The Best Provision For The Journey: (TAQWA)

By: Dr. Muhammad Legenhausen

TAQWA is one of the many words in the vocabulary of Islam whose exact equivalent. cannot be found in English.  It has been translated as "fear of Allah", "piety", 'righteousness", "dutifulness and "God-wariness".  It is a virtue whose importance must not be underestimated, for it is emphasised in numerous passages of the Holy Qur'an, among which is the following:

"And make provision for yourselves; the best provision is taqwa  " (Quran, 2:197).

The ayah (verse) from which this passage is taken pertains to the pilgrimage to Mecca.  Interpreters of the Qur'an have explained that some people used to start for a pilgrimage to Mecca without sufficient means, claiming that they trusted that Allah would provide for them.  In this ayah it is forbidden for one to become a burden on society in this way. Trust in Allah may not be used an excuse to shirk .responsibility  However, the commentators observe that the meaning the passage for the spiritual journey of life is taqwa.  We must equip ourselves for the journey.  It is a false piety that prompts one to neglect preparation for life's journey with the excuse that one is relying on Allah-

The best equipment we can take with us through all the difficulties of life is taqwa.Thus, we had better get clear about just what taqwa is .the word taqwa is derived from the Arabic root WQY which verbs are formed which signify protecting, preserving, guarding, and related ideas. Taqwa has the sense of protecting oneself from moral peril, preserving one's virtue, and guarding oneself against the displeasure of the Almighty. Taqwa is thus a king of awareness of consciousness by means of which one protects oneself from sliding into evil.  In what is believed to be the first occurrence of the word to have been revealed in the Qur'an, in Surah al-Shams (9: 18), taqwa is contrasted with wrongdoing, which is described as a kind of gushing forth, as though taqwa acts as a restraint to channel one's impulses so that they do not spill out of control.

This, however, gives the wrong impression that  taqwa is an external constraint governing natural tendencies.  To the contrary, the Qur'an teaches that both the sinful tendency and taqwa are inspired into the soul of man by Allah.  This is not to say that Allah inspires us to be sinful.  He is far superior to that!  Some commentators have explained that Allah has inspired us with knowledge of wrong and right.  Perhaps, we can understand the verse as indicating that man naturally has a kind of energy, which Allah has created in us in such a  way that if we neglect it, we will fall off the path, but, thanks to Allah, He has also inspired us with a protecting awareness, a kind of self- discipline, and conscience, by which we may keep ourselves moving in the right direction.  When we look at it in this way, it is obvious why taqwa should be described as the best provision for the journey, It is the best provision because by means of taqwa we may have the conscience and the consciousness, the moral and spiritual presence of mind necessary to keep us from wandering astray.

One who has taqwa has wariness of associating other with Allah, wariness of sin and evil, and even wariness of that which is dubious.

We learn from the Qur'an that the outward observance of ritual is not sufficient for taqwa.  After mention of the change of the direction of prayer, the qiblah, from Jerusalem to Mecca, we find: "It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, righteousness is rather one who believes in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Book, the apostles, and gives his wealth out of love for Him to the near kin and the orphans and the poor and the wayfarer and the needy and for those in bondage; and establishes prayer and pays the poor-rate (zakat); and those who fulfil their promise when they make a promise and the patient ones in distress and affliction and in the time of war - these are they who are the truthful and these are they who have taqwa  " (Q 2: 177")

Here we learn that taqwa  cannot be reduced to the performance of religious rites, but that it requires faith (iman) and practice performed out of love for Allah.  With respect to animal sacrifice, it is written that neither their flesh nor their blood reaches Allah, "but taqwa from you reaches Allah" (22:37).  This awareness which is taqwa is to be found in the heart, and by means of it the sign symbols and rites ordained by Allah may be properly respected: "And that whoever respects the symbols of Allah, it is from the taqwa of the hearts." (22:35).

Without taqwa there is transgression.  When one is motivated by hatred of one's enemies instead of love for Allah, discipline and awareness slip away:

"O you who believe! Always be upright for Allah, bearing witness in justice, and do not let hatred of a people incite you to be unfair to them.  Be.fair!  That is the nearest to taqwa. Fear Allah!  Indeed, Allah is aware of what you do." (Qur'an, 5:8).

Taqwa is thus seen to have practical social and political implications.  It is not a meditative state, which isolates one from the world, but a provision for finding one's way through the world, which in its social and political dimensions requires justice and fairness.  Indeed, the historian, Marshall Hodgson, attributes the success of early Islamic civilization not to favorable economic conditions or military power, but to taqwa of the Muslims.

In the above-cited ayah, a cognate of taqwa as a transitive verb in the command form also appears: "ittaqu- Allah".  This is usually translated as "Fear of Allah".  But the fear mentioned here is not the sort of fear one might have of gun.  One is called upon to be .'wary of Allah", but to be wary of something is often to be suspicious of it, cautious of the danger it poses.  This is not the sense of "ittaqu-Allah", nor is this what it means to have the fear of Allah in one, for the matter.  One must be on guard to be responsible to Allah.  The command issued to the believers, "ittaqu-,Allah", is a command to be vigilant over oneself with awareness of the presence of Allah, a religious form of the admonition "Watch yourself" directed to one whose misbehaviour is imminent.  So, a Muslim might admonish his brother who seems to be preoccupied by worldly interests with the warning: "ittaqu-Allah ". In the ayah cited above, the awareness demanded of the believers is contrasted with the omniscience of Allah.  He is aware of all you do so you should be aware of Him seeing you and act accordingly.

Now we are faced with a paradox. Taqwa is a gift from Allah, for it is something with which the believer is inspired by Allah; and yet Allah commands us, as He has commanded the Jews and Christians before, to have taqwa, to be aware of Allah......

Verily we have enjoined those who have been given the Book before you, and you (0'-Muslims) to 'ittaqu-.A11ah " (4:131).  If this awareness is a gift from Allah, how can He command it?

Taqwa is a gift placed into the heart of man by Allah and yet he commands us to have taqwa. the solution to this puzzle is given by Allah Himself in the Qur'an: "And those who follow guidance He increases them in guidance and grants them their Taqwa." (47:17).

What we find here is a cycle. a kind of feedback loop.  Allah has inspired man with an innate awareness but it must be taken up and made active by man's own efforts and the direction of his attention towards Allah.  This effort and orientation is not something man is expected to do by himself, but aid of Divine Guidance.  One who follows this guidance is rewarded with further awareness, Further awareness leads to a deeper appreciation of the guidance  He has given us through His prophets, and the acceptance and submission to this deeper understanding and insight is rewarded by Allah by increasing awareness, and so forth  There is a resonance between the spiritual activity of man, the exercise of conscience and consciousness, and the bestowal of mercy and blessings from Allah in the form of increased guidance and awareness,

"..and be careful of (your duty) to Allah, And Allah teaches .you. And Allah is the Knower of all things.

Quran, 2:282).

Culled from Echo of Islam