SINGAPORE - The principle of moderation in all things is a key part of Islamic teachings, a top Muslim religious figure said yesterday, as he urged Muslims to be wary of extremism.
The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh Shawki Allam, said in a lecture that Prophet Muhammad himself detested excessiveness in religion and warned against it.
"We should not be cowards or hold an extreme position, such as murdering innocents and committing acts far removed from the teachings of religion," he said.
"The consequence of this would be a distorted image of Islam, leading to its rejection and antagonism towards it."
Dr Allam, who is in Singapore under the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) Distinguished Visitor programme, gave the annual Muis Lecture at Orchard Hotel to about 500 people of various faiths. The talk, titled Building Harmonious Societies In A Pluralistic World, was chaired by Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim, who is also Communications and Information Minister.
Dr Allam, who became Grand Mufti in February 2013, was head of Islamic jurisprudence at Egypt's renowned Al-Azhar University, and is a staunch critic of militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its brutality. "We should never use Islamic State when speaking about ISIS," he said in response to a question. "It is not a state in the first place, it is not justified... and tarnishes the image of Islam."
In his hour-long session, Dr Allam drew extensively on Quranic teachings, the Prophet's sayings, and Islamic history to illustrate how the true practice of Islam involved respect for diversity.
"Humans have different languages, skin colours, faiths and orientations. There is a certain wisdom to all of this for this is God's decree," he said.
The faith, Dr Allam added, calls on Muslims to be good citizens who take part in and contribute to the societies they live in.
"Muslims must be motivated by the principle of harmonious mutual co-existence and not by the spirit of converting non-Muslims to Islam, for Allah says: There is no compulsion in religion," he added.
Dr Allam also said Muslims had to be good neighbours, citing the example of renowned 8th-century Islamic scholar Imam Abu Hanifa who was annoyed by a boisterous drunken neighbour, but did not make a fuss over the matter.
However, when he did not hear his neighbour one night, he inquired about him, only to find out he had been arrested and jailed.
Concerned, the imam visited him out of neighbourly duty. "This led the man to repent and return to God," said Dr Allam.
Turning to conflicts around the world, he said Muslims should work to defuse tensions and one way was through rebuilding trust on all sides.
But he stressed that building trust was a two-way road, and noted that anti-Muslim sentiment, or Islamophobia, was on the rise, particularly in the West.
He said: "The reckless actions committed against Islam and Muslims and the absence of a true desire to understand Muslims and their religion, not only hinders efforts to engage in true dialogue but precludes them altogether."
On Sunday, Dr Allam spoke to Islamic teachers and said the right response to offensive behaviour was "not to take things into your own hands, but to go by the law, and respond to wrongdoing with kindness".
He had dinner with 25 religious leaders of various faiths, during which he said their close friendships and regular meetings can strengthen the common ground and boost cooperation.
Yesterday, he called on President Tony Tan Keng Yam and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. He also visited the Khadijah Mosque and the resource and counselling centre of the Religious Rehabilitation Group that counsels terror detainees in Singapore.
This article was first published on January 27, 2015.
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