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
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
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......
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?
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,
be careful of (your duty) to Allah, And Allah teaches .you. And Allah is the
Knower of all things.
Culled from Echo