Quarterly: Issue No 61
TAQWA (PIETY) - BASIC PRINCIPLE OF THE NOBLE QURAN
We all know the importance of the kalimah “La Ilaaha Illallah Muhammadur Rasoolullah” (There is none worthy of worship besides Allah, Muhammad (SAW) is the Messenger of Allah) and how that this kalimah is a prerequisite to being a Mu’min. But moulding our lives on the basis of this kalimah is equally important in the eyes of Allah and thus we need to ensure that these solemn words indeed get lodged in our hearts so that they direct our behaviour and lives.
More than a billion people today read and say this kalimah, yet many of us would agree that the Muslim Ummah as a whole will be quite possibly missing out on additional mercy and blessings of Allah unless we start living by these words of the kalimah in our lives. Many amongst us either don’t know how to live up to those words or simply don’t want to do so. To them, recognizing a deity called “Allah” is all that is needed to be categorized as a “believer”. However, the Noble Quran tells us that it may be nothing short of a sign of hypocrisy.
The fact is that those who call themselves “Muslims” need to infuse their hearts with “Taqwa” if they want to be viewed by Allah as true believers. In the English language, “Taqwa” has been translated and interpreted in various ways viz. piety, righteousness, fear of Allah, being God conscious, and so on. But we all know that, similar to other Arabic words in the Quran, it is difficult to get a corresponding one word translation. Instead, some Qur’anic words pack more detailed concepts that must be elaborated on when translated into other languages.
After the first Surah Al-Fatihah, which is generally considered as a supplication (Dua), the Quran continues with Surah Al-Baqarah Verse Number 2 as follows:
“This is the Book (the Quran), wherein there is no doubt, a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqin (People of Taqwa).” (Sura Al-Baqarah : 2)
This verse thus makes Taqwa a prerequisite for seeking guidance from the Noble Quran (a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqun, i.e. who have Taqwa). Tafsir ibn Kathir states: “Hidaayah – correct guidance – is only granted to those who have Taqwa.”
WHAT IS TAQWA?
If we summarize the fundamental teaching of the Noble Qu’ran in one word, that would be ’Taqwa’. Otherwise, we have not read the Noble Qur’an with proper attention.
Umar ibn Khattab (Radiyallahu Anhu) once asked Ubayy Ibn Ka’ab (Radiyallahu Anhu) the definition of Taqwa. In response Ubayy Ibn Ka’ab asked: “Have you ever had to traverse a thorny pathway?” Umar replied in the affirmative and Ubayy Ibn Ka’ab continued, “How did you do so?” Umar said that he would carefully walk through after first having collected all loose and flowing garments in his hands so nothing gets caught in the thorns hence injuring him. Ubayy Ibn Ka’ab said: “This is the definition of Taqwa, to protect oneself from sin through life’s dangerous journey so that one can successfully complete the journey unscathed by sins.”
Abu Darda (Radiyallahu Anhu) said: “From the completion of Taqwa is that the servant fears His Rabb even with regards to things, the weight of an atom.” (Sahih Muslim) Abu Darda’s advice for those who wish to accomplish a character of Taqwa is that they should fear to even commit the smallest of sins.
The messenger of Allah (SAW) said: “Taqwa is here.” and he pointed to his chest. (Sahih Muslim)
One of the most important concepts in the entire Islamic tradition is Taqwa. Linguistically speaking, the word is derived from the root “wa qa ya” which means ‘to guard against, preserve, shield and prevent’. The verbal noun (wiqaayah) refers to a shield or barrier. In a religious sense, taqwa is thus a means of guarding against those things which bring Allah’s displeasure. The definition of Taqwa is defined by some Ulama (scholars) as follows:
Hatim al-Assam (ra) said: “I have chosen four things to know, and have discarded all the knowledge in the world besides.” He was asked, “What are they?” He answered:
First, I know my daily bread is apportioned to me, and will neither be increased nor diminished; consequently I have stopped to argue about it.
Second, I know that I owe Allah a debt which no other person can pay instead of me; therefore I am occupied with paying it.
Third, I know that there is one pursuing me (i.e. Death) from whom I cannot escape; accordingly I have prepared myself to meet him.
Fourth, I know that Allah is observing me; therefore I am ashamed to do what I ought not to do. (Kashf Al-Mahjub: p.13)
It is Taqwa that gives meaning to our simple worship rituals that otherwise would be nothing without it. Haven’t we pondered what would the physical actions of salaah (prayers) such as bowing and prostrating mean without a heart infused with Taqwa? What makes the hunger and thirst (when fasting) of a believer different from the same actions of a non-believer? How would the physical acts of going between the two mountains of Safaa and Marwa (in Hajj and Umrah) become valuable in the eyes of Allah? It’s the Taqwa in our hearts that provide these simple physical rituals a special meaning in the eyes of Allah. For example, when mentioning the ritual of sacrificing animals (in Allah’s name) in the Quran, Allah says, “It is neither their meat nor their blood that reaches Allah, but it is piety from you that reaches Him. Thus have We made them subject to you that you may magnify Allah for His Guidance to you. And give glad tidings to the Muhsinoon (doers of good).” (Surah Al-Hajj: 37). Let’s ensure, therefore, that our worship is not limited to empty acts but is rather based upon Taqwa.
WHERE DO WE STAND IN RELATION TO OUR TAQWA AND THE GUIDANCE FROM ALLAH?
If we read the first few verses of Surah Al-Baqarah (almost the beginning of the Quran), we would note that Allah describes three types of people related to guidance.
The first group: In the first few verses (verses 2 – 5), He clearly explains that the Quran is a guidance for those who have Taqwa in their hearts and this guidance causes them to be successful. The people described in these verses are those who:
(1) Believe in the unseen (e.g. Allah, angels, day of resurrection, pre-destination etc.
(2) Perform salaah
(3) Spend for Allah’s causes from what Allah has provided to them
(4) Believe in what Allah revealed to Prophet Muhammad
(5) Believe in what Allah revealed to the prophets before Muhammad, and
(6) Believe in the hereafter.
The second group: The second group (described in verses 6 and 7) falls on the other end of the spectrum, and these are the disbelievers. In describing them Allah says that it is the seal on their hearts and ears as well as covering on their eyes that have caused them to disbelieve.
The third group: Here, Allah uses more verses (verses 8 through 18) in describing those regarding whom Allah says: “And of mankind, there are some (hypocrites) who say: "We believe in Allah and the Last Day" while in fact they believe not.” (Verse 8) Some of the attributes that Allah points out of these people in the verses that follows:
(1) They think they are deceiving Allah and the believers but in fact they are deceiving themselves.
(2) In their hearts there is a disease (of doubt and hypocrisy).
(3) When Allah tells them to believe by modelling themselves according to the prophet and the true believers, they say, “Shall we believe as the fools have believed?” Allah then responds by saying that “Verily, they are the fools but they know not.”
(4) They mock the believers in turn and then Allah says: “Allah mocks at them and gives them increase in their wrongdoings to wander blindly.”
(5) Allah remarks about these people: “These are they who have purchased error for guidance, so their commerce was profitless. And they were not guided.”
The above (based on verses 2 – 18 of Surah Al-Baqarah) should be sufficient to move our hearts to the core and should create the urgency to associate ourselves with the first group (the ones with Taqwa). While a majority of us believers will associate ourselves with the first group, our behaviours and attitudes may instead make us appear to belong to the third. Let us therefore ensure that our actions - not just words - disclose that we are people who have Taqwa. Ameen!
Once we say “La Ilaaha Illallah Muhammadur Rasoolullah”, we should take a few steps to lodge Taqwa (piety, righteousness, humbleness, fear, God consciousness, etc.) in our hearts. Some of the main steps include the following:
Know as a believer that it is Allah’s right to be obeyed: Let us never forget that it is Allah’s right to be obeyed. A benefit of understanding Allah’s right over the servant is that it opens the door of humbleness in front of Allah and closes the doors of conceit. It allows one to realize that salvation is only through Allah’s grace and mercy. It is Allah’s right that He should be obeyed and not disobeyed; that He should be remembered and not forgotten; and that He should be appreciated and not unappreciated.
Audit ourself: From time to time we should pause and assess the condition of our hearts. If we do that with full introspection, it wouldn’t be difficult to determine whether our hearts are filled with piety and fear of Allah (Taqwa), or have remnants of hardness and a carefree attitude about Allah and His teachings. Allah says in the Quran: “O you who believe! Fear Allah and keep your duty to Him. And let every person look to what he has sent forth for the morrow, and fear Allah. Verily, Allâh is All-Aware of what you do.” (Surah Al-Hashr:18). Allamah Ibn Kathir says that the phrase ‘let each soul see’ or “let every person look” in the above verse means to take an account of one’s own actions before being audited (by Allah) (Tafseer of Ibn Kathir: 4/346).
Reflect our Taqwa in our deeds: Once we build the Taqwa in our hearts (become cognizant of, and fear Allah in all your affairs), you should start practicing it in your actions. The Sahaba and Salaf used to exert themselves in ensuring that their actions reflected the Taqwa in their hearts. It’s said that Ibn Omar used to stay awake the whole night if he missed a prayer in congregation (because he knew (through the Taqwa in his heart) Allah’s pleasure associated with one praying in congregation). Imam Ghazzali mentioned that we let ourselves (our nafs) off the hook when it (our nafs) is our biggest enemy and is more likely to rebel against our own selves (Ihya Ulum al-Din, 4/381). About ensuring that we bring Taqwa in our actions, Abu Dhar reported that the Messenger of Allah, said: “Fear Allah wherever you may be; follow up an evil deed with a good one which will wipe (the former) out, and behave good-naturedly towards people” (Tirmidhi).
Condition ourself to inculcate Taqwa: We have to condition ourselves to fear Him by observing and reflecting more about our existence, our vulnerability as humans in this ocean in which we are journeying, and about the end that each one of us will meet soon. We should also become avid learners about what pleases Allah and what displeases Him and take that seriously. This observation and learning will enable us to learn new truths that can help us condition our states and hearts to inculcate the required Taqwa in our hearts. Allah says: “Verily the most honourable of you with Allah is the most God-fearing of you; verily Allah is Knowing, Aware.” (Surah al-Hujuraat Verse 13).
May Allah, the Almighty, guide us all. Ameen!
O Allah! Your Forgiveness is far greater than my sins and I have more hope in Your Mercy than in my own deeds.
Requesting your humble duas!
Abdul Haq Abdul Kadir
Kyalami Glen, Gauteng
Johannesburg, South Africa