The Speech of the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Prof. Dr. Ahmad At-Tayyeb In Indonesia

Sha’ban 15, 1439 AH - May 1, 2018 CE

  • | Friday, 6 July, 2018
The Speech of the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Prof. Dr. Ahmad At-Tayyeb In Indonesia


In the Name of Allah, the lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy 

Mr. President, Joko Widodo, the President of Indonesia;

Honorable scholars and intellectuals- guests of the conference;

Honorable attendees;

May peace, mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you!!

The topic I’m pleased to speak to you about is so serious and significant, though there have been much research about it, and many newspapers, magazines and conferences have discussed it, to an extent that one may guess that no more may be added here in this context.

This classical, but still contemporary theme, is wasatiyyah (moderation; literally the middle path), which is always attached to Islam. We say “the wasatiyyah of Islam” or “Islam is the religion of wasatiyyah”. All Muslims know that Allah has described the Muslim nation as the as wasat (a derivative of wasatiyyah) as Allah says, “We have made you [believers] into a wasat [moderate] nation” (Qur’an 2: 143). “The Prophet (PBUH) interpreted wasat here to mean justice.”[1]

As Al-Khattabi says in his book al-‘Uzlah (Seclusion):

Do not go to the extreme in the affairs … Be moderate, as going to two ends are detestable

Many discussions appeared explaining the concept of wasatiyyah and its relation to the concept of justice and other major values based on the above quoted Hadith and the Qur’anic verse that reads, “The wisest (Ar. The most wasat) of them said, ‘Did I not say to you, “Will you not glorify God?”’ (Qur’an 68: 28). Exegetes of the Qur’an said that it means the best and the most upright of them. It also said, “Every middle point is the best. The middle point is better than both extremes”.      

Despite the clarity of the meaning of wasatiayyah (moderation) in the Qur’an and Sunnah, and its relation to the concepts of justice and being the best, it has been subject to dispute just as it was the case with concepts such as Ahl Al-Sunnah wa Al-Jama’ah and Sunnah and Bd’ah, or even the concept of monotheism, which is the basis of all principles and the core of Islam. It would not be far-fetched to say that the difference among Muslims during the last two centuries over these concepts was the reason of their disputes, division, weakness, and blood shedding.

When speaking about wasatiyyah of Islam, it is usually said that some scholars have compared it to the concept of “the middle point” in Aristotle’s view on ethics, which he put into the rule “virtue is a “mean” or “intermediate” between two extremes”. For Aristotle, virtue is a mean”; it is intermediate between two vices. Courage is intermediate between rashness and Cowardice; also generosity is a virtue because it is intermediate between wastefulness and miserliness or niggardliness. Good temper (or patience) is intermediate between anger and un-irascibleness or holding grudge. Thus, the best things in his view are the intermediate states, but these intermediate states are the one that have extremes constituting vices.

          Many Muslim scholars have shown the invalidity of this compromise between the two concepts, showing that the wasatiyyah of Islam is not the same. Virtues in Islam may be subject for Aristotle’s criterion about the middle point in case of some morals, for example when a Muslim is forced to choose the lesser of two evils: one worse than the other. However, this criterion which is more engineering and mathematical one may not apply to many Islamic virtues in which the middle point is not the best in the sight of Islam. Benevolence in Islam is not a virtue because it a mean between two vices. However, it is a virtue even if it is extravagant; it shall remain a virtue. In this regard, it is reported in an authentic Hadith that the Companion Abu Bak gave all of his property as a charity for the Muslim army.  When the Prophet (PBUH) asked him: “What did you left for your family?” “Allah and His Messenger,” he replied.[2]

And thus, it is said, “There is no goodness in Isrāf (extravagance) and there is no Isrāf (extravagance) in goodness” [3]

The cause of this difference is the difference in the criterion between the Islamic wasatiyyah and the Greek one in terms of basics and purposes. The Greek philosophy cares about money given and the interest of the giver, the Islamic philosophy cares about the purpose of giving or the motive behind it and the interest of the person to whom charity is given, even if it is contradicting, in some cases, with the interest of the giver.” [4]

Some contemporary Muslim intellectuals see that the concept of wasatiyyah has been recently hijacked and brought into the area of the so-called “Political Islam”, as some Westerner writers intentionally try to put all Muslims in the same basket of terrorism. This necessary means to completely empty wasatiyyah from its Shari’ah indications. Even when some writers differentiated between extremist Islamic movements and moderate ones, they surprisingly mixed between radical secularism and Islamic moderation.

These interpretations, which have adopted diverse approaches to explain the concept of “Islamic wasatiyyah”, urged some Muslim scholars[5] to view this concept from another perspective, which is totally different from that of the ethical “normative values”, and thus transferred it to the field of ontology. According to this perspective, this noble verse was explained as that Allah the Almighty tells us that the Islamic nation was sent to represent the “moderate nation” in comparison with the previous nations. The concept of “wasatiyyah‎" was also interpreted as the revival of the covenant with Abraham after being broken by the previous nations. This notion is further asserted by Allah in the verse which reads “that you will be witnesses over the people”.

Whatever the contemporary variations in explaining the term of wasatiyyah are, the extent to be maintained is that, when tackling the concept of wasatiyyah, we should move from the field of research and contemplation to the field of application. We should not speak about this concept in our conferences out of powerful emotions for the purpose of showing the aesthetic values of this religion. Rather, it should aim to rediscover the Quranic fact that Allah willed to form a framework governing the principles of this sacred religion in terms of creed, Shari’ah and moral values, and to apply this fact to the real world to revive it in the conscience of the nation, to show whether or not that Islamic nation is truly a moderate one. Today, Muslims are in a dire need more than any time before to realize that any deviation from moderation, either towards extremism, the imported modernization or secularism may undermine the principles of this religion. Based on the philosophy of moderation, we must understand that extremism is no less harmful to the religion than leniency. Both are reprehensible and rejected. We should be aware that the fundamentalists and extremists who prohibit lawful things are equal to those make the prohibited things lawful. Both are transgressors against the Islamic principles and teachings, and both are liars as they claim for themselves legislative rights which are not permitted by Allah.  

 Mr. President!

Honorable attendees!

Wasatiyyah (moderation) is a manifestation of Allah’s mercy to his creatures. It is clearly manifested in the easiness of this religion and removing hardships facing the believers as Allah (Glory be to Him) says:

(Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship)  “Qur’an 2: 185”

(Allah has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty) “Qur’an 22: 78”

 (Allah does not intend to make difficulty for you) “Qur’an 5: 6”

(We will ease you toward ease) that is to the Shari’ah which is characterized by easiness.

The Prophet (PBUH) said, "The religion (of Islam) is easy, and whoever makes the religion a rigour, it will overpower him”. 

The Prophet also said: “Those who indulged in hair-splitting are ruined”. He (PBUH) repeated this thrice. The scholars of Hadith commented saying the hair-splitting refers to the transgressors of the limits set by God in their sayings and deeds.

In a few words, I would like to point out that al Azhar curricula represent the moderation of Islam which we stated that it is the most basic attribute for this upright religion and the moderate understanding for the texts of the Glorious Qur’an and Sunnah. These curricula firmly instill in his students’ minds the culture of dialogue and the validity of diversity from their early childhood.   In this way, Al-Azhar curricula protect students against extravagance, fanaticism, and intellectual narrow mindedness. Thus, Al-Azhar trains its students to accept other opinions, teaches them the difference between respecting a school of thought and believing in it. This is simply confirmed in our contemporary life as you will not find a terrorist or Takfiri person graduating from Al-Azhar University. This is because Al-Aazhar Al-Sharif, from its early time, has adopted, and still, the school of thought of Abu al-Hasan al-Ashari (d. 324 AH) over more than a thousand year.  The view of this school is not to label Muslims disbelievers as nothing brings a Muslim out of Islam except denying the fundamentals of Islam. This Ashari rule is an accurate translation for Hadith reported by Imam al-Bukhari in which the Prophet (PBUH) said: "Whoever prays like us, faces our Qibla and eats our slaughtered animals is a Muslim and is under Allah’s and His Messenger’s protection. So do not betray Allah by betraying those who are in His protection”.

Today, I’m reiterating what I said long time ago; perhaps this would, more or less, relieve our hearts that are deeply saddened by the state of discord, fanaticism, and factionalism that has started to manifest itself among our young people, be them university students or otherwise, because of unawareness of the wasatiyyah or moderation of Islam. It is Islam’s moderation that guarantees uprightness, diversity and strength. It is also the shield against the dangers of radicalization, fanaticism, dissolution from religious fundamentals and reprehensible sectarianism fed by the belief that a respective ideology is superior to the others and the notion that the other ideologies are merely pernicious heresy, apostasy, or transgression at best.

Sadly enough, this resulted in groups of young people entrapping themselves within sectarian classifications that have nothing to do with the genuine teachings of the religion. They began to classify themselves under categories like Salafi, Sunni, Sufi, Takfiri, Tanwiri, etc. and started to hurl false accusations of disbelief or heresy at one another. Some of them may even refuse to pray behind Muslims with other ideologies or even to salute them, in a gesture of abandonment and animosity. They have preoccupied themselves and the nation with trivial matters, which later evolved into discrepancies that turned into bloody and terrible ordeals. These abominable phenomena are alien to the Muslim Nation.

Dear distinguished attendees, I wish this conference would be a step on the way to avert the tragedies that have recently struck the nation and a chance to achieve the indispensable unity of this Nation which it is intended to stay in a state in which it suffers a long-standing illness, and neither dies nor get relieved from poverty, illness, ignorance and backwardness. My call to the Nation to which we are all proud to belong is that it must stay alert to the malicious conspiracies plotted against it, and not to seek strength nor pride from other than Allah, the Almighty, and to depend only upon the minds and strength of its citizens. Moreover, it must make the best use of its gifted human and natural recourses and stop the ambitious warlords who tamper with peoples’ wills and destinies.

I conclude my word –Mr. President- by invoking Allah, the Exalted, to heal the Nation’s illnesses, return it to its strength and glory and protect it against the harm of malicious people. I also turn to Allah with invocation to return the Sacred Jerusalem –the first Qiblah and the third of the holy sites– to its people and make peace prevail in Palestine, Arab and Islamic Nation and all over the world. I ask Him also to relieve the Rohingya people and alleviate what they underwent of killing, displacement and awful crimes. I’m confident that Allah’s support would be for the weak, the distressed and the oppressed even after a while, (Do not think that God is unaware of what the disbelievers do: He only gives them respite until a Day when their eyes will stare in terror). (Quran, 14:42), (The evildoers will find out what they will return to.) (Quran 26:227).

Thank you very much

As-Salamu ‛Alaykum wa Raḥmatu Allahi wa Barakatuh

Mashyakhat Al-Azhar

Sha’ban 15, 1439 AH

May 1, 2018

Ahmad At-Tayyeb

The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and the President of the Muslim Council of Elders

Grand Imam of Al-Azhar

Translated by:

Al-Azhar Observatory for Combating Extremism

Edited by:

Dr. Kamal Boraiqa Abdelsalam Hassan


[1]  Reported by Ahmad on the authority of Abu Saeed al-Kudri.

[2] Reported by At-Tirmidhi (Hadith No. 3675) and abu Dawud (Hadith No. 1680).

[3] Ibid, p. 208

[4] See Haqaiq Al-Islam wa Abatil Khusumah (Truths of Islam and the Lies of its Opponents), the complete works of Al-Aqqad, vol. 6, pp. 207-208 (Beirut, 2015)

[5] Sheikh Abdelhamid Al-Farahy quoted M‘utaz al-Khatib’s  article “Critique of  Moderation and the Middle Course” published in “Tasamuh Magazine published by Ministry of Endowment and Islamic Affairs in Oman.