Wasatiyyah in The Perspective of Sheikh Nawawi al-Bantani

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Foto Syaikh Nawawi Al-Bantani
Sumber: manado.tribunnews.com

After the extremist group, Al-Qaeda, bombed the World Trade Center in New York City in September 2001, discouse on wasatiyyah Islam (moderate Islam) has been increasing. This tragedy has harmed the image of Islam in the West. Islam and its adherents are portrayed as terrorists’ religion. Furthermore, this tragedy is to blame for the rise of Islamophobia in the West up to the present. Extremist actions are, without a doubt, a misunderstanding of Islam.

As a result, Muslim intellectuals have been attempting to reinterpret verses of the Qur’an concerning jihad. Furthermore, Muslim scholars have been introducing the concept of wasatiyyah Islam inspired by Islam’s authoritative sources, the Qur’an and Sunnah, and linking the idea of wasatiyyah to classical and medieval Muslim scholars’ interpretation in their commentaries/ exegesis.

This article aims to introduce the concept of wasatiyyah Islam through the lens of Nusantara ulama, Shaikh Nawawi Al-Bantani (1813-1897), as expressed in his masterpiece, Marah al-Labid Li Kasyf Ma’na al-Qur’an al-Majid.(Nawawi Al-Bantani, 1997) The idea of Shaikh Nawawi al-Bantani is noteworthy because he was conceived in Nusantara (now known as Indonesia), a pluralistic land with diverse religions and cultures.

Baca juga: Tafsir Maqashidi Sebagai Basis Moderasi Islam (Abstraksi Pidato Pengukuhan Guru Besar)

Wasatiyyah in Nawawi al-Bantani’s interpretation

Wasatiyyah is derived from the Arabic word “wasat”, which means “middle”. (Warson Munawwir, 1984, p. 1557) The word wasat and its derivation are mentioned five times in the Qur’an, namely Q.S. [2] al-Baqarah: 143 and 238, Q.S. [5] al-Maidah: 89, Q.S. al-Qalam [68]: 28. al-‘A’diyat [100]: 5. (Fu’ad ‘Abd al-Baqi, 2001, p. 750)

However, only two verses related to wasatiyyah are discussed in this article. They are Q.S. al-Baqarah [2]: 143 and QS. al-Qalam: (68) 28. Somewhat, as a result, it will investigate Nawawi al-Bantani’s interpretation of wasat in Q.S. Q.S. al-Baqarah [2]: 143 al-Maidah [5]: 89 in order to investigate and obtain Nawawi al- Bantani’s concept of wasatiyyah Islam.

First and foremost, the word wasat is in Q.S. [2] al-Baqarah: 143. Wasat in this verse, according to Nawawi al-Bantani, means choice, fairness, and commendable with knowledge and deeds, as he explained below; (Nawawi Al-Bantani, 1997, p. 49)

(وكذلك) أي كما هديناكم إلى قبلة هي أوسط القبلة (جعلنكم) يا أمة محمد (أمة وسطا) خيارا عدولا محمودين بالعلم والعمل ……الخ

Nawawi’s interpretation of wasat above demonstrates that Islam is God’s chosen religion and encourages its adherents to be moderate and fair. As Nawawi explained when interpreting Q.S. Al-Nahl (16): 90, fair (‘adl) means the middle path in everything that leads to excellence.

For example, wisdom is in the middle path between ambition and laziness; ‘iffah is in the middle path between freedom and restraint, which can protect someone from strong animal passion (nafs hayawaniyyah) that leads someone to do evil deeds or sin; courage is in the middle path between reckless and cowardly; tauhid (monotheist) is in the middle path between atheist and polytheist (shirk); Working is somewhere in the middle of arrogance and absolute arrogance. (Nawawi Al-Bantani, 1997, p. 603-604) For Nawawi, adl also refers to action between extremism (ifrat) and liberalism (tafrit). (Nawawi Al-Bantani, 1997, p. 463)

Wasatiyyah is a Type of Action

We can boldly conclude that, according to Nawawi al-Bantani, wasat is a type of action between the left and right, between extremism and liberalism. Nawawi al-Bantani presented Islam as a religion that teaches its adherents to act moderately in all circumstances. Tauhid in Islam also represents wasat (moderation) in belief. As a result, we can confidently state that moderation is the core of Islamic teaching (wasat).

Nawawi al-Bantani stated on another occasion that wasat/awsat in Q.S. al-Maidah [5]: 89 means middle in giving food to the poor as an oath kafarat. Mid-level feeding means not feeding too little or too much, with one-third of the grain being sufficient. (Nawawi Al-Bantani, 1997, p. 291) In this verse, the meaning of awsat is advice to be fair and moderate in providing food for the poor. Islam encourages its followers to be moderate in all aspects of their lives, not doing too much or too little. Wasat means “middle path,” so it is somewhere in the middle.

ummatan wasatan

The above interpretation of wasat by Nawawi al-Bantani is critical to understanding the concept of wasatiyyah Islam, according to Nawawi al-Bantani. Nawawi al-Bantani defined Islam as ummatan wasatan, which means the religion of moderation. Muslims should practice moderation in all aspects of their lives, including moderation in faith and moderation in relationships with other religious communities (mu’amalah).              

The Q.S. Al-Mumtahanah (60): 8-9 clearly states what Islam believes and teaches its followers how Muslims should behave and communicate with people of other religions. Nawawi al-Bantani explained that these verses show how Muslims should treat other communities by being kind and fair to them as long as they do not harm Muslims or Islam. According to Abdullah bin al-Zubair, these verses were revealed concerning Asma’ Bint Abi Bakar.

Qatilah once paid a visit to her daughter, Asma bint Abu Bakr. During the period of ignorance, Abu Bakr divorced Qatilah. Qatilah visited Asma and brought her various gifts. However, Asma refused to accept her and let her into her home until she sent a messenger to Aisha to inquire about it with the Prophet Muhammad. Aisha then informed the Prophet. He then instructed Asma to accept her mother’s gift and let her enter the home. Allah then sent down the verse. (Nawawi Al-Bantani, 1997, juz. 2, p. 518) Ibn Asyur then said what Nawawi had said. (‘Asyūr, 1984, juz. 15, p. 153) (Azhari Andi & Fadilla, 2016, p. 49)

Baca juga: Islam sebagai Harmoni Semesta

Interaction with Others

Based on Nawawi’s explanation above, it is presented how Muslims should interact with other religious communities. What Prophet Muhammad commended to Asma is a clear example of how Muslims should behave and act toward other religious communities. The primary goal of human creation is to know each other, as mentioned in Q.S. Al- Hujurat (49): 14.

It is no matter what the colour of skin, tribe, culture, or even religion. Because Islam is a wasat, or religion of moderation, any form of extremism cannot be associated with Islam. Nawawi al-Bantani’s explanation of the meaning of wasat in the Qur’an is sufficient for us to conclude that Islam is a blessed religion that never tolerates any extremism. Otherwise, Islam encourages its followers to be fair and moderate, as stated in the Qur’an. In short, wasatiyyah Islam, from the lens of Nawawi al-Bantani can be expressed as an act of moderation in all aspects, such as belief, human relations, self-behaviour, etc.


‘Asyūr, I. (1984). Al-Tahrīr wa al-Tanwīr. Dar al-Tunisiah.

Azhari Andi, & Fadilla, E. (2016). Menyikapi Pluralisme Agama Perspektif Al-Qur’an. JURNAL ESENSIA, 17(1), 39–52. https://doi.org/10.14421/esensia.v17i1.1277

Fu’ad ‘Abd al-Baqi, M. (2001). Mu’jam al-Mufahras li Alfaz al-Qur‘an. Dar al-Hadis.

Nawawi Al-Bantani, M. bin U. (1997). Marah al-Labid Li Kasyf Ma’na al-Qur’an al-Majid. Dar al-Kutub al-’Ilmiyyah.

Warson Munawwir, A. (1984). Al-Munawwir; Kamus Arab-Indonesia. Pondok Pesantren Al-Munawwir.

Editor: Ahmad Mufarrih
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Azhari Andi


Ph.D student in Islamic Studies at Universitas Islam Internasional Indonesia (UIII).
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