Taqwa is what determines one’s value [O You who Believe, fear Allah. And let every soul look to what it has sent on for tomorrow. Fear Allah, surely Allah is well-acquainted with what you do. And do not be like those who forgot Allah, so He made them forget their own souls. Such are the rebellious transgressors.] (Al-Hashr 59:18-19)

Taqwa is one of the fundamental principles in Islam. It is usually translated as: “fear of Allah, piety, righteousness, or being conscious of Allah, aware of His attributes, His might, and power.” It implies self-restraint, guarding oneself from all sins, wrong deeds, and injustice. Taqwa is not a passive idea. It is not merely a feeling or an emotion. Taqwa is an active concept. It is about performing good deeds and positive actions in preparation for the Hereafter, the next life. Taqwa comes from an Arabic verb waqa, which means to protect oneself. Coming from the same verb is wiqaayah, a shield or something to protect yourself with. In addition, taqwa is the only basis by which people are considered superior to others in Islam; Almighty Allah says:

[O humankind! Lo! We [Allah] have created you male and female and We have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.] (Al-Hujurat 49:13)

However, we know from the Qur’an that Almighty Allah has favored some people over others in sustenance; a Qur’anic verse reads:

[Allah has favored some of you over others in provision.] (An-Nahl 16:71)

This is in fact how things are. It is simple reality. People are not all equal in this life. Allah has favored some over others in a variety of different capacities. Some of us enjoy a greater measure than others, of money, children, fortune, health, knowledge, fame, and so forth. However, these favors are not there for us to use and dispose of as we please. Rather, they are part of the tests of this life.

We should always be grateful to Allah for His countless favors. But these favors should not make us feel superior, arrogant, or proud to the extent of kibr (Arabic for: arrogance). Arrogance is something hated in Islam. As Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Whoever has a mustard seed worth of kibr in his heart will never enter Paradise.” (Muslim)

Kibr is particularly despised in Islam. It is always identified with the attitude of Satan, who rejected the command of Allah when he was ordered to bow to Adam. Satan believed that he was superior to Adam; the following Qur’anic verse relates what Satan said:

[I am better than him [Adam], because You [Allah] created me from fire and him from clay.] (Al-A`raf 7:12)

Taqwa is considered as a deciding factor that elevates  people over others.

When we look at issues of racism and nationalism, we see similar feelings. People feel they are better than others because they belong to a particular race or nationality.These feelings are fundamentally opposed to the teachings of Islam; the Most High says [We created you male and female and We have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another] (Al-Hujurat 49:13). This implies treating one another with respect.

It is obvious from the verse that taqwa is considered as a deciding factor that elevates people over others. Allah gives one person much money and he gives another person less money, but taqwa is something we earn by acts of faith and obedience. When the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) talked about taqwa, he said that taqwa is here and pointed to his heart (Muslim). Indeed, taqwa lies in the heart. It is not something that one can measure. I cannot measure your level of taqwa; you cannot measure my level of taqwa. We may judge in general by the outer actions of people, but we cannot judge the heart.

You may say that someone does not seem to have very much taqwa because they are doing a lot of things that are displeasing to Allah. Or you may say that another person seems to have more taqwa because he or she seems to be doing a lot of things of which Allah approves. We judge by the outer appearance, by what we see. But our judgments are not perfect. They are superficial judgments because we really do not know what is going on inside the heart of a person.

Normally, we would assume that the person who gives his life for the sake of Allah is a martyr. However, this individual could have fought for some other purpose than Allah’s pleasure. His or her act, on the outside, led others to judge him or her as a martyr. But in reality, Allah knows best whether he or she is a martyr or not.

Taqwa is not something that we can ultimately judge from outside. Taqwa is invisible; it is a state of mind and heart. It emanates from remembering Allah and being conscious of Him. A person who seeks to please Allah and avoid His wrath can only do so if he or she is conscious of Allah at all times. This is why the term taqwa is also expressed in English as God-consciousness.

For example, Almighty Allah says regarding Prayers [And establish the prayer for My remembrance.]  (Ta-Ha 20:14)

Thus, Prayer as well as all other acts of worship serve to keep us in a state of consciousness of Allah.

When a person is conscious of Allah, aware that He is Ever-Watching, that person would not do the things that would displease Allah. It is when we forget Allah that Satan finds the opportunity to approach us, to misguide us, and to suggest evil, and we then fall into sin.

Throughout our lives, we are in that state of constant struggle between remembering and forgetting Allah.

Remembrance of Allah ensures righteousness, whereas forgetting Him opens the door for sin.

Taqwa is, therefore, a concept having to do with the remembrance of Allah, fearing Allah and avoiding His wrath. All of this is related to taqwa, and all of it represents the goal or the basic principle that Islam seeks to develop in us and which, ultimately, is the foundation of righteousness.

If you persevere in your efforts to remember Allah and strive constantly to develop your taqwa at all times passionately and sincerely, you may then achieve a special status of being a waliy (Arabic for: a close and devout servant of Allah; plural: awliyaa’); Allah states in the Qur’an:

[Behold, certainly no fear and no grief will overcome the Allah’s awliyaa’ — those who believe and have taqwa.] (Yunus 10:62-63)

The status of the sincere servants are further illustrated in the following hadith qudsi (Arabic for: Divine Hadith),

I [Allah] announce war against whoever takes a devout servant of Mine as an enemy. And My servant does not come closer to Me by anything more beloved to Me than the things that I have made compulsory for him.

Furthermore, if My servant continues to get close to Me by performing supererogatory acts of worship, I will love him. In case this happens, I will be as the hearing with which he hears, the sight with which he sees, the hand with which he strikes, and the leg with which he walks; if he asks Me for something, I will certainly grant his request; and if he seeks refuge with Me, I will certainly give it to him. (Authenticated by Al-Albani)

Hence, closeness to Allah is fundamentally attained through the compulsory forms of worship that He ordained.

Anyone who has not established this can never be a devout servant of Allah. In other words, there are no shortcuts to taqwa.

In addition, the hadith goes on to say that after doing the compulsory acts of worship, the believer continues to come closer to Allah by doing voluntary acts of worship until Allah loves him or her. Each and every one of the compulsory acts of worship has a voluntary aspect to it. The compulsory is supposed to develop in us a desire to do the voluntary, because when a person is completing the voluntary aspects of worship, then these acts of worship are transformed from a mere ritual into a way of life. They become part and parcel of a person’s lifestyle.

Beyond the compulsory five daily Prayers, we offer supererogatory Prayers before and after these five Prayers. There are also a variety of other Prayers like Salat Al-Istikharah (Arabic for: Prayer of consultation; to ask for Allah’s guidance in making a decision), Salat Al-Hajah (Arabic for: Prayer of need), and Salat Al-Istisqaa’ (Arabic for: Prayer for rain).

Similarly, fasting the month of Ramadan is compulsory. The goal, however, is not merely that we fast Ramadan every year, but also to make fasting a way of life for us.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) encouraged us to fast six days in Shawwal. If we do, we shall get the reward of fasting the whole year. It is also desirable to fast the middle three days of every lunar month — the 13th, 14th, and 15th. Furthermore, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to fast on Mondays and Thursdays. The virtue of these two days is mentioned in the following hadith in which the Prophet said, “The gates of Paradise are open on Mondays and Thursdays.” (Muslim)

What we are trying to develop, therefore, is a consistent attitude toward fasting: to fast on a regular basis. Fasting is about developing self-restraint, personal control over desires, whether for food, for sexual relations, or speaking about everything.

This control is not something that we need only one month in a year; rather, it is needed throughout the year. Our desire for self-control will not become a reality until fasting becomes a way of life for us.

Similarly, zakah (Arabic for: obligatory alms) is compulsory once a year. However, zakah is there to develop in us generosity and the love for sadaqah (Arabic for: optional charity); sadaqah also means reaching out and helping others willingly whenever we have an opportunity to do so.

To summarize, taqwa is not simply a passive idea. It is an active concept that must underpin everything we do. When we remember Almighty Allah and try to please Him in all of our daily affairs, taqwa shall, thus, become a way of life.

By Omar Tarhuni