What Is the Meaning of the Hadith “Ruined Are the Extremists”?

Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas

Question: Is the hadith of Sahih Muslim, Book 34, Number 6450 accurately translated as “Ruined are the extremists”? Or is it “Ruined, were those who indulged in hair-splitting”? Are there other hadiths that forbid extremism? What exactly is meant by extremism, or even moderation?

Answer: assalamu `alaykum

The hadith in Sahih Muslim you refer to may in fact be translated both ways.

The original word used is “mutanati`”, a derived noun from “tanatu`” which indicates delving deeply into something and exorbitantly. Due to this meaning of deep engagement, the original term also refers to the sounds articulated from the back of the oral cavity, namely the throat. [Ibn Faris, Mu`ajam al-Maqayis; Ibn Athir, al-Nihaya]

Imam Nawawi states that in the context of the narration, it refers to “those who delve too deeply, are extreme, and go beyond bounds in their speech and actions.” [Sharh Sahih Muslim]

Some scholars interpreted this as applicable to those who research things of no benefit and which do not concern them, such as delving into matters of the unseen, inconsequential subtleties of law, and so forth. Others also included those who go beyond the legal bounds in their worship and fall into baseless misgivings. [Munawi, Fayd al-Qadir]

Thus, the wording of the narration indicates the blameworthy nature of all sorts of immoderate activity – excessiveness, hairsplitting, pedantry, fanaticism, and so forth.

Moderation: The Trait of the Believer

Moderation and balance are key traits of a believer and vividly present in the practice of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Thus, one will find a number of verses and prophetic narrations emphasizing the praiseworthy nature of moderation and the harms of excessiveness.

Some of the Qur’anic verses that promote moderation and balance are:

The verse, “Likewise, We have made you a mid-most nation (wasatan).” (2:143) Imam Tabari states in his commentary, “Allah only attributed them with the term mid-most because of their balance in the religion.”

The verse, “Be steadfastly balanced witnesses (qawamin) for Allah in equity (qist), and let not hatred of any people seduce you that you deal not justly (la ta`dilu). Deal justly, that is nearer to your duty.” (5:8)

Within this verse, Allah Most High uses three very important words, “qawwam”, “qist”, and “`adl”, which indicate the meaning of uprightness, moderation, fairness, equity and balance, both in religious and worldly dealings, even with those whom one is at enmity with.

The verse, “Guide us to the straight path (sirat al-mutaqim)” (1:6), where the word “mustaqim” entails the meaning of balance and moderation, being from the same root as the word “qawwam” mentioned in the previous verse.

The verse, “those who, when they expend, are neither wastefully extravagant nor stingy, but between that is a justly balanced stand (qawaman).” (25:67)

The verse, “God loves the just (muqsitin).” (5:42)

The verse, “Oh People of the Book, do not go to excesses in your religion.” (4:171)

Among the prophetic narratives that promote moderation and prohibit extremism and excess are:

The Prophet (Allah bless him) stated, “None makes the religion difficult except that it overcomes him. So, aim for what is right, stick to the moderate way…” [Bukhari, Sahih]

Ibn Hajar in his Fath al-Bari quotes Ibn Munir as stating, “In this narration is a sign from the signs of prophethood for we and those before us have witnessed that every excessively immoderate person (mutanati`) in the religion is cut off. The purpose [of this narration] is not to prohibit seeking perfection in one’s worship since it is something praiseworthy.”

The Prophet (Allah bless him) stated, “Beware of excessiveness in religion for those before you only perished due to excessiveness in religion.” [Ahmad, Musnad]

What is Moderation?

Giving a precise definition of moderation is not easy. However, what we can be certain of is that anyone who sticks to the sunna of the Prophet (Allah bless him), outwardly and inwardly, will not fall into excess.

At the same time, our understanding of the way of the Prophet (Allah bless him) is not primarily gleaned from books but people who embody his way. These people, the rightly guided scholars, are examples of what it means to “stick to the sunna” in every action of life, from the apparently mundane to the spiritual. Almost all the time, it is our misunderstanding of the sunna that leads us to immoderation, but whoever follows a tried, tested, and accepted scholarly tradition will be safe from such error.

We should imitate these people in our own lives and seek out their advice to correct our own perceptions of the sunna fits into our lives.



Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani


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