When we speak of moderate, we mean ‘average’ or a bit in the middle. For example, when we say someone is moderately overweight, it means they are overweight, but not too much. A moderate worker means someone who works in an average manner, but does not excel at work or exceed expectations.
So a moderate believer is one who believes, but a little. Islam means to submit one’s will to Allah. And a Muslim is one who believes in Allah, his messengers and the afterlife. A moderate Muslim, then, is one who does all the things a Muslim is meant to do, but only a little, not much. When I hear people describe themselves as “moderate Muslims”, I wonder what it really means. This is not just an exercise in linguistics. The way we describe ourselves has a deep impact on our psyche and that description affects our behavior, action and attitude. In the context of religion, the label of “moderate” is also dangerous.
How is that so? “Moderate” Muslims, by their own admission, will often have just a fleeting or shallow understanding and knowledge of Islam. It is easy for someone with an ulterior motive or sinister agenda, to misguide them. For example, if a “moderate” Muslim hears enough rhetoric about Muslims-as-terrorists, it is possible that they too will start believing this. They would not have the knowledge to separate “true” Islam, from what it has come to stand for. “Moderate” Muslims would also agree that women are oppressed in Islam and their rights are subjugated within Islam. Ironically, moderation of belief and knowledge does not result in a happier, confident individual integrated in modern society. Instead, moderation in belief results in half-knowledge, an individual who does not know his or her religion, one who is confused about various aspects of this world and the hereafter, and who has a hard time distinguishing the right from wrong.
I encourage you to shed the miasma of “moderate Muslim”. Be a Muslim whole-heartedly and put in the time and effort to know Islam to the fullest extent you can. Of course not everyone can be a scholar, but the expansion of knowledge and understanding according to one’s abilities gives one the confidence to be an excellent Muslim, which automatically makes you an excellent human being; because it is not possible to be a Muslim without first developing excellence in everything you do. Do not settle for second-best, average or moderate. Aim for excellence, knowledge, conviction and confidence.
It is a common misperception that the opposite of moderate is extremist. And extremism has come to represent a warped conception of Islam- one of intolerance, hatred, random killing of Muslims and non-Muslims, women, children and people of different sexual orientation-all in the name of religion. And if what you really mean by “moderate” is that you are not a terrorist- then clarify that it is not possible, by definition, for a Muslim to be a terrorist. It is time we challenged the erroneous dichotomy of moderate versus extremist.
If you want to make a statement against terrorism, don’t say your moderate, say you are a Muslim.