What is Taqwa?

(Keywords: Taqwa or Piety, Meaning of Taqwa, Meaning of Piety, Concept of Piety, Concept of Taqwa, Righteousness, God-fearing, Fear of God, Obedience to God)

 

     قال الله تعالى: { يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ مِنْ ذَكَرٍ وَأُنْثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ أَتْقَاكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ} الحجرات 13. ـ

   قال القرطبي: ( زجرهم عن التفاخر بالأنساب، والتكاثر بالأموال، والازدراء بالفقراء، فإن المدار على التقوى. أي الجميع من آدم وحواء، إنما الفضل بالتقوى… والتقوى معناه مراعاة حدود الله تعالى أمرا ونهيا، والاتصاف بما أمرك أن تتصف به، والتنزه عما نهاك عنه). ـ

 

God, the Exalted, says: { O mankind, indeed We have created you from a male and a female [Adam and Eve], and made you into nations and tribes that you may know one another.  Verily, the most honorable of you in the sight of God is the most pious of you. Verily, God is All-Knowing, All-Aware} (Surah 49, verse 13).

The Scholar Al-Qurtubi said concerning this verse: “The Almighty God forbade people to boast of their lineage, of their wealth, or of having contempt for the poor, because the real point of distinction between them is piety (Taqwa).  That is, all humans are the descendants of Adam and Eve, but they are distinguished from one another by piety (Taqwa)…   Piety (Taqwa) means to abide by the commandments of God by doing what He has ordered and refraining from What He has forbidden, and striving to have the good characteristics which God commanded and get rid of the bad characteristics which God prohibited.”

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    عن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه قال: ( سُئِلَ رسولُ الله صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم عَنْ أكْثَرِ ما يُدْخِلُ النَّاسَ الجَنَّةَ، فقال: « تَقْوَى اللهِ وحُسْنُ الخُلُق»، وسُئِلَ عنْ أَكْثَرِ ما يُدْخِلُ النَّاسَ النَّارَ، فقال: « الفَمُ والفَرْجُ») .  رواه الترمذي وابن حبان والبيهقي. ـ

  قال الطيبي: ( قوله “تقوى الله”: إشارة إلى حسن المعاملة مع الخالق؛ بأن يأتي جميع ما أمره به وينتهي عن ما نهى عنه، “وحسن الخُلُق”: إشارة إلى حسن المعاملة مع الخلق وهاتان الخصلتان موجبتان لدخول الجنة، ونقيضهما لدخول النار فأوقع الفم والفرج مقابلا لهما). ـ

        Narrated Abu Hurairah -may God be pleased with him- said: “The Messenger of God -prayer and peace be upon him- was asked about that which most often leads people to Paradise, he replied: ‘Piety (Taqwa) and good moral character.’  And he was asked about that which most often leads people to Hell-fire, he replied: ‘The tongue and the private parts.’ ”  Related by Al-Tirmidhi, Ibn Hibban, and Al-Beihaqi.

     Al-Tayyibi said: “ Piety (Taqwa): refers to good behavior toward the Creator, by obeying all of His commands and refraining from all things He has forbidden. While ‘good moral character’ refers to good behavior toward the creatures.  And these two characteristics obligate Paradise, while their counterparts, i.e. the evil use of the mouth and private parts, obligate Hell-Fire.”


 

        God the Exalted states in the verse above that the Most Honorable people in His sight are the Most Pious; and not the richest and the noblest as is the tradition and belief with people.  Rather, it is the level of piety (Taqwa) and righteousness that distinguishes between people before God.  Their level of piety is what makes them reach the highest ranks with their Lord.  Likewise, Prophet Muhammad was asked about the good deed that most often leads people to Paradise, and he replied that it is: Taqwa (piety). 

Then what is Taqwa?

 

Taqwa (Piety) in Arabic language comes from the word waqa وَقَى, which means to guard against; to protect; to preserve; to safeguard, to shield, to take shelter, and to keep.

So Taqwa means: to fear God and avoid His displeasure, by obeying His commands and keeping away from things He has forbidden (sins).

The simple meaning of Taqwa (Piety) can be summarized in two things:

1) Fulfilling obligatory deeds (wajibat): like the five daily prayers, giving alms, fasting Ramadan, Hajj, dutifulness to parents, respecting the neighbor, and the like.  And

2) Avoiding all sins: like lying, backbiting, stealing, cheating, harming others, adultery, and other sins.


 

              A major part of the obedience of God involves following His commands and avoiding sins.  True obedience to God is attained when all of His commands are followed and all sins are avoided – this level is called Piety (Taqwa), as mentioned in the following verse:  

     قال الله تعالى: {يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ حَقَّ تُقَاتِهِ وَلا تَمُوتُنَّ إِلاَّ وَأَنْتُمْ مُسْلِمُونَ} آل عمران 102. ـ

  قال عبد الله بن مسعود رضي الله عنه: ( أن يُطاع فلا يُعْصَى، وأن يُذْكَر فلا يُنْسَى، وأن يُشْكَر فلا يُكْفَر). ـ

     God the Exalted says: {O you who believe, fear God as is His due, and die not except as (true) Muslims} (Surah 3, verse 102).

Abdul-Allah Ibn Mas’ood -may God be pleased with him- said concerning this verse: “ ‘Fear God as His due’: That He should be obeyed and not disobeyed, remembered all the time and not forgotten, and thanked and not shown ungratefulness.”

      Thus, the more the slave obeys God and strives his best to follow His commands, the more pious that person is.  The more the slave is observant of God’s rules, the higher his level of piety.  The more the believer fears God’s punishment, hopes for His reward and acts upon that, the more righteous and pious he is.  And the more righteous and pious the slave is, the higher his rank and degree with God.  After Faith (Iman) and Ihsan, Taqwa (Piety) has the greatest level in Islam.  Through Taqwa (piety), the Muslim attains the great levels in Paradise.


 

         But adhering to God’s commands and abstaining from sins are not so simple and easy for the son of Adam because of two formidable opponents.  The two opponents include Satan and the evil-inclined Self.  Satan continues to whisper to the son of Adam and tries to mislead him until the son of Adam gives in and disobeys God. And the evil-inclined Self adorns for the son of Adam sins and promises him forbidden pleasures until he falls and commits a sin.

    However,  God has clearly revealed His commands and mentioned the reward for doing them, and has clearly explained sins and traits to avoid and has stated their punishment both in this life and in Hell-Fire.  Thus, the son of Adam has been warned time and time again to follow God’s commands and avoid things He has forbidden. 

     The believer who has piety fully understands and realizes the implications and consequences of following God’s command or disobeying Him.  The pious slave fears God and is apprehensive of His severe Punishment in this life and torment in the afterlife, so he avoids sins even if both Satan and the Self call him to commit them.  At the same time, the pious slave fully understands the great reward of obeying God’s commands and the high rank he can attain by doing so, so the slave with piety strives his best to follow every command of God and fulfill it as best as he can.

    It is this sense of adherence to God’s commands and the self struggle against sins and bad deeds that constitutes Piety.   Piety can be defined: first by the slave’s belief and awareness of God’s great reward and severe punishment; and second by how closely the slave follows through his conviction with action and good deeds.  As mentioned above, not every one is able to achieve this feat.  Thus,  people have different levels of piety, and their varying levels of piety accord them varying ranks with God.  The believers who strive the most and have the highest level of piety, enjoy the highest rank with God.     


 

  Among the companions of Prophet Muhammad (Sahabah), many were noted for their high levels of Taqwa or piety.  Indeed, the sahabah were different in their status due to their levels of Taqwa.  Abu-bakr Al-siddeeq and Omar Ibn Al-Khattab had the greatest respect for the obligations and the sins.  They did their utmost to perform those wajibat and avoid sins, and so they were the best of the nation of Prophet Muhammad -prayer and peace be upon him.  Therefore, Taqwa (Piety) is the indication of the greatest worshiper with God , and it is not necessarily Nawafil (voluntary deeds).

    People generally believe that the Muslim who does the most ibadeh or voluntary deeds is the greatest worshiper.  But that is not so, rather the Muslim who performs Wajibat (obligatory deeds) and avoids sins to the best degree is the greatest worshiper according to Qur’an and hadeeth.  Ibn Abbas -may God be pleased with them- was asked: ‘Who is better: A Muslim who worships all the time but does some sins, or A Muslim who only performs wajibat but does no sins?’  Ibn Abbas replied: ‘The latter, I don’t make anything equal to avoiding sins.’


 

       Having Taqwa (Piety) by doing all wajibat (obligations) and avoiding all sins brings happiness in both lives, in this Life and in the Hereafter.  Indeed, it is mentioned in the hadeeth that if people truly have Taqwa (Piety) then it would suffice them.  That is, they would never be sad or anxious afterwards!

    قال الله تعالى: {وَمَنْ يَتَّقِ اللَّهَ يَجْعَلْ لَهُ مَخْرَجًا * وَيَرْزُقْهُ مِنْ حَيْثُ لَا يَحْتَسِبُ} الطلاق 2-3. ـ

  قال ابن عباس رضي الله عنهما: ( ينجيه من كل كرب في الدنيا والآخرة).   وقال أبو العالية: (مخرجا من كل شدة). ـ

 

      God the Exalted says: { And whoever has Piety to God, He will make for him a way out (of difficulty).  And He will provide for him from where he does not expect} (Surah 65, verses 2-3).

Ibn Abbas said concerning this verse: “God will deliver him from every difficulty in this world and the Hereafter.”

Abu Al-‘Aliyah said: “God will make for him a way out of every hardship.”

     Indeed, this is a glad tidings for those who have Piety (Taqwa) and strive to follow all commands of God by doing obligations (wajibat) and avoiding all sins that: they would lead a happy, content life in this world when other people feel worry and sadness, that they would be safe and secure on the Day of Judgment when other people are sweating and afraid, and that they would attain the Pleasure of God and enjoy high levels in Jannah or Paradise.

Having Taqwa (piety) by doing Wajibat and avoiding all sins is a way to solve problems.  Indeed, God mentions in the verse above that whoever has Taqwa (piety) of God, then the Almighty God would find him a way out of his difficulties, God would make things easy for him, and in addition would multiply his reward and let him enter Paradise.  


 

       But Human nature being what it is; prone to mistakes, slips, falls, and misdeeds, then having full Piety (Taqwa) is not easy to attain. 

    But we are asked to try and do our best.  The Muslim should consider the Self as an unruly horse trying to get away.  If you let the Self have its way, then it will go free and harm you on the way, but if you harness it and lead it cautiously then you may pass through safely.   

The Muslim should call the Self gently to good deeds and make himself always busy with the remembrance of God (Dhikr).  He should do his best to avoid sins and instead do something useful and permissible.  Anytime, he slips or commits a misdeed, then he should immediately feel regret and remorse, repent to God promising not to do it again, and ask His forgiveness.  Indeed, if he continues doing that, then he will be like the one who did no sins, and thus he will, by the grace of God the Exalted attain the level of Piety (Taqwa).

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     Then, know that Taqwa (piety) can be defined as striving to follow God’s commands by doing all obligatory deeds (wajibat) and avoiding all sins, fearing His severe punishment and hoping for His great reward.  Piety is the best worship; the Muslim attains higher levels in Paradise through Piety (Taqwa) than through (voluntary deeds (Nawafil).  And know that Taqwa (Piety) is the basis for success and happiness in this life and in the Hereafter.  Indeed, if Muslims realized that fact and adhered to it, God would grant them a happy, content life in this world and high degrees in Paradise.  And God knows best.

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