Extremism is today a global phenomenon. It is not the specific attribute of a religion such as Islam,[7] as there is Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist extremism - only these are less reported - and it is not even an attribute of religion as such. In fact extremism is at the expense of religion itself.
However extremism is the predicament of the modern world. One of its expressions is the belief in never-ending ”progress”, but there are many more aspects to it, as exemplified in the talk by Prof. Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr. Some quotes follow below, or even better listen to his exposition.

Excerpts From A Talk

Extremism In The Modern World

by Prof. Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr[3]

Edited by Omar K Neusser


[3nd draft, numbers are for instances from his speech, chapter numbering and emphasis, as well as selection of quotes are mine, OKN][1]


”Why is it that we are faced with this incredible meeting of extremes?
The answer is metaphysically, especially from the Islamic point of view, very easy to understand.

”What prevents extremes is the Center.[see pt.2] And extremism in society comes from extremism within the souls of men and women that comprise that society. Once in the soul the Center is lost, all of the elements of the soul turn to the periphery, towards the extreme. And this is really the spiritual, metaphysical reason, why there is extremism. Once modern man decided to substitute terrestrial man for God, which happened with modernism, starting with[5] the Renaissance, and (it got) worse and worse until today.

”Dethroning God on earth[8] - whatever is going on in heaven is irrelevant for modern man - removing divine institutions, divine norms, divine laws, from everyday life and therefore from within the souls of human beings, a person is born often times into a world without Center. Everything that we do is centerless - almost. ... Modern art… modern science… modern philosophy have no Center. Our social institutions ~.


”The Truth[6] is out of fashion, nobody talks about it any more.
Because once you talk about Truth you have to talk about error, and you have to come back to the Center, where the Truth resides. You all know the hadith: qalbu mumin arshu rahman. (The heart of the believer is the throne of God, the Compassionate.)[2] [4] God resides at the heart.[9]

”Heart means Center. The center of our being is the heart. … And therefore God "resides" at that Center.[9] And it is He alone Who can pull all the tendencies of the soul from extremism and preserve a balance. And once we decide - because he (man/ woman) has been given 'free will' to do so - to forget Him, not that He goes away, but for us He is no longer there - then all the centrifugal tendencies of the soul become much more powerful, and everything gradually flows away from the Center.

”This I think is the deepest reason why we have extremism in the modern world. I don't know if anyone has ever analyzed it along these lines… but I hope someday somebody will pursue this [study] more fully. I believe there is a metaphysical nexus (relationship) between extremism which manifests itself externally, socially and militarily and economically and politically and everything else a n d of course our soul, and what goes on within the souls of men and women.


”Once we lose our inner Center, it is impossible not to have (to avoid) extremism, because to have balance we have to have Center.…

”The great tragedy is that many people in the world today - although they realize this extremism - do not (want to) look at the real causes. One of the great tragedies of the Modern World is that people try to cure a malady (disease) with the same germs that caused the malady. 16:04 … and no-one is willing to look outside the box (outside of this paradigm), which has created this unbelievable mess - which is going to catch up with us. Because one of them implies -

- we are consuming - [at an ever increasing] rate - something finite. This way of living of extremism is destroying the very environmental foundations of our existence on earth.

”The very idea of "progress" means extremism. That is you are not satisfied with something, you always want to have more. The abstract idea of progress and progress and progress - but what end? Where is the end to it? 17:06

”The deeper cause [of this extremism] is a spiritual and metaphysical cause. 17:38 Intellectually it’s the loss of a vision - an intellectual vision of reality, in which the center is the Center.

It is the Divine (which is) the Center of all things. There is ultimately no other center than the center with a capital ’C,’ God.

… 18:10

”Direct experience/ knowledge of your self = all have that. 18:32





Then there are other kinds of extremism:

”Everybody who is making money from morning to night is an extremist. Everybody who is spending all of his or her energy in amassing wealth is an extremist. Everyone who is trying to enjoy himself from morning to night doing nothing else is an extremist. Extremism is much more profound than the labels which the Modern World loves to create, vilify and then stick at the forehead of whoever they don't like. And this usually happens with the case of Islam.”

”Now look at the world around us!

”At no time in human history have we had such extremes of wealth and poverty as we have in the world today! … 5:05

[Yes there have been rich people in the Muslim world, too.] ”But any Muslim traditional society - from the poorest to the richest - has never had the disparity of wealth and poverty that exists in the US today. …

”Rich and poor have always been part of human history. … But the extremism that we see today is unprecedented. … And this is one of the conditions of our world.



1: These are the instances in his speech.

2: We do not dismiss this hadith outright, as it maybe true. Otherwise it is an inspired saying. A reference to it is from a text on the Themes in Ibn 'Arabi's writings, title: Listening for God: Prayer and the Heart in the Futûhât, where it says:

”Perhaps the most frequently cited saying about the heart in all of the Shaykh's works is the famous canonical hadîth qudsî (one in which the divine Voice speaks in the first person, as in the Qur'an): "My earth and My heaven do not encompass Me, but the heart of My servant who has faith does encompass Me..." (Often this was summarized by Sufis in the briefer formula "The heart of the person of faith is the Throne of the All-Merciful": Qalb al-mu'min 'arsh al-Rahmân.) Ibn 'Arabî's own understanding of either of these sayings is of course inseparably related to the famous hadith that figures so prominently in the opening chapter of the Fusûs and throughout the Shaykh's writings, describing Adam's being created "according to the form of the All-Merciful" ('alâ sûrat al-Rahmân).” [See related text, note 4 below.]

And a related well-known hadith is [ibnarabisociety.org]:
"The heart of the person of faith is between two of God's Fingers." This canonical hadith is depicted as the response to Aisha's asking the Prophet (saws) whether he was ever afraid.

4: Also: Spiritual Psychology: The Fourth Intellectual Journey in Transcendent Philosophy, by Muḥammad ibn Ibrāhīm Ṣadr al-Dīn Shīrāzī
The following page:

5: He said ”during the Renaissance,” but even if the so-called Renaissance had many different tendencies and human interests, it was in itself the beginning of a turning away from the pre-eminence of the Divine.
More on this epoch of Western deviation on our site:
• The Islamic Conception Of Man, by S H Nasr
• The Nature Of Sacred Knowledge - Q & A, S H Nasr
• On The Common Eternal Principles, And That Islam Reigns, Omar K N
• TRADITION AND CIVILIZATION, Quotes from "East and West"; René Guénon

6: What is meant here is of course not any truth, but Divine Truth, which is absolute. If there is no absolute, relatives don't make sense.

7: C/f Islam and the Muslims he also said:
We [Muslims] are a middle nation (ummah wasatah), our tradition has always supported (and demanded) the middle, the mean, staving off extremism.
Mostly Islam is accused of extremism, but modernism itself is whole self extremism. …

8: ”That is replacing Divine Reality by human reality, as the center. (Modernism) is therefore removing the Divine Center from human life. 3:42 And the consequence of it has now spilled over into other civilizations. There are not only Muslim extremists.[sa1]… 4:77 ”

9: resides: this is of course not to be taken as a space - body relationship, which is not there, instead for how He (Allah) describes Himself in the Quran and hadith.