The Prophet (SAW) said, “Moderation, moderation! Through this will you attain your goal!”
This statement encourages us to be moderate in worship in a way that avoids both extremes of excess and deficiency. It is for this reason that he (SAW) repeated it twice. al-Bazzār records the ḥadīth on the authority of Ḥudhayfah (RA) that the Prophet (SAW) said, “Excellent indeed is moderation in poverty. Excellent indeed is moderation in affluence. Excellent indeed is moderation in worship.”1
Muṭarraf b. ʿAbdullāh b. Shikhkhīr had a son who would perform a great deal of worship, expending great effort in doing so. He counselled him, ‘The best of affairs is the middlemost. A good deed lies between two evil deeds and the worst journey is one where a person tries so hard that he kills his mount and is left stranded.’2
Abū ʿUbaydah said: He means that excessiveness in worship is evil, deficiency is evil, and moderation is praiseworthy.
This meaning is supported by the ḥadīth reported on the authority of ʿAbdullāh b. ʿAmr (RA) that Allāh’s Messenger (SAW) said, “This religion is powerful so walk in it with gentleness.3 Do not let the worship of Allāh overburden you because a person who falters and is unable to continue has neither shortened the journey nor preserved his mount.4 Work the deeds of a man who believes that he will die as an old man and beware of the fear of a man who believes that he will die tomorrow.” Recorded by ibn Zanjawayh and others.5
In his (SAW) repeatedly mentioning the command to moderation lies an indication that one should persist in this moderation. This is because a strenuous journey in which one tries too hard is prone to ending suddenly before its end; a moderate journey, however, is more likely to reach its goal. This is why the Messenger of Allāh (SAW) stated that the result of moderation was the achievement of the objective, “through this will you attain your goal.”
In this world, the believer is travelling to his Lord until he reaches Him, "You, verily, O man, are working towards your Lord – painfully toiling – and you shall meet Him." (Q84:6), "And worship your Lord till the certainty comes to you." (Q15:99)
al-Ḥasan said, ‘People! You must persist, you must! It is the time just before you death that Allāh has set as the point when you stop doing deeds,’ and then he recited the above verse. He also said, ‘Your souls are your mounts so tend to your mounts, in this way they will convey you to your Lord, Mighty and Magnificent.’
The meaning of tending one’s mounts is to be easy on them, to keep them fit and healthy, and not to overburden them. Therefore, if one feels that his soul is coming to a halt in its travel, he should tend to it by inculcating in it the desire to finish the journey or by inculcating in it the fear of not finishing the journey, as the situation may demand. One of the Salaf said,
‘Hope is the guide and fear is the driver, the soul is between the two like a headstrong animal.’ If the guide is weary and the driver, ineffectual, the soul will stop and it will then require gentle treatment and “song” to encourage it into restarting its journey. In this respect the camel leader, who drives his herd forward by singing to it, said,
The guide gave it glad tidings saying:
Tomorrow you will see bananas and mountains.
Fear is like a whip and when a person excessively whips the animal, it could well die. As such, he must also strike it with “songs” of hope that would encourage it to revitalise its efforts and reach the destination. Abū Yazīd said, ‘I have driven my soul to Allāh without letting up, it weeping all the way, then I urged it on and it did so gladly.’6 It is said,
It complained of the journey’s burdens so he promised it
The relief of arrival so it revitalised its efforts.
Ibn Rajab, al-Maḥajja fi Sayr al-Duljah.
1 Bazzār #2946 on the authority of Hudhayfah. It was ruled ḍaʿīf jiddan by al-Albānī, Ḍaʿīf al-Jāmiʿ #4948
2 Bayhaqī #3888 and Abū Nuʿaym, vol. 2, p. 209.
3 This sentence was also recorded by Aḥmad #13052 on the authority of Anas ibn Mālik. It was declared ṣaḥīḥ by Suyūṭī #2508 and ḥasan by Albānī, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Jāmiʿ #2246
4 This amount is recorded by Bazzār and Suyūṭī #2509 ruled it ḍaʿīf as did Haythamī, vol. 1, p. 62.
5 Bayhaqī, Sunan al-Kubrā #4520-4521, al-Shuʿab #3886. Iʿrāqī #1232 said the isnād was ḍaʿīf.
6 ibn Mulaqqin, Ṭabaqāt al-Awliyā´, p. 278 #117.