In this age of international competitions in numerous fields and at various levels, can Muslims turn their attention to a new kind of race on an entirely different plane? A race for attaining Allah’s medals of honor for piety.

In the Noble Qur’an, Almighty Allah commands us in the language of the times, to compete with one another in hastening towards the Garden of Paradise,

(Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and for a Garden whose width is that (of the whole) of the heavens and of the earth, prepared for the righteous) (Aal `Imran 3:133)

Also, how do we attain piety and fear of Allah (taqwa)? Allah Almighty Himself tells us the way,

(O ye who believe, fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may (learn) self-restraint (taqwa)) (Al-Baqarah 2:183)

The above verse tells us that we should fast with the aim of attaining taqwa, yet this does not mean that people who fast would necessarily attain taqwa as a direct result of their leaving food and drink. Therefore, in order to attain taqwa, we need to undertake fasting with the sincerity of faith and belief and the expectation of reward from Almighty Allah.

Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Whoever fasts in Ramadan with faith and belief, desiring reward from Allah, will have their past sins forgiven” (Al-Bukhari).

Taqwa is a comprehensive concept unique to the Qur’an and Islam; and it has three essential components:

• Remembrance of Allah (dhikr)

• Patient perseverance in the face of hardships

• Thankfulness to Almighty Allah for the infinite blessings He has bestowed on us

Remembrance of Allah (dhikr) draws us closer to our Creator; and so it brings us peace and inexplicable inner tranquillity. Almighty Allah says,

(Those who believe and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah — for without doubt in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find satisfaction) (Ar-Ra`d 13:28)

Also, Almighty Allah warns us not to be like those who forgot Him,

(And be you not like those who forgot Allah, and He made them forget their own souls! Such are the rebellious transgressors) (Al-Hashr 59:19)

This verse indicates that remembrance of Allah will make people aware of their own selves: That is to say, a person who meditates on the incommensurable transcendent reality that is Almighty Allah will become aware of the finitude and limitations of his own self.

Thus, unfailing remembrance of Allah is central to taqwa.

Patience and perseverance are considered one half of religion, the other half being thankfulness. Basically, patience and perseverance mean enduring or bearing difficulty and pain, and confronting problems with calmness of temper. Almighty Allah in His Noble Qur’an has ordered patience in many verses. For instance,

(Nay, seek (Allah’s) help with patient perseverance and Prayer: It is indeed hard, except to those who bring a lowly spirit) (Al-Baqarah 2:45)

(Persevere in patience and constancy; vie in such perseverance; strengthen each other; and fear Allah that you may prosper) (Aal `Imran 3:200)

Almighty Allah praises those who suffer patiently and counts them among those whom He has blessed, in several verses,

(Allah is with those who patiently persevere) (Al-Baqarah 2:153)

(Allah loves those who are firm and steadfast) (Aal `Imran 3:146)

Also, Allah’s Messenger Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said,

“Strange is the affair of the Mu’min (the believer); verily all his affairs are good for him. If something pleasing befalls him, he thanks (Allah) and it becomes better for him. And if something harmful befalls him, he is patient and it becomes better for him. And this is only for the Mu’min.” (Muslim)

Indeed, patience and perseverance are derived from our resoluteness and will- power; two qualities assisted by the belief that our affairs are in the hands of Almighty Allah; and that our lot is not to complain, but to do our duty and act wisely.

Thus, we may see that patience and perseverance are the hall mark of those who have taqwa.

Being thankful to Allah, we may say, is the other side of patience and perseverance. It is the profound sense of thankfulness and gratitude a believer has towards the Creator. Thankfulness to Allah abides in our minds and hearts and shines through our face, words and actions. Thankfulness to Allah is complete reliance on Him; it is a frank admission that we cannot do anything on our own; it is an acknowledgment that all good and bounties come from Him alone. It is Allah Who determines, apportions, creates, and bestows all our provisions on us; so He alone deserves our gratitude and thanks. Allah Almighty says,

(Do you not see that Allah has subjected to your (use) all things in the heavens and on earth, and has made his bounties flow to you in exceeding measure, (both) seen and unseen? Yet there are among men those who dispute about Allah, without knowledge and without guidance and without a Book that enlightens them) (Luqman 31:20)

(But if you count the favors of Allah, never will you be able to number them) (Ibrahim 14:34)

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to spend nights in Qiyam Al-Layl ( Night Vigil Prayer) to the extent that his feet became swollen; and once his wife, `A’ishah, asked him: “Why do you do this when Allah has already forgiven you everything before and everything after?’ The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Shall I not be a grateful servant?” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).

That was the level of patience and perseverance our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) had attained. This means that thankfulness to Allah is an essential component of taqwa.

Indeed, a person can never have taqwa, if he does not consciously and constantly cultivate the qualities of dhikr, patience and perseverance and thankfulness to Allah. Also, taqwa denotes a believer’s consciousness of complete dependence on Almighty Allah; and so it creates in him or her eagerness to obey His commandments wholeheartedly and without reservation. Taqwa in its comprehensive meaning is the greatest standard of a person’s nobility and worth as Almighty Allah says in the Qur’an,

(The most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you) (Al-Hujurat 49:13)

Purity of purpose in all actions and sincerity to the Creator and Sustainer is the essence of taqwa, and this can be attained only by avoiding any action that runs counter to the guidance of Allah. There is a Prophetic hadith saying,

“Truly, what is lawful is evident, and what is unlawful is evident, and in between the two are matters which are doubtful which many people do not know. He who guards against doubtful things keeps his religion and honor blameless, and he who indulges in doubtful things indulges in fact in unlawful things, just as a shepherd who pastures his flock round a preserve will soon pasture them in it. Beware, every king has a preserve, and the things Allah has declared unlawful are His preserves. Beware, in the body there is a piece of flesh; if it is sound, the whole body is sound, and if it is corrupt, the whole body is corrupt, and behold, it is the heart.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

In short, taqwa means purity of heart, sincerity in actions and constant attention to avoid unlawful actions. A truly pious person always seeks Allah’s pleasure and approval for all his thoughts and actions.

In several verses of the Qur’an Almighty Allah commands us to learn taqwa,

(This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah) (Al-Baqarah 2:2)

(Here is a plain statement to men, a guidance and instruction to those who fear Allah) (Aal `Imran 3:138)

These verses show the link between taqwa and all our acts of worship. It also indicates the special qualities a person needs to cultivate with a view to attaining taqwa, including, kindness and generosity to fellow beings, repeated prayers for the forgiveness of Allah, constant care not to do any kind of harm to any one, and most notably patience in hunger, thirst and other hardships by restraining one’s desires and emotions that lead to transgression.

The foregoing means that fasting in Ramadan is meant as an intensive training course that we need to undergo with the eagerness of participating in a competitive race towards Allah’s forgiveness and rewards. Also, the purpose of fasting is only served when we attain taqwa by the cultivation of sincere devotion to Allah alone, and by the practice of patience, self-restraint and self-discipline.

By Shahul Hameed