said on air. I'm not going to narrate the whole event here because I'm too lazy to do so. Just Google it please. The point is, the caller was a Black woman and Dr. Laura used the word 'nigger' 11 times. She wasn't calling the woman 'nigger', but was using the word to put across her point more effectively (People are more receptive to expletives). Anyway, the political correctness Nazis were galvanized into action. Unfortunately, the world, and especially the US is grinding towards an excessive and unnecessary level of keeping everything Bowdlerized and sanitary. Sure, don't insult people by calling them names or hurting their feelings by drawing caricatures of their religious figures, but don't turn it into a 'Voldemort/He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named' farce either. Don't believe me? Google some interesting cases litigation and laws in the States and around the world.
I understand that perhaps humans tend to pick extreme sides because that makes life much easier. A world neatly sorted out into black and white components is a much simpler and easier to understand world than one filled with shades of grey. But that doesn't make it right, and the desire for simplicity should not be an excuse for not trying to see the world for what it is: a complex thing.